A Monochromatic Day at East Sikkim

Touristy Yet Breathtaking Tsomgo Lake

As the car climbed up through the winding mountain side, the charming scenery all around suddenly gave way to monochrome. The sudden transition caught us off-guard leaving us tad surprised even though it had been raining off and on for a while now. The day had started bright and sunny but now the sky was overcast. The tall mountains on either side of the tarred road were cloaked in patches of white and grey.

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Pic 1: The monochrome surroundings 

We had arrived at Gangtok the day before with plans of visiting North Sikkim. However, leaving Gangtok without visiting the touristy Tsomgo Lake and Nathula Pass would be sinful – so what if these places are located in East Sikkim! Hence, off we headed towards Tsomgo Lake. Nathula Pass hadn’t opened for the season even though it was the month of April. Last winter was harsher than usual resulting in the Pass being still closed due to snow.

Situated at an altitude of 12,313 ft, the oval shaped Tsomgo is a glacial high-altitude alpine lake. Spread over 1 Km. with a depth of around 48 ft., it is also known as Changu Lake. The lake is considered sacred and located about 35 Km. away from Gangtok. The colour of the lake changes in different seasons and it is said that the spirituals gurus of Sikkim would predict the future of the state by studying the colour of the water. Due to its proximity to China, Protected Area Permit (PAP) is required to visit this place.

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Pic 2: The oval-shaped Tsomgo Lake as seen from a distance.

The lake looked stunning even though it was teeming with tourists. It was partially frozen making it even more enigmatic and magical. A large part of the surroundings was also wrapped in snow. The spectacular beauty of the lake enticed us but the swarm of people all around was quite a turn off. Tsomgo Lake being a popular tourist destination in Sikkim, the crowd wasn’t surprising and we had expected this. A small bridge connects one side of the lake to the other. We walked over to the other side. One can also avail yak rides to go to the other side.

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Pic 3: Notice the tiny people scattered like twigs all around?
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Pic 4: A prayer wheel breaks the monotony of black and white.
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Pic 5: Tourists ride these yaks to move around the lake.

After a short walk by the side of the lake, the touristy selfie-clicking chattering people got the better of us and we decided to leave. Instead we found a quiet place higher up in the mountain by the side of the road that provided a perfect view of the lake. And there we feasted in the magical scenic landscape of the ethereal lake nestled in between tall gigantic mountains. Everything remained black and white though.

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Pic 6: Reflection of the surrounding mountains on the half frozen lake.
Unfathomable Faith of Baba Mandir

Before spending time at Tsomgo Lake, we had gone to Baba Mandir – a unique temple that houses the shrine of Baba Harbhajan Singh. A very fascinating story is associated with this temple.

Harbhajan Singh was a soldier with the Indian Army. He belonged to the Punjab Regiment. In 1968, he was involved with flood and landslide relief work in Sikkim and North Bengal. During that time, the 27-year old soldier had slipped and fallen into a rivulet while escorting a mule column from Tuku La, his battalion headquarters, to Donguchui La. He went missing and all search efforts went in vain. After 5 days, Harbhajan Singh appeared in the dream of a fellow soldier informing about his death by drowning and that his body was carried 2 Km. away from the site of accident by strong current. Apparently, he also expressed his desire of having a samadhi (tomb) built in his name. His body was discovered exactly at the mentioned place.

Thereafter he came to be known as Baba Harbhajan Singh and his regiment built a samadhi at the place where he was posted during his service. The samadhi is the original temple, located about 10 Km. away from the new temple. This we learnt much later while at Dzongu Valley. The place we visited happens to be the new temple built for the convenience of tourists. I wish I knew about the original samadhi well in time to be able to visit it.

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Pic 7: The story of Baba Harbhajan Singh displayed at the temple.

Army folklore has it that Baba Harbhajan Singh still guards the international boundary between India and China. Apparently both Indian and Chinese armymen have seen a human figure riding a horse along the border at night. It is also believed that Baba appears in dreams of fellow armymen warning about any untoward activities happening at the border. Chinese soldiers also set aside a chair for the Baba whenever a flag meeting is held between the two countries.

The Army payroll still has his name and he receives his salary, due promotions, and is also granted leave as per policy. All this intrigued me and I googled later to learn that the Baba goes home on September 13th every year when a berth is booked for him in Dibrugarh Express. Army officials take his portrait, uniform, and other belongings to his village Kuka, in Kapurthala district of Punjab. The same soldiers carry the belongings back to the Sikkim, once the leaves get over.

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Pic 8: The idol of  Baba Harbhajan Singh.

The new Baba Mandir has three rooms in a straight row. The room at the center has an idol of the soldier along with Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of Sikhism. The room on the right has a chair and a table that represents the Baba’s office. It also has a heater to keep him warm. The room on the left, is filled with water bottles. It is believed that water kept in the shrine is blessed by the Baba and if consumed after 21 days cures all possible ailments. Hoards of tourists and devotees visit the temple and offer things like toothbrushes, slippers, etc. One can also send letters to the Baba, which are opened by other soldiers.

