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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 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.

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Sikkim Diaries – day 2

It was almost midnight when I hit the pillow .. needed a good night’s sleep before the trek. The temperature had dipped while we were on our way to Okhrey, and now it had become so cold that I felt like emptying my rucksack and wearing every piece of clothing in it πŸ˜€

Deep sleep – and probably a bit of snoring (my roommates would know πŸ˜‰ ).

Sometime around dawn (or was it?) I opened my eyes, and pushed the curtains aside .. looked outside and it’s bright and sunny. Damn! Damn! Damn! I’m late for the trek. First day of the trip, and I’m making my friends wait. Looked around the room, and see 2 people sleeping – peacefully. Huh? Picked up my phone and see it’s just 5:10 am. WHAT! Oh, right. This is the north eastern side of the country. Sunrise is very early – around 4:30 am. Phew! No one has to wait.

Instead of going back to sleep, which was impossible, I decide to step out. Take a walk. Maybe click a few pictures. Freezing cold outside. Still I manage to get over my laziness, and head out and I wasn’t disappointed.

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Good morning, Okhrey. Wish I could wake up to a views like this everyday.

I didn’t have to walk far to witness gorgeous views like the one in this picture. I just had to step out of the door .. and BOOM! It’s so beautiful.

Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary is a short drive away from the homestay where we stayed. Then it’s a short 2-3 hours trek.

Had a hearty breakfast before heading out .. energy for the trek. The highlight of the meal was the sheera – yummy sheera full of dryfruits.

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welcome to Paradise

Okhrey (alt. 7200 ft) is a small village near the Sanctuary – majority of the people living here belong to the Sherpa community.

About the trek – It’s a short drive away from the homestay at Okhrey. You need to buy tickets at the entrance to the Sanctuary. No hassle ticket buying process… the polite (there’s that P word again) security guy at the ticket window asked minimum questions, and handed our tickets – no hassles.

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one of the many notices at the Sanctuary. This is also the home of the Red Panda.

It’s a gentle climb (a bit steep for non trekkers in some places)… but overall a pleasant walk in the forest. You are surrounded by rhododendron trees which were in full bloom.

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Rhododendron flower

(Sadly no good pictures on my mobile, just one blurry shot – y’all have to wait for the camera pics). There’s also bamboo, and sal trees. Depending on your fitness level, and walking pace it takes around 3-4 hours. This is just the trek within the sanctuary – just for the rhododendrons. There are other treks too – but you need a couple of days more for those.

So the 8 of us set out to explore the rhododendron forest – took plenty of breaks along the way. Snack break, photography breaks, to catch our breath, or just to stop and admire the nature around us. One of the most awaited moments of this trip was the mighty Kanchenjunga. I did manage to get a glimpse of the mighty mountain at one point during the trek. There’s a trekkers hut within the sanctuary – probably a base for some other treks in the region (e.g Singalila Ridge trek). We stopped here for a while – sipped tea while admiring the beautiful mountain in front of us. Sadly that was the only time during the 9 day trip that we saw this beautiful mountain and it’s snow capped peaks. On other days the views were obstructed by clouds 😦

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The Mighty Kanchenjunga (seen from Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary)

Lunch was under the shade of a tree – we had carried packed lunch as it wasn’t possible to return to the base before late afternoon.

Lunch, and then start the trek back to Okhrey. This time too I took plenty of breaks – to click pictures, eat something (I’m always hungry), or just wait – look at the mountain – hoping to get another glimpse of Kanchenjunga.

Reached Okhrey just in time for tea, and delicious snacks – food is always delicious πŸ˜€ There was a cultural program later that evening but we had plenty of time to spare.. so we set out to explore the family’s farm – where they grow brocolli, corn (probably – saw corn hung out to dry – for popcorn!). So that’s where they get the fresh produce for their meals.

Later that evening we had the first “remote village” experience – power cut. There was no power that evening and we had to sit for a long time in the darkness. Didn’t mind that one bit. It’s always good to sit out in the dark, in the cool breeze, talking, watching people, clicking pictures, playing with the dogs… Watching the prayer flags blowing in the breeze – so peaceful, so calm.

The cultural program was a lovely experience – the power was still out when it started. Folk dances of the Sherpa community – all performed by school kids. It was so wonderful to watch. The enthusiasm of those kids – too good! I do not have any pictures of that event. I was carrying my camera bag with me – but then I realised my battery is so low that it won’t last for more than a couple of shots. I didn’t click any pics – because that’d be rude – click a few pics, and then just sit with the camera without clicking because your battery is all drained out. The funniest part is I was carrying my mobile in my pocket but totally forgot about it. (Signs of old age, eh?)

No pictures – but it was an experience I’ll never forget. Such wonderful performances by little kids. Great memories.

Post a wonderful dinner it was time to dump everything back into the rucksack cos tomorrow we’d be traveling to Pelling. Had to set out early, so all the packing (or stuffing clothes in the rucksack – in my case) had to be done ASAP.

Thus ended Day 2 – a trek to see the lovely Rhododendrons, a special appearance by Kanchenjunga, the farm and the fresh veggies, a power cut, the friendly dogs, and the cultural event to cap it off. Eventful day – spent with great company.

 

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Sikkim Diaries – day 1

My mobile displays the time …00:00 . It’s here. D-Day! The day has finally arrived. 8-April-2017. The day I FINALLY set out for my long awaited, much deserved trip to Sikkim.

No. Hang on. The flight is at 10:05 am, and it’s just midnight. Mr. Murphy be lurking in the shadows somewhere. Five years, and three failed attempts should have taught me something about plans going for a toss.

