Day 61: Changu Lake, Baba Mandir, Nathula

I woke up with a bad headache. All through last night, I was thinking. Very hard. All the people who had said earlier that touring alone was heavy on the mind and energy sapping had not mentioned just how tough it was to go on alone. On an on. Day after day. But that later.

My Inner Line Permit for eastern Sikkim was for 18th. So it was a simple go – no go situation. Either I went or forgot about it. I thought what the heck, I haven’t come this far for nothing. So I got my butt up and left. Didn’t bathe. Didn’t eat. Just wore enough wollens and my riding gear and left.

I had been on this stretch before. Three years back, I was here with my friends and had toured these areas. But then that was from the safe windows of an SUV (being driven by a crazy maniac, but that’s a different story). This one should be different. I was hoping it is since I was feeling a bit low anyway. Promptly got lost in the city. Twice. ‘Coz I was dreaming on the bloody bike. That’s what happens when you don’ pay attention.

Finally on my way, the route was hardly exciting. The whole trip was going to be only about 120 kilometers round trip. There are no detours. So I had all the time in the world. I rode like I was on a royal tour of the place. I was honked at from every direction. Humungous army trucks waited for me. Super large earth moving machines gave me way. Rows of taxis ferrying tourists couldn’t do much but to wait for me to cross the bridge so they can then fight for their turn.

This was great. Or maybe I was dreaming again. Or maybe this happens everyday on these narrow mountain roads and I just feel like making a big deal out of this. Whatever it was, it was the only exciting thing for the first 40 kilometers. Changu Lake was ahead of me.

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Tsomgo (pronounced ‘Changu’; Yes none of the syllables match but that’s how the language here is) Lake is a boring little lake of which way too much is made in this country. Even the last time we were here, we didn’t as much as touch the brakes at the lake. This time too, I just whizzed past.

Then the roads became progressively hellish. Fresh landslides were all over the place and my mind (which was positively lost at the sight of Changu Lake) came rushing back to my brain. My grip automatically became slightly harder. My feet became taut. My eyes darted around scanning the visual area looking for trouble areas. My body started shifting weight to maintain centre of gravity. I realized what had happened over the last two months. Riding had become second nature to me. I didn’t consciously decide on any of those things. They just happened. It was almost like watching myself from outside my body.

Anyway, I was very soon at Nathula. One more extreme point of the country. The only land connection open for trade with China, Nathula is one of the most heavily guarded points in the country. At the post, I was barely 20 metres away from the border and could clearly see the Chinese post. While I did take some pictures, I am going to keep the word I gave to the Army officer in Gangtok and not publish any of the ones looking at the border installations. Here’s what India looks like to anyone from China entering India through Nathula.

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From there on, I was off to Baba Mandir. It has one of the funniest stories behind it and one of strongest following within the Army. Just another place on the map, really.

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On the way back, came across the Watershed Memorial. Erected in memory of soldiers who died 1967 skirmishes with China, it overlooks Nathula and the Chinese side.

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Then it strikes you! The Chinese are watching.

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And equally quickly they are gone. I wonder how paranoid the Americans would be if the Chinese were watching into their territory.

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On my way back, I came across the four times a week market of Indian and Chinese traders. Chinese trucks were all over the place.

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And the strangest thing happened. One Chinese guy, curious to see me all suited up, came up to me and asked where I was from. I replied. He took two full revolutions around the bike to examine it and guess where he got stuck.

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Oh yeah. He wasn’t happy to see that. I was only too happy to leave unless the sticker created an international incident.

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