Standing in the lobby of our hotel in Gangtok, we wondered whether it was really safe to go north. Should we really go ahead with our plan and try to visit Lachung and Yumthang?
Just two days earlier, north Sikkim had received such heavy snowfall that routes were impassable. The army had been called in to rescue tourists from the Lachung Valley. Being stranded almost 2,500 km away from home was a terrifying possibility – so terrifying that it made me tingle with excitement. After all, what is life without a little adventure?
North Sikkim, we decided, would be our adventure. And travelling there with Mr Pempa, a guide from Lachung, was the best thing that happened to us.
When we reached sub-zero Lachung, my heart was singing. We had made it this far despite all the news reports of slippery roads and heavy snowfall. The world around us was achingly beautiful, unlike anything I had ever seen before. Bundled up against the cold, we drove on along winding roads flanked with snow. Frozen waterfalls took my breath away.
North Sikkim was incredible, and we wanted more. We wanted to visit Yumthang Valley, which we knew was a valley full of flowers in spring and blanketed in snow in winter.
Unfortunately, our hopes came crashing down when we saw vehicles parked 15 kilometres short of Yumthang. We decided to make the most of where we were anyway.
Truth be told, what we had was enough and more. Snow and ice crunched under our boots as we got away from the throng of tourists taking selfies. The hush of snow-covered expanses filled my very being … until I saw Pempa driving towards us.
My heart sank. There were no other tourists around anymore, and it had begun to snow. I thought I knew what that meant – we had to go back.
But Pempa did not turn the vehicle around.
“Where are we going?” I asked. Pempa smiled. “Let’s see if we can get to Yumthang,” he replied. “I am a local, after all.”
My eyes widened. It was impossible! Everyone else had left, and it was still snowing. But Pempa drove on. We watched the milestones. Fourteen kilometres to Yumthang. Then 11, then seven, and four.
And just like that, we reached the breathtakingly beautiful Yumthang Valley, unable to believe we were there. Snow stretched out all around us in the vast emptiness. Just us – seven people – in the endless white of Yumthang, all thanks to Pempa.
Our hearts soaring, we knew we had already had the best possible vacation in Sikkim, but it was not nearly over yet. Still determined to avoid other tourists, we travelled next to west Sikkim. Instead of hostels full of backpackers or hotels that promised luxury, we chose Ifseen Villa, a homestay-like experience a kilometre and a half away from the one-street town of Pelling.
Ending our holiday with a homestay was among the best decisions we made. We felt warm and welcome, and the conversation at our dinner table was neither formal nor touristy.
As I gazed at the lemon trees outside our balcony and the magnificent Khangchendzonga range in the distance, I smiled. The Himalayas are splendid beyond measure, and we were, for just a few days, privy to its secrets.
Article by Varsha Seshan.
Top image by Ankur P/Flickr.