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Old 12th October 2013, 17:22   #1
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Default Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet.


Teaser


Well, it is the season time, with many a tbhpians heading for LEH. Also, the Maruti Raid De Himalaya 2013 has just come to an end.

With so many excellent travelogues of excursions into Leh, I finally got motivated to pen down (rather type out) one my most memorable travel trips ever.

This involved a single vehicle self driven adventure in a 800 cc hatchback (The Alto) accompanied by dear wife and our then 1 and a 1/2 year old son to the edge of the Roof of the World and back.

Prelude


How it all Started

Since childhood, I have had always been fascinated with stories of Kailash Mansarovar, this slowly led to a fascination and general interest in all things related to Tibet.

As I grew up, learned that there is a place in India called Ladakh with Leh as its capital which is as good as (if not better) Tibet and Lhasa.

But alas have not yet been able to get Leh'd.

Later on in life, perhaps when visiting Rohtang, learnt that there a region known as Lahaul & Spiti in Himachal too; which is across the Himalayan Water Shed (rather Himalayan Rain Shed, as we have many rivers cutting through the Himalaya proper).

Still later on, do not exactly remember when, where or who, but sometime somewhere someone mentioned that even in the Northern parts of Sikkim, we have a small area with terrain similar to Ladakh (the bigger brother) or let us say Tibet (the original mai baap)!

This small nugget of fact got enlodged in that permanent treasury of important information in the storehouse called brain. The keeda was born. (One among the many other Keeda(s))


How it finally materialized

Cut forward to year 2009. An opportunity arose, where in I had the liberty to take a week of unplanned holiday. We decided to visit Gangtok, it being a highly recommended tourist hotspot, where we had not been to.

After deciding that it is going to be Gangtok, decided to self drive and enjoy. With the time available in hand being more than what was required for just Gangtok, I started contemplating modified itineraries, viz. combining with Darjeling / Kalimpong / south / west sikkim.

But then suddenly the Keeda (Little Tibet in North part of Sikkim) resurfaced. Searched for it online and whatever little I saw excited me no end. Discovered that there is a Lake called GURUDONGMAR which was among the highest lakes in the world.

Made a rough mental itinerary for a week, which was largely flexible with lot of 'may do' and 'if not then' options. The aim being to enjoy the holidays rather than getting stressed out in trying to stick to definite plan with lots of touristy key points to be ticked.


Well, enjoy we did and here is a trailer of how

Trailer

Day 1

Route: Mongpong Forest Resort - Coronation Bridge - Teesta Bazar - Melli - Rangpo - Singtam - Gangtok. (Within Gangtok : Namgyal Institue of Tibetology - Duddul Chorten - Ridge Park and Flower Hall - MG Road)

Distance Covered: ~ 134 kms

Maximum Altitude: 1835 mtrs

Minimum Altitude: 180 mtrs

Duddul Chorten, Gangtok

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9397.jpg


Day 2

Route: Gangtok - Serbathang Mart - Nathu La - Baba Memorial - Kupup - Baba Mandir - Water shed Memorial - Tsongmo Lake - Kyongsala Falls - Gangtok

Distance Covered: ~ 142 kms

Maximum Altitude: 4310 mtrs

Minimum Altitude: 1700 mtrs

Tsongmo Lake

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9490.jpg


Nathu La

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9502.jpg


Baba Memorial in Scenic Setting

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9541.jpg


Kupup

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9562.jpg


Day 3

Route: Local Sightseeing in Gangtok : - Tashi Viewpoint - Himalayan Zoological Park (Gangtok Zoo) - Ropeway - Hanuman Tok - MG Road

Distance Covered: ~ 74 kms

Maximum Altitude: 2225 mtrs

Minimum Altitude: 1480 mtrs

Snow Leopard, Himalayan Zoological Park, Gangtok

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9753.jpg


Rope way, Gantok

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9756.jpg


Hanuman Tok

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Day 4

Route: Gangtok - Kabi Lungchok - Seven Sisters Waterfalls - Phedong - Mangan - Naga Waterfalls - Chungthang

Distance Covered: ~ 118 kms

Maximum Altitude: 1895 mtrs

Minimum Altitude: 775 mtrs

Kabi Lungchok, North Sikkim

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9786.jpg


Naga Waterfalls, North Sikkim

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9792.jpg


Day 5

Route: Chungthang - Bhim Nala Waterfalls - Lachung - Singba Rhododendron Sanctuary - Yumthang - Shiv Mandir - Yumthang - Lachung - Chungthang

Distance Covered: ~ 114 kms

Maximum Altitude: 3980 mtrs

Minimum Altitude: 1580 mtrs

Bhim Nala Waterfalls, En route Lachung from Chungthang

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9808.jpg


Lachung coming up...

