In the era of corona wherein people were not safe even in the comforts of their cozy homes, travelling again felt like a far fetched distant dream, but being a travel junkie i was already having withdrawl symptoms with only way out being venturing in the lands of unknown.
With more than half the country shifting their bases to goa, it was like the centre of gravity of earth shifted to goa for couple of months post lockdown, even the virus probably felt suffocated there, leaving us with no option but to consider some substitute.
After much deliberations we focused on the much unexplored heavenly state of SIKKIM, scheduling the journey in first week December. I am always intrigued by the ROADS LESS TRAVELLED rather than the usual routine tourist spots, but its equally important to strike a fine balance between the two, Finally after a decent amount of research we decided on exploring east, south and west Sikkim this time and leaving the North Sikkim for our next venture. Sikkim has something for everyone, tranquility for honeymooners, divinity for the spirituals, adventures for the trekkers and thrill seekers , Breathtaking landscapes for the nature lovers, snow for everyone and everything on the backdrop of majestic Himalayas with daily morning wishes from Mt Kanchenjunga. Its been said enough that if you want to explore the true beauty of the mighty Himalayas, leave the tourist spots and trod further along the trekking tracks and that’s an experience you cannot easily forget. So we started probing for some trekking options, we wanted 1/2 days trek to fit in our weeklong expedition and we stumbled upon Maenam hill trek which precisely met our demands.
After exploring multiple online options as well as travel agencies we found YES TOURISM recommended by TRAVEL TRIANGLE catered to our necessities and customized the itinerary exactly to our liking. The package rates for a couple started from around 30k, Ours totalled 55k excluding flights for 7 nights (per couple) which included decent leisure hotels (3 to 4 star) along with breakfast and dinner packages, Innovas for travel ,and a day trek in Maenam hill. We customized our itinerary including Gangtok, Ravangla (a base for our Maenam hill trek ), Pelling and for the sake of completing the list, our much hyped Darjeeling.
The nearest airport for Gangtok is Bagdogra airport which is around 5 hours (about 125km) from Gangtok. The nearest railway station is New Jalpaiguri in Siliguri which is more or les at same distance. One can easily avail shared cabs and taxis from airport. Beware and don’t underestimate the kilometers in this hilly terrain, they seem fewer but the journey is long and treacherous, with is a silver lining albeit, A beautiful companion awaits you, the marvelous Teesta river, which is the fastest flowing river in India, As you weave through twists and turns with the canvas of majestic mountains sides, the journey is far from boring. There is also an option of taking helicopter service from Bagdogra to Gangtok, but for avid travelers the road journey is one which is not to be missed.
We were pretty insistent for innovas for our travel, In the hind sight it was one of our best decisions where in the travel through the mountains was made tolerable and even enjoyable with innovas, so iof cost is not an issue go ahead with innovas.
After multiple flight cancellations owing to the covid scenario we reached Bagdogra airport around 4pm and managed to reach Gangtok at around 8pm, The heavens opened its doors and greeted us with the welcome pour. On the way we had our first tryst with the local cuisine of Momos, especially in that cool and rainy outlook it was addicting and tasted delicious. We opted for one of the summit hotels in gangtok, you can choose from numerous hotels catering to travellers on all kinds of budget, but if you want a leisure heritage property then go ahead with ELGIN properties in both Gangtok and Pelling, and trust me you will not repent.
In the morning outside the hotel lobby, we were greeted by his holy highness, THE MOUNT KANCHENJUNGA.
Sometimes in the midst of stressful routine, when irritation and mood swings mimic that of menopause i tend to hit the pause button, close my eyes and envision some celestial places i have visited, like the road trip from Manali to Rohtang pass, the mountains bathed in tea plantations in Munnar, the hundreds of waterfalls in monsoons in Amboli, divine view of mighty Himalayan ranges from Kausani, the coffee plantations of Chikmaglur, barbeque on the seashores of goa and few others, it helps in clearing the cluttered mind and soothes me, I surely added this view to the list, (I didn’t knew i was going to add many more in the subsequent days)
Next Morning we were supposed to start for Tsomgo Lake, One should be aware that for most of the site seeing in gangtok prior permit is necessary, Fortunately we could manage to secure permit upto tsomgo lake , (due to recent snowfall the permits were rendered only upto 15th mile which is a few kms below the lake.)The road conditions from Gangtok to Tsomgo lake are excellent and the ride quite scenic, There’s a spot on the road providing an unadulterated view of Mt Kanchenjunga.
