Christmas of an Alberta girl in Sikkim

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*Daniella Rubeling

Got all my entry permits for Sikkim, which is a northern state of India, stuck right in between Nepal and Bhutan, and headed there by jeep on Christmas Eve day. Wandered around the capital city of Gangtok and had Sarsong Saag (mustard greens) and corn flour chapati for Christmas Eve supper…a little different than at home! I had arranged a stay with a Couch-surfing host here in Gangtok, and I stayed their for Christmas Eve, but suffice it to say I felt uncomfortable and packed up first thing Christmas morning to stay somewhere else.

(My Christmas dinner consisted of a veggie samosa, some veggie broth, a plate of Tibetan momos and some masala chai…yum!)

My Christmas breakfast was at a little cafe and I enjoyed my first cappuccino in India and a multigrain croissant…not very Indian, but it was comforting and filling nonetheless! I had been blessed with the good fortune of getting in on a trip to Tsomgo Lake for Christmas Day, so I caught up with my fellow traveller Matt Murphy (from South Africa) and our tour guide Suresh and we headed up, up, up in a jeep (of course) towards the Tibetan border. The road was

partly paved, but some sections were being worked on due to landslides. Our driver was ruthless…he would gun it on the paved sections, whipping past other jeeps and then going super slow when we would meet a big truck heading the opposite direction…even backing up in sections to a part of the road that was wide enough for two vehicles. Did I mention it was also SUPER foggy? There were moments we couldn’t see the jeep in front of us.

Card games in the sun, Rumtek

Card games in the sun, Rumtek

Tsomgo (also called Changu) Lake is at 3780m and is only about 18 km from the Tibetan border. Tons of Indian tourists head up there as they can actually drive up past the lake to the border. But for foreign tourists, the lake is as far as we can go. When we got up to the lake, we were blessed again by bluebird skies! The lake itself wasn’t so impressive, surrounded by a dusty road and army barracks. But there was snow on the shaded side of the lake and even some ice…so I felt quite at home. We convinced Suresh to take us up the opposite side, past the army camp (where they didn’t want any photos taken!), past some yaks, and up this big hill (they called it a mountain) to see the view from up there. Took it slow, hiking through scrub brush and dry vegetation and rock and when we got up to the top….WOW! We could see Khangchendzonga in the west, and to the east the hills of Tibet and Bhutan! We stretched out our time up there as long as we could (apparently the army doesn’t like people being there after 1430 h)…I felt so blessed to be up in the mountains, breathing in the fresh air for Christmas Day. We slowly made our way back down and when we reached the army camp, Suresh – who had descended much faster – was eating lunch with the Indian Army guys! They invited Matt and I to join them for a special Christmas lunch and they took out all the stops, offering their “Indian Army” biscuits and juice, some rum, almonds and cashews and cookies….they were such wonderful hosts and kept bringing out more and more! Then they wanted photos of us and with us…thus began an extended photo shoot with this one guy [we called him Rambo as he had a bandana tied around his head] who was a total ham…posing and then posing with us…it was awesome. They sent us off with extra “Indian Army” juice and cookies, hugs, handshakes and wishes of Merry Christmas. A Christmas day I will not soon forget…neither will Matt or Suresh! Suresh was totally surprised about their hospitality and kept talking about it on our drive back to Gangtok.

Yaks dressed up for tourist rides at Tsomgo Lake (3780m) in Sikkim

Yaks dressed up for tourist rides at Tsomgo Lake (3780m) in Sikkim

I got back to the city and got a room at the Modern Central Hotel, no heating still, but hot water heater for a shower. I had a quick hot shower and then headed out to find a little bite to eat for Christmas supper. Momos, a samosa and the best chai (tea) I’ve had so far a this little, super-busy, hole-in-the-wall snack joint…a very decent Christmas supper I have to say! Then I went to my little internet cafe and the guy agreed to stay open late for me so I could call home…so blessed!

Had an excellent early morning chat with friends and then called the family and got them all out of bed at 0700h so I could talk to them! Probably a little earlier than they were planning but it was lovely to talk to my parents, my brother, my aunt and my cousin…a Merry Christmas from the other side of the world. I took a nice walk along the market street where they have piped Christmas music (think Boney M sings Christmas music and that’s what’s playing here!), lit up shrubs and lots of people…it actually felt quite familiar. Then I snuggled into my hotel room bed to watch some cheesy Christmas movies on the TV (!) in my room. To top it all off, the owner of the hotel came by my room with a hot water bottle for me….best invention EVER!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all around! My thoughts are with you and I just wanted to share some of the things. I think I am blessed with this Christmas! Big hugs and love to all of you.

About the author:

Daniella Rubeling

Daniella Rubeling is a Canadian national with a passion for travel, being outside, photography and meeting new people. She loves connecting with people through stories and photos and writes a semi-regular blog albertanaria about her experiences. Her most recent trip included a one-month stop in India, where she was overwhelmed with the kindness of strangers, the landscapes and the beautiful people who call that land home.

*Disclaimer: The above post is a republication of the post published earlier on Daniella Rubeling’s blog.



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