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9815.jpg


At Yumthang (Sikkim's Valley of Flowers)

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9830.jpg


Day 6

Route: Chungthang - Gaigong - Gurudongmar - Gaigong - Thangu - Lachen - Chungthang

Distance Covered: ~ 170 kms

Maximum Altitude: 5210 mtrs

Minimum Altitude: 1580 mtrs

Pristine Heavenly Gurudongmar Lake

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9915.jpg


Drive of a Lifetime

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9939.jpg


Day 7

Reverse of Day 4


Day 8

Reverse of Day 1


That's all Folk for now; Picture abhi baki hai mere dost


To be contd...

Last edited by YanTra Makto : 13th October 2013 at 11:49. Reason: Under construction
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Old 14th October 2013, 18:33   #2
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Default Re: Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet.


Thank you for going through the introductory post above.

So to continue, before starting we got our 'kit' ready. In addition to generous amount of winter clothing especially for the kiddo, it contained these items, few of them extra as compared to our normal travel trip.
- Standard tool kit provided with car.
- Standard extra fuses, light bulbs provided with car.
- Tow rope.
- Jump Start Cords.
- Swiss Knifes x 2.
- One Khukri.
- One Gurkha type Lathi with rubber loop that goes around wrist.
- Sleeping Bags x 2.
- One 2 man tent.
- Electric Kettle.
- Extension cord/multi pin/spike buster.
- Cigarette lighter chargeable High Wattage Spot Light.
- A pair of Binoculars.
- Field Guide Book of Indian Birds by Salim Ali. 1996 edition.
- The Book of Indian Animals by S.H. Prater. 1971 edition.
- Lonely Planet (India) 1999 edition (bought second hand in 2004).
- A pressure cooker, some rice and dal and condiments.
- Lots of Snacks - Chips, Namkin, Parle Gs, Good Days, Cadbury Chocolates, Bread, Butter, Jam, Cheese.
- Tea Bags, Coffee Powder, Milk Powder, Instant Soup Mixes, Cup Noodles, Maggi.
- A Thermos Flask.
- Water Camper.
- My Fuji Finepix S5600 camera.
(Note: Where as rest are more of an emergency / pleasure measure, but whenever I travel I always carry an Extension cord/multi pin/spike buster. It comes in very handy to charge laptop, cameras and sundry. And whenever travelling by car, we also carry our electric kettle & it proves literally life saving at times, especially with kids around.)


What I did not had
- Any kind of GPS or navigation device.
- A handycam / video camera.
- A DSLR.

So, now that we are all set here starts our journey in detail.

Decided to do a night halt at the Mongpong Forest Resort of WBFDC on Friday night due to three reasons.

One - The trip starts from Friday evening itself.
Two - Can hit the hills early even after a relaxed start on Saturday.
Three - Better to spend the night at Mongpong than at house !.

Day 1, Saturday

Route: Mongpong Forest Resort - Coronation Bridge - Teesta Bazar - Melli - Rangpo - Singtam - Gangtok. (Within Gangtok : Namgyal Institue of Tibetology - Duddul Chorten - Ridge Park and Flower Hall - MG Road)

Distance Covered: ~ 134 kms

Maximum Altitude: 1835 mtrs

Minimum Altitude: 180 mtrs

We got up in the morning at a holiday-ish time of around 0720. And after freshening up and having the morning cuppa tea; self and son went for a stroll around, as wife was busy repacking her part of luggage as she wanted to rearrange stuff based on their likelihood of requirement. Finally, after she was done, I loaded up the car, taking care that I have sufficient view available from the rear window. Finally we were able to set course by about 0830 hrs. I utilized the in between time to get some breakfast packed.

View while we strolled

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9381.jpg
On the horizon is Teesta River. The thin whitish line is the the sandy river bed. And the small cliff like line running above the white line is the bank of the river at far end.

Distance between Mongpong and Gangtok is close to 93 kms and should normally take about 2 and 1/2 hours to 4 hrs depending on road and traffic condition.


Google map view of Mongpong Resort to Zero Mile Gangtok.

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-mongponggangtok.jpg
Notice that even in this scale of the map, one can see Nepal, China, Bhutan and two states of India viz. Sikkim and West Bengal.
About 4 kms from Mongpong WBFDC Resort, we came to our favourite Coronation Bridge, crossing which we turn right to continue to Sikkim. Did not stop here this time around, as we had just started.

(Note: The scenic NH 31 A starts from NH 31 at Coronation Bridge.)

However, ek photo to banta hai, so here is a snap of Coronation Bridge from one of earlier trips.

Coronation Bridge

You can see the Teesta River roaring below. Also visible are the Lions on the other side of bridge (above the pillar between 2nd and 3rd arch from right). Due to which it is known as Tiger Bridge. (Lion = Sher = Tiger !)

In fact this trip could also be called the 'Teesta Sojourn', as we charted almost the full course of Teesta while she is in the hills.

