Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Day 10: Tsongmo Lake & The Nathu La experience!

Route: Gangtok - Tsomgo Lake - Nathu La - Babamandir - Gangtok (120 KM)
Road Condition: Roads till Tsongmo Lake are excellent but turns bad till Nathu La.
Max Altitude: 14450 ft(Nathu La)

We got up quite late as we had heard that IGP(Police) office would only open at 10. We wanted to advance our Nathu La permit by one day so we had to visit IGP office for it. Nathu la was not in our original plan so I was not all that keen on it. However Parag and Manas wanted to go so we decided to head to Nathu la. We left quite late at 12. For most part, the tarmac was excellent. On one of the checkpoints we were told that our permit was only valid for Babamandir and was not valid for Nathu La and the guard there told that we needed separate permits for Nathu La from army. Still we decided to try our luck and headed for it. We reached Tsomogo Lake first which was very serene. There were yak rides there.
Tsomgo lake on the way to Nathu la..it freezes in winter..

But we had to go to Nathu la, so we headed straight. As we started climbing, he weather again started getting very cold. 5 km before Nathu La, you get a fork on the road where one road goes to Babamandir and other to Nathu La. There was an army personnel at that fork who demanded all our documents. We were quite late to reach Nathu La and our permits didn’t say Nathu La. But some where on our letters Nathu La was mentioned so that prompted the army guy to contact the Major posted there. He told us to go and meet the Major at the next check point.

We entered the Major's office which was very high tech. I've avoided posting any information which relates to army in my post here so would not discuss in details what all I saw . There was Major Chouhan seating in his cabin. He asked us about our trip and other details. He wondered why we came on bikes when we could have come by jeep or bus!
But he understood our desire to visit Nathu La and our adventure spirit at the end. So he said it was not fair on his part if he didn’t allow us. So he asked us to quickly go till the Chinese gate, take snaps and come back.
Chinese gate at Nathu La.. We could see chinese army men on the other side..very exciting place..
we could get here thanks to Major Chauhan who gave permission to come till this point as it was beyond closing time..

We felt very happy and quickly started the last stretch. We reached the gate where we could see Chinese men at the other side. Army men happily offered us some hot coffee. We also met Mr.Garje who was from Pune. We felt very special when the army men welcomed us where ever we went. We went to an area from where we could see the Chinese side. We also saw Chinese men working at a construction site.
Chinese workers on the other side!

A cup of coffee from these men right on the border.. now thats a treat!

Lhasa was just 562 km from here. But that would have been another trip! We clicked some snaps and then decided to head towards Babamandir.
Lhasa is closer than my home!

Posing with the Guards on the border

The small road stretch from that fork till Babamandir was awesome. On some stretches of the road there were notice boards telling that we were being observed by Chinese army!
Babamandir was built in the memory of Baba Harbhajan Singh who served in the army and played an important part in holding up Chinese men in Indo-China war. Legends say that he still roams the hills around and guards it.
There was an ATM at that place and there was a shopping place where we did some shopping and then headed back to Gangtok.
Baba Mandir near Nathu La

ATM at 15000 ft!

Local lady at a shop

We decided to visit the pulsar service station for some repairs. It took a lot of time there. After we came back to the hotel, Manas's bike started giving some starting problem so we again had to ask that guy to come and repair it. All this wasted quite a bit of time. After that we had a nice chat with Mr. Sonam, the owner of the hotel as we had dinner. We then decided to sleep as we had a long ride to Pheuntsholing coming up the next day.

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