Friday, October 30, 2009

Caught in a snow storm while returning from Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim, India

Of days gone by...this April during my solo all India motorcycle journey

The weather was getting bad and we were just returning from the Gurudongmar Lake. We stopped at the army camp at Giagong as a couple of folks in our group were struggling with Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). We took them to the army medic camp where the army doctors put them on oxygen and gave them shots to dilate their lungs and thereby help retain more oxygen. Even our jeep driver seemed to be struggling. Me and a couple others enjoyed a cup of hot coffee with the soldiers while the others were being treated. After spending half an hour here, we were told by the army officers to descend rapidly as the weather was bound to get worse. And all this when we still saw no signs of the other 2 jeeps.

We were worried and provided the details of our other 2 jeeps and their crew. It was only after a short while did we find out that one of the jeeps had lost their way in the desert and bad weather and entered dangerous border territory and were in the custody of the Indian army. It was only after much convincing and a message from the Giagong army camp were they allowed to leave and that to in the company of an army vehicle. By the time our other two jeep joined us, the weather had turned for the worse with heavy snowfall and heavy gusts of wind.

Slowly, but together, we made our descent to the army base camp at Thangu. The visibility was getting poorer and a thick sheet of snow was covering our windshields. And to make matters worse, the windshield wiper in my jeep stopped working. Our driver would stop every 5 minutes and clean the windshield with a piece of cloth to remove the thick crust of ice that had formed on top of the windshield. Shortly, all vehicles stopped. We wondered what the problem was and soon found out that an army truck in front of us had some problems. After completely covering myself, I got down to get specifics.

Only when I went close to the army truck, did I figure out that their diesel fuel tank had frozen. One soldier was trying to warm up the fuel tank by lighting a fire under it. The others were trying to clean the oil filter and other parts that were frozen. It seemed like a never ending wait. The army jawans kept on trying, but the vehicle didn’t fire at all. Meanwhile, one of our jeeps stopped running and we found out that its oil filter was also frozen. Seeing this, the others kept revving the engine in a bid to keep it nice and warm. Soon, the jeep with the frozen oil filter was fixed, but the army truck still blocked passage.

To kill time, most of us got down to admire the silken white beauty around us. The entire world that had been barren 3 hours back was now covered in heavy snow. The temperatures were plummeting by the minute. Suddenly, we were told to get inside out respective jeeps. One of the jeep drivers had an idea. He was going to try the daredevil stunt of avoiding the cliff and crossing by the side of the army truck. The first one went slowly and reached the other side successfully. The 2nd one tried crossing, but one of the wheels was in mid air and was facing the drop below. All the soldiers rushed to get the jeep back on the road and thankfully all were safe. The 3rd jeep made it safely. It was quite an adrenalin rush for all of us. It was a near death experience for the 2nd jeep members.

It was a slow and chilly drive to the army camp at Thangu. All the jeeps stayed close. We stopped at Thanggu for a quick tea break while the permits were shared with the army camp. It was late evening when we reached Lachen for lunch. The snowfall had given way to rainfall here as we had descended close to 7,000 feet. We packed our belongings, had lunch and headed off to Lachung situated on the eastern side of North Sikkim. During the drive to Lachung, the entire group kept silent partly because of exhaustion and partly due to the excess adrenalin rush a short while back.

To see India through the eyes of a motorcyclist’s lens, visit the album below.

my solo all-india motorcycle journey

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