The lure of snow-clad peaks and glacial lakes has enticed many a tourist/traveller to the foothills of Sikkim. With a brief halt in Gangtok, local jeeps take thousands of tourists to see Tsomgo Lake, Gurudongmar Lake, and Nathula Pass every year.
Though having moved to Sikkim 2 years ago, the 2-hour trip to see the magnificent oval-shaped Tsomgo Lake, glistening a brilliant blue in summers and frosty white in winters, has so far evaded me.
It's nearing the end of January now, and the weather in Gangtok keeps flipping between warm sunny days to dull frigid ones—an indication that it's snowing higher up. The thought of snowball fights, catching snowflakes on my tongue (if it's snowing), making snow angels, and all the things that look so cool in movies and Instagram posts finally got me driving to Tsomgo Lake on a Sunday with a few friends.
One of us had to call the tourist office and arrange for permits a day before. We wanted to follow the typical tourist route of covering Tsomgo Lake, Baba Mandir, and Nathula Pass, but due to heavy snowfall, the routes were closed for tourists; this is common during the winter, and therefore, permits are only issued a day in advance.
Sunday opened to beautiful sunny skies and the promise of clear views of the snow-clad peaks. The road to Tsomgo Lake was mostly smooth but rough in places prone to yearly landslides. As we wound our way up to Tsomgo, we had a beautiful view of the mountains and small villages clinging to the hillsides. Most of the time, I felt like jumping out of the car and just taking in the view in slow motion. Signposts with thoughtful quotes on life and safely whizzed by us on the road, making us contemplative for a second or two. The road also takes you through a few army transit camps. Clear weather is especially helpful if you want to take pictures on the way. There were a lot of things we wanted to capture on our way back, but the weather turned and grey clouds shrouded the landscape.
Small hamlets on the hillside
We leave Gangtok in a hired vehicle; some of us bursting with anticipation of seeing snow for the first time, while others are in for the cheap thrill.
Within 15 minutes, we reach the permit check post at 3rd Mile. This is near the Tourist Facilitation Center. There’s a helpful information board on “precaution and protection in high altitude areas” near the check post. Some of the instructions are quite bewildering— “Report to the medical examination cell if you have the following: chest pain, vomiting, burning sensation in hand…,” some sound like your mom when you leave for the hostel— “eat fruit and vegetables to protect yourself from constipation,” and some baffling—don’t go to excessive wind without protective means.
3rd mile check post where we have to show the permit
As we drive on, the mountains slowly change—from green to brown to streaks of white. I also notice clumps of snow on the roadside, sheets of ice on the rooftops, and then a frozen waterfall. It’s a dreamy transition and also a wakening one.