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Travel Diaries – Ahmedabad

The day before the big trip:
Just another day at the office. Happy because tomorrow was the start of a week long, much needed vacation to Ahmadabad, Diu, Gir and Junagadh. Wanted to visit Ahmadabad ever since it was declared a heritage city. Diu is Diu. Ilha de Calma! I had visited Gir sometime in 2009, and the memory of a lion walking past our jeep
was still fresh in my mind. I wanted a round 2. Hadn’t done much homework on Junagadh. All I knew about this place was it was once a princely state – so there was bound to be plenty of heritage sites.
All my hopes of leaving work early were dashed – work :/ There was still 80% of my packing pending. As always – last minute.

Day1: Mumbai – Ahmadabad
Almost missed the alarm. Blame the jumbo cup of coffee I had before going to bed the previous night. Couldn’t sleep for a long time, and then dozed off just when it was time to wake up.
Had a quick bath and breakfast and booked the cab. Thankfully the cab was on time, and the driver didn’t need a lot of directions to reach my gate. It was an early morning flight, and thankfully we took off on time. Oh, and there were no screaming/wailing kids on the flight.
Landed at Ahmadabad airport, and my bag was in the first batch on the belt. Great going so far!
Drove from the airport to the old part of the city. For the next 2 days we were gonna stay at a charming place called French Haveli. This is a restored haveli located in one of the many pols in Ahmadabad.

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French Haveli

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French Haveli

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View from one of the rooms

A pol (pronounced: pole) is basically a cluster of houses accessible via a main gate. The houses are all within the walls of the pol. So it’s a kind of a housing complex?
Usually a pol has people from the same community (or profession) living there. The main feature of a pol is the main gate, and narrow lanes. Community living.
So, about French Haveli. Charming place. Cozy rooms, and paintings/antiques all over the place. The approach road to this place is via a very narrow lane. This is probably a feature in all the pols. Narrow lanes.
From the main road to the haveli is just a 2-3 minute walk. Since we had our bags with us we dumped all the bags in an auto and walked to the haveli. After a short break to freshen up and breakfast we set out to explore the city.
First stop was Sarkhej Roza.
Sarkhej Roza is a mosque/tomb complex. On reaching this place we were told we have to keep our footwear outside, AND cover our heads. Clicked a lot of pictures inside (what else πŸ˜€ ). Spent about an hour there, taking pics (and selfies!) No, I didn’t click any selfies. Still can’t take a proper selfie.
After Sarkhej, it was time for lunch. We went to a place called Gordhan Thaal for lunch. As the name suggests, this is a thaali place. Nice place. Good food. Not a big fan of thaalis though. And OMG!! What a HUGE thaali that was. The setup was the usual. A massive thaali, and many small katoris in it.
After lunch I was feeling too sleepy. Blame the rich food. So post lunch we continued our exploration. Next stop was Vaishnodevi temple. It is a replica of the original temple, complete with caves (artificial of course).
Didn’t spend much time there, walked up the ‘mountain’ through the caves, and tunnels and had darshan. The next place was an interesting one, and the one I wanted to see (mainly to photograph).
After Vaishnodevi, we set off for Adalaj Stepwell. This stepwell is 5 stories deep, and has some amazing carvings on its walls and pillars. Such stepwells are common all over Gujarat. They were build centuries ago, mainly to collect and store water for dry months. Since this region doesn’t receive a lot of rain, the stepwells were a good idea to ensure the people had water all year round.

