Gangtok & North Sikkim - A 2014 Story

satyamguru

New Member
I love the mountains. The terrain, the valley, the silence, the chillness, sounds of the streams, the bird's chirping; everything makes me feel alive. They all speak with me, walk with me, sit and breathe with me. Every other day I think about the mountains and living there. I read travelogues, it motivates me even more and creates a vibe inside me to go to visit mountains, valleys, wildflowers. It feels like mountains are calling me and saying “it’s been so long, where are you”, and my reply was like “here I come”.

It was September of 2014. My last visit to Leh was 2 years back in September 2012. Since that day the hunger for mountain inside me started to increase more and more. Since then I was planning for my next trip to the mountains.

There is much difference between planning things, adhering to the plan, managing friends to agree to the same. The same thing happens to every plan. At the last moment, the same people who earlier had agreed to your plan, they will start to leave by giving some excuses. But this time I have decided “If no one goes, I will go alone” because I was so obsessed with mountains and so frustrated with my regular 9-5 job that I needed a break at that very moment. When the plan was made we are some 5-6 people those are agreed. But at the time of booking the ticket, one by one started vanishing. Finally, it’s me and two of my colleague who decided to go.

The Plan:

Day 1
: Bhubaneswar(BBS) - New Jalpaiguri (NJP)

Day 2: NJP-Gangtok. Take some rest and plan for the journey ahead

Day 3, 4, 5: Journey to somewhere like East Sikkim, North, etc. (was still unplanned)

Day 6: Back to Gangtok and do some shopping

Day 7: Return leg of the journey

As for the first time we are going to visit Gangtok, so we have done some research like where to stay, what to see. We have planned that for Day 3 we will visit Nathula pass, as it is nearer to Gangtok and the rest of the days we will spend at North Sikkim. But after some confusion in getting the permit and all, we decided to plan out the days after we reach there.

So sparing no time we opened IRCTC for booking our onward journey to NJP. It was someday in August or September and getting a ticket for 2nd October is a difficult thing. Again there are not many trains connecting from BBS to NJP, Seats in Guwahati express is never available. But there was a special train running from Bhubaneswar to Guwahati at that time due to Dushhera time. So we opted for that train. But in a hurry we didn’t review our booking and ended up paying much than regular fare. For 3 people it was around 4000 and also that journey is not till NJP, rather till Malda Town. Nothing to do now. A mistake is made and cannot be reversed as if I can remember, at that very time cancellation was not allowed for special trains. So our onward journey was final.

The next question was how to return? There were no tickets available. So we booked 3 waiting list return e-tickets hoping to get confirmed. Booked the hotel.

Day 1: Bhubaneswar(BBS) - New Jalpaiguri (NJP)

The time came. We got ready to board the train from Bhubaneswar. The train was empty enough as it was a special train. We enjoyed the travel remembering that after midnight 12 we have to de-board the train and look for another to reach NJP. The time came and we de-boarded the train and waited for the next. The next 2 trains came and gone, carrying so many passengers that it’s even impossible to board the train in every other compartment. We decided to board the next one, otherwise we have to wait for another hour or so and who knows if that train will come empty or full! We boarded the next train for NJP. It was around 8 in the morning we reached NJP.


Day 2: NJP-Gangtok. Take some rest and plan for the journey ahead

After reaching there, we looked for getting into Gangtok. Being the first-timers, we are approached by several taxi drivers and travel agencies to book their taxi and move to Gangtok but at a high price. Some of the travel agencies offered us a good price but under certain conditions that we have to book their tour package for our journey ahead. After an hour or so, I called a friend who has visited Gangtok before. She suggested not to fall prey in their words rather book an auto and move to the NJP bus stand. From there we can get a bus and it will take the same time as the taxi.

We all agreed with her suggestion and moved to the bus stand. It was around 10 in the morning; we had our tickets with us and waiting to reach Gangtok. The bus journey was so awesome that after last night’s hectic journey we feel so fresh by the air and the scenes. There were trees, streams, rivers, small temples, markets. But as we were enjoying the beauty, the altitude also taking a toll on our health. We all are getting headaches. Around 3.30 or 4 in the afternoon we were there at the Gangtok Bus stand.

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An Accident en-route

We don’t have much luggage. We were asked by some taxi drivers to board the taxi to our hotel. The fare was around 200. We denied it because our hotel was near to the bus stand (around 1 KM). So we decide to look at Google Maps and walk to our hotel. We started walking and after 100 mtr we were so exhausted that we are drenched in sweat. After each step, we were looking at the google map on our phone to see the distance we covered. It’s so painful to know that as compared to the pain we are taking in walking the uphill, the distance we cover is so less. Anyway, we walked, walked, and walked. Thirty minutes later we are near our hotel as per the map. But the hotel was nowhere to be seen. We inquired and came to know that we need to walk around 50 meters downhill. We are now fully drenched in sweat. Anyhow, we reached there by around 4.30. Spoke with the manager and found out he also belong to Bhubaneswar but moved to West Bengal for a decade. He is very kind to allow a very good room with the best view from the window.

