April 16 – Day 6 – Tsomgo Lake:
We left for Tsomgo Lake a little later than planned, at 9.30 am. We had booked a Mahindra Max on Monday and the Driver arrived at 8.30. He was a grouchy chap whose first words were ‘you are late’ in tones that reminded me of my old Maths teacher.
Anyway, we had packed far a day in snow – extra socks for everybody, a change of pants for Mamli and Bablu, extra shirt for Bablu and a top for Mamli, scarfs for Padmaja, Mamli and Bablu, sweaters and jackets etc. We also had a good quantity of finger foods, juice and water.
I should have bought another pack of Duracell for the digital camera. I am using it a lot and the new 4 Gb CF card I purchased on eBay seems to be a power hog. Also I have to keep switching off the LCD viewer otherwise I would have even bigger power drain. Anyway suffice to say that I didn’t find Duracells anywhere. I ended up paying an atrocious Rs. 60/- for 2 alkaline AA cells. I haven’t used them yet but won’t be surprised if they peter out after a few shots. I have managed so far by shifting the 4 cells in the camera and taking them out to cool down. Just allowing the cells to cool down gave me another dozen shots with the LCD on for about 5 more minutes.
We didn’t stop on the way other than the mandatory stops at the police / military check points. At the first near Hanuman Tok I had to buy 4 tickets for Rs. 10/- each. The tickets claim that the monies collected is used for conservation in the area.
The road after the first check point climbs steeply. It is in very bad shape in a good many stretches particularly in the upper regions near the lake but is well maintained for most of it’s length. There is a large military presence and the huge army trucks have churned the road into a muddy quagmire in places. Traffic is disciplined and nobody tries any tricks. No doubt with the kilometer deep drop to the river bed, none of rhe local daredevils try anthing on this road.
The second check point is about 5 km from the lake and the road from there is pathetic. Lots of construction with earth moving machinery and very heavy car, jeep and military truck traffic. But our driver was up to the task.
As a result of all that traffic the so called clean Himalayan air was conspicuous by its absence. Diesel fumes predominated and made the air foul to the extreme. The natural beauty was also somewhat marred by all the shops, at least near the lake’s approach. Further afield nature reasserted herself and I cannot begin to describe the beauty of the landscape.
We were expecting to rent rubber moccasins at the shops near the lake and as soon as we parked and disembarked we were accosted by one of the shopkeepers. We took up his offer, Rs. 35/- per shoe initially but Rs. 20/- after bargaining. We already had warm clothes and just rented shoes from him. Leaving our own shoes and the food / water basket in his shop we walked up the short flight of stairs to the lake level, to be immediately surrounded by Yak drivers offering their services for a Yak ride to ‘Point Zero’, an outcropping of rock that jutted out into the lake.
This point zero is about a about a fourth of the lake’s length from the tappering end. The lake itself resembles a sperm cell wearing a round cap. There is a narrow walkway around one side and it is narrow! About 4 feet wide and snow covered. And the Yaks use the same trail, adding their dung and urine to the snow or rather slush. At places the snow is more than a foot deep and the Yaks have churned it into a freezing slush that can catch the unwary and tip some of the cold dung laced water into shoes. Bablu and Mamli’s shoes weren’t very high and they got their feet wet. Padmaja and I gave them our socks to make sure they had dry feet. By this time we were about half way to point zero and after a small snowball fight Mamli, Bablu and Padmaja refused to go on. I wanted photographs and walked on alone. Within 10 feet of where I left them was a small stream flowing into the lake and the Yaks had churned a wide swath around it into foot deep slush. I stepped into one in spite of being careful and got a shoe full of freezing water and snow. The stuff literally froze my foot and I had to put down my camera bag on a small rock sticking out of the snow while I hopped around on one foot trying to pull the other shoe off and empty it before putting it o again.
I finally made it to point zero and it was worth the effort. The place was full of snorting Yaks and their rude handlers, with more dung and urine but at least that was isolated to one area in the center of the land mass jutting into the lake.
I took my photographs and seeing me alone with my cameras a few young couples roped me in to take their photos posing in the snow..
I also noticed two army men keeping an eye on the idiots who were capering too close to the crumbling, snow covered shores. They had whistles and used them often. I suppose there were many idiots around.
I walked back to Padmaja, Mamli and Bablu and we started back to the shop where we had left our shoes. I had Bablu by the arm but he slipped a number of times and got his feet wet again. That is when I started shouting at the Yak drivers and pushing the placid, plodding beasts away while I tried to walk as fast as I could. Bablu was crying by this time from his freezing feet and I was desperate to get him back to the shop.
The shopkeeper immediately understood the problem and quickly put some water to boil. I asked him if he had any mustard oil and he immediately brought some in a plate. I rushed down to the jeep for the bag of spare clothes after pulling off Bablu’s shoes and wet socks, leaving Padmaja to massage his feet with warm water and then mustard oil. In the meantime Mamlu had taken care of her feet and was ready for the dry socks I brought back.
The shopkeeper offered us hot Maggi and we gratefully took up his offer. The Maggi was hot and good! Rs. 25/- per plate.
Padmaja bought some souvenirs from the shop and we left after finishing our Maggi.
By then the cloud cover was lowering and visibility was shrinking. Our driver was careful and drove sedately down the mountains. We stopped at a beautiful waterfall we had skipped on the way up. By then the clouds were drifting into the car and the temperature was dropping. We took a few photos and left. Soon visibility was down to 50 feet and on a mountain road that was a frightening experience.
We made it safely back to Gangtok and it started raining 15 minutes after we reached the Mintokling Guest House. And boy did it rain! It was like the cyclonic storms we get in the Deccan Plateu. Luckily it stopped raining long enough for me to go down to M. G. Marg for a packed dinner-to-go, channa batura and masala dosa. Yes I know. But we are sick of chow mien.
It is still raining. Hopefully it will stop by tomorrow. We plan to see some of Gangtok city tomorrow before returning to the sweltering plains on Saturday.