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Adalaj Stepwell

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Carvings on the walls at Adalaj Stepwell

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Adalaj Stepwell – information poster

Looking at the depth (5 stories) and the number of steps, it must have been a big task to collect water every day. Good exercise!
I was looking forward to visiting the Adalaj Stepwell – had seen pictures by friends who had visited there earlier. Sadly I had to struggle to take good pics (good = less people in the photos). The place was super crowded. Maybe because it was a Saturday, and the entire population of Ahmadabad had decided to visit Adalaj.
Our final destination for the day was Akshardham temple, and the light/sound show there. So off to Gandhinagar and to Akshardham. One thing about Akshardham. There is too much of security there. You are supposed to deposit all bags, cameras – everything at the counters near the enterance. Only thing you could carry inside was your purse. That too was checked at the gates.
There was plenty of time for the show and we didn’t want to keep our bags, phones (I was concerned about my camera as well) for that long so we decided to check what’s there to explore in Gandhinagar.
But first chai break. We stopped at this place called Jai Bhavani Vada Pav for a chai break and some snacks. The biggest (so far) shock of my life was discovering that they don’t serve tea (or coffee). What!! Come on. A vada pav place that doesn’t sell chai. A Believe or Not moment for me. For someone from Mumbai this is a very hilarious situation.
A vada pav gaadi (or stall) will ALWAYS have a chai tapri next to it. So no chai. No vada pav either.
We had plenty of time to kill – but not enough to go back to Ahmadabad and keep our phones/bags there and come back for the light/sound show at Akshardham. We decided to visit Indroda Nature Park.
It’s an okay-ish place. But seems to be popular among the locals. Good enough to spend some time – take a nature trail. And like most popular places on weekends it was crowded. The main attraction I guess was the dinosaur park. Nothing great – a park with dinosaurs all over the place (not real ones, mind you).
Akshardham time. Deposited our phones and camera at the counter, went through the security check (sounds like an airport, no?) and bought tickets for the show. Then first things first – TEA. Tea was a big disappointment – bigger than the vada pav thing. After being redirected from one counter to another and then standing in queue for the coupon we finally made it to the tea stall only to find out it was machine tea.
Talk of rotten luck. Desperately wanted my chai fix, and all I got was the sugary machine tea. Meh!
The light/sound show was at an open amphitheater. It was already full when we reached there, but luckily we found seats in the middle rows. The light/sound show tells us about the story of Nachiketa. The light effects are too good. You got to experience it at least once.
After the show it was time for dinner. Luckily we had bought the dinner coupons before the show – to avoid the long queue, and the rush at the stalls. Dinner was pav bhaaji (didn’t taste like it though).
Post dinner we were supposed to head back to Ahmadabad, and then visit the local night market – this one is famous for it’s street food. But since it was a long tiring day for most of us, we decided to skip it.
Tomorrow was an early start. Heritage walk in the walled city. This seemed interesting.
So lights off – and zzzzzz. Tomorrow is another big day.

 

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Travel Diaries

Finally got time to post about my trip to Ahmedabad, Diu, Gir and Junagadh (Nov 18-24). Been working crazy schedule since November.

I’ll be posting my trip report day wise. Links to be updated on this page.

Day1 : Ahmedabad

Day2 (and the rest of the days): Coming soon!

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Sikkim Diaries – day 9

Last day today. Sikkim Diaries – the finale! Well, technically not the last day of Sikkim Diaries. We left Sikkim the previous evening and stayed overnight at Siliguri. Nothing much to write today except that it feels a bit sad to go back home.. back to the daily grind. But at least I’m going back with happy memories, and loads of photos πŸ™‚ And 7 new friends!

Sunday – last day of vacation 😦 Didn’t get a good night’s sleep. The room felt too stuffy. Maybe it was the blocked sinuses.. maybe it was the ventilation.

Out of the group of 8, three (me included) had our flights earlier in the afternoon.. So after breakfast we checked out and drove to the airport. The ones who had their flights later in the day had come to see us off. Now, Bagdogra airport is under military control so there’s a lot of restriction there. So we said our goodbyes quickly and stood in line for security check. Three people, two destinations, three different flights. This is where we split up. Bags scanned and tagged, boarding pass done, and I was in the airport waiting area. Crowds, and metal chairs – this place has the feel of a railway waiting room πŸ˜€

I passed time observing people – favourite thing to do at train stations, airports, anywhere I have to wait, and also had a cup of tasteless machine coffee.

