As the Commander drove up the mountain, east Sikkim with its sylvan surroundings beckoned. A languid morning sun caressed the snow-capped peaks. Sleepy hamlets lazed, scattered and aloof on the undulated cascades of terraced fields.
From the window of my jeep, I watched mesmerized the magic mountain’s changing shades, criss-crossed by mist and light. It was sublimity on earth; sublimity because the intervening days have taken away nothing from that long moment of wonder. After three hours of grueling drive from Gangtok, we reached Tssango.
It was cold below zero degrees. The warmth of home, the sweat and grime of the plains was a distant memory. At 12.30pm, Tssango (12,400ft) seemed to have reserved its coldest welcome for us. Literally, the ‘source of the lake’ in Bhutia, Tssango Lake is about one kilometer long, oval in shape and 40 feet deep. “This is the most beautiful place in Sikkim,” gushed Rajen Bahadur Rai, the jeep driver.
Wind was like pinpricks, but it hurt more if you stayed still. I hurried inside the small shop beside which the jeep had parked. The burnt smell of coffee wafted up from a corner. In the bone-chilling cold, it was draught of warmth. To hell with table manners, you don’t sip coffee in that freezing cold, you slurp it down. The little girl at the counter—more a wooden board—laughed seeing us shiver. “You plains people can’t stay for more than a few hours here,” she told me when I asked if there was anywhere we could put up for the night. And right she was. Outside, the cloudless azure sky was a brilliant contrast to the frozen white of the lake. Half-frozen actually, but in that sub-zero temperature, who cares about small details?
I walked out in the snow to the edge where the slopes steeped upwards, feeling them with my bare, numb fingers. Mountains have a way of affecting you deep down, changing you, if only for a moment with their pristine beauty.
The half-frozen lake was a bonus. It’s a tough life out there. Food has to come all the way up from Gangtok, the state capital. Still, it’s a 33-km rough drive over difficult terrain. Rice, dal, cabbage, cauliflower, potato with onion for both taste and flavor—that’s the staple. Nothing much. But, you don’t complain; you’d perish otherwise.
How the time passed! It was almost a hypnotic blur. And I was silent all the way down as our jeep threaded towards Gangtok, still caught up in a spell of wonder and enchantment, thinking of the lake and its sacred water with magical power. A song played my mind Top of the World (Carpenters).
I knew the world below would be different But it didn’t bother me.