12:05 am. CAN’T SLEEP. So much excitement. Maybe it’s the huge tumbler of coffee I had just before dinner. Either way, there will be no sleeping tonight.

So … just lying down I try to make a mental list of all the stuff I was supposed to pack. And now begins the fun part – I always have this strange fear before every trip that I’ve forgotten to pack something. That gets converted to “the airline is going to misplace my bags” during a flight. Or, “what if my train is late”, “I’m going to forget something on the bus”, “maybe I’ve got into the wrong train/bus/any vehicle” πŸ˜€ Happens every time.

And I did forget something – torch. So I spend 45 minutes hunting for my headlamp. Obviously I don’t find it. But it at least keeps me occupied for about an hour, and probably woke up everyone at home.

6:00 am, and time to “wake up”. Haven’t slept a wink though. But yeah, wake up.Β  Breakfast, shower and I’m all set. I’m still not convinced this trip is happening.. Five years blah blah..

Booked an Uber for the ride to the airport, and two minutes later I get a call from the driver that he’s at my building gate. *Alarm bells clanging* That is the first sign. The glitch in the matrix. I mean, you’re not supposed to arrive at the gate in 2 minutes. What are you? Maggi? Go to the wrong locality, then wrong building, then the gate on the opposite side, and then finally after a world tour, arrive at my gate.

The ride to the airport was uneventful .. No traffic. Even with all the metro work on the highway. NO TRAFFIC! Another sign.

Arrive at the airport, and check-in done in 7 minutes. Sign #3. I don’t believe in signs and omens or stuff like that. But this is creeping me out. The universe is sending me signals. Oh em gee. Three failed attempts blah blah..

Checked in, and the long wait begins.Β  Now starts another round of “what if my flight is delayed”, “what if it’s cancelled”.Β  I look around. I see people clicking selfies, taking pictures of landing, take off, and parked planes. Much amusement. Such entertainment. Finally, the giant tv screen announces boarding for my flight, and relief! The take off was on time. 10:05 am. Should I interpret it as another signal? Naah!!!Β I AM GOING TO SIKKIM AFTER ALL!! Five years, three failed attempts…

Peaceful flight (= No screaming kids. No loud conversations πŸ˜‰ ). Slept for a bit, read a bit, looked out of the window and finally landed at Bagdogra airport. Met FRIENDS (7 wonderful people with whom I would be spending the next 9 days). Friends – yup! Didn’t know anyone from the group. Met them for the first time at Bagdogra. But that’s what traveling is all about. Meet new people, make friends, make memories. Had to wait for one from the group whose flight was delayed. But hey, who is complaining. A bit of chit chat, and lunch. All set to proceed towards Sikkim. Okhrey in West Sikkim, to be precise. Yay.

Okhrey is ~ 135 km from Bagdogra airport. Shouldn’t take more than 3 hours (maybe?) – in the plains. But mountain roads are tough. The people in the vehicle (driver, and passengers) make or break a journey. Extremely lucky to be in the company of 4 wonderful people. Lot’s of one liners (specially about reckless drivers, and bikers – more on that later), and some life gyaan by our amazing driver. The journey seemed like a breeze. So far.

Soon the straight roads were left behind, and we started ascending. Got to add a point here – Driving on narrow, winding mountain roads is a huge challenge, and much respect to all the people who do this every day.

We were informed beforehand that this was going to be a long long loooooong drive. And a long drive it was. And every long journey needs a quick chai break. We were not yet in Sikkim when we stopped for tea/coffee and snacks.

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We were in Kalimpong (Bengal). Stopped at this cute little place situated right next to the river. Had chai and momos, and maggi. You can’t travel to the mountains and not have momos and maggi πŸ˜€ It’s blasphemy.

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chai, momos and this view (at Kalimpong)

Still ascending, and sometime later the AC was switched off, and the windows rolled down. Felt the cool breeze on my face and I knew we’re getting close.

Sure enough we reached a check post and were greeted by a polite cop (erm, WHAT?) who checked our papers and wished us (WHAT again!) a happy stay in Sikkim.

There’s still a long way to go … but we stopped for a while to admire the view (it was dark already – but the moon! what lovely view. The almost full moon) and also to give the engines some rest.

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this view!

A short break, and we were off. The temperature had dropped, and I had to put on my jacket. Felt good though. Specially after the heat and humidity of Mumbai. More ascend, more winding roads, and a one liner about the dust (some road repair work on the way) we finally reached Okhrey at around 10 pm. Set off from Bagdogra around 3:15 -ish and drove non stop (with just one pit stop for tea).Β  Long, tiring journey – but strangely felt refreshed on reaching Okhrey. Adrenaline rush. That must be it.

Dinner (hot food!!) was waiting for us, and big surprise – I ate the veggies without any fuss. πŸ˜‰ Simple dinner – rice, daal, sabzi.

Dinner done, freshened up, and it’s lights off. Tomorrow is going to be a big day. Trek to the Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary!

Lights off, and sweet dreams about the trek tomorrow. Ending Day 1 on a high note.

Note – There were two FIRSTS on this trip for me..

  1. First time I traveled with a all women group. Big shout out to F5 Escapes, for a wonderful trip. Well thought out itinerary. Plenty of off beat places – Thumbs up! and Thank you. πŸ™‚
  2. First time I carried a book with me on a vacation (I can hear you laughing) – Read 50 pages –Β  *drum roll* while waiting for my flight, and during the flight. But hey, when you are in such awesome company you don’t need a book.

Another Note – Huge shout out to my F5 travel buddies. If you’re reading this THANK YOU. You are awesome.