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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

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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.

 

 

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Sikkim Diaries – day 3

Previous evening’s memories still fresh in my mind .. what an event that was. Day 3 sees us move from Okhrey and proceed to Pelling – our next stop. Instead of starting immediately we have an option to explore a monastery in Okhrey. Why not! We’re here to see new places, to explore. So yeah .. let’s go!

A special mention for the breakfast – our last meal in Okhrey. In addition to the yummy sheera, we had a super delicious methi sabzi with chapatthi. Those who know me well will know how much I love veggies πŸ˜‰ – notice the bold font. But this methi sabzi was totally out of this world. So yum!!

We set off to explore the monastery immediately after breakfast – the plan was to visit the monastery, and then start for Pelling.

It was a short -ish trek to the monastery. An uphill climb mostly, but the pleasant climate at Okhrey made it easier to climb. Oh, and a cute puppy followed us all the way to the monastery – that made the walk even more pleasant.

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my trek buddy

We reached the monastery -walked at an easy pace – admiring the pretty houses with pretty flowers along the way. It’s a very small monastery – but very neat. Spent some time here, and started for our base at Okhrey. We had to move out, and drive to Pelling.

So .. with some amazing memories from Okhrey we set off for Pelling. We were supposed to visit a heritage house somewhere along the way. This is a 300+ year old house belonging to a Lepcha family. It’s a pretty structure – looked strong too. Had to – if the house has stood for ~300 years. Brick walls, wooden floor – pretty interiors. Lunch was a simple meal – we had lunch in the garden. Too many dogs in the garden πŸ™‚ Not complaining. Dogs – more the merrier.

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300 year old house

I wish I could stay here and play with the dogs in the garden — but we have to move on. There’s a visit to a cheese factory next. That is music to my ears – CHEESE. β™₯

The factory was closed 😦 but we found a shop window open, and also discovered they had ice cream. ICE CREAM! Who says no to Ice cream, right? Bought some Sikkim Alpine Cheese – which is yum btw.

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the cheese factory

Mild disappointment – really wanted to see the factory and how cheese is made. On route to our Pelling stay, we stopped at the Singshore suspension bridge. This is the second highest bridge in Asia. We walked across it – had tea/momos/maggi (the default snack) and walked back. Heart in the mouth moment while crossing – we saw a man welding the bridge joints. Should we be worried? πŸ˜€ But in a way I think it’s good – they’re maintaining the bridge regularly πŸ˜‰

Reached Pelling around 6pm .. it was pitch dark when we reached. Early sunrise, early sunset. Saw a karaoke set – time to chicken out πŸ˜‰ But immediately discovered there was no tv to connect the set – relief! Will have to make up some excuse tomorrow if they manage to get a tv πŸ˜‰

It’s not as cold as Okhrey .. but still cold enough for someone who is used to living in the furnace that is Mumbai. Some spicy dinner and it is time for zzzΒ  .. really looking forward to tomorrow – a visit to the Pemayangtse Monastery is on the agenda.

This trip is memorable – not just because of the superb company – but also there’s a huge learning curve for me. I am learning to click a selfie in which my face is 100% visible (yeah, go on .. snicker). I have a collection of horrible “selfies”. You can use them to play “find me in this picture” game.

Plus the music. There’s a amazing collection of retro songs in the car. I don’t recognize 90% of the songs though .. might have heard some of them on the radio.