Slice of Paradise!!
It was that time in 2008, when the raindrops on our garden gave us respite from sultry summers, as we stood on the threshold of a new beginning. Both Archita & I were finally flying out of our nests to carve a niche for ourselves. Eyes brimming with tears of sorrow & anxiety were gradually taken over with million reasons to shine & smile.
Since then five years passed trying to establish our grounds outside our native place, spending umpteen time and going to innumerable trips with friends. We were so busy exploring our new found independence that we didn’t have any recent memories of family outings to cherish. This was exactly the time my mom put her foot down, asking us to plan a trip together & we immediately zeroed down to Sikkim to find solace in mountains away from the scorching heat of the plains.
Dad with his exemplary management skills had already organized everything & we were only supposed to reach the Bagdogra airport & start our journey together. At the airport we were welcomed by a cheerful lad with his Mahindra Bolero who would be our escort cum driver for the entire trip. We then started our 3hour long journey to Darjeeling. The mist & chill in the air as we drove up the hills made us snuggle in the warmth of our woolens.
The entire stretch was like a scenic motion picture with mountains & tea gardens along the way. We reached late evening to Sinclairs a heritage resort with Victorian charm, offering splendid view of Mount Kanchenjunga. Our car had a Sikkim licensed number, thus it wasn’t allowed inside the city for any sightseeing, so we explored the city majorly on foot or cab.
Tip 1- We had to drive to Sikkim thus Darjeeling was a short 2 night stay, I would recommend a longer stay to actually enjoy the mesmerizing hill station. Toy train is must & has to be booked in advance online with an extra day of stay in hand.
We had only a day to go around the town thus we carefully chalked out our points of interest. Starting with the Japanese Peace Pagoda, we headed next to the Himalayan Zoological Park. We had not been to a Zoo post our primary school days, thus the excitement was on another level altogether. It was sheer nostalgia, as we frolicked around watching exotic animal species such as Red Panda, Snow Leopards, Himalayan Black bears, Siberian Tigers etc. The next destination was a bucket list- Tea Estate, which is a must in Darjeeling, dressed up as like tea planters, we didn’t miss out on a quick photo session. To enjoy the lush green tea estates, we went on a cable car ride with a small refreshment halt on the table top. The evening was spent well spent strolling down the mall road, with innumerable souvenir shops, popular eating joints & tourists thronging the picturesque site.
Tip 2- Make sure to gorge on the delicacies, momos, thukpas, corn, bakery goods & not to be missed Keventers serving best English breakfast, cheese toast, pork preparations & shakes.
Awestruck with this town, which hosted the British elite for their summer breaks, we moved further to North East to Sikkim. Due to unpredictable weather, we had left early morning for the 7 odd hours of drive to Lachen in North Sikkim. Nestled between Bhutan, Tibet & Nepal we drove up the spectacular views of mountain scenery with halt at state govt guest house for lunch. Dad had his friends who were locals & held senior posts in State Government, thus the tour from here was a royal treatment for us. We had a lavish spread for lunch awaiting us with the warmest hosts.
Tip 3- There are almost no roads in Sikkim, with the path meandering between deep valleys & mountains prone to frequent landslides. The travel on rugged roads takes maximum time, thus be prepared for sitting long hours in chilly weather & plan out breaks throughout the journey.
We then started our journey further up to 10000ft with 2 more jeeps accompanying us, one with guards & another with the bosses. Dad was more than happy to move out in the other car to catch up with his friends & while we got some more space to stretch out & play our kind of music. The next halt was Chungthang for evening snacks & tea with a short tour to Angora Rabbits farm. We finally reached Lachen around 9pm after an exhausting day long drive. The cold weather & fatigued bodies required some fine spirits with the night fading away in comfort.
Tip 4- Chai-Tapri here is replaced by liquor stalls at close proximities throughout the way. One can enjoy some exquisite scotch, whiskeys, rum, vodka to breezers at nominal price, unless you are on the driver’s seat.
Waking up before sunrise the next morning, we packed up & headed to the prime point of our journey- Gurudongmar Lake, located at an altitude of 17,800ft, it is one of the highest lakes in the world. The 3 hour long breathtaking journey was beyond our imagination. As we kept driving to higher altitude, the temperature kept going down, with bright sun rays piercing us. The entire stretch has immense security with our army men on duty offering warm tea & chocolates at regular intervals. Finally we reached our destination- heaven on earth, we had never seen such pristine landscape ever. The lake is extremely sacred for Buddhists & they say only few fortunate ones can make it here. After spending hours on bumpy road our bums had given up, but the magnificient sight was right out of a fairy tale & was indeed worth it. As per the rituals, the monks usually take a round around the entire lake & perform sacred chants, with stones placed on the edge of the lake.
We walked down the stairs, to the reach the frozen lake which to our astonishment had clear water in crescent shape at it’s front. That crescent strip of the lake never freezes for some miraculous reason, which has various folk tales to narrate. Well walking down was easy with our enthusiasm on another level altogether, few steps to not even half of the quarter of the lake, we started gasping for breath with lack of oxygen & immediately made our way back. As we kept getting out of breath while walking back, it took much more time to climb up again. We had piping hot breakfast waiting for us & after taking enough pictures we headed back to our car.
Tip 5- Valid permissions are required to reach here & it is advisable to leave earliest possible, since the weather starts changing with freezing winds & low clouds post 11am. Also since the sun rays hit directly on that height making you feel warm, it is strictly advisable not to remove any warm clothing from head, hands or body, since the chilly air will give you severe headache & fever for days. Due to security reasons, photography is prohibited at most places on this route.
We then drove down to Lachung, with a break at Chungthang again. This time it was a special one, where we were enjoyed a sumptuous local lunch along with the monks at one of their inns. After a day long journey, car break down & continuous showers we reached Lachung late night & immediately fell dead on the bed. The next day was early morning drive of 2 hours to Yumthang Valley of Flowers. The beautiful valley was covered in carpet of flowers, with various tourist activities around. With clouds engulfing the mountains, occasionally opening up to a magical view of the green hills & the noisy Teesta river, it was a spectacular experience.
Next was our 2 days stay at Gangtok, stopping over for lunch we drove straight down in another 6-7hours & headed to our hotel on the mall road. The weather was comparatively warmer & we had a comfortable suite in the guest house. Our stay in Gangtok was more to relax before we headed back to our mundane lives. We visited the famous Rumtek Monastery, went for Paragliding & strolled around the Mall road. The last night of our trip, we had a grand dinner organized for us at Mayfair Resort & Casino. Indulging in joyful revelry all night, we finally bid adieu to magnificent Sikkim.