Sikkim, the wonderland! I used to dream of visiting the north- eastern states of India and Lo! I got the opportunity in March 2018 after exams of my son got over. The trip was not planned except that a desire to visit Assam was in our hearts. As the flight took off to Bhubaneswar where we had to attend a family function, the thread ceremony of the son of my very close friend Ritu, my husband asked me, “How about visiting Assam and coming back after a week’s time?” My eyes lit up in anticipation and soon thoughts of Cheerapunji took over my mind but it seemingly felt that the workload that we both have may not allow us to have extended holiday and I replied, “Lets first have a tour of Bhubaneswar and then decide. Soon the discussion caught speed and we started discussing the routes and plan. The flight tickets at short notice seemed expensive so we decided to take Tatkal train to Siliguri and further thought of visiting Darjeeling. Thoughts of tea gardens swept my mind of all other worries and work load.
We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Bhubaneswar and took train to Siliguri on 29th March and dropped at JNP station on 30th March. I found JNP station as one of cleanest stations. It felt pleasant as we came out of train and walked over the bridge to reach the other side of the city. One can see lots of travel agents who provide tour plans and packages. We discussed with Sikkim Travels and then took a cab to Gangtok. There we directly went to Sikkim Tourism office which is completely made of wood with wonderful ambiance, located amidst posh M G Road.
The staff provides complete guidance about trusted hotels and agents registered with them. We stayed at hotel Utpal. The same day we enjoyed MG Road, it is a very special as one side of the road is meant only for public. The road is adorned with fancy light polls, seating arrangements, fountains, glamorously lit shops and flowers all around.
My son clicks very good pictures now as I am very critical of photography skills. Next day we went to enjoy 12 view -points of Gangtok which included a Gandola ride wherein one can have an amazing view of the city, Ganesha Temple where we clicked pictures wearing fancy local dress called Jainsem, Biological garden, Flower show to mention a few. We had a great time visiting these view points and enjoying nature. It gave us an opportunity to keep reminding our son of the significant details. He enjoyed the picture in local dress.
31st march we chose to visit Yumthang Valley, northmost part of Sikkim. We were advised to buy jackets and warm clothes as we had no warm clothes with us. Gangtok is fairly warm during the day. So! we went for shopping to Lal Bazar. Next day, we went to the local sumo stand which accommodate up to 9 people and transport people to Yumthang on sharing basis. My husband was disappointed as we were not allowed to hire private cab. The local drivers are experts as far the perilous mountain route is concerned. Moreover, all passengers are supposed to submit their individual close -up photographs with ID details and each car driver carries a stamped document which he produces to defense personals each time we cross a check post. Taking pictures of check post areas is prohibited. We gladly started journey by 11:30 am and reached base of Yumthang called Lachung, by evening 6:30 pm. It is a six hours journey and in between one gets to have lunch or snacks with designated hotels only as mentioned in the package and driver is aware of all the details.
It was spine chilling cold when we got down to walk towards the Guest house. We got a luxurious room on 3rd floor.
No sooner we saw the quilt, all three of us jumped in to warm our feet even though each of us were wearing double layer of socks. Our dinner arrangements were in a nearby hotel called Starlit for which we had to face cold feet again. The cold water gave me pain in my fingers while I washed hands for dinner. Moon looked so close from there that one could take clear pictures with visible colors. By 9:30 pm, we were deep asleep. Before sleep we discussed with fellow passengers who were staying in the same guest house, about the next day plan and they suggested us to visit Kataw peak, instead of Zero Point, which borders Tibet to the north of Sikkim. We woke up at 4:30 am and laughed as we never ever follow such schedule in Mumbai and wished if life style everywhere could be so. Sun sets around 5:45 pm and one can witness an awesome sunrise by morning 4:30 am. As we started by 5:30 am, all freshened up and ready to face the chill, I thanked God in my every breath to have given me eyes to witness the Golden shine of snow clad peaks. The lofty mountains grew more and more golden as we were moving up the mountains and crossing many others towards Kataw.
We interacted with Indian Jawans and saluted them. They were educating everyone about do’s and don’ts. There we saw a small temple in which a Marble was installed bearing name of a Jawan who lost his life while battling in defense of the border. We offered our prayers there and bowed down our heads with a feeling no less than what we feel in a temple. When we witness the kind of climate and other conditions that our soldiers bear with, our hearts get filled with deep respect and reverence for our nation and such heroes as it is not a cup of tea for any other common man to put up under such adverse weather conditions.
