It was a bright, cold day. Bundled up in thermals, sweaters, mufflers, gloves and coats, we set off for Yumthang, famously known as the Valley of Flowers. In spring, a carpet of flowers rolls over the valley, and in winter, a blanket of snow.
As we shivered with cold and excitement, we hoped we would be allowed all the way to Yumthang. The previous day, vehicles had been stopped because the roads were slippery, but perhaps today would be different. The day was clear, and our driver and guide Pempa, who belonged to Lachung, was optimistic.
All along the road, we saw patches of snow huddled under rocks, hiding from the sun. As we moved further, the snow grew bolder, not crouching under the rocks, but showing itself above. Snow spread its fingers over trees and branches, bringing to mind the cotton wool we use as children to decorate Christmas trees.
And yaks! What delightful creatures they are! Handsome, hairy, scared and aggressive. I couldn’t help giggling when I saw them.
Curving roads, mountains that took my breath away, frozen waterfalls – how could my heart not sing with joy?
But fifteen kilometres short of Yumthang, tourist vehicles were stopped. Optimistic though we’d been right through our journey from Lachung, we weren’t allowed to go on.
Speaking for myself, I was not in the least bit disappointed. There was snow everywhere, and we were allowed to walk in as far as we liked. What more did I want?
The place where we stopped was a hubbub of laughter and noise. Locals had set up makeshift tables selling coffee and tea, yes, but also rum and whiskey!
We watched, astonished, but unlike many others, we bought nothing. It’s a shame how much litter is created the moment human beings decide to eat. In a place as pristine as Yumthang, there were paper cups lying crushed in the snow, along with chocolate wrappers. And in this touristy crowd obsessed with selfies, we didn’t fit.
We walked on, trying to get a little distance from all the other tourists. The crowd soon thinned out – most tourists are lazy – and in a few minutes, we were pretty much by ourselves. It was time to make a snow-woman! Armed with leaves and twigs, here’s what we made: Snow Witch!
When it began to snow, my heart was full. Snow and snowfall – that was really all we wanted from Sikkim! Who cared if we didn’t go to Yumthang? We walked on until an army jeep approached us and asked us to start heading back, as the snowfall could get heavier. We took our time, walking slowly, enjoying the snow … and then Pempa drove towards us.
My heart fell. Our walk was cut short, and I guessed we needed to evacuate the area soon. There were no other tourists around anymore, and it was still snowing lightly.
But Pempa did not turn around to take us back.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
Pempa smiled. “Let’s see if we can get to Yumthang,” he replied.