flags fluttering in the wind, lush countrysides and scintillating
vistas make for an exhilarating odyssey. Monideepa Banerjee
drives through Sikkim...
can wander up lush green mountain trails, in the very footsteps
of those early travellers. Marvel at the stupas, monasteries and
temples. Acquaint yourself with a culture that is at once bizarre
and fascinating. Sikkim offers you a holiday that is more than a
dream - a voyage of adventure and discovery. This description was
enough to entice us to make a trip to this distant valley. We were
ready to take off.
1: Cosmopolitan Gangtok
descend upon us like whorls of blue mist that advance suddenly from
the mountains to blanket the verdant valley in a watery haze, the
moment we step out of the New Jalpaiguri Railway Station. Each one
quotes a separate price especially meant for us and offers special
discounts. Glad to know that we are so special to so many people,
but it is a tough choice. We politely decline and proceed to the
Sikkim Bus Terminus, the most sensible option for those headed to
Sikkim. Not only do you get a wider choice of transport options,
but also cheaper rates. We hire a Maruti to drop us to Gangtok and
set sail in the pleasant March morning. The journey is a revelation
and for the next four hours we religiously adhere to the window
screens, not wanting to miss any of the splendid visuals that unfold
gradually before our bemused eyes. Straight away, we realise that
the trip is going to be a blast. The serpentine road winds its way
through genteel riversides, dangerous mountain bends, dense forests
and manicured paddy fields. We glide along, at times reaching down
to caress the flowing waters of Teesta and the next instant chasing
the fleeting clouds. In between, we take refreshing breaks in the
cozy nooks to sample pure Darjeeling tea and tasty momos.
flags with Mt Khangchendzonga
Singtam begins the long, tedious journey from a mere 488-metres
to a formidable 1,677 metres. The lime-green valley retreats behind
the rugged mountains that look ominously from all sides for daring
to venture onto them. The razor-edged Singalila on the western side
forms boundaries with Nepal and the undulating Chola on the east
shares frontiers with Tibet. The region owes its name to the tribal
Limbu princess who lovingly called it her Sukh Him or Happy
Home In The Snow, after her marriage to one of the kings.
Sikkim is an obvious abbreviation of Sukh Him. Gangtok appears cool
with its cosmopolitan gloss, but to our disappointment, is is slightly
crowded. The city welcomes us with a huge hoarding of Tashi Delek
(Welcome in Sikkimese). On entering, the first thing we notice is
the snow-capped Khangchendzonga (Kanchenjunga) smiling benevolently
in the background. In Gangtok on clear days, you never miss the
sight of the third highest peak in the world and that, undoubtedly,
enhances its attraction. The Mahatma Gandhi Marg (M G Marg) is the
citys lifeline dotted with numerous hotels, restaurants, curio
shops and cyber cafes. But we opt for the Siniolchu lodge, a government-run
hotel situated at a distance far from the maddening crowds.
we visit Do Drul Chorten. Around this towering white edifice are
108 prayer wheels with the mystic Tibetan mantra Om Mani Padme Hun
(Hail to the jewel in lotus). The Namgyal Research Institute of
Tibetology fascinates me with its rare and beautiful collection
of Thangkas. The Enchey Monastery features next on the agenda. This
200-year-old monastery was built by a Tantric Master and the setting
is sure to evoke some eerie feelings. Exhausted from a hectic day,
we book a car to visit Tsomgo Lake the following day and retire
to an early night.
2: Scintillating Vistas At Tsomgo Lake
Flags at Dzongri
nerve-chilling, stomach-churning journey is well compensated
by scintillating vistas
breaks early next morning with golden hues dancing on the white
snow peaks against a spotless blue canopy. We took a quick tour
six kms away to the Tashi viewpoint, to satisfy ourselves with a
panoramic view of the entire Himalayan range. Back down, I quickly
finish breakfast and proceed towards Tsomgo Lake, an aqua marine
wonder stretching over one km at 12,310 feet! The nerve-chilling,
stomach-churning journey is well compensated by scintillating vistas.