As we approached the top the snow made its appearance and the green meadows gave way to snow cladden white carpets, the snowy carpet was interspersed with waterfalls making the landscape marvelous.
Tsomgo lake is a glacial lake at an elevation of 12,313 ft which remains frozen much of the winter even upto may. Now let me confess i have envisioned how Heaven could be/should be and let me assure my you my imaginations fell flat when i saw this glacial lake surrounded by snow laden mountains..
It was a once a lifetime opportunity to witness nature at its very best minus the crowd. We had whole lake at our disposal and tons of snow to indulge in and wow did we have a gala time with the snowballs. Yes we were the only lucky ones on the lake with nobody else to distract us, Imagine to be the only ones on this beautiful lake which is otherwise thronged with thousands of visitors. Slowly the clouds made a grand entrance and it was a scene straight out of Movie. Although we couldn’t move ahead to Baba Harbhajan Mandir, we thanked the weather gods who were kind enough to grant us a couple of hours on the virgin snowy Lake.
Further down the route is the Nathula pass which is a gateway to china which was a trade route in old times and baba harbhajan mandir with a very peculiar history, Baba harbhajan was martyred at the tender age of 22 in an indo chinese war at nathula pass. The legacy states that he himself was instrumental in guiding soldiers in finding his own body, and that he guards the area even today .The locals firmly believe in this legend and their faith is unshakable.
With the rains looming overheads and with a heavy heart we started our downward journey but not without a sketch imprinted on the minds canvass. On the way down we had our lunch at a small shop cum eatery at 15th Mile and let me assure you the coffee and Maggie has never tasted so delicious as was on that day in that weather with the temperatures flirting with zero. A leisure mindless walk in evening on the mall road was enough to satisfy our meagre shopping satiety and we completed our quota for souvenirs . Although we could have spend an extra day exploring Gangtok we had planned to proceed to base of our Maenam hill trek, Ravangla. Its 70 odd kms but the pathetic road conditions made it an ardent task, The journey can be been much better with proper infrastructure, but the landscapes were enough to not dampen our zeal.
A 130 feet (40 metres) huge statue of Buddha with Mt Kanchenjunga behind and cloud cover traversing it welcomed us with a tranquil Namaste, This statue is situated in Buddha Park in Ravangla which was consecrated by 14th Dalai Lama, The Serene setting of the park with huge pathways, well manicured lawns, a fountain along with a conclave, meditation centre and a spiral gallery depicting the life of buddha made our Ravangla visit a rewarding experience.
With limited options to choose for stay we had opted for a homestay/ hotel Hilltop Rabong Resort,
We thought the road to Ravangla was worst but soon we encountered even pathetic 2 km approach road to hotel, but the hinderance was every bit wothrthwhile.
Splendidly maintained lawns, variety of flowers unfurling a dazzling aroma around, an observation desk, a bonfire and an unadulterated views of the marvelous himalayas was a lot more than what we hoped for.
MAENAM HILL TREK
After spending rest of the evening enjoying the best which mother nature had to offer, we started the next morning early at around 5.30am for our Maenam hill trek, its base was just behind the buddha park. We need to obtain a permit from the office just at the entry point for the trek , we opted for guides and porters which you can get hold of here. The trek starts at an altitude of 7000 feet gaining upto 10,500 feet at he summit, Its around 12 km (one way) traversing through maenam hill sanctuary where we can spot rhododendrons, oak,chestnut, magnolia and variety of other trees.
On the way there were 4 rest points, i suppose our guide knew only one time parameter of 15 minutes, His just 15 more minutes stretched more than Ekta Kapoor’s serials and it there was no end to it. The forest was dense, which the sunlight didn’t dare to penetrate, As we gained the altitude clouds made their grand entry and we were walking along the carpets unrolled by them.
After 4 hours of carrying our not so light bodies uphill we managed to reach the summit, the patches of ice greeted us which made it all the more pleasurable. At the top we were dwarfed by the the enormous mountain ranges around us, though the cloud cover restricted our view to a great extent, it was still Serene. On a clear day we were informed its possible to see plains of Bengal spanning across Kalimpong and Darjeeling hills in south and right across the indo china border in north. Its a favored meditation site for monks from nearby monasteries and the reason couldn’t be more crystal. Our hearts craved for a clear sky, but our hearts burdened with unfulfilled desire we had our customary coffee, masala Maggie and we started our climb down, We made light work of our descend completing it in flat 2 hours without any breaks, This trek was our baby step in the land of Himalayas with many more to follow. After returning back our hosts arranged for a bonfire and a stupendous dinner, which was surely one of the best meals i have ever had on a tour, and i have had a few.
