Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Breakfast at Thangu; 14,000 feet above sea level

We woke up to the sights of a freezing Lachen (a town in North Sikkim) at 4:30 am on a cold December morning in anticipation of getting a glimpse of the Holy Lake of Gurudongmar [in all likelihood, the road to Gurudongmar maybe shut and I had my fingers crossed] . As most of the town slept, we warmed our hands from the tea cups as we sipped chai between piling on 6-7 layers of warm clothing.  Our driver Norge revved the car through the thin layer of ice shrouding the road just outside out hotel before heading out of town to reach Thangu while the bends in the road jostled us out of our sleep. 

Thangu, 14,000 feet above sea level is a non-descript village in North Sikkim at the foothill of Gurudongmar Lake.  It has its moment of glory when many a tourist stop here to acclimatize for onward drive to the Holy Lake where the low oxygen levels would leave even the fittest of the lot breathless!     

In the summer months, Thangu is bustling with life till mid-day and business for the locals running small food stalls is good.  However, winter is another ball game for the locals.  While most recede to lower retches of Sikkim, handful of brave ones cater to keep tourism alive.

We reached Thangu after an hour and a half drive gaining 4000 ft ie from 10000 to 14000 feet amidst views of snow capped Kanchenjunga, coniferous trees, road peppered with snow and numerous military outfits.  Thangu comprised of ten houses and one or two lodges both sides of the road to Gurudongmar and essentially built on bank of a river which serves as a source of water for the locals. 

Outside the hut
While there a handful of lodges serving breakfast, we ate breakfast in a small hut-cum-restaurant run by two women (bhabhi-nanand relation both of whose husbands were in army).  The hut was very basic and built around the fireplace.  As we were 8 of us, we quickly occupied the bed and wooden slabs around the fireplace and the women got our breakfast (hot tea and bread-butter-jam started). 

The Kitchen!

The hut and the hut-women quickly warmed up to us and we started a steady stream of conversation between sips of hot tea.  

Huddled around for chai and warmth
The women (brave women, I must say) spoke about life at such high altitude and how they brave the winter by catering to the tourists to earn some extra money.  Interestingly, the need to stay thin even in such cold climate keeps them from having  butter, sugar and quintessential Sikkimese butter-chai as recommended by their grandmothers to stay desirable for their man.  Even the thought of no butter and sugar sent shiver down our spine as we warmed our hands at a makeshift heater around the house chimney.

One breakfast at Thangu and the realization hit home.  Firstly it was so true that no matter where you live or how rich/ poor you are the need to look pretty/ presentable is universal.  Secondly, interacting with these women also made me realize that happiness is but a state of mind – these women looked happy, they were happy!  Hence, no amount of material things will make you happy if you are not at peace with yourself and thankful for all that you have.

And no, ultimately we did not get to visit Gurudongmar – but I was thankful for having met these women and with the (safe) decision taken by our driver to get a view of Chopta valley an alternative!


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