Thankfully my flight took off on time, and I landed in Mumbai around 4:15. And again thankfully no screaming kids on the flight.

Hello Mumbai. Hello humidity! Felt like I was sitting inside a furnace – all the way from the airport to home.

Back home – refreshed after a super vacation. Loads of memories!! Met 7 amazing people – that was the biggest take away from this trip.

Once back home the next task begins – selecting the best pics, processing and uploading them AND collate all the small notes, bullet points jotted down on my notepad and Evernote and write a series of blog posts.

So that’s it from me – </SikkimDiaries>

Postcards from Sikkim. πŸ™‚

 

 

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Sikkim Diaries – day 8

What a way to welcome your last day in Sikkim. Woke up to rain, and thunder and lightning!! Such awesome weather. The weather gods were unhappy that we’re leaving Sikkim, and that showed πŸ˜‰

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Rain, thunder and lightning – waking up to this view

My flight back home is tomorrow, but the plan was to leave from Gangtok today and reach Siliguri by evening. The distance between Gangtok and Bagdogra is ~130 km, but sometimes mountain roads get blocked. Didn’t want to be in the mad race from Gangtok to airport on a Sunday morning.

Yeah, obviously we didn’t set off from Gangtok directly towards Siliguri. There were a few pit stops along the way.

Bags loaded into the cars, and we were off. Bye bye Sikkim 😦

First stop along the way – Do drul Chorten in Gangtok. There are 108 prayer wheels around the stupa. The rain hadn’t stopped yet – it was drizzling. Didn’t stay here for a long time.. just walked around clicking pics. There was a glass enclosure full of oil lamps. Don’t know what it’s called, or why the lamps were lit. But it looked so beautiful.

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do drul Chorten – this is quite a climb!

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oil lamps

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Prayer wheels

The next pit stop was the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, also in Gangtok. It was not a part of the itinerary, but whoa .. what a place. Glad we visited it. This museum is very close to the do drul Chorten. It’s a nice place to visit if you are interested in Tibetan Buddhism. Small, but an impressive collection of artifacts. Neatly labelled too. We spent a lot of time here looking at the artifacts. One thing that bugged me here was the noise, and the crowds – since it is listed as one of the “must visit” locations the place was full of tourists. Not that it is a bad thing but at least keep the chatter down to a minimum – it’s a museum. :/

Anyway – nice place. And yeah, a “must visit” too. There’s a small souvenir shop too. I bought some postcards from this place as well (had bought postcards from other places too)

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Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, Gangtok

With that we started our journey towards Siliguri. It was a pleasant drive – the rain had brought down the temperature.

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Pleasant climate along the way – Gangtok to Siliguri

Oh, there was one more stop before we reached Siliguri – RAFTING!! We stopped at a rafting site – along the Teesta river.

 

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Rafting – Start point

So Rafting, and then a quick chai break and we were on our way. No certificates for rafting .. Paragliding was good πŸ˜‰

So after a long, long drive – we finally reached Siliguri. This was our last stop before we all left for our respective destinations the next day.

The drive to Siliguri was pretty long – but the awesome company and the great music in the car didn’t make it boring.

So Siliguri at last – checked in (yeah, check in – this was not a homestay like everywhere in Sikkim), refreshed and a chai/snack break done. The group decided to head out and explore a place called Hong Kong market in Siliguri. I decided to give it a miss – hopefully didn’t miss much.

I did join the rest of the group for dinner – after they returned from the hong kong market. Last evening together – a bit sad, but happy, and glad that I made this trip – met 7 amazing people, and was going back home with great memories.

 

 

 

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Sikkim Diaries – day 7

Today is the day.. today we’ll find out whether we will go to Tsomgo Lake, Baba Mandir, Nathu La.

I wake up with great hopes – hoping we have got the permits, and also a major headache. The sinus that had started acting up last evening has now become a full blown attack.

At breakfast we get a call that we have the permits for Tsomgo Lake, and Baba mandir. No permit for Nathu La. Hmm.. slight disappointment there. But at least we have permits for the lake.

