Monday, October 2, 2017

Gorgeous in Winter, Mesmerising in Fall | Tsomgo Lake, East Sikkim

9th Sept: It was cold and wet outside. I lay in bed, clutching the blanket to my throat, wondering what had gotten the Gangtok weather so drafty all of a sudden. The room was flooded with natural light, and I could see what a mess we all had made the night before in our room. I looked up at the window and, in that one glance, knew the sun wasn't going to be up in the sky today. The next moment, the guys were outside our door, blaring music on the speakers in a bid to get us out and ready to go. So I jumped out of bed, skimpily clad for a chilly morning like that, and rushed to the bathroom to get ready. This day seemed promising.

The view from my hotel window. The clouds are covering the valley, which is otherwise visible on a clearer day.


Permits and permissions: A horror story?

We set out early, for we were told that the security forces didn't allow cars past the first entry point on the road to Tsomgo lake and Nathu La. We even had to arrange ourselves in the cars according to the grouping of names on each of the three permits we had obtained the previous day for our journey. As fate would have it, we reached the first entry point a little after 10 am - the supposed deadline - and we were dreading not being allowed to go ahead. But the officers let us continue our journey without any reprimand, though with strict instructions not to take any pictures in the military area on our way uphill. Like responsible citizens and travellers, we kept our promise and only took pictures/videos where there was no obvious sign of military presence.

The drive up rugged mountains and winding bends was memorable, especially for the way the clouds totally covered the valley as we ascended to higher reaches. It was a bumpy ride, as the roads were in bad condition because of recent rains. You could see local men and women labouring away on particularly dangerous stretches of road, removing rocks and debris so that cars would pass without accident. Tsomgo Lake is 35 km from Gangtok, and there is a steep rise in height from 5410 ft (Gangtok) to over 10,000 ft within the first 15 km. Literally nothing but a white fluffy blanket was visible from the car window through most of the drive. The air was clammy and there was more than just a nip in the air, so we stopped for hot tea and bought woollen caps and drapes on our way up to save us from the icy winds.

I made a short video clip of the drive. Watch the clouds play hide and seek over the valley as soulful music plays in the background.

Tsomgo Lake: More beautiful in the winter or fall?

I will admit, I had embarked on this trip with little research and a blind trust on the beauty of the Himalayas. I knew the general itinerary and believed we couldn't go wrong with anything on this trip. What I hadn't thought of was the drastic change I would go on to witness at these places that I had already been to in December 2016. It was unbelievable for me how much Tsomgo Lake, and the entire area around it, had changed in a matter of a few months just because of a change in season. The rugged brown mountainsides of the winter had given way to lush greenery, and the shiny blue water of the lake now appeared silvery-green, shrouded in mist and low-hanging clouds. You can see the change - I've got pictures for comparison.

December 2016 - 'Before'

September 2017 (nine months later) - 'After'

It was during this second trip that I also realised Tsomgo Lake, viewed from this point, looks like an inverted map of the Indian subcontinent.

I cannot possibly decide if Tsomgo Lake is more beautiful in winter or in the fall. I'm waiting to visit in the summer next year. I'll post yet another set of pictures, and we'll compare all three. Though I'm sure there won't be a verdict even then. This place is as mesmerising in fall as it is gorgeous in winter!


Are we being responsible as tourists/travellers?

Another change I discovered over my two visits to Tsomgo Lake, nine months apart, was the impact of garbage on the beauty, and probably ecological balance, of the place. At the same spot along the edge of the lake, where I'd found crystal clear blue water last year, I found accumulated garbage and algal blooms this year. While the algal blooms may be a natural phenomenon owing to the season, I strongly believe they had something to do with the pollution caused by the garbage left behind by tourists as well.

Clear waters in December 2016. The tourist season hadn't begun in full swing yet, I guess.

September 2017. Off-season, but I am guessing no one bothered to clean the lake after the last tourist onslaught.

Would you believe these two pictures were taken at the same spot? It's a shame, what we're doing to our fragile mountain ecosystems and water bodies in the name of 'finding ourselves' and discovering new 'offbeat' places to travel to. Can't we simply take our garbage back with us to the cities, to designated garbage bins, where we can at least be partly sure it'll be disposed off properly? Plastic, liquor bottles, food packaging and the rest of our modern wastes do not belong in the lake or the mountain valley, much as they don't belong at the beach or the riverside. Be mindful while you travel. Don't litter. MAKE SURE YOU CARRY YOUR LITTER BACK TO WHERE IT BELONGS.

I have read one too many research articles about the weak ecosystem of Ladakh being destroyed by the onslaught of tourism since the turn of the century. Let it serve as a cautionary tale - don't destroy nature for your pleasure. Be a responsible traveller, and the planet will reward you with its bounty. I encourage more travellers to discover the sheer joy of travelling through Sikkim, but I desperately hope they do not end up turning the relatively untouched ecosystem of Sikkim into yet another dumping ground for tourism and modern capitalism. I will not be able to bear that loss.


Also read the previous post from my Sikkim travels- Stairway to Heaven: Yumthang Valley | North Sikkim.
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1 comment:

Sushmita Malakar said...

Wooaaahhh! That is some comparison. And even I can not decide which one is better. I will wait for the summer view.

Also, very great observation about the inverted map.

I lived the post :)