An interesting snippet about Teesta, courtesy Wikipedia

Quote:
Great changes have taken place in the course of some of the rivers in Bengal and the adjoining areas, during the period since 1500 CE. Although positive evidence is lacking, similar changes can be assumed in the remoter past. The Teesta River is one of the rivers that has changed over the years.

The Teesta earlier ran due south from Jalpaiguri in three channels, namely, the Karatoya to the east, the Punarbhaba in the west and the Atrai in the centre. The three channels possibly gave the name to the river as Trisrota "possessed of three streams" which has been shortened and corrupted to Teesta. Of these three, the Punarbhaba joined the Mahananda. The Atrai passing through a vast marshy area known as Chalan Beel joined the Karatoya and the united stream joined the Padma (Ganges) near Jafarganj. In the destructive floods of 1787, the Teesta river forsook its old channel and rushing south-east it joined the Brahmaputra.[4] James Rennell made a survey between 1764 and 1777 and his maps are one of the earliest authentic maps of Bengal in existence. In these maps Teesta is shown as flowing through North Bengal in several branches — Punarbhaba, Atrai, Karatoya, etc. All these streams combined lower down with the Mahananda, now the westernmost river in North Bengal, and taking the name of Hoorsagar finally discharged into the Ganges at Jafarganj, near modern Goalundo.
Though it was early October, but in these parts it keeps raining whenever it wishes to. It had rained quite some amount yesterday. Though today was bright and sunny. In fact at times it was hot too, necessitating AC , which otherwise is hardly required in these parts except to demist the front wind shield during rains.

At Coronation Bridge we crossed over from the Eastern bank of Teesta to its Western bank. The drive is scenic as you are clinging to the fast and furious Teesta throughout, though slowly increasing the vertical drop to it.

The road surface was generally good though was mildly (by North Bengal standards) potholed in patches. However, the traffic for the width of road was heavy and thus going was slow, due to lack of sane overtaking opportunities. Thus long lines of cars/light vehicles were trailing behind one odd heavy vehicle with each car hopping over the slow moving obstacle as and when the opportunity arose. Thus slowly we also move up the wait list of overtaking vehicles and then wait for an overtaking opportunity. And after overtaking, have a short free run before we very soon end up as the last entrant in a fresh wait list.

Note: NH 31A is the lifeline of Sikkim and is practically the only road to Gangtok (though there are two other interesting options too to reach Gangtok without touching NH 31A). Thus the amount of traffic is totally understandable.

However soon, i.e after about 45 mins of drive, we were stuck in traffic jam. After waiting patiently for 5 odd minutes, got out of the car to enquire, and learnt that there had been a landslide ahead and it had damaged almost half of the road. Thus only one way traffic was clear. And the police was there on the spot releasing traffic from either side every 15 mins or so. Thankfully, in spite of the long lines, both uphill and downhill of the bottleneck, vehicles were parked in their respective sides of the road. Thus there were no blockages once one clears the bottleneck. Nice self discipline displayed by all, even when no one was enforcing. And thankfully no overt smart Alec s too. But none the less, it did cost us time but we were in no particular hurry and utilised this time to munch in to the packed breakfast.

The Landslide which ate away half of the road (burp), and thus cost us 45 mins.

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9383.jpg


At times it was dusty due to the various stages of ongoing Teesta Hydro Electric Project's construction works.

After about 12 kms from Coronation Bridge, at Birik Dara the road cross over the ridge line on the left and thus leaves Teesta for about 7 kms as it negotiates Reang Jhora and Rambhi Jhora before they join together and join Teesta. As you would have guessed Jhora means a rivulet / nallah or at times even just a spring.

Crossing the Bridge over Reang Jhora

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9384.jpg


Saw this close to Assam Oil Petrol Pump at Suntaley, could never spot it in any of my visits to Sikkim.

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf5711.jpg


After about 27 kms from Coronation Bridge, we come to the bridge at Teesta Bazaar. Here we cross over the Teesta again, back on to the eastern side. Also, from here an interesting scenic road bifurcates for Darjeeling. The road for Darjeeling, against intution, bifurcates down to right towards the river and then crosses below the NH 31A just before the bridge, before beginning its rapid climb up to Darjeeling. So at the bifurcation, we take left or the relatively uphill road, continue as the road turns a sharp right to cross over the bridge and then turns sharp left to continue hugging the Teesta.

Google Map of Teesta Bazaar

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-teesta-bazaar.jpg


Here is a picture of the bridge, from one of our earlier trips.

Bridge at Teesta Bazaar

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf5712.jpg


About a km or so further up, the road for Kalimpong cuts away to the right and starts its rapid ascent.

About another km and a half from or about 30 odd kms from Coronation Bridge, we come to the junction of Teesta and Rangit Rivers.

