Sikkim’s Silk Route during Monsoon
Sikkim’s Silk Route during Monsoon
Amazing views of Mt. Kangchenjunga through the clouds
It was still dark and freezing cold and Mt. Kanchenjunga remained behind the clouds, but the white snow on the slopes of Mt Kabru and Mt. Kumbhakarana (or Janu) have turned golden with the rays of the rising sun.
It was an early September morning and we watched the sunrise from the famed sunrise point of Lungthung, on Sikkim’s Silk Route. As I watched the the white massif turn golden, I was reminded of my previous visit to the Sikkim Silk Route.
Just four month ago a non seasonal mid – April snow has forced me to return from Lungthung, leaving large portion of the silk route unexplored (Also see: Non – seasonal snow of Sikkim Silk’s Route).
Also the clouds have reigned supreme blocking every possible views of the mighty snow peaks.
This time I was lucky and with the monsoon still at its prime, we were greeted by a spectacular sunrise from Lungthung.
This tour, an initiative of Wandervogel Adventures, and was part of The Birding Trail of East Sikkim (a separate post will be coming up in my blog soon) and attracted 26 birders from different parts of the country, and also included a sole non birder like me.
On 5 Sept. 2016, we started off from the Mangaldeep Resort, Rogli, at 6am. The first stop was in Lingtam, where I tried my hands on bird photographer for the first time.
It was an amazing experience to watch the veteran birders capturing the tiny flying creatures with their massive lenses. I also got my prized catch, probably by luck, of an Oriental White Eye.
After getting our permits stamped we ventured past Padamchen and onwards to Zuluk (also called Dzuluk), our night halt. By the time we reached Zuluk the clouds have total taken over, reducing visibility to only a few yards.
After we settled down for a lunch it started raining and the heavy showers continued till late evening.
By 9 pm the skies cleared exposing the star studded sky along with the lights of the villages further down the valley.
We went to sleep, hoping the skies will remain clear till the next morning and if possible through out the next day!
Next morning we were up by 4 am and the skies were still clear, we hit the road by 4:30 am and our driver negotiated the innumerable hair – pin bends of Sikkim’s Silk Route famous zig – zag road with remarkable precision. We drove past the Thambi View Point and made our way towards the Lungthung Sunrise Point.
By the time we reached Lungthang the first rays of the sun had already struck the Kanchenjunga massif. Although Mt. Kanchenjunga remained behind the white feathery clouds the nearby peaks of Kabru and Kumbhakarana (or Janu) turned golden.
It was a spectacular sight and the as the sun gained altitude the golden turned into natural snow white. Meanwhile the clouds also lifted exposing the mighty Kanchenjunga. We waited long after the sunrise trying our hands on time lapse photography.
Final it was time to bid farewell to the Lunghthang and head further north towards the Nathang Valley (also called Gnathang Valley). Very the Nathang Valley the road bifurcates into two parts.
The place is known as Laxman Chowk, and a memorial stands in memory of Lt. Col. Laxman Singh (Commanding Officer, 5 Mahar Borders) under whose command the unit pre-emptively secured the water shed opposite Chinese in General Area Dokala in 1965.
The upper road leads past the Eagale Nest Bunkers, Babd Mandir and onwards to Kupup Lake. The lower road descends in the valley and goes through the Nathang Village and joins the upper road just before Kupup Lake.
We took the upper road and went past the Eagle Nest Bunkers. This abandoned army bunkers located at a height of 4177 m, with Kanchenjunga towering in the backdrop.
Just beyond the bunkers a road divertes towards the right and heads towards the Jelep La. Tourist are not allowed in this route. Also the pass (la means pass) has long been closed for trade, but it reminded me of the history of the ancient silk route.
The Silk Road or Silk Route was an ancient network of trade routes that were central to cultural interaction through regions of the Asian continent connecting the West and East from China to the Mediterranean Sea. [Source: Wikipedia]
The original silk route connected China with Mediterranean and past north of the Himalayas, but there were several other routes, which connected the Indian subcontinent with the main silk route. One such route passed through North Bengal and East Sikkim and entered Tibet via Nathu La or Jelep La.
We stuck to the main road and soon reached the Old Baba Mandir. This region of Sikkim houses two Baba Mandir, both of which are dedicated to late Indian soldier Harbhajan Singh. On Oct 4, 1968, Harbhajan Sing, while escorting a mule caravan in the silk route region, fell into a stream and was swept away.
On the fifth day one of his fellow soldier had a dream, where Harbhajan Singh informed him about his tragic death and also about the location of his body. Incidentally a rescue operation recovered his body from the very position that was mentioned in the dream.
Later a samadhi was built near the spot of his death as a mark of honor. Today the samadhi is reached by a flight of stairs and small shrine with the photo of Hrbhajan Singh stands at the road side.
The new Baba Mandir is located near the Nathu La. Even today the legend of Harbhajan Singh lives on, there are stories of soldiers being slapped when they fall asleep during his duties. Harbhajan Singh is also said to inform his colleagues of bad weather and other calamities. Even his Chinese counterpart is aware and afraid of his presence.
The mandir is regularly visited by soldiers and the adjoining canteen freshly cooked hot food, at an altitude of 4000 m. Our next and final stop was the Kupup Lake.
Located at a height of 4000 m the lake is locally known as Bitan Cho and is shaped like an elephant, complete with a tail and trunk. Hence it is also popularly known as the Elephant Lake.
It is one of the most sacred lakes of Sikkim and stunningly beautiful. The nearby Kupup village contains a golf course, which is said to be the highest in the world.
It was finally time to get back and we took the alternative lower road through the Nathang valley and village. The Nathang village houses a number of home stays along with a British War Memorial dating back to 1888.
According to historical records the Nathang area was captured by the Tibetans in 1886 and it was recaptured back by the British in 1888 and a memorial, along with a few graves, stands in the memory of the soldiers killed during the recapture.
Finally it was time to get back to Zuluk but by now the clouds have descended to the valley and reduced the visibility. We drove back the Thambi View Point with the zig – zag road hidden behind the clouds (Please see: Non – seasonal snow of Sikkim Silk’s Route).
- The Silk Route can only be done on a hired vehicle and can accommodate a max of 8 person per vehicle. Cost amounts to about Rs 3800 per day inclusive of drivers expenses.
- Home stays are available en route and costs amounts to about Rs 1000 per head per day and includes all four meals.
- A permit is required so please carry a photo identity and a copy of passport size photo. The hotels will do all the necessary arrangements.
- For Silk Route Package booking contact: Wondervogel Adventures, 1/ 2 C Ballygunge Place East, Kolkata – 700 019, Ph: 91 33 65484337, M: 91 9007009063, 91 9007009061, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com , Website: www.wandervogeladventures.com
- Moushmi di, Siddhartha and Soven of Wondervogel Adventures for the wonderful birding trip of East Sikkim
- Soumyajit and Joydeb of Nikon India for the all the photography tips and for the usage of 300 mm f4 prime lens
- Dilip Raj Pradhan and Gopal Pradhan for the warm hospitality in Rongli and Zuluk respectively
- Last but not least my fellow birding trip participants for accepting a non birder, like me, with open arms!