Where it all started: After exploring beautiful lands of Goa, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Thailand together, it was a time for 4 of us to explore something for one last time before we get drowned in our future plans for studies and family commitments. Busy with our schedule, we couldn't plan the trip on our own and booked through Footprint Holidays(A blessing in disguise). Each one of us reached Gangtok on 06.01.19.
The fun begins: We wanted it to be an adventurous trip. Unfortunately, it turned out to be one. We met Mr. Ritez Chettri next morning to finalise travel plans. Nathu-la, Gurudongmer Lake and Zero Point in North-Sikkim were closed since Dec 18th due to heavy snow-fall. We were shocked to know that our vehicle was a rare entry to get the permit to the restricted regions. We started our journey in a Scorpio with Mr. Gabriel. We drove to Lachen (9000 ft. ASL) and started for Gurudongmer lake early morning. The roads were rough and slippery due to ice-layer. Fortunately, we were the only tourists to reach Black-Stone (Kala Paththar)- a Heaven surrounded with snowy peaks. (Pic below)
The Fun continues: Delighted with the achievement of exploring restricted land, we headed to explore Lachung, North Sikkim. After crossing few beautiful valleys, tough roads, and water reservoirs, we reached to the beautiful city of Lachung(~9000 ft. ASL), situated by the river and surrounded by high peaks. The night was chilling at -6°C. (Below- Lachung after Snowfall)
The D-Day(09.01.19): We started early morning towards Zero-Point (also known as Yume Samdong). The plan was to return back by 12 PM and head towards Gangtok in the evening. The weather was reasonably clear with glimpse of sun overhead. Around 9 AM, light snowfall welcomed us @Yumthang Valley(11,800 ft. ASL). We dint stop and moved further and reached Zero Point @ 10.45 AM. The valley was filled with fresh snow and high Peaks, welcoming us from horizon.(Below - Zero Point @15000 ft. ASL)
The Sun started to subside soon and Gabriel suggested us to decent asap. We followed his words and started our journey downwards. On the way back, we stopped at "Jalebi Point" near the Army Camp. The snowfall had increased by then, we dint stop much and kept moving. The blooming Rhododendrons soon got covered with snow and the vehicles started to skid on the frozen roads (Pic below)
We crossed Yumthang Valley around 12.00 AM and reached a landslide zone. Due to heavy snow and steep slope, the vehicles were not able to cross a particular point. Around 20+ vehicles were strangled in no mans land. Though, some local drivers were confident that they could get vehicles across the particular danger-zone. It wasn't fun anymore. A single local driver named Shivam pulled each car out of that area. The local ladies and fellow drivers ran after every car and put door-mats below tyres to enhance friction. Engineers and Managers like us were mere spectators. The operation started at 12.30 and it took around 5 hours for every car to cross landslide zone.
The tourists had already started to panic. The snow was pelting now. The visibility was Nill and there was ice all over the front windshield. The drivers had to put there head out to drive. As soon as we gained confidence that we could go down the valley, a new problem arose- No one could see where the road was. The road was almost 2 feet under the snow and with darkness approaching, it was becoming impossible to sight any track on the roads. Adding to that, few vehicles almost skidded into the valley in an attempt to move forward.
The temperature was below -10°C and it was getting hard to stay calm. Fortunately, while others left their luggage in hotels in Lachung, we carried our bags with us. We wore some extra layers and distributed other clothes to the ones shivering with cold. Finally at around 6 PM, we decided to move on foot. Unfortunately, the next army checkpost was 6 Kms ahead and it was hard to walk without slipping on the snow.
People started to panic as there was no way to connect to anyone. I saw a Lady with a 2 yrs old slipping continuously in an attempt to rush down. We knew that it would be impossible to survive freezing night in the car at -25°C temperature. Moreover, everyone was empty stomach as the plan was to lunch at Lachung Hotel (Deezong) at around 12 PM. I carried few energy bars which came handy in tough times. Gabriel feared for our safety and so were we. At around 7, we could see chaotic situation nearby. People din't know what had to be done. It was hard to even stand in pelting snow for long.
Just at the brink of loosing hope, a light coming uphill brought tears in everyones eye. Yes, it was The INDIAN ARMY. "We are safe" was the best I could say. No-one could have asked for more. People were excited- crying and shouting in happiness. Cutting short, I was soon sitting in an army truck with 26 others and heading downhill. The truck was skidding but Indian Army Men left no stone unturned to comfort us.
We were eventually taken to Sikh Regiment where we were greeted with Chocolates, Tea, and delicious food. That was undoubtedly the best Roti, Rice and Maggi I have ever had in my life. I don't know what we did to be treated so well. Words were not enough to express how emotional and thankful we were to the Indian Army. Eventually, over 150 men were rescued and sheltered in "Sikh Regiment".
We were unfortunate not to carry much cash. Gabriel went in a different truck and we hadn't seen him for hours. We even din't had a hotel booked at Lachung for the night. With no network and temptation to inform near-ones about our well being, we requested Army Men to drop us to the hotel. Everyone with pre-bookings were put in Army Truck and taken to hotels. To our amusement, Gabriel and Hotel Manager -Suraj, went to Army camp to fetch us while we went to the Hotel. The caretaker "Kaka" was so happy to see us. I asked him if he had a room left. He just greeted us in and said that things will be managed. It was 12 AM already. Eyes went all teary as I saw Gabriel coming with our luggage. I hugged him tight and asked for his well being. Suraj Bhai asked us for dinner and gave us a comfortable room to spend the night. (Below: Beautiful Next morning at Lachung)
Where Humanity Survived: Gabriel comforted us in Hotel and went to Yumthang Valley next day with Indian Army to fetch the car. Later, he escorted us back to Gangtok. Suraj din't take a penny for extra day stay and food at the hotel. We din't had to pay anything extra for the cab as Mr. Ritez from Footprint Holidays took care of everything. Our tips couldn't express our gratitude towards these great humans. I met around 20+ people during my Sikkim trip and can easily judge to say that Sikkim is a beautiful state where Humanity still dominates livelihood. "Salute Sikkim, Salute Indian Army".
What Did this trip teach:
Some other wilderness, some other adventure.
Published on January 14, 2019
MBA Candidate at IIM Ahmedabad
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