“It does not snow in March anymore”, we looked across at Phuchung as he said this. The three of us had climbed a small hill next to our resort, Apple Orchard in Lachen and I had been wondering at whether I was about to witness the first snowfall of my life that day. We were exploring the sleepy village with its ever smiling locals and the Lachen ‘Ngodub Choling’ Monastery.
The day had started off crisp and bright but seemed to be rapidly moving towards biting cold and grey. As we climbed back and sipped on our tea sitting outside under the apple trees, we looked through the many books on sikkim and the local flora and fauna that Kumar, the manager had thoughtfully brought out for us. We were also given many sympathies over our unsuccessful foray. Our early morning excursion to Gurudongmar lake had come to nought, the army had advised against tourist vehicles going ahead because of black ice on the roads. We tried to take as many pictures as we could of the surreal winter wonderland before we were turned away halfway from our destination.
Seeing our crestfallen faces, the staff had rushed to ply us with hot food and drink and make sure we were entertained. We still had the packed breakfast given to us at dawn and were admonished when we offered to eat it instead. Being the sole guests at the resort did have its perks, while the weather was certainly not one of them, the almost familial warmth we felt at the hands of the staff, certainly was. We insisted they join us for tea so we could talk and find out a bit more about the locals. Over piles of fresh and warm home baked cookies, we were regaled by the lot about stories of adventure as the locals went into the protected areas, reserved only for the indigenous tribes to go and hunt for a magic herb which is extremely expensive and very sought after. Half plant and half insect, this herb is said to delay signs of aging and is an aphrodisiac. As we poured our second cups of chai, we looked up to find the first snowflakes descending. As the chef and Kumar looked out, they turned to us and smiled “ Aap ka luck acha hai” and it most certainly was.
The first time you experience anything, even more a natural phenomenon as beautiful as a snowfall, is sure to make you break into a smile. We made plans with the kitchen staff to have our dinner in the dining area by the fireplace. Ten minutes into us reaching our room, there was a power cut. The town has very sparse lighting as it is and with a power cut, it was literally pitch dark as far as the eye could see. The only hotel to have a power back up in the area was ours and within half an hour we had the power back on, though limited. Luckily our room was warm enough from the heaters being on earlier. The temperature outside had dipped to sub zero and we were freezing even after our thermals and warm outerwear. The guys at the hotel let us know that the snow had made the stairs too slippery for people unaccustomed to walking in the snow and that they wouldn’t want us to risk coming down in the dark. What followed made us feel so welcome and well looked after that we thanked the guys a million times. Not only did they humour me with my requests of local food, they fed us a proper feast in our room. The rooms are quite a few flights of stairs away from the kitchen and when we thanked them, we were told it was the least they could do, they do not meet many outsiders and having us over was fun for them. The monastery that was clearly visible from our room otherwise, could only be made out because of the sound of the tibetan horn and chanting coming from it. We washed up as quickly as we could, taking care to not run out all the hot water, and tucked ourselves in with the two hot water bottles at our feet and the heaters facing the bed. When the power came on sometime during the night and both the heaters kicked in [only one had been working till then], we actually got warm enough to want to push the hot water bottles away.
As we looked out, we truly understood how too much of a good thing can be bad.
We had decided to try for Gurudongmar again but we found out the place had experienced abnormally heavy snowfall during the night. It looked like our rendezvous with the lake was not to be and we were told we would be lucky if we were not snowed in and stuck in Lachen for the rest of our trip. We made the most of what snow we found along the way to the lake and back. The one thing travel teaches you is to make hay while the sun shines, or run around like demented monkeys while it snows. We bid the sleepy town of Lachen goodbye with promises of returning and left for our resort in Lachung.