North Sikkim is a sparsely populated district, which sees really harsh winters esp in the Gurudongmar Lake area.
We were doing a road trip across Sikkim and decided that instead of going to the valley of flowers (given that it was December & no flowers would be blooming), we would explore the mountainous climes of Lachen & Gurudongmar.
The sun sets really early in Sikkim and this meant that if we had to reach Lachen before sunset we had to do an almost non-stop drive. More so because inspite of our best efforts we could leave Gangtok only around 1030 in the morning.
Lachen is a small town which seems to have just a few houses on either sides of the road that passes through it. Passing through such places I often wonder what would happened- the town grew around the highway or the Highway was finally built to connect this one time village to the rest of the world…
We found one new hotel which had really nice rooms and we were just about settling down when the cold started hitting us. We had taken a room which had 2 sides facing the valley and no room heater:-) We spent the night folded up in our beds with two blankets and quilts each and still somehow feeling the night chill.
By morning, we realised how ill-prepared we were for this trip.We had decided to go upto 17000 ft in sub-zero temperatures and most of us had just a single layer of woollens. None of us had woolen socks or even gloves.
So while my other two friends were busy packing up and checking out, I started chatting with our driver.He finally confessed that he had never driven up to the frozen lake in this kind of weather. But as a consolation he came up with a bit of local gyaan- he told me if you chew ginger when we start going up, you would not feel the lack of oxygen & hence no altitude sickness.
And so I asked him to get some ginger for me also. I was now all set for my high altitude journey….or so I thought.
Our Bolero was not a 4 wheel drive and I soon realised that it took more driving skills than what I had to steer the heavy vehicle over frozen rivulets. I tried for a while but when the thing kept skidding and slipping , it was time for the driver to take over.
We crossed many abandoned villages on our way, and were tempted to take down some of the wood and use it along with the jeep’s diesel to light a fire. As we went further into the valley we realised that our driver has no gloves and is driving with just one hand, with the other under his lap. We decided to try our luck at an army camp and look for some gloves.
We asked around and were finally given directions for an army canteen which was closed when we reached there around 0930. Found a jawan and realised he is from the Jat regiment. So i asked in my most country hindi where he was from and by when would the canteen open- lady luck shined ! He was from Meerut and it took me no time to tell him that I hailed from the same part of the country- Western UP. The canteen was opened esp for us, but they had no gloves. So instead we bought a pair of woolen socks each to be used as gloves 🙂 and loaded up on our chocolate rations.
So off we went to Gurudongmar lake, me munching ginger with a bar of chocolate as the side dish, our driver wearing socks on his hands but thankfully both hands on the job!
When we reached the top of our journey, the ginger seems to have the desired effect- I could manage to roam around, click a lot of snaps while one of the other guys was immediately down with severe headache. I was thanking myself quietly for having trusted the local medicine – but was soon to realise that prescription is as important as the medicine.
We came back to Lachen with two halts at the army checkpost, which also boasts of having the highest restaurant in the world 🙂 They not only gave us certificates to show that we were there, but also offered us some army ration apple juice- all thanks to my friends’ starting a conversation about “home” with these soldiers.
I suddenly started feeling a burning sensation in my throat and by the time we were back into the same room of the same hotel at Lachen, I was bent over in the washroom, puking my guts out. I didn’t realize what had hit me but somehow the burning sensation reminded me of the ginger i had been munching.
I cleaned up and dragged myself down to meet the driver. Told him that the ginger i had “eaten” seems to have burnt the food pipe and perhaps even beyond. To which he calmly responded- “I had asked you to chew not eat the ginger. You were supposed to just keep it in your mouth”.
And here i was lost in translation- having eaten atleast 75 gms of ginger in one day on an otherwise empty stomach, with a burning sensation so severe that I was imagining myself as a fire spewing dragon from another life.