Having completed the Tibet part of the Yatra, we arrived at the Nathula quite late in the morning; with our Liaison Officer recording in her journal, “Nathula again! O! the joy.” Quite surprisingly, the customs related checks and formalities didn’t take much time. A light shower of rains greeted us as we once again assembled on the no man’s land. Over the duration of the trip to Kailash Mansarovar region from the Nathula in Sikkim and back, our group and the entourage travelled nearly 3,500 km. After exchanging some pleasantries, the Tibetan and Chinese staff gleefully waved us off one final time.
On the India side of the border, in the windy chill of the high-altitude mountain pass, the ITBP had hosted a high tea for us. The young officers of the Police Force keenly listened to our stories of the yatra. After some more formalities, we proceeded towards the Seventeenth Mile, Sherathang, where the ITBP had organised a formal function for us. The atmosphere was euphoric as we arrived at the acclimatisation centre at Sherathang. More stories from the yatra emerged; many of which even I wasn’t aware of. As if this wasn’t enough, the STDC guys briefed us that the Government of Sikkim has organised a formal reception for us next day at the Governor’s House Gangtok; as a tribute to mark the success of the first batch through this newly opened route. Almost all of the group members received that news with much interest and excitement. I rued the chance of exploring the hilly estate of Gangtok. Anyhow I was still hopeful about the evening.
Given the bad weather, the STDC arranged smaller vehicles for us to facilitate our transport to Gangtok from the pass. Our driver gave us the news of multiple landslides in the terrain but mercifully none obstructed our movement. With Kishore Da’s numbers playing in the car, our descent to the state’s capital was awesomely engaging for reasons more than one. The vibrant rain-washed hillside on the way looked even more natural and pristine. The celebrations wouldn’t just get over even till late evening that day as the locals kept thronging our guesthouse to greet us and get some first-hand information about our experiences. There was a sort of success and rejoicing throughout the hilly town.
Later that evening, we took a stroll in the market of MG Road. The famed market offers typical hill touristy stuff primarily comprising articles related to cold weather along with an extraordinary variety of home grown tea as well as articles related to Buddhist culture. Running short of time, I couldn’t reach much of the Lal market. I did not splurge much on anything except some copious amount and varieties of tea. My groupies seemingly bought everything under the roof; at least their swollen bags reflected that. The market square has some nice cafés looked after by locals. For those interested in nightlife, there are options too; frequented by local celebrities foot-tapping on hip-hop or techno or even college classics. I’d say that some of the best nights out happen spontaneously! *wink
Following morning, the first batch was accorded an unprecedented welcome at Gangtok. It had the honour of being attended by the Governor, the Chief Minister along with the entire cabinet and state top machinery at the Governor’s House, the historic White’s Residency that has silently been observing the changing political landscape of Sikkim for over hundred years. After the speeches and a bara luncheon, the participants were presented with a souvenir by the Government of Sikkim. Another group photo with the chieftains; the final one, and we were packed off to the plains to board our flight to New Delhi.