Teesta was flowing in Bengal till now, but from now on till some further distance up stream it forms the boundary between Sikkim and West Bengal. Also from this junction till some part upstream Rangit too forms the boundary between the two states. So, though we are not yet in Sikkim, but it is just across the river.

In fact, this junction is the southern most point of Sikkim.

Teesta Rangit Junction

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf5714.jpg
Rangit is the river behind the building flowing left to right in the picture. It joins Teesta which is flowing right to left in the picture and in front of the building.


Just a stray thought considering what happened in Kedarnath recently. God save those who live here during monsoons. But it is a temptingly beautiful location none the less.

Around 2 and 1/2 kms further up or about 33 kms from Coronation Bridge, we come across the comparatively shabby settlement called Melli Bazaar. Here the NH 31A passes below a bridge which crosses Teesta. On the other side of Teesta starts Sikkim with the town of Melli. This can be considered as the Gateway to South and West Sikkim. To go over the Bridge and into Sikkim, we have cross under the bridge and after about 100 mtrs turn a sharp right (almost like a U turn) to take the entry ramp of bridge. More about those parts of Sikkim some time later.

Between Melli Bazaar and Teesta Bazaar, we can find many White Water Rafting Centres catering for all types of rafters.

One of the better located one.

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf5713.jpg


About 18 kms from Melli Bazaar or about 51 kms from Coronation Bridge, we finally enter Sikkim through the border town of Rangpo.
Rangpo town is situated at the confluence of Rangpo Chu i.e Rangpo river with Teesta.

Google Map of Rangpo Town

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-rangpo.jpg
The river coming from right is Rangpo chu joining Teesta.

Just before entering Rangpo we cross the Rangpo Chu and then crossing the bridge finally enter Sikkim after running parallel to it for about 21 km. It has a nice gate welcoming us to Sikkim and standard police and octroi post etc. The town has all the ingredients of a border settlement with lots of transport agencies, liqour shops, petrol pumps etc. As petrol and liquor is cheaper in Sikkim than the neighbouring state of West Bengal.

The road condition improves on entering Sikkim. In Rangpo, one has to take a sharp left to continue onto NH 31 A. After crossing the first setllement of Rangpo, the road again hugs along the eastern bank of Teesta River. Then comes the second set of settlement of Rangpo where there was mouth watering aroma of Wai Wai instant noodles spread all around in the hill.

Wai Wai is a brand of instant noodles which is popular in these parts of the country and is my personal favourite too compared to any other instant noodles. Yum.

Since we had not really eaten much except for the packed breakfast, we could not stop ourselves from getting pulled towards the origin of the wafting delicious smell.

The Wai Wai Factory near Rangpo

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9387.jpg


Outside the Wai Wai Factory

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9386.jpg

We tried to have a look at the factory but it was closed for lunch. None the less picked up some Wai Wai packets from a company outlet nearby.

Sikkim in these parts is pretty industrialised for a mountain state, even compared to industry less neighbouring North Bengal. There are a lot of Pharmaceutical manufacturing units and few distilleries till Majitar.

Also just before Majitar is the famous Sikkim Manipal Institute of Technology

A view of Sikkim Manipal Institue of technology on the banks of Teesta

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9390.jpg


A close up of SMIT

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9389.jpg


About 62 kms from Coronation Bridge, we come across the town of Singtam.

Google map of Singtam.

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-singtam.jpg
The Ranikhola river meets Teesta at Singtam.

At Singtam, the NH 31 A finally leaves the company of Teesta and now is along the Ranikhola river which we have just crossed at Singtam. Till now we have hardly gained any altitude since the beginning of our journey. It is only now that we start climbing the remaining 1400 mtrs or so till Gangtok.

About 78 kms from Coronation Bridge is the town of Ranipool, most probably named after the bridge over the Ranikhola river.

The Roro Chu joins the Ranikhola close to Ranipool. Gangtok lies on the ridge between these two streams of Ranikhola and Roro chu.

Terraced fields near Ranipul

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9392.jpg


Soon we reached Gangtok, and it seemed beautiful, clean and well laid out. We reached our accommodation and relaxed for some time.

Soon, we were out again for obtaining permits for Nathula. We had to hurry up, as though I had planned for 3 days in Gangtok, with the 2nd day in Gangtok slated for Nathula; but reaching Gangtok we learnt that Nathula is closed for tourist on Mondays and Tuesdays.

So the only day available to us for visiting Nathula was tomorrow i.e Sunday and thus we had to get our permits done today itself. We already were carrying copies of our passport size photos and photocopies of identity proofs etc. Thus we did not have much problem in getting the permits.

As we still had enough time available today, we decided to visit few of the places in Gangtok.

Being interested in Tibet etc, the first place which we visited was the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology. Also, we decided to visit it first as it closes the earliest at 4:00 PM.