At first, we spoke to him about providing a fan for our room as there were none and we were drenched in sweat. But he suggested waiting for some time. And after 15-20 mins we were under blankets. In the evening we have gone for a walk towards MG Marg to plan for tomorrow.

While we were there at MG Marg, we came to know that due to some festival there is a scarcity of cabs. We visited one to other travel agencies only to hear the same. Finally, we came to Norling tour and travels. We told the manager about our plans to visit Nathula and North Sikkim. But she suggested to plan for North Sikkim as the day after was a holiday there and we will not get a permit. Also, we need to book a separate cab for our tour which we didn’t want as the charge was so high. So as suggested by her we are grouped with 4 other people and opted for only North Sikkim. The cost of the package for 3 days was around 30k.

We had some momo at MG marg and headed to our hotel and get prepared for the next day. We had a discussion with the hotel manager Mr. Timir to book a room for the day we return from North Sikkim. He agreed and suggested to keep our luggage at the hotel and take only those are required.

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Day 3: Journey to Lachen (North Sikkim)

The next day, we woke up to a magnificent view of a snow-clad mountain in a distance. Till date not sure about the name of the mountain. But we all thanked Mr. Timir for the room. We got prepared for the journey and reached the said taxi stand in time. Called the driver, he is nowhere to be seen nor picking up the calls. After waiting an hour or so, he finally arrived and we loaded our luggage and left Gangtok and headed to north Sikkim. On our way, we came across several waterfalls and the view was to die for. During the journey, we traveled through a beautiful valley with habitation, waterfalls, wine shops, and I even saw a shop selling beef for the first time in my life. We had our lunch at Mangan, as this is the last place as per my knowledge where everyone having their lunch. At lunch, there was rice, dal, roti, some alu ki sabji, salad, etc and for non-veg, someone can opt for chicken. The food cost already been taken care of by the tour operator. So we had our tummies full and moved ahead.

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Throughout the journey, River Teesta also flowing along with us. Its stunning view of the streams and sound was so enchanting. As we had started our journey so late, it was around 5.30 in the evening we reached Chungthang. We had our refreshments there and started our journey towards Lachen. Our stay has been already booked by the tour operator. Don’t remember the name of the homestay we were staying in. But it was a new homestay and the room allotted was very neat. The owner was so drunk, very chatty, and funny.

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We got freshened up. As the dinner getting prepared we have gone for a walk in the pitch dark valley. The sound of the invisible stream, the sound of fluttering Buddhist prayer flag, the cool breeze, the darkness was hypnotizing. It’s like mother nature is taunting us to leave our daily life and be with her. After some time I decided to try some low light long exposure photography as it was pitch black everywhere. So I took my camera and set the shutter to 30 sec. But I have no idea where to place the camera, as I didn’t have a tripod at that moment. So I have decided to crawl up on the ground to fix the focus to a lighting source. The very next moment I was on the ground and the ground smelled so nice. It was like for a long time I was waiting for this very moment and so does the place. I took some nice shots as an amateur photographer. Here is the result. You can also see the Pleiades star cluster, aka Seven Sisters at the top of the image.

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After some time we were called for dinner. As that place is very remote, so the variety of food is also less. After all, we were served with some rice, dal, and alu bhaji, the chicken was also served but the vegetarian items were truly amazing and when we ate the food, everything smelled and tasted organic. The life, the food, the place, we were so spellbound to it. We even thought of staying there in that remotest of places leaving our corporate jobs.

After the great food, we tried to have some sleep. But the temperature was too low to bear. We chatted for some time and gone to sleep. I couldn’t sleep soundly as it was too cold.

Day 4: Journey to Gurudongmar and Stay at Lachung (North Sikkim)

We got up early because we had to visit Gurudongmar Lake and had to reach our stay at Lachung by Evening. We started our journey at morning 5.30 and had multiple pee and tea breaks. We had our breakfast in a homestay along the way. The family was so friendly. We also got a chance to take photos with them. It was 8 in the morning.

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Our next halt was an army barrack along the way. We had our coffee there. In 10 rupees we got a glass full of coffee. I haven’t tasted that much tasty coffee in my lifetime.

Along the way, we came across various streams, snow-clad mountains, barren dusty lands which reminded me of Ladakh. But the earthy smell of Ladakh was not there. At 9 in the morning, we were there at the Lake. Took some photographs. Visited Guruji’s temple, Surya has tried surya namaskar at the height of 17000 ft. and he was exhausted, it was time the AMS hit us.

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Soon we felt breathlessness. We knew that spending much time there will prove fatal for "sea people" like us. So we started returning back. Some of our other friends were already having their headaches and they were feeling like puking. That psychological disease also transferred to us one by one. First Mani, then Surya, and finally to me. We were already having our headaches due to the AMS. Now we were feeling like vomiting. Anyhow, we kept our mind strong and after 3 to 4 hrs later we came down to lower altitude with vast trees and mountains.

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To be continued....
 

satyamguru

New Member
Contd......