Tsomgo Lake (also called Changu lake) is a glacial lake situated some 40km from Gangtok, and it is at an altitude of 12315 feet. Since this lake is located in a restricted area you need special permits to visit it.

We started immediately after breakfast – though Tsomgo Lake is just 40 km from Gangtok – the roads leading to it are too steep. Plus there are some restrictions at these places – one has to return by 2 pm.

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Critters against Litter – on the way to Tsomgo Lake

I clicked this pic while we were waiting at the police checkpost getting our permits verified.

So finally at Tsomgo Lake — and it’s so cold. I’m wearing 3 layers, plus a jacket, gloves and a beanie and still I’m cold πŸ˜€

If you open your mouth to speak it looks like you’re smoking – it’s that cold.

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The beautiful Tsomgo (Changu) Lake – calm, serene

I saw plenty of yaks at the lake .. You can go on a yak ride (costs around 300 Rs I think). I didn’t go on a yak ride – walked around clicking pictures of the lake, the clouds, yaks, the mountains .. I had to keep walking – it was freezing. πŸ˜€

The legend of Baba Harbhajan Singh is very well known. Baba Mandir is a very popular tourist destination – way too crowded here. There was a souvenir shop, but it was so crowded that I stepped out in just 5 minutes. Soldiers come here to pay their respects.

Since we did not have permits to go to Nathu La, we started our journey towards Gangtok. But there was a military museum/hall of fame on the way and we stopped there for some time.

On the way back we encountered a massive road block – don’t know the reason for that. Long line of vehicles – all patiently waiting for the road to clear. No honking, no abusing.

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Tsomgo Lake

We reached Gangtok around 3 pm and since everyone was hungry we decided to have lunch at the market. Strolled around old market, and M.G Road looking for a place to eat.

We found this place called “Taste of Tibet” on M.G. Road and decided to eat there. It was around 3:30 and that place was crowded. Too crowded – we had to wait for a while to get a table. It seems that place is popular with the locals as well. It’s a good thing – crowds, and being popular among locals. The food was good too. If you’re too particular about hygiene, then I don’t think this place is for you. This place reminded me of Udipi joints in Mumbai – always busy, eat and move on, sit wherever you find place – if you’re eating alone, or there’s place atΒ  your table someone can/will come sit next to you. The food is good and cheap as well. So if you’re looking for a quick bite, this is a good option in Gangtok.

The sinus was still troubling me so I walked back to the home stay after lunch.. didn’t go shopping or anywhere. At the market stopped to buy a jacket for my nephew – that was it. Needed some sleep.

The rest of the gang visited a place called Live and Loud Cafe in the evening. The band there covered a lot of good songs – Missed a lovely evening 😦 Our last evening in Sikkim.

Sikkim Diaries – day 6

Good Morning, Kewzing! Woke up to a lovely view of the sunrise … Wanted to get a sunrise pic so picked the mobile and started clicking. Think I should have clicked a few with my camera as well.. Ah, anyway.

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Good Morning, Kewzing.

Technically not a “sunrise” picture .. I was too mesmerized by the view to think of taking a picture πŸ˜€ I had initially planned to capture the sun just peeking from behind the mountain.. but you can see the sun has already crossed the peeking point.

We had planned to start immediately after breakfast and proceed towards Gangtok – our base for the next 2 days. We had to start as early as possible because we wanted to go paragliding at Gangtok (weather permitting ;)). Plus there was another reason for reaching Gangtok early – the permits for Tsomgo lake, Baba mandir, and Nathu La. The permit office closes at 6pm, so we had to reach Gangtok before that.