I really don’t know what meditation is but i can assure you it wont be as serene and peaceful as was the early morning coffee which i had in the balcony of my room witnessing the snow cladden Himalayan peaks with clouds flirting with them.
We advanced to our next stop a small paradise in west Sikkim called Pelling. On the way we encountered the famous sikkim traffic jams just before Pelling, After donning the hats of traffic police and helping in breaking the logjam we visited our next site The Rabdentse Ruins. It was the second capital of the former kingdom of sikkim, (the first one being at Yuksom), This was destroyed by the invading Gurkha army and only the ruins of the palace remain. Its around 2 kms walk through the jungle with tall chestnut trees welcoming us, The trail through the forest is mesmerizing, infact i dare say the pathway is more amusing than the place itself, The place is in ruins and the historians will find it delightful to explore, it also presents ideal conditions for selfies and portraits.
Due to prevalant covid circumstances we missed the pemayangtse monastery and the famous pelling skywalk but we had our hands full with other equally mesmerizing venues.
Pelling is a breathtaking wonderland in west Sikkim where people with disparate interest can have a wonderful time, The Himalayas peeping into the village, the clouds intermingling with the tall trees, number of waterfalls, the famous spiritual lakes and above all a sense of serene atmosphere makes sure that the travel here is never uneventful. Next day we planned to visit few tourist destinations in pelling, We started with a drive through the beautiful Darap village, having a gala time on couple of waterfalls, rimbi falls and the Kanchandzanga falls, The Kanchandzanga falls is supposed to have water straight from the kanchenjunga mountains with melting snow contributing to the waterfalls,
Our next destination was a lake called Khecheopalri Lake, its sacred for both buddhists and hindus and is believed to be a wish fulfilling lake.
It is located in midst of khecheodpaldri hill, considered as a sacred hill, This beautiful landscape is known as land of hidden treasures blessed by guru Padmasanbhava. Don’t forget to buy fish food outside and u will have fun watching the many fishes fighting it out for the same, also make it a point to climb the adjacent hill for about 15 to 20 minutes and u will get an areal view of the fascinating lake and the adjoining landscapes and then you know why this lake is sacred with many stories claiming association of this lake with many gods, a magnificent spectacle indeed.
While returning we spend some refreshing time at the Rimbi river bed and an adjacent orange garden,
The road to and fro from Pelling to Khecheopalri lake is such that u can take a stop at any place and shoot a pic and it will make a grand entry in your best landscapes clicked.
Now there may be the Himalayas, there may be the lakes and the waterfalls, be it snow or the forests the people of the place are instrumental in making or breaking the tourism industry and let me say with hand on my heart i have encountered the most amazing people with child like innocence, soft spoken and ever smiling that u feel an instant connection with them, our drivers being such gems that they even accompanied us for the trek claiming if circumstances demand they could be of use there for pulling us up. Try and ask anyone about Sikkim and they are more than willing to offer contacts of their drivers.
Our next day excursion was to our traditional hill station of Darjeeling with an intent to tick it off and complete the list. Saying that without much expectations we landed in the mountains laden with tea plantations and were mighty pleased with the atmosphere there leaving no doubts as to why this acted as a summer resort for the Britishers. It has an old time charm with many British historic buildings reminiscent of the gone era
There is a padmaja naidu himalayan zoological park and u can spot a cute red panda, its worth taking a stroll through it just for it, throw in a black panther, snow leopard Himalayan wolf and we have a winner.
We couldn’t experience the thrill of the MERE SAPNON KI RANI Rani famed Toy train.
A stroll down the mall road is enough to bust the notion that all mall roads are alike. further down the road are a couple of view points of the Himalayan ranges and on a clear day you wont dare to take your eyes off Mt Kanchenjunga, If you are unable to travel to tiger hill to witness the morning romance of the early morning sun rays and the snow cladded peaks of Himalayas you can do just fine from these view areas too, Some of us travelled to tiger hill and they swear it was a sight which made a long lasting impression in their memories, But with tongue in my cheek i dare say its pardonable if you give Darjeeling a skip, especially with its buzzling crowds in peak seasons. But after your Sikkim tour be rest assured that your cameras will be loaded with the stunning landscapes and you will have a tough time in zeroing on the selected few to go onto your walls.
With a heavy heart we bid adieu to one of the hypnotic lands of our country promising each other as well as to the Mt Kanchenjunga that we would be in midst of these sacred and divine lands in a near future to explore the enchanted territories of Northern Sikkim.