Scintillating Sikkim (Part 1)

The call of the unknown land is exciting and however much you prepare by reading on the net, experiencing it is an out of the world feeling.Sikkim is a land of sprawling mountains, glacial lakes and ragging torrents. It presents a breath-taking spectacle of nature in all her glory, raw and un-spoilt and untamed in wild profusion of flora and fauna, customs, language and dress.

The journey to Gangtok

The least populated state in India, , bordered by Bhutan to the east, Nepal to the West, West Bengal to the south and Tibet to the North can be accessed by roadways only. Transportation is a major problem in Sikkim. There is no airport or train facility in the state.

Our trip began via Kolkata. We took a fight to Bagdogra in West Bengal, the closest Airport, about 124 kilometres away from Gangtok. We landed at around 3:30PM and were picked up at the airport by pre booked taxi for hotel transfer. There is a pre-paid taxi counter in the airport premises and also shared taxis are available outside for hire.

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This is the only airport for access to Darjeeling, Sikkim and nearby places.The flights all come in at the same time, so there is less space all around and it becomes very crowded and chaotic. Be prepared to grin,grit and bear it.

IMG_20170608_152957454_editedIt took us around 5 hours to reach Gangtok. The road routes from Bagdogra and New Jalpaiguri, nearest railway station and Siliguri all meet the Sevoke Road which leads to the National Highway NH31A.

Usually, there are few roadside dhabas lined up around Sevoke road which serve as a breakfast or lunch stopover for the tourists and passengers, traveling between the two states. We also stopped at a roadside hotel and had one of the yummiest momos of our life. The local delicacy of mountain region was lip smacking. After a quick snacks, our cab resumed the second leg of our journey and the beautiful tapestry of Mother Nature unfolded for miles and miles as we gradually climbed higher and higher.

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It cannot get better than this.On our way we stopped at small eatery by Teesta river and ate momos,delicious,cooked to perfection. It would seem like you cant really finish 10 in one go, but these are so yummy that you cant stop eating them

We veered past one of the busiest highways, the lifeline of Sikkim with uncountable trucks plying in this one lane thoroughfare. The route passes through the Teesta area and then goes all the way to Gangtok.

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For a long part of the drive, you will see the beautiful River Teesta flowing alongside. Not a great photo as I clicked this from moving car

The area along the highway all the way up to the bordering town of Rangpo is part of the state of West Bengal. Rangpo is from where the East Sikkim starts. Gangtok is about further 25kms from Rangpo. All commercial vehicles that are not registered in Sikkim will need to stop at Rangpo check post and take a permit. Usually it takes only a few minutes.

Rendezvous with the city!

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Gangtok, the Capital of this beautiful state is an enchanting city that enthralls you with its mystique appeal (view from hotel room)

The weather seemed to agree with me and so did the vibes of the city. A picturesque place located in eastern slopes of the Himalayas, Gangtok greets you to relax in its clean, green, beautiful hills, well paved roads to enjoy its salubrious climate and to meet its simple and hospitable people.

It was almost 9 in the night, and even though we had started since early morning from Bhubaneswar, we were yet to succumb to exhaustion. (I don’t know how my parents and uncle and aunt kept their energy levels optimum, given their age. I am sure I felt older than them!) Maybe, it was the weather of the North East, maybe it was the immense beauty that kept us rejuvenated. Anyway, so Gangtok, as per my first scans seemed to be a bustling city where people seemed warm and friendly.

We had booked our accommodation well in advance and stayed at Jewel East Residency &Spa, near MG market, one of the liveliest places in the heart of the town. After check-in, we enjoyed our dinner in the comforts of wood panelled rooms and were ready to call it a day.

Day 1 -City tour

Sikkim divides itself in 4 zones. East, west, north and south. Each region has its own charm. We spent our days in east Sikkim. To be able to explore all of the regions, a traveller must plan for at least a week’s stay. As per our itinerary, we had two days to explore the zone. One for the city tour and the other for a trip to Nathula Pass.

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Early Morning scene in the MG Marg. Gangtok is a great city for walking and there’s no better way to explore the beauty

After a sumptuous breakfast, the next morning, we commenced our city tour at 9AM. The first stop was flower exhibition centre. At the time of our visit the Centre had variety of flowers on display, mainly orchids. Entry to the show was Rs.10 per person.

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Flower Exhibition Centre :It’s worth peeping inside this modestly sized covered garden, which has amazing collections of potted flowers around a central pond.If you are a flower lover, then this is the place for you

It was Budhha Purnima, an official holiday in the state. So most of Government owned places were closed. We could not see handicraft, cottage and small scale, industry. It is a must visit when in Gangtok.