Rhododendrons and primroses appear regularly to add a softer touch
to the jagged landscape till the doorsteps of Tsomgo. The placid
lake mirrors the snowlit summits of the surrounding peaks and the
sight is truly amazing. Huge chunks of snow are seen floating. In
the winter, the entire area gets frozen and, if you dare to bear
the chilling temperature, Tsomgo would gift you the most expensive
landscape painting. A 15-minute walk along the lake takes one to
the opposite side where you can relive your childhood by playing
in the snow. The lake is very sacred to the locals who believe that
if the colour of the lake is tinged with darkness, it forecasts
a year of trouble and unrest.
dark clouds hover over us like a great-winged albatross blocking
the vision. Soon it begins to pour heavily, the condition worsened
by the chilling wind. We take shelter in the polythene sheeted tea
stalls, but alas, they hardly offer any resistance. Half an hour
later, when we resume our return journey, there is no trace of a
cloud or rain in the clear sky. We spent the afternoon exploring
the local markets. I buy some wood-painted wall hangings from the
states handicraft emporium. In the evening, we were treated
to chaang, a local beer which is made by fermenting millet using
yeast. It is sipped from a bamboo receptacle using a bamboo pipe.
The receptacle, which has millet in it, is topped with warm water
a couple of times until the millet loses its flavour. It looks mild,
but can be very intoxicating, indeed.
3: Sonorous Chants Of Buddhist Mantras
check out from Gangtok for Pemayangtse in the western side. En route,
we take a detour to visit the Rumtek Monastery. The monastery fills
you with a sense of peace as you listen to the sonorous chants of
Buddhist mantras. It is the headquarters of Kargyuapa sect of Buddhism
and the most revered monastery in Sikkim. Legend says that the first
Karmapa spent many years meditating in a cave. Ten thousand fairies
offered him a strand each from their hair, which was then woven
into a black hat.
hat is kept in a sacred box in the monastery and is worn by the
Karmapas on ceremonial occasions. The three-storied building awash
in gold and red is a perfect example of Tibetan architecture. The
prayer hall is richly decorated with silk thangkas, scrolls and
frescos depicting the numerous legends associated with Buddha. A
massive statue of His Holiness Guru Rimpoche dominates the central
arena holding a thunderbolt in his right hand. In the adjacent Nalanda
Institute, burgundy-robed lamas chant the mystique quotations from
the holy books with stern concentration. But once the head priest
is out, the throwing of paper planes resembles the classrooms back
home. For plant lovers, the nearby Botanical garden has some rare
orchids. Up to Singtum, there is a steady descent and then the roads
rises up again on the other side of Rangit that acts as a great
divider between east and west. We take lunch at Singtum before proceeding
further. The ascent is pretty steep and mostly through thick forests
of cardamom. Geyzing offers the much-needed tea break and we relax
our weary muscles. We reach Peling, one km away from Pemayangtse,
quite late and decide to spend the night here.
4: Picturesque Peling & Pemayangtse
morning at Peling is lovely. The picturesque village overlooks a
rich swathe of mint green meadows that merges gently with the azure
sky, while the stately Khangchendzonga silently looks on. After
the hectic schedule of the past three days, we laze around in the
valley simply watching the colourful cameos created by an indulgent
sun on the unblemished white peaks. The lavender-tinged crowning
glory turns into a dazzling 1,000-carat diamond at midday and as
the evening approaches it changes again into gold-laced amber. The
silvery moon casts mysterious shadows and the mountains glisten
like a wet pearl just out of its shell.
between, we take a trip to the Pemayangtse monastery. The interior
has a mystique ancient flavour and houses some priceless antiquity.
On the top floor is a wooden pagoda-like structure - Xandhopelri
or the celestial abode of Guru Rimpoche.
view of the Rumtek Monastery
three-storied Rumtek monastery is a perfect example of Tibetan
drive to Khechopalri Lake is memorable for its numerous waterfalls
and magical gorges. The crystal clear water of the lake is surprisingly
devoid of any fallen leaf though it is deep inside a dense forest.
Legend says that it is the lake of wish fulfillment so the water
has to remain free flowing. If a leaf drops on the surface, the
birds of heaven immediately pick it up. That night from the balcony
of my room, I take one last look at the breathtaking views that
surround us. Surely this is the closest that you could get to Shangri-La.
before long, to our deep regret, the city of Gangtok looms in the
distance, as we begin our return journey from a part of our country
that not many know, and even fewer get to read about. A jewel embedded
in snow-clad mountains, Sikkim is a primeval land that is unlike
anywhere else. This land of myths casts an enchanted spell that
is sure to entice you. But before we leave Gangtok, we are busy
planning our next trip.
Tel: (03592) 26618/ 26619
Located in the heart of Gangtok, the Residency strives
to bring about a harmonious blend of old world regality
and charm with all the comforts of modern-day living.
Price Range: Rs 800-Rs 3,300
Hotel Tashi Delek
Tel: (03592) 22038/ 22991
A four-star hotel, the Tashi Delek means Good Fortune
in Sikkimese and it is in this same spirit that the
hotel welcomes you. The rooms are spacious and richly
decorated in traditional Sikkimese style.