The institute was established in 1958, inaugrated by Pt JL Nehru and the foundation stone was laid down by the Dalai Lama. It contains one of the world’s largest collections of Buddhist books and manuscripts, plus statuettes, thangkas (Tibetan cloth paintings) and sacred objects.

Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, Gangtok

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9393.jpg


Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9394.jpg
The museum building seen above contains for public view unique things such as a kapali (sacred bowl made from a human skull) and human thigh bone trumpets.
The Institute itself is located in beautiful wooded surroundings and bang on the ridge line above Gangtok.
Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-nit.jpg


We had just about made it in time to visit the Museum of the Institute. Just opposite to the Institute there was a beautifully located small eating joint. It had standard plastic tables with chairs to sit. The menu displayed looked good enough. But on entering it we found that most of the items were not available as it was close to closing time.

But the view of the forested slopes from the sitting out area of the joint was good, and we thus decided to have something to eat and ordered Momos and Coffee. While me and son hungrily waited for the order to materialize, wife went surveying the interesting and cute little curio shop close by. Do not get the impression that there were many shops / shacks there. These were the only two establishments there.

Since the Institute was located on the road to Duddul Chorten, we decided to might as well visit it next.

The car has to stop short at the parking spot. And then we have to make a short climb to reach the Chorten.

Note:
Quote:
chorten
ˈtʃɔːt(ə)n/
noun
noun: chorten; plural noun: chortens
1.
(chiefly in Tibet) a Buddhist shrine, typically a saint's tomb or a monument to the Buddha.
Origin
Tibetan.
This what a board put up by 'Department of Ecclesiastical Affairs, Government of Sikkim' had to say about the place:
Quote:
This place was once said to be haunted by evil spirits and people who wandered about this place became victim of their cruel wrath....
Nice. I do not even know the meaning of the word 'Ecc..' something something, leave alone the fact that there can be a whole government department for it !

Once you reach there, it is good, especially with the Chorten appearing beautiful in the light of the evening sun.

The Duddul Chorten.

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9397.jpg
Wife and son spinning the prayer wheels
You are supposed to make circumvent the temples clockwise, while rotating these prayer wheels clockwise too.

The hand held prayer wheels which the Buddhist carry while rotating them contain prayers written a specific times (maybe 100, 1000 or so on, depending on the size) inside them on long scroll. Thus rotating it once is supposed to endow you with the benefits of saying the prayer those many times!


Casting a Web to catch the spirits...

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9402.jpg


Its getting cold with the setting sun, winters have come.

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9403.jpg


Video of Lamas praying at Lhakkhang at Duddul chorten



Next we went to the Ridge Park. We just walked down the park enjoying the environs and the colourful flowers, while kiddo enjoyed chasing around the pigeons there.

At the end of Ridge Park is the Flower Exhibition Hall. Here we can find many varieties of Orchids and other flowers most of the year.

At the Flower Exhibition Hall, Ridge Park, Gangtok

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9413.jpg


Then, we went for some rest back to our stay. Before coming out again, we put on a layer of warm clothing as it had started getting pretty cold in the night as opposed to the comfortable and at times rather hot temperatures of the day.

We went 'Malling' to MG Road of Gangtok, which can be considered as the heart of Gangtok. Vehicular traffic is not allowed on the road during earthly hours. Why I say this is because I saw a few bikes zipping past in the late night hours, whether allowed or breaking rules, am not sure.

The road has a nice touristy festive atmosphere to it, with your normal tourist oriented hill station shops and curio stores. Though you will find some daily usage grocery store type of shops also. We bought a pair of woollen gloves and a woollen cap for the young one. And also bought a pair of ear muffins for each one of us.

After some exploration around, we found a value for money restaurant in of the stepped by lanes of the road. It was named the 'Hot Spot', it had only 4 to 5 four seater tables. It appeared comfy and cozy, with the prices being reasonable and not tourist hyped. We tried out the dinner here for the first night, found it good and were back here almost all days after a few bad trials at other places. Sad to say, but I found the place with name, owner, workers and décor changed in another visit to Gangtok after a few months.

Our favourite restaurant during this trip, Hot Spot

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9441.jpg


After dinner stroll at MG Road

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9449.jpg


We reached back to our stay early, as tomorrow was the day for Nathula and we had been advised to start early...


Coming up Day 2: Trip to Nathula and more..


contd...

Last edited by YanTra Makto : 22nd October 2013 at 00:04. Reason: Under construction
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Old 22nd October 2013, 09:36   #3
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Default Re: Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet

Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) (http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/announ...m-section.html (The "Assembly Line" Forum section)) to Travelogues. Thanks for sharing!