The original samadhi has a room that has everything that may be required by the Baba, such as, neatly ironed uniforms, slippers, shoes, camp bed, etc. Indian Army soldiers polish the Baba’s boots, keep his uniform clean, and make his bed. The soldiers have apparently reported crumpled bed linen and muddy boots.

All of these would appear delusionary to a pragmatic mind. The Indian Army, however, believes in the spirit of Baba Harbhajan Singh. Everything in the universe cannot be fathomed by our limited understanding, hence let faith triumph over logic for this bizarre place of worship.

Author: neelstoria

Traveling, Gardening, Trekking, Hiking, Storytelling, Writing, Nature, Outdoors, Yoga, DIY

43 thoughts on “A Monochromatic Day at East Sikkim”

  1. I remember seeing a video about this story on youtube. We came across a similar tale while traveling to Tawang ( I don’t remember the name of the soldier but we did pass his shrine and he too was referred as baba by other soldiers and locals) 🙂
    I enjoyed the post thoroughly. The lake looks breathtaking in monochrome!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just googled. The name of the soldier is Jaswant Singh Rawat. Quite amazing that there’s a similar story from Arunachal Pradesh and both states share their border with China 😀
      Thank you, Madhura for visiting and reading and leaving behind a comment!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. These are the commonest places visited by tourists to Sikkim. It’s surprising that you missed these 🙂 ….there’s always a next time….
      Thank you for stopping by, Maggie and Richard.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely narrative as always, Neelanjana. Loved the pictures too; the one that stuck in my mind was the one of people “scattered like twigs” – so apt! It seems an achievement in itself that you managed to escape from the touristy clutter to find a spot of tranquility.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There was no way we could escape the crowd in and around the lake, so it was only somewhere on the road overlooking the lake that we managed to find a spot. People had no interest in that place rather they eyed a place further up where they were busy playing with snow. Suited us just perfectly 😉
      Thanks for reading, Narendra.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Raj. Hope you get to go to Sikkim soon. Don’t know why I was thinking you would have been there already. Have you seen my previous post? That was an even better place.

      Like

  3. Love this entry. The pictures are gorgeous. While there were so many people there you managed to keep most of them out of your shots – and even the one with many tiny people was so pretty I had to focus away from the natural beauty to look for them.

    The story of Baba Harbhajan Singh is amazing. However true the supernatural side of it may be, there is no doubt that it is a great tradition and story – and so nice that he’s remembered like that.

    Thanks for sharing this as always.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Todd. Good to see you 🙂
      Sikkim is over crowded with tourists but even then its heavenly beauty doesn’t fail to charm you.
      I am sure your list of places to visit in India is just growing. 🙂
      It is indeed amazing that the Indian Army takes care of this soldier in a way that he is still around and for the soldier the call of duty didn’t end even with his death.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Another interesting travelogue more so with the story about the Baba mandir. Quite revealing. How the local and the army units revere the spirit of soldier Harbhan Singh is fascinating. Yes, “let the faith triumph over logic.”

    Like

  5. Sikkim was the first destination in my world of travelling/trekking 🙂 It would be fair to say that it ignited the flame in me to travel 😀 I went with college friends in January 2016. That was the first time I saw snow in my life. Even then the pass was inaccessible due to snowfall which happened one week before we reached. But being inaccessible in April is really surprising! The pictures of the lake are breathtaking. Reminded me of my trip. Did you get a chance to visit Gurudongmar lake as well?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Fascinating pictures. My favourite being the one with the Buddhist mantra bell.

    Baba Harbhajan shrine is a must visit, not only from touristy point of view ….. There is a reason behind it. You may like to Google about it. 🙃

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I had been to this place during my trip to Nathulla pass. We also visited the Baba Mandir. We were frozen at this place due to too much cold, yet it was so memorable.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Loved the story, and that part which says that even the Chinese army keep an empty chair in memory/reverence (or sacred of his reappearance?) of the soldier during flag meetings. I too believe in ghosts, that they have escaped our understanding till now. Don’t know if they’ll ever be explained fully, but better not as then the ghostly aura will remain. Let some things be. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Completely agree with you! Some things should just be. Plus there’s a lot out there that’s unknown to us human beings and everything surely cannot be explained with logic and science. Remember my post of the hotel room in San Diego?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes. That was eerie. But a true experience. On hindsight, you should consider yourself lucky, as most of us have to resort to just stories – of course, the experience of the moment can be scary 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      1. People do suffer from hallucinatory effects. But all unnatural experiences shouldn’t be treated as such. With regards to ghostly experiences, there’s a fine line between reality and fiction.

        Liked by 1 person

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