Nathula Pass/ Lake Tsomgo- The exciting Excursions Of Sikkim.
My last few days in Sikkim, and many locales pending to cover in East Sikkim that I gave West and North Sikkim a complete miss. My usual evening tryst to MG Road was marred by heavy rains, and that portends my next most popular excursion to Nathula Pass might be abandoned.
A clear 24 hours serene weather (with no signs of cloud cover) is an ideal condition to set out to Nathula Pass. Situated at a low oxygen level of 14,000 ft, this area bordering China is extremely sensitive. Prior notice has to be served by the tour operator to get permission entry pass. For Indians this seems easier said than done, with limited numbers authorized, there are several cases of tourists who have returned disappointed.
The trip costs approximately Rs 7000/- on a shared basis, and one must ensure proper documentations prior setting out. I have received mixed reports on venturing to Nathula Pass, wasn’t so disenchanted when the next day I could not make it. Predictive stormy weather the previous day and the famous Silk Trade Route between India and Tibet was inaccessible next day.
The Indian Army clears heavy snow that blankets on a regular basis ensuring safety for tourists, the adventure of seeing the Chinese army across the border, and Baba Mandir seemed a pipe dream. I received my refund, but all hope was not lost, Tsomgo Lake was the next alternative attraction and the sun came out in all its glory!
Tsomgo or Changu is a glacial Lake at a height of nearly 12,000ft just 40 Km away from Gangtok. The 2 hours drive to Changu is perpetually jammed (make a head start), to Nathula its worse! Tourists who return from Nathula throng the lake, and when there is no entry to Nathula the Lake is inevitably crowded.
Changu Lake is a must visit itinerary on every tourist’s wish list, and with snow almost 6-7 months of the year round its really a fun place to walk around the glacier and admire the breathtaking view. From Jan to April there is guaranteed snow, April to May the surrounding valleys are carpeted with flowers, Rhododendrons and Orchids bloom profusely, October to December the weather is just right and clear, Nathula Pass is then devoid of snow storms.
What I didn’t like about the Lake area was unruly almost hyper crowd and lack of infrastructure. The entire stretch is lined with Taxis and ongoing traffic, and the not so placid Yaks resplendent in their fineries. Tourists can rent out snow boots, but the milling excited crowd was a deterrent. My feet were soaking wet under the melting snow, I had leather boots on but that didn’t help.
Both sides of the road it was either the taxis or the Yaks butting me out of the way. Finally I clambered on a Yak for an astronomical amount of Rs 1000, and trudged along the partially frozen lake. Barely had we reached the midway, the Yak owner turns around and tugs the Yak to follow back to the stands much to my dismay.
It was just 15 min that included posing for a picture, placating the butting Yak, and avoiding the crowd on narrow snow laden passageways. It’s daylight robbery, recommend not doing the Yak ride, one of them Yak owners even agreed to do the next ride for Rs 500 !
It’s total chaos on the small stretch surrounding lake Changu. I met a Jawan from Karnataka guarding the entrance to the Lake, he spoke with great pride of Nathula Pass and Baba Mandir.