Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Destination North Sikkim highway - Day 3

A grey morning greeted us on the third day. I was looking forward to this day as i wanted to see the kanchenjunga ranges. But the chances of that happening was minimal. Hey, the glass is always half full as the day turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

By the third day, it was certain that our driver Prem's daily chant was rock star songs. Even though i had given him a bunch of Cds on the first day, he continued to play songs from rock star morning in and evening out. Initially i didn't think the songs were hummable but it grew on me. Believe it or not , i am so tempted to go pick a CD now so that i can follow in Prem's footsteps.

Prem who had kept to himself the first two days turned stones when we started our journey towards North Sikkim. We were passing through isolated stretches of North Sikkim highway and he started on his fascinating story. It was difficult to understand his Hindi with a nepali/ pahadi accent. The first round , I assumed that I heard him saying North Sikkimese add " beej" to their food and hence he avoids eating on the road. When we didn't react to this, he repeated the whole thing again. This time we got it right. He was talking about " beeish". According to him, North Sikkimese add slow poison to food that kills the affected person after a couple of hours. This is done for religious reasons to enhance one's own power from the dead person's life. Now i don't know if any of this is true but he didn't stop any place for lunch nor did we ask him to as we had packed lunch.

Remember the blessing in disguise i mentioned earlier, well if the picture haven't said it yet in million words nothing will. The grey sky, the pale clouds, the green cover, the multicolored rock, the translucent mist just added to the mystery of North Sikkim highway. 

North Sikkim is for the traveler who does not mind going the distance for the exotic and isolated experience.
Though it is slowly gaining popularity, North Sikkim is still untouched by commercialism. The journey of 130 kms took us 6 hours and i enjoyed every minute of it. The small settlements, the prayer flags at each settlement, the cherry blossoms in front of bamboo mud houses, the domestic stock lazing around, the kids and the old doing their thing, the lush green cover of evergreen trees, the meandering teesta river, all of this made the drive feel much shorter.


There are numerous view points and water falls along the way  to stop and enjoy the serene surroundings. I would vote this as one of the best drives so far though it was the slowest one too.

Location: North Sikkim Highway, Sikkim,India
Date of travel: March  2012

Tip: Listen to the local folklore with a pinch of salt.
Must do: Road trip
First: Cherry blossoms in India
The travel connection: Local folklore!

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Destination Tshangu - Day 2

Day two started with us looking forward to a mighty climb from 4700 ft to 12400 ft. The drive though just 40kms was going to take us a good 2.5 hours.

The destination that day was Lake Tshangu or also called Lake Tsomgo. Enroute we came across many army settlements where photography is strictly prohibited. In between the settlements, our car was filled with the sound of the camera clicking away without a break. Though a picture cannot replace the experience of being there, the few below yearns me to go back there again.

Though i have been on the Himalayas as a kid, the shear size was unimaginable. The narrow roads, the deep valley and the high peak just added to the feeling of might .The green cover slowly started to metamorphize  into dry brown and then at a distance we could see white capped mountains. Interestingly as we started approaching the snow capped mountains, on the left of the road she was brown and on the right side all white. Now i cannot recall whether mountains are feminine, masculine or  thing. But considering the rainbow of sights and emotions that was being offered, allow me to consider mountains as feminine. The division of stark and soft continued all the way to the lake. Was the road the line drawn by the weather god or was it cause the mountains on left faced the morning sun and to right faced the afternoon sun. I don't have an answer.

Tchangu lake is about 1 km long and offered me the sight of a frozen lake for the first time. It also offered yak rides. Now how could I pass an offer to ride on a beast of burden. Hypocritical me would have frowned if somebody offered me a ride on buffalo but yak, that's a different matter all together. You see, Yaks look so cute especially as the handler called it, with his or her fashion accessories. Judge yourself after gazing at the photos!

Nathula pass at India China border is closed on Monday and Tuesday and we decided to skip Baba Mandir - a memorial to an Indian soldier and head back to the city to do some local sightseeing. The descent was certainly faster than than the ascent. We stopped at the check post at 10400 ft for a lunch of maggi noodles at one of the numerous "cafes" lining the road. In case you have forgotten that Tshangu could be freezing, these cafes also offer all the wollies you need and trinkets from Sikkim and China.

The local sightseeing in Gangtok is limited and not very exciting . I will touch upon it after the North Sikkim. On the second day we had no clue on what the third day was going to offer. It certainly did not disappoint as it was one of the most exciting days of the holiday and i can't wait to recount it.

Location: Lake Tshangu, Sikkim,India
Date of travel: March  2012

Tip: Don't assume a 40 kms ride is going to take you 1 hour on the mountains.
Must do: Yak ride
First: Frozen lake
The travel connection: Reminder of the good work our forces are doing!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Destination NH31a - Day 1

They say it is all in the journey and not the destination. I totally agree with it. The planning for a holiday is as exciting as being on one. The journey to my destination though a very long one, was mix of sights, smells, dust, excitement and some surprises.

Within the first 15 minutes after arrival at Bagdogra, we were pleasantly surprised by this wonderful mall " city center" at Siliguri where we stopped for lunch. We were informed that Siliguri 's proximity to Nepal and Bhutan border made it a shopping hotstop. Interestingly Siliguri has about 7-8 malls. Pardon my  ignorance, i had not even heard of Siliguri before i started planning this trip. To see this small town/city have this architecturally well designed mall with all the brand names impressed me!

Though the closest airport to Gangtok is only 124 kms away, the drive from Bagdogra to Gangtok was about 4 hours long. River Teesta kept us company all the way meandering through the mountains. Though she was having a dry spell, the sandy banks just added to the drama. The haziness surrounding the mountains, the fine sand spilling over the trees did not get us close to nature as we would like to. But the setting sun and its reflection on the river made it mystical.

I would like to think myself as a seasoned traveler and would not be caught dead at a travel office. But this trip was a package deal with the hotels and itinerary i wanted but organized through a travel agent. This way we avoided hiring different cabs for each leg of tour and enjoyed the convenience of one cab with same driver through the 5 days. I have heard nightmare stories about these package deals but was pleasantly surprised with the professionalism and organizational  skills of :"heat flexi". I totally recommend them for travel in North East.

The door to door journey had taken us 12 hours and at the end of the day, we just wanted to hit the bed. Based on tripadvisor, i had choosen Hotel Suhim Portico and it didn't disappoint me. A spic and span hotel with courteous staff and a good chef. We were upgraded to a corner suite without us asking for one. The orchids on the sill of french windows overlooking the valley added to the charm of this hotel. Since it was spring time, even the bathrooms of the hotel had arrangements of orchids! So our first pit stop was  a good beginning to our holiday. We couldn't wait for the next day to start!

Location: Highway 31A, Gangtok,India
Date of travel: March  2012

Tip: Never underestimate tier 2/3 cities
Must do: Stop at Siliguri city center for lunch
First: Sight of River Teesta
The travel connection: The joy of journey!

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