Price Range: Rs 3,000-Rs 4,000
Tel: (03592) 24643
Enchantingly placed at an elevated location of Gangtok,
viz Zero point, the most fascinating attraction is its
terrace viewpoint Garden, fitted with a telescope. It
draws huge crowd to its coffee shop and shopping arcade,
which is inbuilt in the hotel.
Price Range: Rs 675-Rs 1,495
Tel: (03592) 22523
An accredited three-star hotel, this hotel has won many
awards for its friendly service and the facilities that
it offers. Its Snow Lion Restaurant is acclaimed to
be the best in Gangtok.
Price Range: Rs 1,000-Rs 2,500
Tel: (03592) 22237/ 23537
Situated on the western face of a mountain-side, the
Norbu Ghang Resort is barely a minutes walk away
from the quaint little hamlet of Peling in west Sikkim.
The resort offers 11 aesthetically designed cottages
set amidst landscaped greenery.
Price Range: Rs 1,600-Rs 2,800
Tel: (03592) 22374
Netuk House is the house of the Denjongpas, a Sikkimese
family long rooted in Sikkim. At Netuk House, guests
can experience the traditional and cordial hospitality
of the Denjong family. The hotel is a short stroll from
Price Range: Rs 1,800-Rs 3,000
Tel: (03592) 25637
A four-star hotel in Gangtok,
it is the royal guesthouse of the former ruler of Sikkim.
It boasts traditional Sikkimese decor and cuisine with
every room facing the Khangchendzonga range of mountains.
Price Range: Rs 3,500-Rs 4,500
Tel: (03593) 50756
It is probably the best located place to stay and is
run by Sikkim Tourism. This hotel is two kms away from
Peling, at the foot of the road leading upto the Pemayangtse
Principal Languages: Hindi, English, Nepali,
Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan
Climate: Summer 20-13øC, Winter 13-6øC
Clothing: During summers, light woollens are
advisable, but for winters, be prepared with heavy woollens.
Best Season: March to late May
Telephone Area Code: 03592
Getting There: Sikkims nearest airport
is Bagdogra, 124 kms away linking Kolkata, Guwahati
and Delhi. For the more discerning traveller, Sikkim
Tourism provides the Sikkim Helicopter Service from
Gangtok to Bagdogra Airport and back. The nearest railhead
is Siliguri (114 kms) and New Jalpaiguri. Buses are
available in plenty from the Sikkim bus terminus at
Siliguri, but it is advisable to hire a car. Shared
vehicles are also available outside the terminus.
Getting Around: If travelling in your own vehicle,
permission must be obtained from the Tourism Department
at M G Marg, Gangtok. There are taxis (Maruti Van and
Ambassador) to move around the city. Auto-rickshaws
do not ply in Gangtok. Carrying a road map and water
Entry Formalities: Indian tourists require no
entry permits into Sikkim, except for the restricted
areas. Foreign tourists require a special permit, which
is easily available at all Indian missions abroad who
are authorised to issue a 15-day permit.
A number of trekking facilities are available in Sikkim.
For details please contact, the Sikkim Tourist Information
Centre on M G Road (Tel: (03592) 23425) or Sikkim Tourism
Development Corporation, MG Marg, Gangtok (Tel: (03592)
22634). The Sikkim Tourist Information counters are
also located at Kolkata (Tel: (033) 2815328).
Shopping: The main places selling clothes, woollen
garments, curio items and decoratives are Old Bazar,
Naya Bazar, Lall Market and Super Market. The Cottage
Industries Emporium and the Sikkim Handicrafts Emporium
has a variety of handwoven carpets, shawls, patterned
decorative paper and thangkas. It is open daily from
9:30 am to 3:30 pm, except Sundays and the second Saturday
of every month.
Located at the Green Hotel, it runs a popular restaurant
that serves Tibetan, Chinese and Indian food. A meal
for two would cost Rs 200-Rs 225.
Tel: (03592) 25057/ 24439
This restaurant at Sonam Delek serves good Continental
food. The French Toast and Banana Pancake are very popular.
A Continental meal for two would cost around Rs 300.
Tel: (03592) 22566/ 28906
Blue Poppy Restaurant
Situated at Tashi Delek, this is good option if you
want to savour Sikkimese cuisine (on order). They serve
vegetarian dishes starting from Rs 50 and non-vegetarian
Tel: (03592) 22038/ 22991
Located in Hotel Tibet, it is a bit expensive by regular
standards, but serves good quality Japanese cuisine
as well as Indian delicacies. A meal for two costs about
Tel: (03592) 22523/ 23468
Located opposite Gangtok Lodge, it serves affordable
South Indian food.
Tel: (03592) 23245