Sikkim Travelog – Part 6

Wherever we went in Sikkim – one thing was a constant – the Indian Army. You could be excused for thinking the country was at war. While tourists moan and groan about the weather and high altitude, the soldiers of the Indian Army brave the harsh weather conditions to keep us safe. The Army helps people in numerous ways – they protect monuments, relieve traffic congestions on hazardous mountain roads, and provide medical aid when needed.

One couldn’t help noticing the pride with which they display their regiment names, regiment slogans and their excellent attitude. They do all this when they live away from friends and family for extended periods of time. Such dedication and selflessness can only come from someone special.

For some reason, I always thought of the Himalayas as a solid, igneous presence, replete with gneiss and basalt. But it’s a folded mountain – which means, it has plenty of sedimentary rocks. Which makes it seem – fragile. Landslides and falling rocks are common.

Travelers to Darjeeling and beyond would encounter the BRO – Border Roads Organization. Laborers of BRO are perpetually at work, repairing the roads rendered useless by landslides, clearing boulders from the roads etc. Such never-ending tasks are called “Avudayar Kovil Thiruppani” in Tamil Nadu. One does not know why the “Holy Restoration of the Avudayar Temple” is forever in progress, but legend has it that it is due to a curse from an irate God. Perhaps the self-same God cursed Sikkim too, in a fit of rage – “Thine roads shall forever be incomplete”.

At Lachung, our first step was the Shingba Rhododendron sanctuary. “Don’t touch the plants, madam”, our driver cautioned us. “Some of them are poisonous”. Some species of rhododendrons have a toxin (Grayanotoxin) that can cause paralysis and sometimes, hallucinations. “Oh, look at the colors of the flowers”, I exclaimed. “Yes Madam, there are 5 or 6 colors”, said the driver. I refrained from saying that I could spot at least 10 colors. Men are the same everywhere: their pathetic perception of colors should be pitied, not made fun of.

Yumthang Valley was our next stop. The valley is nice, but the small shacks around sort of ruin its beauty. We saw a bunch of people around a large transparent ball. “It’s a sport called Zurming” explained a man – the man in charge of the ball was our guess. “You just get inside the ball and try to move it”, he added helpfully. “Do you want to zurm, sir?” he asked. Perhaps he thought Madam was too much of a chicken to go zurming in a rubber ball. Sir was dying to zurm, but it was getting late to get to the next stop, Lachung’s star attraction – Zero Point.

“Zero Point” is so named because all roads end here. It is at a height of 15,500 feet. It is a favorite stop for Indians who want to play in the snow. Our daughter had great fun making what she called the “King’s house” and a smaller “Soldier’s house”. I wondered how a king could live in a pintsized house with his missus, sans heating and lighting in the Himalayas.

Mist was closing in on the mountains. Visibility was reducing by the minute, so we had to drag our reluctant kid back to the hotel.

There were no restaurants in Yumthang. We were forced to eat our national food – Maggi noodles – in a shack. The place was far from clean; and hygiene – forget it.  We were very aggrieved –  the roads were too bad, the toilets too dirty, the weather too cold…How can we exist in such inhuman conditions?

Just then, we saw a bunch of Norwegian tourists on their way for a 5-day camping trip way up in the mountains – AKA supremely inhuman conditions. We asked them “Why would you want to do that?” To study the exotic flowers came the answer. Flowers, my foot. Norwegians  have a masochistic streak, trust me.

That night was one of the hardest as both of us were hit by severe altitude sickness. Luckily, our daughter slept like a baby. In our headache induced stupor we wondered if we should go right back to Chennai. At 6 AM, bleary eyed from lack of sleep, we looked out the window – only to catch a glimpse of the sublime, grim, aloof and magnificent Himalayas, flaunting its bodacity. And we asked ourselves – “How can we think of leaving this place?”

Click here to read Part 7.

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