So goodbyes said to our lovely hosts (the kitties included), and we set off for Gangtok .. There’s a Buddha Park at Rabong (Ravangla) just a short distance from Kewzing and we wanted to explore that too. Rabong means wet goat in the local language (Ra-goat, bong-wet) This place (also called Tathāgatha Tsal) was consecrated in 2013 by the Dalai Lama and it has a 130 foot statue of Buddha. We reached way too early – the ticket window was closed and we had about 30-40 minutes to kill. So we decided to walk around and explore the place. Not before clicking the Buddha statue, and the prayer wheels from the outside.

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Tathagatha Tsal, Rabong

And sure enough we came to a monastery gate – Mani Choekerling complex, Rabong. The monastery was closed for some restoration/repairs work but we spent some time outside – taking pictures.

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the monastery – closed for restoration work

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Prayer wheels at the monastery

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The plaque at the monastery entrance

I think we spent an hour at the monastery.. but soon it was time to go and visit the Buddha Park. The ticket window was open, so we purchased our tickets (Rs 50) and went inside.

 

Lot of people inside the park, but it wasn’t overcrowded or noisy. Saw a lot of people praying.Β  The statue is on top of a shrine like place – plenty of wall murals on the life of Buddha inside this place. Saw some people meditating.

Next stop – Gangtok. But first PARAGLIDING!! We reached this paragliding place – Adventure Zone and found out that we have to wait for a while – 1. because all the pilots (paragliding instructors) were already out, and 2. the wind. You need a fair bit of wind for your flight. So there was nothing we could do but wait for the pilots to be free, and also the wind to pick up some speed. We registered ourselves – weigh in done, and signed a form, and had a quick lunch (chow mein, maggi, wai wai noodles).

Soon the wind picked up, and it was time to fly. The paragliding start pointΒ  – a cliff overlooking the Gangtok valley, is at a short distance away from the registration office. So off we went in a rickety van πŸ˜€

While we were getting ready for the flight – setting up the parachute, harnesses etc, my heart was pounding – so loud that I thought the others could hear it. So all set and I was asked to run towards the edge of the cliff for the take off. So.. THIS IS IT! With a pounding heart, the rush of adrenaline I run towards the cliff, and the next thing I know I’m flying. Whooo!! What a feeling. That rush. I AM FLYING.

The paragliding people give you a small camera that can be attached to your gear, so that you can take video of you flying. But I didn’t take it. I just wanted to fly and enjoy the view. Once air borne I spread my arms – Titanic King of the World pose πŸ˜‰ I didn’t have to control the parachute, so why not! The landing was as smooth as the take off. I was asked to keep my legs straight slightly above ground level to avoid any injury. With smooth action we landed – it was a military sports ground. Wow. Wow. What an experience that was! I flew. Nothing can beat that.

Back to the registration office – some had opted to carry the camera, so they had to get their videos transferred on their phones. Oh, and we were also presented with certificates. So there’s your proof πŸ˜‰

With that awesome memory we proceeded towards Gangtok, and our home stay for the next 2 days. We had the evening free to walk around the city, explore the markets, and the cafes. So after a short break, we set out for M.G Road – probably one of the most famous destinations in Gangtok.

I didn’t find M.G. Road thaat great – it’s just like any other shopping street, but the old market just after M.G Road looked like a good place to shop. Another experience of how early the city shuts down when we entered a coffee shop and found they were taking the last orders for the day. The place shuts down at 8 pm, and it was 7:45 when we entered. They did take our orders – and while we were waiting, and also when we got our food and were eating we saw the coffee shop staff winding up.. shutting down counters etc. Haha! Can’t imagine this scene in Mumbai.. 8 pm is when most of the places are just coming alive.

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Of course it does!

So ‘dinner’ done, and we walked back to the home stay – a good nights sleep. Fingers crossed cos tomorrow is a big day. We’ll be going to Tsomgo Lake, Baba mandir, Nathu La – if we get the permits.

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pretty flowers, Gangtok

While we were roaming on M.G Road .. my sinus started acting up. Bad sign. Bad bad sign. Really want to be fully charged, fully fit for the trip tomorrow. Plus those places are at a higher altitude so needed a sound sleep too.

