Today was scheduled as a sight-seeing day for the women. An Indian travel agent arranged for them to visit the Tibet border, about three hours’ drive from Gangtok. As foreigners, we are required to stay at least 20 km from that border, so he arranged a different vehicle, driver, and guide for us. That was a wee disappointing because the ladies were finally feeling open with me and it would have been fun to spend the day with them, but hey, I didn’t relish the thought of being arrested and tossed into a Chinese prison for pushing the law.
We jumped into the Jeep at 8:00 a.m. and began the windy uphill journey. And believe me, it was UPHILL. For two hours we hugged the hillside, more so when a Jeep came from the front. In several places, large rocks or boulders had fallen from above and landed on the road. We crossed several bridges and twisted through numerous military bases where signs told us that photography was strictly prohibited. Fog engulfed us and the road finally snaked above the clouds until we could see nothing in the ravines below. Finally we rounded a bend and, to our delight, were greeted with a colorful bazaar located on a pristine lake. Ahead of us lay a mountain pass that led to the Chinese border. On either side towered rugged mountains, some still covered with snow. A sign welcomed us and told us that the elevation was 12,400 feet.
The moment we stepped from the Jeep, young men towing yaks surrounded us. That’s right – yaks. Black, hairy, shaggy beasts bedecked with saddles and knitted covers for their horns. The men wanted us to ride the yaks but we denied their request at first. I mean, who knows how fast a yak can run if one tears away from his master?? Having had a bad experience with horses, the thought of being bucked off a yak simply didn’t appeal to me. But we watched Indian tourists enjoy the ride and it seemed harmless enough, so we eventually said yes. The yak owners wanted to take us up a mountainside where we could see the Chinese border if the fog lifted, but I took one look at the incline and felt that idea pushed the limit of common sense. Bouncing along on level ground was good enough for me, thank you. Somehow I’ll have to find a way to post a picture to prove that I really did this. Imagine!