It must have been late in the evening but I couldn’t figure out what time it was. It was dark but that was quite normal- cos’ it was winter and the sun sets around 6-ish. The temperature was about 3 ° (Celsius)- not so cold considering I have experienced 35 below. I was trying to keep warm though- rubbing the palm of my hands and placing it on my cheeks. Not that there wasn’t a heater, well, she was extremely selfish that way. I was sharing the room with another tourist we picked up along the way- it cut my travel cost by 50%.
A couple of hours earlier, we crashed after we reached this village which was at 13700 feet. It was a tiring five hour drive from Gangtok which on another day should have taken us three. T’was not the usual route but the bridge near Tsomgo lake was battered from the monsoons. We had the option to wait another day and hope the bridge is fixed by BRO or take a different (longer) route.
This route would take us an additional 2 hours and the roads were extremely wretched. But, this would also mean we’d approach Dzuluk from the picturesque switchback road. It was a no-brainer – the idea of travelling a road literally not taken.
Dzuluk is a small village in East Sikkim and is considered to be an offbeat destination. If you’d ask me two (and the only) reasons why I would visit Dzuluk? First, the switchback road and the fact that Dzuluk was once a transit point for trade routes between India and Tibet; second- because of the spectacular view of Mt. Kangchenjunga. It’s true that tourists often include Dzuluk only in their day trips. This is because it is located (more or less) in the vicinity of other tourists spots like Baba Mandir, Elephant lake and Tsomgo lake- to name a few.
It’s a fact that very few decide to stay at Dzuluk but I believe that is where the experience lies. There is hardly any accommodation at Dzuluk or the nearby localities and therefore it’s important to make a booking in advance. I would advise checking with a local tour operator or the cab driver since online bookings are not effective and I have seen people travel all the way and been denied accommodation in spite of a confirmed online booking.
The booking at the homestay we were put up for the night was made possible by our driver and it is arguably the best accommodation (if I may say so) in Gnanthang. Gnanthang valley homestay, it was called and run by this amazing lady who’s name I did not learn but who’s cooking I will never forget. We will get to the food in a bit but back to dragging me arse out of bed.
There isn’t much to do in Gnanthang but to stroll around this hamlet in the clouds on a stunning starry night. But, me being me, I had to get intoxicated and therefore I stepped out of the room to see if I could source some alcohol. I mean, at this altitude, in this weather what else would the locals indulge in? There were no street lights but the moonlight was enough to show me the way. I walked about a kilometre to this shop- it drew my attention because it was the only place which was lit up and there was activity which sort of echoed in the valley.
I think the above image pretty much reveals that I got what I wanted. I walked into this shop and there were cab drivers drinking and talking about their itineraries with fellow drivers. As always, I tend to end up in places clearly becoming the odd one out in the room. I asked the shop owner and he told me he had whiskey and rum. There was no doubt in my mind-I ordered a half bottle of rum and a couple of pet bottles of local cola. Needless to say the only cigarette they had was Scissors filter- I forgot the last time I even smoked that brand.
But it didn’t matter- I had alcohol , the available mixer and random chips to munch on- sorted! I spent about an hour there and tried having broken conversations with them talking about the only thing relevant- my itinerary for the following day. The weather was extremely pleasant (you may say very cold) and I was just about happy high. I returned to the homestay and went to the dining room. I wish I had the patience to click a picture of this utterly delicious and spicy chicken curry that the homestay owner prepared for dinner. Wow! I clearly remember telling her that I love spicy food and the little amount of green chillies that she added to the curry all ended up in my plate . I ate till I could eat no more and the only thing that remained was to get some sleep.
I climbed up the stairs and found that she was awake and asking, “Where do we get dinner?”. I didn’t bother, showed her the middle finger (with a smile) and hit the sack. Not sure if she saw it, didn’t care because I was in some trip. We had to wake up early the next day to catch a glimpse of this (see below).
The mighty Kangchenjunga as though it were only a few 100 kilometres from the Gnanthang valley. It is a spectacle to behold- to watch the many faces of the third highest mountain in the world during sunrise. The view lasted about 30 minutes before it disappeared, camouflaged by the snow capped mountains in it’s vicinity. A view that I could never forget and unfortunately the last thing on my itinerary before heading all the way back to Bagdogra airport.
A couple of things to remember, is that in Gnanthang valley, there is hardly any network. Jio and BSNL is available but you have to literally walk around to get reception. The issue with the network is also because it is close to army barracks and outposts and they have signal jammers. Other than the experience of staying in an isolated hamlet at such an altitude, there is nothing more to do in Gnanthang.
You know, in school, we learnt that our country is bordered by the Himalayas in the North and almost all of the highest peaks in the world belonged to this mountain range. I don’t know about you, but I thought all of these mountains were in India. The truth is (as I learnt over time) Mt. Kangchenjunga is the only 8000er located (even if it is only partly) in India; personally, I think that is something profound.