Today I would like to share my experience of travelling to another dream destination of all travel enthusiasts…Sikkim, the land of pristine and mystic beauty. It was during the summer of 2009 I suddenly felt the urge to make a trip to Sikkim and Darjeeling. It was an impulsive decision and so didn’t have much preparation done for the trip. I called up a friend in the wee hours of the morning and asked if she would like to join and then got the train tickets booked immediately from Dibrugarh, Assam( for that’s where I lived then) to Silliguri. And within hours we were sitting on the train. In about 12 ½ hrs we reached Silliguri station. There we found a number of taxis and small mini buses that take passengers to Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim. We decided to join a few other passengers in a taxi and started for our first destination…Gangtok.
After a long 4 hrs drive along the river Teesta, we reached our hotel which we had pre-booked online. We managed to get a fairly decent dinner in the hotel itself though the room wasn’t up to our expectations as per the price we had paid for it. Our hotel was just a few distance away from MG marg the upscale market of the area. With its cobbled streets ,flowers, Victorian street lamps and ornate benches ,the MG Marg can easily pass off as a European street .
Cars are not allowed in this area and smoking is prohibited making it a very friendly zone for everyone. I loved the cleanliness of the area unlike other parts of India and wanted to know how they maintained it. A shopkeeper told me that they follow strict rules and are fined severely if anyone disobeys. I was surprised to know polythene bags are banned in the area. They believe polly bags clogs the rivers which results in flood and landslides thus causing harm to environment. I think this is a lesson we all should learn and follow.
As it was an unplanned trip we didn’t have any guide till now. The next morning we walked through the market for information about what we ought to see in the area. We came across many travel agents who were more than willing to help us out to show us all the major spots in the area. We were a little apprehensive of being cheated but decided to take the risk and have fun.
We got ourselves an itinerary and were ready for the adventure. A few worth visiting spots were closed due to landslides few years back but not yet restored. Though disappointed we thought we had enough things to do in just 2 days’ time. The weather was slightly chilly which reminded us that we were in the mountains unlike the burning heat of summer back home.
The travel agent provided us with a taxi for the day and we started off early in the morning on our exploration of the city of Gangtok. The first stop was Hanuman-tok, a temple devoted to Lord Hanuman. Located on top of a hill the temple is very simple and not at all extravagant from the outside, but inside the confines of the temple, Hindu Gods and Goddesses are depicted very elaborately. From here we could get a good view of Mt. Khangchendzonga of the Himalayas, the third highest mountain in the world.
Next was Ganesh-tok, another temple located at the top of a hill, dedicated to the Hindu God Ganesha. There were innumerable prayer flags fluttering in the wind giving it a splendid view. Devotees write their prayers on those flags and they tag them everywhere so that when the wind blows, the prayers are spread all across the mountains.
We also explored the mini stalls at the base of the temple and bought some pretty crafted gifts for friends and family. Outside the temple we saw some tourists wearing traditional dresses and taking pictures. On enquiry we learnt the shops rent the costumes at a decent price for memorable photographs. We decided to give it a try. I didn’t look that bad though huh!!!
We also came across innumerable waterfalls on the way, some even crossing the roads making them wet all over and across. The most notable one was the 7 sisters fall, a must see picturesque waterfall.
We enjoyed the panoramic view of the peaks and the valleys while on the way to Tashi and Shanti, two other points. There are numerous monasteries in the state but we could visit only the Peace Pagoda due to time constrain. The sonorous chantings of Buddhist mantras gave me a sense of peace.
We did not forget to take the cable car ride at Deorali market. It provided a spectacular view of Gangtok market, valley and assembly hall of state of Sikkim in its 15 to 20 minutes journey.
In the evening, we went on a shopping spree around the town at MG marg and Lal bazar . Later at night we sat down at the market place benches to relax to some music played on speakers in the MG Marg, which is the Mall Road of Gangtok, that also hosts most hotels, shops and some of the hippest pubs of the place.
The next morning we were headed to the famous Nathula pass, the border that India shares with China. It is also a trade link between the two countries. It is located at a height of 14450 ft and is the highest motorable road in the country. On the way, we stopped by the holy Tsomgo (Changu) lake at about 40 kms from Gangtok, at an altitude of 1200kms. During the winter season, the lake remains in frozen condition. We also visited a temple of lord Shiva near the lake.
The air was becoming colder and having come unprepared I felt the need to buy something warm. There were a few shops near the lake that sold warm clothes for travelers like me. (I was happy to know I wasn’t the first to come unprepared). I bought myself a shawl and a cap. There were yaks for visitors to ride and take photos but I was repulsed by their nasty smell and so didn’t bother to climb one.
After the brief stop we continued our journey to the border line through the zigzag road. The road was slightly muddy due to the rain in the early morning and perhaps the night before. My heart skipped a beat whenever we came across a curve and mostly when there was another car coming from the opposite side. I avoided looking down the mountains which was becoming steeper and steeper. Once we neared the Nathula pass we could see a few dotted army settlements and a huge MERA BHARAT MAHAN written on the mountain. I could feel a sudden pang of patriotism arise within me. No cars are allowed after a certain distance and so we had to leave our vehicle and walk a few steps. I was excited to reach the top as fast as possible but soon was out of breath and had to sit down to catch it.
It was slightly windy at the time and I was glad I bought the shawl and the cap. Slowly we climbed the stairs clicking photos and enjoying the view. We clicked few pictures with the Indian soldiers and also with the Chinese at the background. There is an uneasy peace – the memorial of the martyred soldiers is a grim reminder of past war and suffering.
with an Indian army personnel
Chinese army behind me..
We then visited the pilgrim destination dedicated to Baba Harbhajan Singh, an Indian soldier, who lost his life in an accident. They believe that Baba helps to keep vigil and guard the posts especially on unusually cold nights. He forewarns soldiers of his regiment against any danger three days in advance by appearing in their dreams. He is revered by both Indian and Chinese. In fact, during every flag meeting, the Chinese keep a chair aside for him as they believe his spirit still patrols these valleys. From Nathula Pass we could see into the Chinese territory which was demarcated by a barbed wire. We were not allowed to take pictures of that part of the border for security reasons.
Leaving Nathula we started for Darjeeling via the magical Mirik lake near Siliguri. The place is only 49km from Darjeeling and 52km from Siliguri and can be reached from either place easily.