3rd Nov - Rongli to Thambi via Zuluk
Woke up early with a lot of old thoughts and skeptisism. It was in 2012 when I had attempted the Silk Route with the Xylo, but was denied permission under the reason that the SDPO was not available and can issue the permit only after 4 days that too if I can present mine and the Xylo's case well. Those days getting permit was also not as easy. I did not have the time to wait for 4 days so had left with a heavy heart. But we did have a lot of fun and enjoyment in Reshi Khola and Sillery Gaon so no regrets. In case anyone wants to check that drive here is the link Kolkata Siliguri Reshi Sillery: Xylo Takes on the Heights of North Bengal Himalayas
The thoughts were there at the back of my mind as we once again spoke to Mr. Dilip Pradhan but he assured that it won't be an issue this time and after breakfast he bade us goodbye and wished us a happy journey. He had assisted in all form filling up and told us the process which we need to follow to get the permit. It is important that the owner of the vehicle being given the permit needs to be in the vehicle. What I understood self drive rental vehicles were not being allowed. After breakfast we were ready to roll.
First we went to the Rongli Bazar where we needed to get our passport size photographs and identification papers photocopied. Rongli was a small, laid back but bustling sikkim hamlet and all essentials were available in the market. Parked the Xylo and then did all the required things done at a shop which had facilities of passport pictures as well as xerox. In short they were equipped with the knowledge of the permit procedure.
From there we went to the SDPO Office which was perched slightly higher on a different road but to our surprise when we reached there found it closed lock stock and barrel without a single soul available who could guide us. Sagar went back walking to from where we were coming and got back the answer that there was someone who was in the office but had left a little while back. It was around 10 in the morning and my worst fears of being denied permission this time also started surfacing on my mind
Tried calling up Dilip Pradhan but phone was unavailable. It was Panchayat Elections and we were contemplating whether all Government Officials were on Election Duty or not. So we drove back to Dilip's Guest House but he was not there. But his staff immediately alerted him and he swung into action. Within 10 minutes we were told by his staff to proceed back to the SDPO Office as the concerned Officer is back. Even as we were driving back met Dilip Pradhan in his Swift coming from the other side and he reassured us that the Officer has been spoken to and is getting back to office. While we hit the office a second time around we were surprised to still find it closed but saw a man coming down the slopes whom we could actually ask. Later we found that he was the one who checked our papers (Car Smart card, Insurance, pollution, my driving license, my ownership over the Xylo) and stamped our papers and asked us to get 5 xerox of the stamped permit for us to submit in various checkpoints.
The entire process took not more than 10 minutes in that empty seemingly haunted huge building and I was extremely happy, relieved and all smiles holding the permit in my hand.
We next checked on a tyre shop as I wanted to doubly be sure on the PSI specially in the spare one. The shop was at the end of the village but was on the way to Zuluk.
Just as we started our uphill climb, we decided to stop and make a call at our respective home as we were not sure of telephone network beyonf this point. So we stopped in front of a Shiv Mandir and did our calls. The Mandir itself was a symbol of devotion and spirituality. It had a Shiv ji deity inside which we could understand as being worshipped regularly and Buddhist prayer flags fluttering all around it. A true confluence of Religious beliefs. Needless to say not a soul around.
We did find the odd isolated Home stays strewn on either side of the road and all appeared neat and clean with a lot of warmth. One such big one did attract our attention as we stopped to click it.
From here on it was just superb view all over and extremely enjoyable drive to the waterfall called Que Khola. It was picturesque and we too stopped for some pictures.
It had a small tea shop serving snacks like boiled egg and maggi on one end and looked extremely inviting for me to have a cup of tea and an egg. There was a local middle aged couple in an Alto who were also sitting there enjoying the sun, the chill, the drink and the snacks. The Gentleman checked on me as to where I was driving from even as Sagar was busy clicking. He advised me to reach Thambi (Lungthung) our destination for the day as the higher reaches get engulfed in dense fog post 1 pm. It was almost 12 noon, so I threw caution to the wind and decided to sit and enjoy and encounter the fog if and when it came. After all it was not my first drive in some disturbing fog, though I was cautiously skeptical about it. The Gentleman offered me snacks which I took and drinks which I politely refused as I was on the Highways driving.
The road leading to Zuluk was very soothing with longish straights being suddenly intercepted by hairpin bends. The sky was blue, the mountains were green and we wasted enough time stopping and feeling the atmosphere.
Dzuluk at a height of around 10,000 feet was around 32 km from Rongli which we reached less than 2 hours. This was the original major halt within the ancient Silk route. It was a small village scattered with a few huts and sheds. It has a big military base because of which we found photography prohibited. So the only picture is of a deserted football field with army trucks parked.
From here on the road to Thambi (13.000 feet) was loop like with unending hairpins and steep haul. The Xylo though was pulling effortlessly much to my relief. The roads at places were not metalled too though was holding traction enough. The problem was somewhere it struck me that we were not getting the name of Thambi in the milestones but only getting Lungthung and the worst part is over stretches of 30 minutes we never found a person to ask or a car to stop and check. Finally we found a 2*2 feet tea stall which was open but no one inside. A honk by the Xylo and someone appeared from the slopes of the mountain and told us we were on the right direction and Thambi was just the name of the view point and the village 2 km uphill was Lungthung. Relieved we sat for a chat. The fog was passing on the road at regular intervals but never threatened to create dangerous situations.
And just as we reached Thambi point which was not marked in Milestones but only here we realised our homestay (arranged by Mr. Dilip Pradhan) was further up as there was no hutment present here. But to our pleasant surprise we found our night destination within 300 meters tucked in the slope away from the visibility on the main road. The owner a lady and her daughter called Yamuna were waiting for us on the main road along with a couple of local gentlemen who specially came up from Padamchen (below Zuluk) just to make us comfortable and left after we packed into the room. The Xylo got parked in the main road as we made it down to the hut.
Before entering the hut for a hot lunch, just came out to check the road we had already climbed. And there it was.
The Sun was strongly out though a chill persisted. The Kunchendzonga peak was under a cloud cover. We decided to freshen up, have lunch and come out a fresh to check on the sunset and capture them..