Sikkim Travelog – Part 5

The Hotel Manager at Lachen turned out to be a very articulate young man. He was a social sciences teacher at the local school and he was simply helping his cousin run the hotel. “My cousin’s busy campaigning for the upcoming Assembly elections” he said. Eh, what?

“So does your cousin belong to SDF (Sikkim’s CM Pawan Chamling’s party)?” we asked. “Of course not!” he said. “Chamling has been in power for 4 terms now. We need Paribartan (Change)”. He went on to explain that the Chamling government has run up a huge debt that can only be cleared by raising taxes on the Sikkimese.

Apparently, mismanagement is not Chamling’s only fault. Chamling has 2 known wives and 5 children. The Assembly frames policies to favor the first family. For example, chicken from Siliguri is banned in Sikkim – incidentally, one of Chamling’s wives runs a poultry farm. Another wife has huge swaths of land dedicated to organic farming – Chamling’s government is busy promoting Organic Farming. Likewise, one of Chamling’s sons has a stranglehold on the restaurant business in Gangtok.

It all sounded uncannily familiar to us. “Yes” said the manager. “Chamling is Sikkim’s own Karunanidhi”. “So, will the people vote his party out?” we asked. “Ah, that will be difficult because the elections are rigged. How else could SDF win all the seats in the last elections?” asked the manager.

We proceeded to the Tsopta valley. Gurudongmar Lake is off limits for foreign nationals.  The starkly beautiful lake is one of the main sources that feed the Teesta River. But since it is at an altitude of 17,000 feet, we decided not to expose our daughter to the harsh terrain.

We stopped at a roadside tea stall. A bio-break was out of the question. The public toilets were disgusting, like everywhere else in India. “A Marathi family came to Sikkim last year”, our guide said. “They brought a cook along, they couldn’t live without Marathi food”. I would instead recommend bringing a toilet along – a port-a-potty. We’re such finicky eaters, but we don’t mind vomit-worthy toilets. We burst with pride when we dream of our country becoming a super-power. But, we can’t even keep the place we pee clean. I wonder what that says about our nation’s standards in personal hygiene.

Just then, we saw a bunch of cars on their way back to Lachen. One of the men said “Don’t go any further, just turn back to Lachen. My wife fainted”. According to our research the Valley is safe for children but the Lake isn’t. Wanting to know more, we asked him if he went to the valley or the lake. The man shrugged – he didn’t believe in such petty details. He said, “There’s less than 3% oxygen. The Indian army revived my wife with glucose. It is that bad out there”.

When we decided to proceed, we heard the man telling his wife “They have a small child and they are going ahead”. The family, aghast, glared at us as if wishing to give us the “Worst Parents of the Year” award.

“I don’t know why you have to go. There’s nothing there but a lake!” said the man sulkily. I don’t know what he was expecting from a place named Gurudongmar “Lake”.

After all those dire predictions, we reached Tsopta Valley without anyone passing out. It is hard to describe the valley – it was a grim terrain, almost alien in appearance. The unique other-worldly landscape of Cappadoccia came to our mind.

We moved onto Lachung, our next stop. “You couldn’t have come here last year madam. There was a major earthquake”, said the driver. “This is the village of Bitchu”, he said and swept his arm. “Where’s the village?” we asked him. “There’s nothing but rocks and pebbles here”. “The village was completely destroyed by the earthquake, wasn’t it?” asked the driver and added “Oh, we are very close to your hotel now!”

We weren’t exactly comforted by this news. Visions of me looking for my family in the rubble haunted me. I slept fitfully that night. I woke up screaming “Tremors! Tremors! Call the military!” It turned out to be Sukumar snoring his way to glory.

Want to know what we did in Lachung, other than snore and scream? Click here.

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