We continued our journey further from Lungthung. The landscape here is barren, as it’s much above tree line. We saw the Gnathang valley which was yet to receive direct sunrays.
We’d visit the valley on our way back. So we headed towards Baba Mandir at an altitude of 3822 metre. Late Harbhajan singh was a soldier posted in this region.
In October 1962 when he was accompanying a mule column, he slipped, fell in a fast-flowing stream and died. Later on a temple was built in his memory as he had instructed somebody in his dream. Even today he’s on the payroll of Indian army. There is a widespread belief that he guards the border area ardently. He was believed to be on two months’ vacation when we visited the area. The temple and his bunker is well maintained. We had tea there, which the army had prepared and kept in containers for visitors.
The bunker – on top
Inside the bunker
The sun was up by this time and the sky was deep blue.
We took a turn, but had to stop immediately as the Kanchenjunga was again visible.
The Sleeping Buddha
We had no idea how long we’d be able to see him – so we got down to take more snaps. On the far right we saw the Jelep La pass, through which the old silk route to Tibet was open long ago.
Road towards Jelep La pass
And on the left were the peaks.
Later on everybody at Zuluk said that we were very lucky. Indeed we were. We could perhaps stay there for an infinite period, the view was so amazingly beautiful.
Just before reaching Kupup, there was Elephant lake.
Kupup is 34 km away from Zuluk, and 58 km from Gangtok. There is another road which has gone to Jelep La, but tourists are not allowed to visit it.
We took breakfast there and moved ahead.
Then came another lake called Memen Chho. Chho means water. It looked beautiful from the road, almost hidden between mountains and tall trees.
There is an unmetalled road to reach this lake, and some accommodations of the forest department are also available there.
There is a story involving Bidhan Chho – aka Elephant lake – and Memen Chho. They were a couple actually. However Bidhan suspected Memen, the girl, of infidelity and chased her with a weapon. She got scared and hid behind the jungle in the valley. Bidhan threw the kukri thrice towards her and it hit the mountain. They say that three marks on the hill can be seen even today.
Then came the second Baba Mandir, but we decided to stop there on our way back and moved ahead towards Tsangu lake.
Tsangu is a very big natural lake at 12400 feet above MSL.
It’s also called the Green lake because of the colour of its water.
During the winter it gets frozen. Although it’s very touristy, one minister from the centre was visiting the region that day – so we were the only tourists there as none was allowed to come from Gangtok side. There is a very small shrine beside the lake where a single woman was performing puja. It was somewhat idyllic – smoke coming out of the temple in a green backdrop of the lake – very tranquil.
We had earlier come there thirteen years ago and found that a lot had changed after that. The road between Gangtok and Nathu La has gained significance because of border trade that takes place at Sherathang. Army bases have been set up at Tsangu. The road is also being widened.
We started our return journey towards Zuluk. Although Nathu La was only four kms from this road, we couldn’t go there as the permit is issued only from Gangtok. We stopped at the second Baba Mandir at 13200 feet, which was built mainly for the tourists from Gangtok as they are not allowed to go to the first one.
Road towards Memen Chho Lake
In front of Baba Mandir, Kupup
We bought some mementos from a gift shop run by the army. The world’s highest golf course at 13025 feet is here, at Kupup.
A road at the bottom of the mountain has gone to Lhasa, Tibet
We proceeded towards Gnathang Valley, which we had skipped in the morning.
There is actually a medium sized village there. There is an unusual beauty about the road beyond Gnathang. There are shrubs of various colour on both sides of the road – some were red, some yellow, some brown, some dark green – as if somebody painted the hills with every possible colour. The sky was still blue, with white cotton ball like clouds, and above all – Kanchenjunga could be seen clearly. It’s an amazing landscape – full of nature’s bounty.
We stopped at Lungthung to take some more snaps of the Kanchenjunga. Generally its peak is visible during early morning and as day grows older, it gets hidden behind the clouds. But here, even at 11-30, it stood firm above the clouds.
The adjacent hills were full of small rhododendron plants. We were told that the best time to visit this region is March-April when the rhododendrons will be in full bloom, and there will be snow also.