4.30 a.m. and it is bright outside our tiny hotel room in Lachen. At just less than 9000 feet, Lachen feels pleasant; my teeth are already chattering but I choose to ignore that and focus instead on the dozens of families already up and about, children shouting to get on to their jeeps first. You see, I am mentally preparing myself for the long drive ahead to Gurudongmar Lake where I fully expect to freeze.
Anyway, heavily layered and clutching bags of popcorn (to combat altitude sickness, according to locals), we set off, bright and early. Gurudongmar Lake is just over 60 km from Lachen, a journey that is expected to take over four hours on mostly non-existent roads.
Warm clothes and inners? check. Popcorn bags? check. ipod and camera? check. Mental fortitude? er, um, check.
The first half of this drive is easy; we stop at Thangu Village around 7 a.m. for a rest and breakfast. Thangu, at 14000 feet is a new dot on the Sikkim map, having appeared suddenly after tourism towards Gurudongmar Lake opened up in the last few years. Thangu is a small hamlet with a few homes that serve as food stops and basic night halts for the more adventurous type of traveler. A halt at Thangu, midway to the lake is essential to allow acclimatization before carrying on.
So at Thangu at 7 in the morning, we get out of our jeeps, stretch our achy limbs and step into this tiny room. The householders have been at work for a while already; fresh steaming momos appear in front of us, Maggi is work in progress while cup after cup of tea is served.
And we sit there in that room in the middle of nowhere, sunlight steaming in through the single window straight on to our faces, adding to the warmth of the hot tea cups in our hands. And we tuck in to momos and Maggi, feeling complacently sorry for those in the package tours who have only warm bread and jam included in their breakfast. I don’t know if it is the cold outside or our own hunger, but this is easily one of the of the best breakfasts I have ever had.
Momos and Maggi at 7 a.m. at 14000 feet.
The building we have stopped at has a small shop facing the street, selling perhaps everything a traveler in that part of the world may need, while the top floor has bathrooms and a couple of rooms to let out. There is a small hillock of empty beer bottles just outside this room, left there by tourists and the army folk, say locals.
Locals are going about their work with a smile and without much warm clothing; this is summer for them. Small children are running about with just a thin sweater against (what I think is) the biting cold while adults have nothing but a careless shawl around their shoulders. The village is not yet used to visitors and the locals are friendly, if shy. An hour at Thangu and we set off to Gurudongmar; we stop once again on the way back to Lachen, this time to recover from the high altitude discomfort (all those momos and Maggi did not help, nor did those packets of popcorn).
Continued here:…and popcorn at 17000 feet