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Old 22nd October 2013, 21:32   #4
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Default Re: Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet

Nice places, nice pictures !!
And a family tour is one which always rocks
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Old 23rd October 2013, 18:06   #5
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Default Re: Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet

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Originally Posted by Ddrive View Post
Nice places, nice pictures !!
And a family tour is one which always rocks
Thank you Ddrive,
Better ones coming up still, hope you like them
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Old 24th October 2013, 20:59   #6
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Default Re: Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet

Sikkim is one place I visited way back in the mid-nineties. While we see a lot many travelogues on Leh, Sikkim is much less covered in t-bhp - adc's Sikkim travelogues was an outstanding one.

I must admire your courage to take such a young child alongwith you, in altitudes in excess of 5000 m.

What brand electric kettle do you use ? I have a 800watt Morphy Richards for my kids but I can't use it in the car as it will blow the lighter fuse.

I've got a M800 in Kolkata, and seeing your pics , I might just visit Sikkim in it someday !

Last edited by sdp1975 : 24th October 2013 at 21:00.
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Old 24th October 2013, 21:11   #7
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Default Re: Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet

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Sikkim is one place I visited way back in the mid-nineties. While we see a lot many travelogues on Leh, Sikkim is much less covered in t-bhp - adc's Sikkim travelogues was an outstanding one.

I must admire your courage to take such a young child alongwith you, in altitudes in excess of 5000 m.

What brand electric kettle do you use ? I have a 800watt Morphy Richards for my kids but I can't use it in the car as it will blow the lighter fuse.

I've got a M800 in Kolkata, and seeing your pics , I might just visit Sikkim in it someday !
Thank you sdp1975, Yes Sikkim is beautiful with a lot to offer. Would love to go there again and again in different seasons.

Wow, humbling to know that the pics could inspire you. You must make a go for it !
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Old 25th October 2013, 13:10   #8
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Default Re: Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet

Indeed, Sikkim is one of the lesser known states. But it offers a huge potential for tourism.

The state seems to be worth exploring. However, I wonder why most of the North - East states do not attract tourists. After all, they have more natural beauty and splendour than most of the mainstream states.:
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Old 25th October 2013, 23:37   #9
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Default Re: Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet.

Day 2, Part I.


So let us start with the Fun Part.


Day 2, Sunday

Route: Gangtok - Sherathang Mart - Nathu La - Baba Memorial - Kupup - Baba Mandir - Water shed Memorial - Tshomgmo Lake - Kyongsala Falls - Gangtok.

Distance Covered: ~ 142 kms

Maximum Altitude: 4310 mtrs

Minimum Altitude: 1700 mtrs


We had decided that we will set course early for this days trip, as had been advised to us.

Nothing like tucking in to a warm fluffy quilt on a chilly night. So after having a good nights cosy sleep in the chill of Gangtok, we forced ourselves up early in the morning. It literally took quite an amount of will power to leave the comfort of warm bed and quilt and force myself into the daily routine.

Once I was done, I started with the morning ritual of checking up the tyres, pressures, engine oil, coolant, brake liquid etc. Filling up the wind screen water sprayers reservoir was an important task given the conditions of the roads while wife readied up herself followed by the kid. While she packed the days stuff, I took a stroll around the road with the kid and got some tea.

Strolling around with the still asleep kid.

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9453.jpg


I then packed the car, nothing much and pretty light, mostly eatables, and the tent, sleeping bag, emergency light, cooker etc for unseen situations.
Thus majorily the clothing was left behind and it was quite a major part of our luggage.

We did manage to start by 0730 or so, quite an achievement with a kid. Hats off to wifey.

The route to Nathula from Zero Mile Gangtok

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-picture1.jpg


But as stated in earlier posts, we did not had any GPS / navigational facility, and traversing this 4 km section of JN road / Chandmari road was slightly confusing in the early morning with not much people to ask around.

Slightly confusing section during the start.

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-picture2.jpg


Once we hit the road to Nathula, it was easy as it was the only main road, with no scope of confusion.

Just after a km or so on this road, we reached the check post at 5th Mile. Our permits were checked here and we entered the vehicle and our particulars in a register. We were the 4th non army vehicle at the check post for the day.

Beside the check post was also a tourist information centre.

The early morning drive was very refreshing and scenic with beautiful vistas, with bright sunshine alternating with mild gloom of shadowy slopes and light mist of low clouds playing hide and seek with us and the slopes.

Time for some pictures now !

Village huts and Army Barracks on way to Nathula in idyllic settings.

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9459.jpg


On way to Nathula, green slopes interspersed with conifers and rhododendrons

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9461.jpg


Horses on the way, these and the mules would have been the only way to travel these routes till few decades back!

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9462.jpg


Clouds playing hide and seek.

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9463.jpg


Finally the sun breaks through on our road ahead!

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9465.jpg


About 25 Kms from Zero Mile, Gangtok we cross over the Kyongsa La. This ridge line forms the water shed between the Roro Chu stream (which meets Ranikhola at Ranipul) and one of the main streams of Rangpo Chu. Just before crossing the ridge, we crossed a particularly bad section of road in a landslide prone zone.

