Sikkim Tugs My Heart

Our vacation revolves around school vacations. Last October 2018 during Dussehra I had planned a trip to Darjeeling. Booked tickets but people discouraged saying Darjeeling is over crowded and has lost its charm.

So changed plan to Sikkim and re-booked rooms in Gangtok ( pro tip : Agoda allows free of cost cancellation upto a certain point ).

Took Yeshwantpur-Howrah Duronto Express. Love long train journeys. Can sleep as much as you want and read as much as you want. I had off-lined a few movies in Prime - and family were entertained. I saw Dhalapathi with San - after 26 years - what a kick-ass movie. Last time I saw Dhalapthi was in my 10th standard summer holidays - a 2nd show that too in a movie theatre near Railway station. To kill time because we were to board the Cochin-Howrah express at 3:00 AM in Coimbatore. We were going to Cuttack, Orissa. The Howrah Connection!

Started Sunday 11:00 AM Bangalore. Reached Monday 5:00 PM Howrah.

We took a break. There are lot of trains to NJP - New Jalpaiguri. Could have booked a train for 8:00PM but we have a 60+ Young lady and a 10ish Old man.

Took the train Tuesday evening 5:00 PM. It was going to Assam, we got down at Jalpaiguri Wednesday 6:00 AM. Brushed teeth and we get out of the station.

There is a Pre-paid Taxi stand. Best is to go via this - there are lot of these Mahindra and Tata Sumo. They charge around 250 or 300 per head. It takes 4 - 6 hours to reach Gangtok from here by road. Entire way the beautiful greenish Theesta river accompanies you. Lovely site.

We break for breakfast on one of the road side dhabas. Momos are there everywhere. They have a healthy vegetarian offering called Thakkali thaali.

There is a simple alternative now - if you are short of time can take a flight directly to Gangtok - a new Airport is opened now. Otherwise on Train + Road it takes 2 nights and 2.5 days from Bangalore.

Notice the folded 10Rs. note - all cars have this!

Thakkali Thaali

At border they check for Indian identity. Foreigners are not welcome in this state. They have to register separately and more paper work for them. 

This is nothing for Bangaloreans. Last few kms took more than an hour. 

 Day 1 :

Immediately after checking in - via the hotel - gave aadhar copy, passport size photos for registration. This has to be done before 4PM - so they can get a pass for visiting Nathula Pass ( India-China Border ). Also one day of the week this is closed. Please check before making travel arrangements.

Mahatma Gandhi Chowk.Vehicle free street. Lot of shops and eateries and trinket shops. Nice place to hang out. The place looked so good they could have held a concert there. Then I later found - public speakers are banned in this state. Sikkim is unique in many ways. Kept uncovering interesting facts about this wonderful state.

No Vehicles for almost a km section. 

This is towards one end - half the road is for Pedestrians. 

Day 2 : 

We had to leave around 7:00ish. There is a ban on SUV kind of commercial vehicles from entering Gangtok during office hours - Being the capital + tourist place - it is seriously messed up.

There is a package. Nathula Pass, Baba Mandir and Tsongpo lake. Will be a full day.

Amit - our driver cum tour guide. These guys listen to Bollywood songs. We had a blast. Also Amit arranged for Jackets and gloves on rent for Rs.100 each.. so need not pack heavy duty stuff. These operators make some extra money on the side.

These trucks are from China. Trade happens via this pass. 

The border. There is a treacherous( explained below )  walk + steps to the top 

Treacherous walk. The altitude is (only) 14k Feet. [ Mt.Everest is 29k. Hence the only] The air is very thin. Since we were comfortably cruising in the car body did not adapt itself. So even if you take a few steps briskly Oxygen doesn't refill quickly and you will get dizzy. Have to walk slowly and take deep breathes. Was weird at first. 

Photos are banned at the top. We can see the checkpost and Chinese guards on the other side. Indian side has lot of paintings bragging about our deep cultural heritage. Chinese was very bare bones. Also there were no Chinese tourists. Developed new respect for our Armed forces. They had to be here in such an inhospitable climate. I shuddered thinking of Siachen. 

Airtel does not work here. Only BSNL works. Note to self - Have to get a BSNL SIM card for travels. Has better coverage in remote locations. 

Also my phone connected to Chinese Network and picked its Time. It is 2.5 hours ahead of us. Interesting fact - China does not have timezone! How do they manage?! 

These 2 nut cases were from Jharkand. My kind of guys. Have to pull this off someday. We started making plans how to do a ride in our bikes. Fire lit in our hearts.

Baba Mandir

There is an interesting story of an enlightened Jawan. How this Jawan died in a water accident, he came in a dream of his friend and told the exact location to find his body. This shrine is in his honour.

Highlight here is at 12noon they play National Anthem and we all can sing together. San started crying here. It was an emotional moment.

Tsongpo Lake

It was just after 2pm and mist started enveloping the mountains.

Those Black Rocks are Yaks.

Day 3 : 

You can stop any small taxi ( Santos or altos ) and they will give you a 7point package for Rs.1000 for half a day. We decided to visit 2 places in the package - wanted to drink Sikkim deep.

Ranka Monastery

It is not one of the famous monasteries. Picked this because this was uphill ( downhill if we go then we had to spend 1 hour to enter Gangtok on the way back).

It was totally deserted. Had green tea in a cafeteria inside the monastery compounds near parking. Richard Gere, Aamir Khan - lot of celebrities have visited this place. Also they were serving Chicken moms - What Sacrilege!?

I did not take pictures in their sanctum. No one was there, I just opened the main door and walked in. It was like in some KungFu movies. Sat and meditated and studied all their paintings and the Beautiful Buddha statue and so many Gods ( later found out who they are all - another blog post ). It was a moment I will never forget - it was so quiet and magical.

It started raining today. Was thinking of the Jawans at Nathula pass.

There is a large Prayer Wheel in the middle

Next stop was the waterfall. Banjhakari waterfalls

The climb to the falls is well setup with Gazebos, and statues etc. The waterfall was a little disappointment - as it is little - but the entire walk was well made. We had lot of fun at the falls too - it was like walking in a Japanese Movie Set.

Got back, had a late lazy lunch and then took the Ropeway that runs across Gangtok.

Next day we returned to Siliguri, over night bus to Kolkatta.

While researching on Sikkim found that the Northern part of Sikkim is untouched. The place where Teestha originates is a site to behold.

Sikkimese are very kind and loving people. They speak with a smile and are very courteous. There is no fleecing in the taxis or the shops. There is a kind of gentle peacefulness in this place. There were absolutely no foreigners. All prices are moderate and not inflated like in other Touristy places.

I sound like I am marketing but found a totally different state of mind among Sikkimese.

Also I saw lot of posters for an Organic state. They are banning pesticides throughout the state.

My kind of place.

Will be visiting again definitely. Not done with this cute little state of ours. Might even live here for a few years - who knows!


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