We reached our hotel. The name was Royal Oaks at that time. Now they have renamed it to Delight Hotels Royal Lachung. It was mid-day. We were too hungry. We were advised to get freshened up and have our lunch. When we entered our respective rooms, we saw that the floor, wall were full of moisture, I will rather say damp. The pillows were dirty. Bedsheets were unwashed and used for the 2nd time or who knows how many times, foul smell coming from the room, toilet quality was like public toilets, even the mat on the floor was also full of moistures the curtain was dirty, everything we touch, it feels like sticky and the list goes on. Along with hunger, the quality of the room took a toll on our anger. We complained to the owner, to our driver. But everything was in vain as there was no network(as that place was near to china border so only BSNL postpaid network work for 3-4 hours per day with variable timing) to call the tour operator and there was also no room vacant in that place or any other hotels there.

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Seeing we didn’t have any other option, we chose to stay there. We were just sad to see the room condition. We had nothing to do. So we had our lunch and wandered here and there. In the evening we had a very tasty Maggi prepared by Mrs. Khyungubarpa from the nearby shop. We chatted with her and his lovely daughter for a few minutes and had our dinner at the hotel.

As the room was so dirty, we were eagerly waiting for the next morning.

Day 5: Journey Yumthang Valley (North Sikkim)

We woke up early and got prepared for Yumthang Valley. For breakfast, we again visited Mrs. Khyungbarpa's shop for some hot and appetizing egg Maggi. Chatted for a few minutes. Her elder daughter presented us with some green apples and some local variety of berries as a memento/souvenir as Mani was so interested to have some souvenir from her. She also has named us three so she can remember us correctly.

I was name Truth(Satya)

Surya was named Ghama(In Nepali ghama means sun/Surya)

Mani was named Money(as sounded like that)

Anyway, we got that lovely gift from her and have a group pic with her mother, younger sister, and herself. His father was out for meditation. He spends most of his time doing meditation.

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With a heavy heart, we departed from there and started our journey towards Yumthang valley. At first, we started to climb a smooth road. Soon the road got very bumpy. Some of the time there was no road and we were driving on big boulders. We asked the driver and got to know that there was a flood due to the heavy melting of snow in that area and which destroyed the road and some habitation also. In the bumpy road, Mani once dropped his phone as he was taking a snap. Thank God we recovered it one piece, if we didn't have stopped our vehicle then the vehicle behind us would have run over it.

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After a 2 hour bumpy ride, we were there at Yumthang valley, with sky-high mountain, the river, some local snack shops, a guest house. But there were no flowers to be seen as it was October which is offseason. We wandered there for 2 hrs, took some pics. Didn't wish to visit Zero point as at that moment there was no snow and the people returning from there were also suggested not to go there and the taxi driver was also charging 500 per person for 20 odd km. We also walked to a nearby hot spring. It was indeed a very enticing place.

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Now we felt that we have digested the Maggi we had its time to head back downhill and have our lunch. We returned and had our lunch at the hotel and headed back to Gangtok the same day. On the way, we came across numerous waterfalls.

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By the evening we are near Gangtok. we parked at a monastery near Gangtok. The tranquility of that monastery was way beyond. We then moved to the seven sisters' waterfall followed by a cemmentary of bhutia-lepcha tribe.

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We head back to our hotel in the evening and got a room allotted by Mr. Timir. Had our haircut :). Freshened up and visited MG Marg for some shopping.

Day 6: Rest day and some shopping at MG Marg

The next day we had to return to Bhubaneswar for the same old robotic life.

Day 7: Return to Bhubaneswar

The "Next day" arrived. We packed our bags. Settled the bill and headed for the station. But there was a complication. We had our e-ticket booked for the train which was not yet confirmed. We feared the most as we had to spend the night in the station if not allowed to board the train. Then we thought that it is India Railways. We will do something. So we booked three superfast tickets and boarded the train in the sleeper coach. Around 3 hours later it was time for the ticket checkup. We were said to de-board the train at the next station or we had to pay 1k each to get a berth. We negotiated with the TTE but the drunk TTE was not in a mood to negotiate. We have convinced him that we spend all our money on travel. If we pay him 1k each then we will not be able to reach home after we de-board train at Howrah. After hours of negotiation, he agreed to allot two seats by paying Rs. 1200. I slept in a single berth and they adjusted in the 2nd berth. We reached Howrah in the morning. Got freshened up and had our lunch at KFC. We boarded Janstabdhi and were at Bhubaneswar in the evening. Back to the old 9-5 job :( :(

Things we liked:

1. Obviously the places, terrains, clear blue sky.
2. The streams, the culture
3. The love, hospitality, flavourful Maggi from Mrs. Khyungbarpa. It was like a home away from home.
4. The Hotel at Lachen.
5. The view from our hotel at Gangtok
6. The price of the things we bought from MG Marg. Nice things to buy at a cheaper price.
7. The coffee at the army barrack on the way to Gurudongmar lake

Things we didn't like:

1. The crowded MG Marg.
2. The cost of food at Hotel Starlit
3. The chicken never tasted good anywhere during our journey
4. Some people are very business minded and their behaviour was not as good as compared to people at Leh.
 
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