Though the Alto crossed over the obstacle easily with some careful driving.

Difficult patch on road to Nathula, just before Kyongsa La.

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9466.jpg


Video of negotiating the patch at Kyongsa La.


After crossing the Kyongsa La, the road has a gradual climb, almost level by Himalayan standards, as it runs parallel to a major tributary of Rangpo chu.

Just another pic.

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9471.jpg


Almost level road running parallel to stream offering nice views of the slopes on other side

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9472.jpg


Somehow, maybe due to the road and dust, or orientation of the ridge with respect to sun, the ridge on the other side was beautiful as compared to the slightly barren on our side.

We were enjoying the drive, the pace was slow due to various stoppages for photography and just to general enjoy the moment, the scenery and the atmosphere.

While we had stopped for one such enjoyable admiration, we saw some camouflaged movement on the opposite slope. Yes they were Yaks ! Once we saw one, we knew they were there and shortly we spotted many more of them, grazing away to their hearts content on the beautifully forested slopes on opposite side.

Yaks grazing to their hearts content.

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9475.jpg


We continued enjoying the drive.

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9480.jpg


About 34 kms from Zero Mile, Gangtok a surprise awaited us. It was the sudden appearance of the beautiful Tshomgo Lake.

The view of the lake opens out suddenly as you climb a left bend in the road.

This video shows what I am trying to say in words.

Approaching the Tshomgo Lake.



It was one of the most beautiful sights I had seen till then. (I did not know then that within a couple of days I will be witnessing scenes which will be better.)

At the Tshomgo Lake.

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9482.jpg


A bit about Tshomgo / Tsomgo Lake. Also called as the Changu lake to ease out the tongue twister on tourist tongues.


Its 'USP' as per Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation's website.
Quote:
A high altitude lake with snow capped mountains, wild alpine flowers, rhododendrons, primulas and medicinal plants. Yak joy rides and snow fun can be entertaining to adults and children.

Detailed info on the Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation.
Quote:
Tsomgo or popularly called Changu Lake is one of the most popular tourist sites in Sikkim it literally means the "source of the lake" in Bhutia language.

Just about 38 km away from Gangtok, this serene lake is situated at an altitude of 12,000 ft on the Gangtok Nathu La highway. It falls in the restricted area and hence an inner line permit is required by tourists to visit this place. Foreign nationals require special permits to visit this lake.

The lake is about 1 km. Long, oval in shape, 15 meters deep and is considered sacred by the local people. It's cool, placid water harmonizes with the scenic beauty around. A small temple of lord Siva is constructed on the lakeside. This placid lake remains frozen during the winter months. The local people operate tea shops and places to eat and also keep snow boots and warm clothing for hire and rental.

Between May and July the semi alpine to alpine landscape offers a variety of flowers including primulas, gentians, poppies, irises and rhododendrons.

The Kyongnosla Alpine Sanctuary in the vicinity of the lake is also famous for its flora and fauna. Rare, endangered ground orchids and rhododendrons interspersed among tall junipers and taller silver firs are among the important plants present.

As per Official Website of Sikkim Tourism.
Quote:
38 km from Gangtok and at an altitude of 12,400 ft, the ethereally beautiful Tsomgo lake is a must on every visitors itinerary. A winding road through rugged mountain terrain and sharp cliffs takes you to Tsomgo, which means source of the water in Bhutia language.

The lake derives its water from the melting snows of the mountains surrounding the lake. Of legendary beauty, the lake looks different at different seasons. In winter the placid lake remains frozen with the area around it covered in snow while in late spring the profusion of flowers in bloom adds a riot of colours around the lake.

Tsomgo (Changu) Lake The lake is associated with many myths and legends and is revered by the Sikkimese as sacred. It is believed that in olden times, Buddhist monks would study the colour of the water of the lake to forecast the future.

The lake is also of special significance for the Jhakris [faith healers] of Sikkim who congregate here annually on Guru Purnima, which coincides with the festival of Raksha Bandhan, from all over the state to offer prayers.

For the tourist a visit to the lake offers a wonderful outing. Rides on colourfully decorated yaks and mules are offered at the lake site, which also has a variety of eating stalls serving snacks and beverages. Snowboots and gumboots can be hired here.

Tsomgo lake is open for both Indian and foreign nationals, however foreign visitors have to be in a group of two or more and have to apply for a visitors permit through a registered travel agency.

And for those who are more interested, please follow this link http://www.sikkimeccl.gov.in/History...HolyLakes.aspx

While we were parked on the shores of the lake, my son who seems to have a photographic eye, insisted on taking a pic of these, I took it to satisfy him and it did look good.

Rocky Outcrops on shore of Tsomgpo Lake, taken on son's insistence!

