In 2017 Lipika Di and myself decided to cycle in the Kalimpong-Lhasa Silk Route, and especially in the highest part of it. The highest part being the Old Baba Mandir in Tukla ridge overlooking the picturesque Nathang Valley was also an added interest. The time we decided to embark on this journey was in the month of June, just before the complete onset of the monsoon in these parts.
After an overnight train journey we were picked up from NJP station and put up for the night in Aritar. On the next day, we moved on to our base in Phadamchen in East Sikkim after getting our Restricted Area Permits from Rongli Bazar. Being in close proximity with the Chinese Border, only Indians are allowed to visit this part and too after taking a Restricted Area Permit
The route from NJP to Phadamchen via Aritar can be best described as treat for the travellers, with pristine beauty, waterfalls and the peace and tranquility surrounding it. The Aritar Lake and the Que Khola fall near Nimachen are the prominent ones.
The following day being Day0, we decided to take a short practice ride around Phadamchen area after assembling our respective bikes. This practice ride was especially important for me to get accustomed to the altitude (approx 7000ft ASL) and the terrain. The Phadamchen to Zuluk strech is a climb that has to be done by negotiating the continuous switchbacks one after the other without a momentous let up. To make matters worse apart from being inexperienced in the mountains, I was also riding my roadbike, having considerably higher gear ratio than a Hybrid or Mtb. I knew that to be successful I have to keep on spinning as much as I can and even a moment of pushing in these altitude can force me to quit.
RIDE AFTER THE RAIN
We woke up early in the morning filled with the excitement of riding in the silk route only to see that it’s pouring heavily… seemed that there shall be no ride on that day. However, around 08:00 a.m. the rains stopped all of a sudden, and we decided to take our bikes for a ride. Our homestay being situated near the Phadamchen Helipad, there was downward ramp like section which connects straight onto the main road the hairpin bends starts coming up one after another with each loop making you up by almost 100ft. Unsure of what to do, I decided to charge the downhill section and with some extra speed up in my sleeves, start the climb.
Proved to be a costly move. I was climbing fast no doubt, but soon got bonked down and after only after kilometer and half, I could literally hear my heart pounding, forcing me to stop. After about 5-10 minutes regained some strength back and started on the route. We decided that we shall go till the entry of Pangalakha National Park and return therefrom. After about 3.5 kilometers of up hill ride, I got so exhausted that I decided to call it a day and take rest in Phadamchen.
From the last day’s experience, I was worried and had serious doubts whether I will be able to cycle up till Thambi View Point. But since my partner was so eager to ride and beaming with self confidence, any lack of confidence on my part, would have shaken her state of mind, which I didn’t want under any circumstances. Decided to change my attitude and this time around I thought I would start slow…. guilt feeling slow. We started at around 08:45 – 09:00 a.m. and I was in the vicinity of Zuluk within 10:30 a.m. After having thukpa at Zuluk, I started again for Thambi View Point. It was tough climb, but the breathtaking scenery was enough to ignore the pain and to move on.
With the first day of hard climb over, we had a good night’s sleep, but around 04:00 a.m. in the morning with Sumba Sherpa yelling at us to open the Western side window. On opening we witnessed one of the best ever sunrises over the Kanchenjunga. It was only around 09:00 a.m. we started after watching the sunrise, more so because today it was only around 10 kms that we shall be covering, so at our own leisurely pace we started and reached Nathang Valley, where from we shall continue on to Old Baba Mandir.
Day 3 turned out to be a gloomy one with practically zero visibility. We waited for sometime hoping that the weather will improve but by 08:00 a.m. we understood that there’s almost no chance of improved weather. Riding at 13000 ft with zero visibility was never a matter of joke, as the ride turned out to a slow and tedious one. Literally we had to depend entirely on our hearing ability to gauge whether any vehicle is approaching towards us. However, without much hassle, we inched towards Old Baba Mandir and reached by noon.
With this, for the first time I successfully completed a ride at altitudes of more than 13,000 ft. I owe this to my friend philosopher Lipika Di, who encouraged me at every moment. The most important thing of all that she instilled in me a liking for the taking up challenges especially when it comes to climbing hills. Darjeeling was a follow-up of this trip. Now expecting to do Se La and Manali Leh Kargil … soon.