“The higher we go, the cooler it is.” My father used to repeat this each time he would take up science to teach us. While standing at Kataw, I realized that this aspect of nature is true for human life as well. The tranquility of mountains teaches us that as we progress and practice silence, we become lofty within and feel peace which is as golden as the shine of the snow mountains in morning sun.
While I and my husband stood in silence, watching and appreciating the beauty, our son was having fun with a little puppy. We had lot of fun playing with snow balls, lying down on snow and clicking pictures, breaking stunning icicles and play around and pose.
After Kataw, we visited Glacier falls in our way towards Yumthang.
It took us 2 hours from there to reach Yumthang Valley. One can enjoy magnificent views of snow mountains while we drive and witness huge landslides, amazing rocks and lakes. No doubt! one tends to appreciate the driving expertise of the local drivers who drive without seat belts and without penalties. When asked about the leniency, they reason that their body moves a lot while driving on snake like roads which gives them better control over the steering. They don’t even suggest passengers to wear seat belts. Whilst this curious talk, Lo! We reached Yumthang.
We loved to feast on Maggie to keep ourselves light and filled. There, the local Jainsem attracted my attention and I wore it after paying a rental. It was fun when locals complimented me about it. The villagers serve Maggie, mommos, eggs and other non-veg dishes to visitors during the day and return to Lachung by evening. The local markets keep a stock of warm apparels and traditional souvenirs for attraction. The green flowing river was main attraction. One can witness cleanliness everywhere within sight.
We enjoyed 1st April at Yumthang and 2nd April we went to see Changu Lake. We went directly to Thegu, a place located a little before Nathu-La (Indo-China border in Sikkim). Here, people visit Baba Harbhajan Singh Shrine. He was an Indian Army soldier known as “Hero of Nathula.” Soldiers posted there believe that his spirit protects every soldier in the inhospitable high-altitude of Eastern Himalayas. We offered our prayers there and had “prasad”. People visit this place in large numbers.
There one can visit War Museum and also buy unique traditions items from their gallery. They also give a certificate that you visited the place with date, signature and stamp. While driving back towards Changu Lake, we stopped to play with snow and enjoy the serene, white environment. Our joy knew no bounds when it started snowing. My husband and son were witnessing it for the first time. I had enjoyed it a lot in my childhood way back in Kashmir. We became careless about our red nose and cold feet as some extra energy came out through our enthusiasm. Our driver clicked our pictures and I recorded videos about the stunning snow-clad mountains.
Changu Lake is stunningly beautiful. Emrald green water with white backdrop takes our mind to a different dimension and we naturally praise God for His supreme architecture and designing. One becomes thoughtless about work and worries and dives deep into appreciating nature and our deep connection with each of its aspects. In my heart of hearts, I thanked all the people who built roads and discovered these places. Border Road Organization (BRO) is doing a fabulous work by constantly repairing roads and making necessary facilities available for travelers. Another lake called Manju Lake is completely frozen and gives hypnotic invitation to walk over its surface but no one is allowed to do so for safety reasons.
We got gum boots for Rs50 rental. Jackets are also available up to a rental of Rs200. Changu lake has Cable Car connected to mountains and it’s a view worth watching. One will always remember the spine chilling wind plus excitement one experiences because it gives a sense of triumph and hurrah! The wind can simply freeze our nerves if we expose ourselves longer without shelter. Within few minutes, we travelled back towards Changu Lake as the heavy snowfall was taking over. The cable car service works only till 1 pm as weather conditions become adverse affecting visibility. We were fortunate to avail the last ride of the day. We made new friends there and the whole view of Changu lake still occupies my mind.
Mountain top after Cable car ride.
We returned to Gangtok by evening and had dinner at a restaurant which offers authentic Sikkimese Thali. It was insightful to speak to Chef and the staff about the local cuisines and favorite dishes. We loved the “thali” and the traditional grandeur of the overall ambiance.
Our day concluded with smiles and beautiful memories. Travelling is a humbling experience as we get to learn things beyond books and imagination. Appreciating beauty is a divine opportunity one must avail. It is one Earth-one birth, make the most of it by travelling to a destination away from your region. Kids must travel with their family often as travelling is not only enjoying, it is a rich learning experience to understand diversity through language, culture, food, climate, heritage sites and geographical significance.
Do visit Sikkim and feel Incredible India.