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If you are interested in knowing about the history of Buddhism, Tantric practices and ancient Tibetology, you must visit this place

Even Namgyal Institute of Tibetology was closed that day. It is one of the most important and famous institutes in the world that does research in the areas of Tibetan language and culture. It also has in its premises a museum, a Tibetan library with rich collections and also a reference centre about Tibet and Himalayas in general.

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The literal meaning of ‘Enchey Monastery’ is ‘the solitary temple’. Owing to Budhha Purnima, the place was crowded with local devotees and there was long queue. We prayed from outside and came out after admiring beautiful architecture of the monastery

Next destination was more than 200 year old Enchey Monastery, situated on beautiful hill top. Had we more time on hand we would have loved to visit Rumtek monastery, one of the largest monastery in Sikkim located around 23 kms away from Gangtok. The architecture of the monastery is one of the finest in the world .

Our next stop was Hanuman Tok, around 10 kms from the city. It is located at an altitude of around 7000 ft and on a road that branches off from the Gangtok-Nathula Highway. Tok means a temple, it is a temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman. It is believed that Lord Hanuman took rest for a moment at this place on his way to Lanka from the Himalayas. He was carrying sanjeevani herbs to cure Lakshman.

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Gangtok city view from top of Hanuman Tok
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Maintained by Indian Army, this spick and span place is known for its wonderful serene ambience and a viewing area that offers spectacular view of Kanchenjunga range. This point area offers the best views of Kanchenjunga in the whole of Gangtok. Since the day was cloudy, I could not get a good view of Mount Kanchenjunga and the surrounding valley.

From Hanuman Tok we drove towards Tashi Point. The viewpoint is named after Tashi Namgyal, the late king of Sikkim who constructed it. Tashi View point is about 8 kms from Gangtok. Amazing perspectives of magnanimous Mount Kanchenjunga and Mount Siniolchu can be enjoyed from here. However, to our luck here also weather God played a spoilsport.

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Gangtok city view from Ganesh Tok

Close to Tashi View point is Ganesh Tok, a temple of Lord Gansha. Like Hanuman Tok, tourists come here not only to offer prayers to Ganesh, but also to soak in the views from the viewing lounge and the circular balcony around it. You get a beautiful view of Gangtok town from this place.

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One of the most peculiar as well as pretty features about Sikkim is the presence of color in the state. Every street and road is filled with prayer flags of various colours. The flags are said to bring happiness and prosperity.
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You will find yellow coloured cabs throughout Gangtok.They are main mode of public communication inside the city

Over crowded with tourists, there is gift and souvenir shop in the complex. Bargaining skills were put to use here. Tourists can also get photographed in traditional Sikkimese attire for Rs. 100 here.Down stairs a few steps away is a cafe serving tea, coffee and various snack items. We stopped there for quick snacks and then we had to descend to the Banjhakri Falls and Energy Park.

IMG_20170609_132444810.jpgBanjhakri falls is your typical touristy spot in Sikkim. It is an energy park and a shamanistic theme park. The falls is set amidst dense greenery and the theme park itself is littered with ethnic sculptures and figurines of the Jhakri culture who were once said to live in caves here, practicing shamanistic rituals.

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Walk into any small or big eatery in Sikkim,you will find traditional Tibetan food, along with the ubiquitous Chinese. We ate veg steamed momos and thupka for lunch inside the park. Pocket-friendly and tasty

The word ‘Banjhakri’ means a forest shaman. If we break it down further ‘Ban’ means primitive and ‘Jhakri’ means shaman. Shaman is a priest, regarded as one with healing and magical powers who can influence the spirits and bring about good and evil.

After spending sometime at the park we drove back to the city and our next stop was Gangtok’s cable car.

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It’s a 2 km to and fro ride that takes about 15 minutes to complete Invariably, there would be a waiting time despite the car taking in 20 passengers at a time. I stood in queue for an hour to get tickets. The cable car offers a bird’s view of the town and the valley
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Gangtok city view as seen from cable car

The vibrancy at M.G. Marg!

In the evening, we headed to M.G.Marg, the happening hub of the city. A long stretch of boulevard square where locals and tourists take leisure stroll or just sit and relax on one of the many benches laid along the middle and both sides of the road to soak in the ambience. The whole range is free of trash, smoke, vehicle and any other mode of transportation. It’s a pedestrian zone and vehicles are not permitted on the street.

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Hustling,bustling MG road in the evening.Shops, cafes, shopping arcades, restaurants are conglomerated in an iridescent display. People pour out into the streets and the crowd fashionably add further colors !

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You can also test your bargaining skills at Laal Bazaar and take home beautiful wall hangings and carpets

The crafts and souvenirs at the shops were impressive and we could not just have enough. It is a great place to shop for Tibetan jackets, thangkas (traditional Tibetan artwork), prayer wheels and flags.After shopping for some time and we ended the day with a treat of delicious steamed momos!We retired for an early night as the next day we were to make an anticipated trip to Nathula Pass.

To be continued..

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