Went to sleep hoping to get the permits to these places, and also for my sinus to behave.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sikkim Diaries – day 5

Previous night’s karaoke session was awesome! Of course I chickened out πŸ˜‰ But so many talented singers in the group.

So, today we will be going to Kewzing in South Sikkim. Some of us had decided to visit the Rabdentse ruins again this morning. So half the group left for the ruins, while the rest of us stayed back. It wasn’t a long drive to Kewzing, so we had plenty of time in the morning. I decided to stay back πŸ˜€

We started from Pelling around 9:30 am, and reached Kewzing by lunch time. Not a continuous drive – there was a ‘admire the scenery and take pics’ pitstop.

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such beautiful views …

Kewzing (alt ~4500ft) is a charming village in South Sikkim. The majority of the people here belong to the Bhutia community. Kewzing means “land of wheat fields” in the Bhutia language.

While we were waiting for lunch at the homestay – talking to our lovely hosts – something caught my eye. Surprised no one had noticed it earlier.. Three cute hosts – mama kitty, and two cute kittens. The kittens were just 2 weeks old – little balls of fur. They had made themselves comfortable in a huge basket and also had a nice jacket to keep themselves warm. So there .. found a new way to pass time πŸ™‚

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mama kitty and her kittens

At lunch there was this combination of butter and cheese (I forget what it’s called) which you could have with rice. Lunch was rice, fresh veggies, the butter-cheese combo, and chicken.

Post lunch it was time for a trek through the forest.. We had a local naturalist (Mr. Ugen) along with us on the trek. The trek path was through a dense forest. There were plenty of chortens in the forest, and an interesting wooden prayer wheel. It rains a lot in these parts, and the prayer wheel placed in such a place that the rushing water turns the wheel. So interesting.

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Prayer wheel in the forest

It was an informative (got to know about the number of varieties of bamboo in Sikkim, about orchids, and some medicinal plants) as well as an adventurous walk. We had to walk across a bamboo bridge – the “bridge” was just 3 bamboos, and you had to walk on that. Of course there was the easy option of climbing over rocks.

End of the walk, and out of the forest and straight at the gates of the Doling Monastery.Β  Saw a car with Bhutan number plates at the monastery entrance .. and yup, saw a couple of Bhutanese people in their traditional dress, at the monastery.

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Doling Monastery

Doling monastery is small (compared to the Pemayangtse monastery we visited yesterday), and we reached there at prayers time. Waited inside the monastery for a while listening to the chants. We had tea (served in cute tea cups with a lid) and a traditional local snack called Zhayro (it is fried and looks like a crow’s nest).

While returning we decided to skip the forest trail and walk through the village back to Kewzing. The plan was village – and then start the forest trail at some point just before we reached the Kewzing home stay. The sun was just setting and the sky looked like it was on fire. It was a pleasant walk – prayer flags along the road everywhere. You see these prayer flags everywhere in Sikkim. It is believed that the prayers written on the flags are blown far by the wind, blessing the people it touches.

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Evenings like this …

Back at the home stay, and we saw uncle in the midst of preparations for a small bonfire in the garden. Ohh nice!! Spent some time in the garden – uncle showed us the small farm next to the garden where they grow garlic, coriander, and something that looked like cauliflower (didn’t ask what it was – should have).

So the bonfire was started and everyone started gathering around the fire – refreshed after a forest trail and the monastery visit. A round of chatting, singing and drinking – yeah drinking πŸ˜‰ We had millet wine – it’s a local drink. Aunty stepped out of the kitchen with a huge kettle full of home brewed millet wine. Lovely evening – bonfire, stories, singing, and a few refills of the wine. I sang Hotel California, and no I wasn’t drunk.

Soon it was time for dinner, and then bed. There was no ‘packing’ as this was our only night in Kewzing. We leave for Gangtok tomorrow morning. Looking forward to it.. actually looking forward to the sunrise tomorrow morning – wanted to get a few sunrise pics.

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Forest trail – Kewzing to Doling Monastery