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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 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

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Sikkim Diaries – day 4

Woke up at 5 am again .. It has become a routine now – early to bed, and very early to rise. Might get used to it πŸ˜‰

Long day ahead of us .. but first breakfast!

After a hearty breakfast we set off .. the first stop was Khecheopalri Lake. This lake is in the shape of a foot, and is considered to be a wish granting lake, and hence a sacred place. It is said that the birds in that area help in keeping the lake clean – they pick up any leaves that fall into the lake. We did not see any leaves or branches floating in the water – must be true πŸ™‚

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The path leading to the lake was full of prayer flags – such a common sight all over Sikkim. Saw some people praying. Spent some time at the lake – so peaceful. so calm. Bought some postcards here, and then proceeded towards Kanchenjunga waterfalls. No idea why it’s called Kanchenjunga waterfall – no views of the mountain from here. The waterfall was .. well, a waterfall πŸ˜€ Nothing spectacular. Lots of people to see the falls though. I didn’t go right to the base of the falls but took the opportunity to click some slow shutter waterfall pics (they’re not that great though)

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slow shutter experiments πŸ˜€

Next up was Pemayangtse Monastery and we wanted to reach there around 3-3:30 pm – because that’s the daily prayers time. Reached the monsatery and were clicking pics when we heard sounds of chanting from one of the upper rooms – the prayer room probably. We followed the sound and went upstairs… There was a prayer room and we saw lot of monks praying – chanting, beating the drums. Trance music! We sat there – mesmerized by the praying. Sat there till the end of prayers. While the prayers were on, the monks were being served tea and samosas. Not one stopped midway to have tea or eat. Will power!

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Pemayangtse Monastery – prayer wheel at the entrance

From the monastery we could see the Rabdentse ruins – that was supposed to be our next (and probably the last) stop for the day. It was almost sunset when we reached Rabdentse. It’s a short (~30 min), uphill hike to the ruins.. and we reached when the sun was just setting. What a wonderful sight – ruins of the ancient palace and the golden hour light.

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Rabdentse ruins

It’s a beautiful place – all ruins are in some way beautiful. Quiet place to sit and think – about all the things you’re not going to do once you’re back in Mumbai πŸ˜‰ (like uploading photos immediately)

The ASI has put up signs encouraging people to not give up and carry on trekking till they reach the ruins.

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Don’t Give Up!

On the way back to the homestay we stopped at a cute bakery and had some yummy pastries and meh! coffee. The coffee was a disappointment – it was the machine coffee. The brown syrup that I have at office everyday.

Back at the homestay, and I found they had managed to get a tv screen for the karaoke – aargh!. Throughout dinner time my brain was working overtime – thinking of all the excuses I could make to get out of this singing thing. Come on.. I didn’t want to scare anyone … my singing gives people nightmares πŸ˜‰

The monastery and Rabdentse was definitely the highlight of the day – specially the ruins, that some of us decided to visit again the next morning before we left for Kewzing.