The most amazing roads are usually the roads less travelled.
To ride on the ancient Silk Route passing through some astonishing yet difficult terrain of the East Sikkim was a dream – but now a reality. The treacherous terrain of Himalayas challenges our body as well as mind. In the solo ride, there is no scope for the complaints. We stay as close as possible to nature and our ownself.
Since the early morning, I was roaming around the Gangtok, witnessing the beauty of this hill town and majesty of the mountains. As soon as I got the permit, I left the city and started riding towards the Nathu La pass. At the 3rd Mile check post, Indian Army officials verified my permit to travel to the border area in East Sikkim. The protected & restricted area permit is required to visit border areas in Sikkim and they can be obtained from the Tourism office in Gangtok.
The narrow winding road with several iron bridges offers breathtaking views of surrounding valleys. On the way, I stopped to take a look at the beautiful road cutting through the shoulder of the mighty Himalayas. The pause was necessary to take a deep breath before venturing into the thin air. The temperature had changed drastically. After a while, I resumed my ride towards the snow-capped mountains where the beautiful Tsomgo Lake was located.
The very first glimpse of this Glacial Lake at 12310 feet altitude dropped my jaws with eyes wide open. On the steep route to Nathu La pass, I stopped at this amazing Tsomgo Lake, which means literally the Source of Water.
Just 35 km ride from the Gangtok city situated at 5410 feet, gains 10000 feet altitude in 15 kilometres. Also, the temperature drops suddenly to the freezing point with the chilling wind trying to get inside through the Jacket. The thermal insulator became incompetent to keep me warm. Even though my body started shivering, my mind was at peace by the spellbinding view in front of me uncovered by the fog.
Nestled in the eastern Himalayas, shrouded by snow and minus temperature, lies this gorgeous Changu Lake. It was snowing when I stopped by the edge of this lucid lake which was covered under the mystic fog. Thanks to Border Roads Organisation (BRO) for allowing me to take my bike (Jenny) with me to heaven. As this is Border Area, entirely controlled by the Indian army, we can feel the presence of armed personnel around us almost everywhere.
Ride to this sacred high altitude Tsomgo Lake, transports the soul into the different world. The melting snow from the mountains forms this lake and a source of Lungtse Chu River.
The enticing beauty of this glacial Tsomgo Lake kept me in a trace for a while.
Legend of Tsomgo
The old folktale says that the lake was in a place where the herders used to keep their Yaks (Cattle Shed). One night, an old lady in her dream was told to leave this place soon as it would be filled with water. The next morning, she warned all her herder friends, but they refused to believe her. As she left the village, she saw a lady, who believed to be the guardian deity of the lake, with flowing hairs, entered the valley. And soon the lake was filled with water, however, all other herders perished in the water along with herds of Yaks.
Today, the natives of the Sikkim visits the Changu Lake to pay the respects to the dead. In old days, Buddhist monks used to study the colour of the lake to predict the future. The dark tinge would mean the difficult times ahead.
Along with hot maggie, some people were enjoying Yak rides and others playing over the icy slopes. Border Roads Organization had done their best to keep roads accessible at such remote terrain. The scenic road leading to the Nathu La pass bordered by the snow passes along the Tsomgo and Sarathang Lakes.
At high altitudes, well above the sea level, the world looks so mind-boggling, unbelievable.
I am very obsessed with photography, to the extent that I feel travelling without a camera is worthless. That’s because I don’t want these beautiful moments to just pass away without storing them on the solid-state drive. This way I can revisit these places digitally anytime I want.
My GoPro was doing great to capture the movement of mist over the semi-frozen Changu Lake. It’s very challenging to take the best shots while riding on such a difficult terrain with limited time in hand. But solo travelling has that advantage where I can focus on capturing the moments without distractions. Also, I have mastered the art of taking my own photographs.
Other than the camera, there was something very important on which I can rely on – Jenny – my Honda CBR motorcycle. After crossing more than 2600 km, in scorching heat and incessant rain, here we stood – Together. She had seen the wide Expressways, muddy roads, busy streets, and high altitude routes. No matter what lies ahead, she has made her way through the obstacles without break down. Riding with her has been always a great pleasure. It has been a long and strong relationship.
When I want to clear my head, I just put a helmet on it; then everything looks awesome from the inside.
Located at 14140 feet altitude, Nathu La is a mountain pass in East Sikkim district, 56 km away from Gangtok. This used to be an ancient silk trade route between India and Tibet, operational until the 1962 war. Nathu La pass is only accessible to Indian nationals after getting a tourist permit from Gangtok. Photography is prohibited in this area. There are structures lies on both Indian and the Chinese side.
Nathu means ‘Listening Ears’ and La means ‘Mountain Pass’ in the Tibetan language. Nathu La in Sikkim is one of the 3 open trading border posts between India and China. Others are Shipki La in Himachal Pradesh and Lipulekh in Uttarakhand at trisection point with Nepal and China. Someday, I will cross the border from here with Jenny to explore the Kailash Mansarovar on the other side.
