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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 😉 – 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 🙂 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. ♥

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? 😀 But in a way I think it’s good – they’re maintaining the bridge regularly 😉

Reached Pelling around 6pm .. it was pitch dark when we reached. Early sunrise, early sunset. Saw a karaoke set – time to chicken out 😉 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 😉

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 zzz  .. 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 😀

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

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 😀 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” 😀 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.  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.  Now starts another round of “what if my flight is delayed”, “what if it’s cancelled”.  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!!! I AM GOING TO SIKKIM AFTER ALL!! Five years, three failed attempts…

Peaceful flight (= No screaming kids. No loud conversations 😉 ). 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 😀 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).  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. 😉 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. 🙂
  2. First time I carried a book with me on a vacation (I can hear you laughing) – Read 50 pages –  *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.

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Selfie

A month ago I blogged about Instagram food pics flooding my timeline. This time it’s the turn of another insta craze.

It’s everywhere. No vacation photos album is complete without it. The ever present and often annoying selfie.

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It’s gotten so popular that “selfie” was named Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2013. This blog post mentions the origins of the word selfie, and its many spin off terms.

Posting selfies has become a kind of an addiction. A couple of self clicks in a vacation album is okay. I do that too. But people posting their pics everyday. I don’t get it. Why do they do that?

It’s an epidemic. “Yeh, look at me. I’m having lunch” or “Hey! I’ve got a window seat in this packed local.” *clicks selfie and immediately uploads on instagram* That isn’t enough, so I share the Insta links on facebook, and tweet about it.

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Here’s a selfie enthusiast. This photo will go on insta with hashtags like #selfie #blog #crazy 😉