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9486.jpg


There was a small touristy complex just before the small climb up to Tshomgo. But we had not stopped there, as it was not yet fully up and running, and as we wanted to stop at Sherathang, as we had heard that there was market there of Chinese stuff.

Also, as we will be travelling on the some road, we decided that we will stop here while on the way back. And as it is, the aim right now was Nathula and to Nathula we kept going.

One more view of the Tsomgo Lake.

Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet-dscf9490.jpg


to be contd...
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Old 26th October 2013, 00:43   #10
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Default Re: Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet

Dear YanTra Makto,
I am surprised that you could reach Tsongmo lake with your car. I left my car (a sedan) at Gangtok and took a trip in a hired vehicle, when I visited it this year in May. The furthest point I drove to on that road was only up to Hanuman Tok. Although I was not sure where and how I could get the permit for my car, I was also told that the roads were in very bad shape. And I did not regret my decision, as I saw that the roads were really bad.
Really a commendable performance. I am really surprised the way you managed the ground clearance with your car, travelling all the way up to Gurudongmer lake.
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Old 28th October 2013, 11:42   #11
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Default Re: Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet

[COLOR=black]Lovely articulation. Loving every moment of it.And hats off the lady for managing your kid so efficiently. Coming back to some serious questioning. From where did you get the permits from. If you can please put in the details please. Yes I am talking about the old silk route permits along with Nathula. [/COLOR]
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Old 28th October 2013, 12:22   #12
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Default Re: Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet

Yantra Makto,

It is indeed a commendable achievement to reach the upper reaches of North Sikkim (Gurudongmar and Yumthang) in an Alto. I am sure, all of us would love to hear from you how you navigated the steep hair pins and treacherous roads in your car.

- A little ignorance on my part, but what does "YanTra Makto" mean?
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Old 28th October 2013, 18:10   #13
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Default Re: Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet

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Dear YanTra Makto,
I am surprised that you could reach Tsongmo lake with your car. I left my car (a sedan) at Gangtok and took a trip in a hired vehicle, when I visited it this year in May. The furthest point I drove to on that road was only up to Hanuman Tok. Although I was not sure where and how I could get the permit for my car, I was also told that the roads were in very bad shape. And I did not regret my decision, as I saw that the roads were really bad.
Really a commendable performance. I am really surprised the way you managed the ground clearance with your car, travelling all the way up to Gurudongmer lake.
Thank you rahul4640, well, due to road widening work, roads may have turned worse now. They probably must have been better when I did the trip. But yes, even then locals and the army people were surprised to see our Alto up there, especially at Gurudongmar.

Yes I did get stuck twice, once recovered with help of few shoves and pushes and once in third attempt. And there were about eh lemme remember..., four more occasions when I was wary cause of certain bad patches of road condition. Out of these two I got away without trouble and just about made through on two more. Details will follow in further posts.

But overall guess was lucky too and as it is we had started with the understanding that we will try to reach a certain place but it does not matter if we do not reach it as aim was to drive and enjoy!!
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Old 29th October 2013, 22:35   #14
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Default Re: Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet

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...However, I wonder why most of the North - East states do not attract tourists. After all, they have more natural beauty and splendour than most of the mainstream states.:
Yes FINTAIL, guess one of problem is lack of a proper metroish launch point for them.

Quote:
Originally Posted by me_sid View Post
Lovely articulation. Loving every moment of it.And hats off the lady for managing your kid so efficiently. Coming back to some serious questioning. From where did you get the permits from. If you can please put in the details please. Yes I am talking about the old silk route permits along with Nathula. [/COLOR]
me_sid Thanks a lot for the wonderful words of appreciation. The tour operators should be able to get it for you within hours on a working. Though I had a schoolmate, who is now in army, stationed in Gangtok then and happened to be in touch with. Thus, he arranged it for us through some defence channel. And next time, I got it from some office close to a forest range office somewhere close Zero Mile in Gangtok. Anyways, these policies keep changing so am sorry I am a bit out of date.

Quote:
Originally Posted by sayakc View Post
Yantra Makto,

It is indeed a commendable achievement to reach the upper reaches of North Sikkim (Gurudongmar and Yumthang) in an Alto. I am sure, all of us would love to hear from you how you navigated the steep hair pins and treacherous roads in your car.

- A little ignorance on my part, but what does "YanTra Makto" mean?
sayakc, Thank you, sorry for delayed updates, am also eagerly waiting to share them but unable to take out time.

Well 'Yantra Makto' is my own little private puzzle. Hint: Its made of two languages, one ancient and other latest and imaginary!
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Old 29th October 2013, 23:16   #15
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Default Re: Alto'ed: Old Silk Route, along the footsteps of great explorers into Little Tibet

Wow great trip and great pictures! can you give us more details about how you were able to get permits for your car to drive to Nathu-LA and Gurudongmar lake? Are you some how connected with the Armed forces?

Hats off for pulling it off!
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