Liz has very kindly omitted the tale of our 17km trek to Kechopari Lake. In a nutshell it is the story of a 40 year old man realising his limitations. Realising them in a way that involves clutching the left arm, breathing like a 100 year old, having to walk backwards up hairpin tracks to avoid the constantly seizing leg muscles, all the while watching his girlfriend skip gaily by, light as a feather, hopping from leaf to cobweb like a woodland fairy.
After visiting the tourist centre in Pelling and receiving an intricately drawn hand map of the surround valley, we left at eight and took our shortcut out of Pelling and immediately descended something like 1,200m to the river at the bottom. I mean it was a proper fast descent, with mountainsides covered in lush vegetation that were barely flat enough to support the odd hut along the way. These huts were in fact houses, owned by farmers who tended to one or two acres of maize crops. Occasionally we’d look at the locals with a puzzled expression, waving vaguely ahead of us and ask ‘Kechopari Lake?’. Providing they pointed in roughly the same direction, we kept going.
Down, down we descended, knees jarring and skidding and sliding, but all the while taking in ridiculously spectacular views of the foothills beneath Kanchenjunga. Typically of all the days of rain and cloud, we chose the hottest day in Sikkim in months to do our trek. Not to worry, the man in the information office said it’d only take three hours…
The highlight was probably the roaring river at the bottom and a clamber across a suspension foot bridge before beginning our ascent up the other side.
And that’s when it started to hurt, as soon as the old knees and calf muscles had to lift the feet more than 5cm from the ground. Not to worry, I can see the main road from here, can’t be far…
The main road wasn’t that far but I was starting to get bothered by the fact we had drunk the last of our water. We’d already been trekking for two hours, it was close to midday and we were uncomfortably drenched in sweat. Carrying 5 kilos of camera equipment never helps either. Still, the next bend must surely take us to the lake? Indeed it did, and it was accompanied by a sign pointing back up the mountain saying ’10 miles’. TEN MILES? You have got to be kidding me!
By this point we were exhausted, dehydrated and were constantly bombarded with clouds of dust as Jeep after Jeep after Jeep of Indian tourists too lazy to walk trundled past us. Too lazy to walk? No, they had the right idea! As it turned out we ended up walking 17 km that day, in the searing heat and no, it did not bloody well take three hours, thank you very much. We arrived at Kechopari Lake at four in the afternoon! Never before has a sweet cup of tea been so welcome.
After discovering the best bottle of rum I have drunk in India to date (Sikkim xXx or something) we settled down in our extremely basic but clean hostel.
The next morning we awoke early in order to avoid the hoards of Indian tourists who descend in their hundreds around mid morning. This was the best thing we could have done since we entered the confines of the sacred lake at 7am, just as the mist was rising and the priest was out blessing the lake.
We had the place to ourselves. We wandered round the perimeter of the lake, shared only by the Buddhist priests, a cat and a thousand spider webs.
As the first tourist turned up, so we took a detour and headed up the hill in front of the lake, which, after a breathless clamber, took us to the crest that offers panoramic views of the lake in front and the valley through which we’d trekked yesterday, behind.
It was sad to climb back down the hill and be greeted with hundreds of babbling, litter-dropping tourists. This lake is sacred, and whether you’re a spiritual person or not, it should be treated with an element of respect. Not so these horrible tourists who, at one point, were almost pawing Liz sitting on a bench when I was out of sight. Ghastly. Still, let that not detract from a wonderful little spot that, after 17km of trekking, is a welcome respite to any weary traveler, Buddhist or not.