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A journey into North Sikkim


I couldn't get into north Sikkim without joining a tour. It's not my favorite thing to do but in this case I had little choices. The idea was to get a jeep, spend a night at the Lake Tsongme, close to the Bhutanese border and come back the next day. It was a nice idea.

North Sikkim

It was certainly dangerous at some points here in North Sikkim

However, as in the morning we were told the road to the lake was impossible to take. Instead we would go north to the Memrong Waterfalls, stay a night in Mangan and then come back. That road should be OK although this tour would be more expensive (more kilometers).

This was as much as I saw from the Merong Gong Falls

I had come to Sikkim to see the beautiful valleys and mountains,
all I got was mist and rain. This was as much as I saw
from the Merong Gong Falls

It was both fine with me. I had booked a tour with 2 Indian families from Lucknow. This would also give me an idea how Indians travel. We left in the morning and the first 30 or so km's were OK. The road was fine but it was raining continuously. It had actually been raining much over the last weeks here in North Sikkim, the driver told me.

North Sikkim

Plowing through the mud ...

The journey would be considerable shorter, less sightings, missing the waterfalls and never reaching Mangan. It would become a memorable, and partly laughable experience. As we drove out with 2 jeeps north, the road, still good in the first 30 km's or so, became a pothole road. That in itself was not the real problem. We climbed up the mountains of North Sikkim with little visibility.

Then the jeep stopped. We had a arrived at a bend in the road where the road was totally washed away. It was apparently expected as the guide told us, we had to pick up our luggage and walk across to the other side where another jeep would bring us further.

It was still raining and the clouds were hanging low. I couldn't really see where the road went to. The guide told me if I didn't want to get dirty, I could follow a difficult path on the mountain slope. I had no idea where that path would be. In fact it wasn't even a path. I saw some kids walking on the slope, on their flipflops! What they can do, I can and followed the kids. I arrived safely at the other side while a little below me I saw the road had been really washed away.

local people in Sikkim
Some local Sikkimese watching the spectacle

At one point there was only space to walk, no way a car could pass here. I arrived at the other side, dropped my bag in the waiting jeep and watched the others. The Indians were all neatly dressed up. The women were wearing saris and the men had all nice suits. They thought, apparently, that the path I had taken was more dangerous then plowing through the mud, as it seems it was "only" ankle deep.

High in the mountains of Sikkim, it wasn't the best time to shoot good photos
High in the mountains of North Sikkim, it wasn't the best time to shoot good photos

At one stage they gave their luggage to some North Sikkimese who brought it to the other side. Then one of the men followed. Soon he was knee deep in the mud. His trousers were rolled up but now his wife and daughter had to follow. I heard them screaming that they demanded the small guy would carry them! Both were (as all good rich Indians) huge.

View into the Rumtek valley days after the heavy rain
View into the Rumtek valley days after the heavy rain

No one was allowed to help the ladies. The locals had brought the bags, but couldn't help the ladies. I was joining a group of locals who were watching the spectacle. They didn't dare to laugh out loud when I joined them but when I told them how funny I thought it was all started laughing too. It was hilarious. When finally everyone had reached the other side, we all got in the jeep and continued our journey.

Second landslide, workers were already working on repairs

The Indians were heavy complaining but the guide, probably used to it, didn't bother answering which made them even angrier. What they didn't know was that 25 km further another part of the road had been destroyed and again we had to walk. This was around the Seven Sisters Water Falls, Memrong Gong. We had to cross this point, without even seeing the falls through an old hanging bridge. It was still pouring rain. The jeep could continue but only with the most caution and it was not worth the risk to stay in the car.

Second landslide, workers were already working on repairs
Second landslide, workers were already working on repairs

A bit further the driver and guide decided we would stay in the valley and would not continue to Mangan. There was a basic guesthouse with food available. The guide told me the road further on had washed away too. I could see the relief on the faces of the Indians.

Valley in Sikkim Sikkimese boy

The guesthouse was below the standards of the Indians who kept complaining. They also missed their own as the restaurant only served basic North Sikkimese food, which was tasty, but not for the Indians.

When the next day we drove back, the road was more or less repaired, I saw some bulldozers standing on the side of the road. The Indians looked tired and frightened for another walk through the mud but they were (and me) were spared the torture again.

By the time I was back in Gangtok, I wanted to say goodbye to the Indians but they were gone before I could say anything. They're holiday had been totally ruined, I guess.

Despite the bad weather and not have arrived in either Lake Tsongme or Mangan, I had an excellent experience these two days. I am sure the Indians, when coming home had plenty to tell their relatives about the disastrous journey they had made into Sikkim.

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