The climate was so cold and gloomy. The cosy hand gloves I bought in Darjeeling came to my rescue. The snow had covered everything including building structures & vehicles parked along the road. Surprisingly the road was broad and in a good condition. After Dagar Dwar, the amount of snow had increased narrowing the tar road. The spectacular Sarathang Lake was just before that Nathu La pass. The parking was 500 meters before. I kept my cameras in the bag and spent some time at the pass. As a souvenir, I got a visitor certificate from the army and ate delicious food at the army canteen.
The Kailash Mansarovar route from Sikkim passes through the Nathu La pass.
Baba Harbhajan Mandir
From Nathu La pass, I rode back to Dagar Dwar and took a left towards Gnathang valley. I could see a beautiful Hangu Lake in a distance. Located at 13000 feet, this serene lake along the ancient silk route was a sight to behold. This newly formed lake is tucked between mountain slopes, strewn with rocks and pebbles. This beautiful lake, fed by the glacial waters, is a nearly one-kilometre long stretch. I was looking at it from the Ganju Lama War Memorial, few kilometres away from Nathu La.
As I moved ahead on the Old Silk Route, the weather worsened covering everything under the thick blanket of fog. The visibility was already poor and the water drops on the helmet were making it worst. In freaking cold temperature & blinding snowfall, I reached the temple of famous Baba Harbhajan Singh. At Baba Cafe, I ate a hot south Indian Dosa in cold north Indian Himalayas – That was crazy.
Baba Harbhajan Singh was an Indian army soldier, who sacrificed his life at the young age of 26 years. He was drowned in a glacier while leading a column of mules carrying supplies, it took 3 days to recover his body. In September 1967, he was awarded the Maha Veer Chakra for his bravery and martyrdom. This temple is not dedicated to a particular religion but it represents selflessness and bravery.
Even after his death, Indian Army believes, Baba Harbhajan Singh is still on duty & pays his salary to his family. Moreover he got promoted from the rank of Sepoy to Captain.
Home to the traditional Yak herders from Tibet, Gnathang is a heavenly valley located at 13500 feet. I never thought, riding on an ancient silk route of east Sikkim can be so enthralling experience. The misty mountains and sudden snowfall had made this ride more adventurous and more spiritual. The Silk Route was not only used for trading of few commodities but an exchange of ideas, art and science between Asia, Europe, and Africa.
At 11200 feet altitude, I was riding through the thick fog with very poor visibility and cold temperature. Finally, I reached the Thambi View Point. It was misty and drizzling, so I decided to wait to get a clear view of this zigzag route. Named after the civil engineer who constructed this amazing road, this viewpoint truly honours their feet.
The thick blanket of mist laid over the mountains, although looks beautiful, I wanted it to just vanish. I had very limited time but I didn’t want to miss the amazing view of the Zuluk zigzag road. I struggled a lot to get good pictures in such weather. If the condition doesn’t improve in some time, I had to move ahead towards Kalimpong, disappointed.
There was a small shack where I stopped for a while. There I met these amazing locals guys, who became friends quickly. I spent a good time along with them around the fire sipping a hot cup of tea to counter the freezing cold. Soon the fog cleared up and I got that awesome view. They were happy to see that I got a ‘Paisa Vasool’ view.
The zigzag road of the Zuluk is on of the most amazing roads I ever traversed in India.
The ancient silk route connects Sikkim in India to Tibet in China, passes through Eastern Himalayas. Dzuluk village was a transit point back then, now used by the Indian Army as a transit camp. This little village with just 700 population emerging as an offbeat tourist destination.
The heavenly silk route passes through the incredible Gnathang Valley which was fully covered in the snow. A few minutes later, the snowfall turned into the rain and the landscape changed dramatically. At Thambi Viewpoint, I got the amazing view of the unusual Zigzag road having more than 100 hairpin bends. This 3 level spiral road, located near Zuluk in east Sikkim, is one of the most dizzying roads I ever saw in India. Carved on a rugged terrain of the lower Himalayas, this asphalted road was really fun for bike riding. Due to unstable weather, I came down to Ganek viewpoint from Thambi viewpoint to enjoy the view.
When I saw the picture of this road first time, I knew I am going to ride on it. At that moment I was standing on the edge to feel the reality. But it was not a time to get emotional. I had to reach Kalimpong which is 4 hours away. I descended the zigzag road and realised that the rear tyre got punctured. Somehow I reached Rongli village where the tyre got fixed. My permits were checked again at the check post near the village.
Next 2-3 hours were scary as I missed the planned route. Then at the moment, I decided to move towards Rangpo because I already came from that way. Along the Teesta River, I keep on riding until the junction. From there the ascend began towards Kalimpong. People were asleep when I entered the city. There was not one present to whom I can ask for help. But somehow I managed to find a place to stay for a night.
Riding on the ancient silk route, especially at Dzuluk, was the highlight of this roadtrip.