We set out on our journey to Tsomgo Lake (pronounced Changu) knowing that we had to climb from an altitude of 1677m to 3780m in about two hours. The Lake is located at an altitude just slightly lower than the summit of Mt. Robson in Canada. I couldn't imagine that it was possible to ascend that quickly in a vehicle until we were well into the trip and I realized that we were in first gear most of the way. The road was very narrow and we met almost no traffic other than the occasional military vehicle. There is a large Indian Army presence in this western part of Sikkim due to the proximity of the border with China. As I mentioned earlier, foreigners are required to get a special permit to travel in the region and are not allowed to venture beyond Tsomgo Lake to the border at Nathula Pass, 18km further along the road.
I was a bit nervous about the high altitude as I had suffered terribly from altitude sickness when we visited Pike's Peak in Colorado in the early 1980s. I warned Arun and Neena that they might find it difficult; we were going to be at 12,400 ft and the air is thin. However, we were thrilled to find that we had no difficulty at all. Perhaps the fact that it took two hours to reach the higher altitude made the difference. We rode the cog railway to Pike's Peak and made the ascent in forty-five minutes, very little time to adjust to over 13,000 ft.
Buddhists believe that the lake was moved supernaturally from nearby Laten, so the lake has special significance for them. Tourists mainly come for the wonderful views of the lake and the opportunity to see and touch snow. There is a small viewpoint above the lake and many tourists take a ride on a yak along the far edge of the lake. It was wonderful to see the delight on the faces of the adults and children as they dressed in warm jackets, woolen hats and mittens and then climbed aboard the lumbering animals. I laughed to see the knitted coverings on the horns of the yaks. There were so many different colours and designs, it would have been fun to take pictures of all the yaks in their finery.
Just before leaving, I went for a walk alone along the lake and noticed one yak making its way into the water for a drink. It was a great photo in the making and I waited for just the right moment. I had to kneel in the mud to get low enough and the yak seemed to sense what I wanted and turned his head just the right way in order for me to snap what might be my favorite photo ever.
A couple of days after visiting the lake we learned that there had been a landslide just below the level of the lake and that over 180 vehicles were trapped above the slide and could not make the return journey to Gangtok. The military came to the rescue carrying the people down the mountain after they climbed on foot over the debris. The road will be closed for over a month while repairs are made. We were very lucky to see the lake when we did, lucky not to be caught in the slide and lucky to be able to see the lake at all.
When we were back in Gangtok we spotted a very large billboard advertising the "World's Highest ATM". To our surprise, it is located on the road between Tsomgo Lake and the Nathula Pass, two thousand feet higher than the lake. The poster states that the Union Bank is proud to support India's military personnel posted in remote regions. Suddenly, remote takes on a whole new meaning.
Editors Note: Vicki forgot to take a picture of the great feast of 'Momos' we had at the lake. Momos are a popular Tibetan snack much like 'pot stickers'. She was just too busy eating them to think of her camera. Yum! Yum!