The next morning, we could see patches of snow on some of the mountains around us, however the cloud cover was low enough to temper my excitement about the potential for clear views higher up the valley.
Our day’s highlight came early when we arrived at an Indian army base in Tsopta Valley, elevation 4,100 meters (about 13,500 feet). The sensitive border situation with Tibet/China and a plethora of military installations are the cause for all the permits required to travel anywhere of interest in Sikkim. Thankfully, most of the permits are free and arranged via tour operators.
Guide close at hand, we walked a little further up the road which lead north through the valley to Tibet. Large military vehicles were constantly rumbling by us, along with the occasional jeep of Indian tourists who were allowed to visit a lake 30km to the northwest. I was ecstatic to be so high up. There was a distinct change in the terrain at that altitude, and to our west we could catch glimpses of Sikkim’s Himalayan peaks. The southern border of Tibet was a mere 20km north of us.
After enjoying ourselves, breakfast was consumed and we were back in the jeep, backtracking a few hours before heading north again toward another valley to the east. Our driver made a stop for gas, and as he began to pull back onto the road, ran over a large rock which had probably been used as a brake behind the tire of the last jeep to stop there. The jeep was now stuck in first gear due to a broken clutch. We puttered our way back to nearby Chungthang where several hours were spent trying to fix the problem.
As darkness approached, our guide who was clearly stressed out, found a jeep to take us the relatively short 20km to Lachung (elevation 2,900 meters). Unfortunately, the only jeep we were able to get was a piece of crap. The hood was raised so it could be started, and the right side mirror was non-existent. The young guy driving was the owner of the jeep, and I felt he was going too fast, and not paying enough attention. At one point, after dark, he was changing the music on his cell phone while we careening along the precipitous edges of cliffs. I had a distraught and tense look on my face the whole time.
Once settled into our rooms, I let off some steam about how angry I was at the situation I had allowed myself to be put in. I didn’t feel safe, and even our guide said at that point that there was a moment when he was scared. Natalie and Cameron mentioned that there were fumes from the engine coming through the dashboard. Eventually, I regained my composure with the help of a beer.