Warmth of Life at 13000 Feet


It was 5 in the morning in the last week of February. When I came out of my hotel, it was pitch dark outside. There was not even a single human being as far as I could see. There was no street light either – the faded moonlight, the sound of the half frozen river and the dangerously powerful chilling wind were the only living  things. Leaving the warmth of the blanket in such a morning is a painful exercise, but I really wanted to do it as I knew I am not among the lucky ones to visit one place multiple times in lifetime. So, I woke up, put some ice cold water on face, put on my jacket and dragged myself out.

My driver promised to be there at 5; I realized how empty that promise was when I did not find him anywhere near. So, I started walking up the hilly road to the place where he mentioned he would stay that night. People who have not experienced walking on the hills in moonlight can never imagine how it can be. That uncanny feeling cannot be expressed in words. That unusual mystic sense of someone following you is bit different and cannot be felt from a seat in front of the computer.

Katao was not in my plan. I planned to visit only Yumthang when I started my journey from Gangtok. Sometimes during that 135 km journey from Gangtok to Lachung, I just threw the idea. My driver Shering immediately caught it and suggested to start the journey next morning at 5 am to enjoy the sunrise from Katao. Well, I could not reach Katao before the sunrise as he arrived bit late. But I don’t regret it. The journey from Lachung to Katao is rewarding at every moment.

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Snow clad valley and peaks with the first sunrise on them is out of the world. This is something that you are definitely going to miss if you visit this place in the peak season of summer. That extra pain of waking up early was worth it. Every turn had something new to offer. The beauty of the mountains was simply awe inspiring. I spent a year in Switzerland and explored many corners of the country. Trust me, Katao is no less beautiful.

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After driving for an hour and half, my car got stuck in the ice. That was near an army camp and we were not allowed to proceed any further anyway, so I decided to step out of the car. The freezing cold and the wind made it almost impossible for me to stand there for long. Desperately looking for shelter, I found out an army tent.

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It is a brick structure but very small –more like a hut. I was wondering if I should get in when I heard a voice from inside calling me “Get in, brother”!!

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I entered the house and found what I found small from outside was much smaller from inside. It was a 6 by 3 feet room. There were several people inside – majority of them were tourists like me who wanted to get a share of the great Mountain View and could not withstand the freeze. The room was dark with a small fireplace inside. Due to oil and constant burning of the fuel and very little place for airflow, the entire room was covered with black dust. On one side of the room, there are 3 beds mounted on the wall. I could not believe that 3 people stay in that room, keep their belongings, move, sleep, eat. The burning oil definitely harms their health. The room is thronged by people like me every morning, every day who just add up to the unhygienic condition by consuming a share of the little oxygen they have. And these people are still there with smiling face, calling us brother, away from their homes for a long time and carrying the great responsibility on their shoulder of protecting our country. I didn’t have words. I went back to my car, get whatever food I had and offered it to them. They did not take anything.

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I came back and took some more photographs. But the small hut appeared more beautiful than the mountains. We drove back – I did not feel cold any longer.

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