I must be a Dromomaniac, I wondered, as my SUV left the tiny hamlet of Lingtam. Who else in their wits would leave the comforts of the apartment to brave the chilly December winds of Sikkim? Though travelling has always aroused in me a mélange of emotions; from ecstasy to thrill to a deep sense of freedom, this time I was seeking peace and solitude.
Not many souls visit this daunting place, let alone at this time of the year. Lingtam seldom features in the tourist guides. A picturesque village nestled amongst the foothills of Sikkim, far away from the chaos of the daily race; Lingtam also happens to be the prologue to an offshoot of the ancient Silk Route to Lasha.
I had unknowingly set out on one of the living chapters of the past. My jeep slowly crept up the serpentine road flanked by lush forests of pine and bamboo, punctuated only by little villages. But soon the greens began to grow distant, the hills looking like waves frozen in time. The human presence became ever so sparse with each bend on the road. No sooner than the desolation and the vastness had begun to sink in, one sharp turn brought the first glimpse of the majestic and revered Kanchenjunga. Aptly named “The Jalebi Road”, as one has to negotiate excruciating bends, the constant twisting and turning meant that I was left to play hide and seek with the magical views of the mountain God.
But, thankfully we soon parked at Thambi in the village of Zuluk. The captivating solitude which engulfed the entire village and its surrounding hills filled me with a profound sense of tranquility at once. And the transcendental presence of Kanchenjunga, draped in its divine cape of snow, made the environment all the more pristine and subtly divine. As if the Almighty painter’s brush had worked its magic against the azure canvas of the sky. The sight was mystical; held me in silence as my soul unconditionally bowed to the feared yet respected God of the natives.
With this unforgiving beauty in sight, I left Zuluk continuing on this ancient, ancient trail; climbing further into dizziness. With each passing curve the wilderness became more and more profound. The landscape became ever more surreal and barren. Dotted with stubborn vegetation, we were soon driving through the pristine Tukla valley. It strangely resembled a huge terrace, guarded by mountains through which the road, a black silken thread, faded away into the ever-distant horizon, with not a single sign of life around. The stark beauty and isolation of the valley is something to behold, so much so that one might manage to hear the sounds of silence reverberating across the valley and the mountains.
I could see the magnificent gurgling “Jhoras”, small streams, starting to freeze to their annual hibernation as we drove up the winding path higher and higher. Further ahead lay the village of Kupup. While we stopped here to get our permits verified, I wandered off along the paths of this amazingly harsh yet beautiful village. Kupup, an ensemble of few ramshackle huts in the middle of absolutely nowhere is surrounded by barren might and virgin lakes. The villagers sat basking in the bright afternoon sun with spinning prayer wheels in hand, murmuring the old Buddhist prayer, “Om Mani Padme Hum”. Just ahead of the village, a trail veered off along the sparkling blue waters of the dazzling Elephant Lake into the distant hills. “Younghusband’s Trail”, was etched on a rusty signpost. The locals enlightened me that the path went all the way to Tibet through the now off limits Jelep La pass.
The serenity of the place left me awestruck. I found myself wishing that I could belong here till my last conscious breath but my final destination awaited not far away, the peaceful Tsongmo Lake.
Close to evening, we jerked to a halt by her turquoise water, just in the first pages of another December freeze. Her otherwise placid life blood reflected the rugged surroundings which glowed in the sixth hue by the fainting rays of a parting sun. The surrounding hills cloaked in the soft quilt of snow served only to enhance the spell cast by this beautiful lake. Every gift of a moment I spent there, breathing in this dreamlike depiction; I uncontrollably strolled along her white banks, too reluctant to leave as the sun slowly slipped behind the peaks.
“I will return… to you… pure manifestation of kind and unkind peace… where life stays eternally frozen in beauty… forever… till the world decides to end…”