Along the Teesta Trail
It rained incessantly throughout the night at Gangtok. The possibility of embarking on our scheduled trip to Gurudongmar next morning was growing uncertain with each passing moment.
Gurudongmar is one of the highest lakes in the world at an altitude of 17,300 ft in the north of the state of Sikkim in India. This lake is very sacred to Buddhist Lepchas as the revered Buddhist saint Padmasambhava is believed to have prayed here. It is believed that Guru Nanak Dev, the first Guru of the Sikhs had stopped and blessed the lake on his way to Tibet. The legend goes that local yak grazers from this place met Guru Nanak Dev Ji and expressed their difficulty in getting water here. Guru Nanak Dev Ji broke the ice of the lake with his ‘dang’ (long stick) and decreed that the water of this lake would never freeze. This lake then came to be known as Gurudongmar. To this day, Lamas from this region continue to visit the Golden temple at Amritsar to pay respects to their beloved Guru Nanak Lama.
Many of you must have traveled along the river Teesta past Siliguri on the way towards Gangtok or Kalimpong. Once you cross Sevak, the route becomes wild and beautiful. You can see the Teesta in its full beauty, dancing and frolicking among the rocks surrounded by thick green forests.
Teesta on the way from Siliguri to Gangtok
This scenic beauty is sometimes marred by the fact that there is the odd car or two around that probably missed a turn and got stuck in a boulder or a tree way down below. You can only hope and pray that your car does not end up like that as you watch your driver negotiating the impossibly sharp turns one after another.
This time our aim was to travel further upwards near the source of Teesta. On reaching Gangtok in the evening, we were greeted by torrential rains. It was not very cold in the month of May but everything all around was soaked and dripping with rainfall. It was still raining heavily in the morning. We set aside our fears and boarded the car hoping that the rains may subside at higher altitudes.
Map of Sikkim (Source: sikkimtourism.gov.in Official website of Sikkim Tourism, Govt of Sikkim)
Teesta is formed by the combination of two mountain streams Lachenchu (the big stream) and Lachungchu (the small stream), the confluence being at a place called Chungthang (little valley). Our destination for the day was Lachen. The route towards Lachen is stunningly beautiful and there are numerous waterfalls along this route coming down the hills with the occasional rainbow strewn across them.
Waterfall on the way from Gangtok to Mangan
You may like to spend a whole day at any of these places. Having banned the use of plastic bags throughout the state, Sikkim is significantly cleaner than neighboring West Bengal. Though rich in natural beauty, it still is not very well known to outsiders as a popular tourist destination.
We halted for breakfast at a small local eating joint. These places are mostly run by Lepcha families and are often a part of their living quarters. Sometimes you are invited to take meals inside the family kitchen. You feel being treated like family members among these rugged yet simple people. Lepcha homes are usually decorated with beautiful flowering plants and orchids hangings from doors and window sills.
Guests eating at a Lepcha family kitchen
The bright colors of the flower on the balcony attracted my attention.
Flowers at eatery balcony
We crossed Mangan and reached Singhik. It is a small place opposite to a deep long gorge and offers a breathtaking view of the Kanchenjunga massif. You can get a good accommodation here and may like to spend a few days to enjoy the Kanchenjunga view quietly. I was fortunate to view a gorgeous sunrise at this place on an earlier trip about 30 years ago.
Sunrise at Kanchenjunga from Singhik (digitized from old archive)
This time we had no luck as the canyon was filled up with grey clouds. Leaving Singhik just before Chungthang, you can see the confluence of Lachenchu and Lachungchu merging into the river Teesta which starts her journey at this point. We took a left turn, crossed a bridge and moved along the stream Lachenchu and reached Chungthang.
Just before crossing the bridge is the confluence of the two streams Lachenchu and Lachungchu. Rumbling water through the deep canyons and green forests made us stop for a while.
Deep canyons near confluence of Lachenchu and Lachungchu
Chungthang is a small village that seems to have been spared of the ravages of modernity. However, occasional mobile towers indicated civilization is slowly but surely making inroads into this pristine setting.
A little above the main road at ChungThang, there is a huge black rock about 30ft high and 100ft in diameter. On one side of this rock is a natural spring through which fresh water oozes out. Guru Nanakdev is believed to have visited this place during his journey to Tibet. It is said that he had rested on this rock and was having his meal of rice packed in a banana leaf. Some curious villagers gathered around and wondered what the meal was because rice and banana was unknown here. Guruji shared his meal with them. The villagers not familiar with the strange objects sprinkled the rice over the meadows and buried the banana leaf on a field.
Today these areas are blessed with a rich crop of rice and banana.
There is a small old Buddhist shrine on the rock. Beside the image of Avlokiteswar Buddha, the shrine also contains the image of Guru Nanak revered here as Rimpoche Nanak Guru. A Gurudwara has been constructed near the rock.
Further up at Lachen Gompa, Guru Nanak’s footprints, a robe and a water-carrying utensil are preserved. This lovely little village shows how religious beliefs overlap and for common man religion never has a strict boundary.
We had a simple lunch at a Chungthang village eatery and reached Lachen in the afternoon.
to be continued...