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Old 5th January 2015, 14:25   #1
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Default Mesmerizing Sandakphu - In a Mahindra Thar

Had wanted to do Sikkim for a long time and wanted it to be a road trip. Being in Bangalore meant that I needed sufficient time to make the journey possible. Had the choice of taking the Polo GT TDI or the Thar. Decided on the Thar as that would come handy in Sikkim. Started the trip on the 12th of Dec quite late from Bangalore and made my way out of the state via the Kolar - Chitoor - Naidupet route. Joined the AH45 at Naidupet and got onto the 4 laned roads. Not that the 4 lanes made any difference to speeds. I was constantly doing 80kph to make the jeep sip less fuel. Everything else that I encountered on the road was going pretty quick. I had to resort to tricky ways to keep myself engaged as I had no stereo nor anyone else in the jeep for company. The jeep was full of luggage and the weight helped settle the jeep nicely on the highway. Reached Ongole by 8.30 pm and decided to get a place for the night. Made a promise that I would start early the next morning to cover more ground and was out by 8.15am on the AH45. Had biscuits and some juice in the car and that became the breakfast as I did not want to waste time stopping for breakfast. The 80kph ritual started and crossed Vijaywada, Rajamundry and mde it to Vizag by 7pm. Took the SH38 detour from anakapalle and joined the AH45 at Tallavalasa. Had dinner at Hotel Paradise and crashed for the night at an adjoining resort room.

The next day started early with targets of doing Kolkata but managed to only reach Rambha where I had a glimpse of Chilka and decided to take a break. Checked into OTDC Rambha, took a row boat and managed to catch whatever I could of the beautiful lake that evening.

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The jeep was holding up really well and I was happy that my body was not acting up. The 8.15am start the next day happened on time and was on my way to Bubaneshwar and all went fine till Icchapuram, the border crossing where I got onto the opposite lane and went like an idiot to make it to the Orissa side. There was sufficient chaos there to make this justifiable. The roads were pretty much deserted and the drive continued unhindered, Sometimes out of sheer boredom, I would increase to slightly higher speeds but would quickly come back to 80 soon enough. Chugged along and made it to Balasore and then went onto Kharagpur and finally Kolkata. Took a break at Hotel Oasis by the NH2 and deliberated on the next days plan. This one would be tricky as I had the choice of two routes, the NH34 or the Bardhman - Dumka- Purnea route. Had two very important conversations the previous day. One at Chilka with Blackpearl asking his opinion about which of the routes to take to Siliguri and one with Sheel at Cuttack asking about Vikramshila sethu. Both looked like nightmares I wanted to run away from but the prospect of tackling one sethu versus an entire NH34 tilted the balance in favour of the Dumka route. Since conversations weren't happening all these days with anyone, I used to sing to myself and that kept me occupied for a while. Started early the next day for Bhagalpur and wasted no time in crossing Siuri, Messenjore and getting to Dumka. It was hell from Dumka to Bhagalpur as the roads were non existent and it was 1st and 2nd gear most of the way. It was getting rather late and I could see truck traffic increasing and wanted to somehow fly across the sethu and out of harms way. But got badly stuck in bhagalpur town traffic and moved around with people, cattle and vegetable vendors looking for the sethu and finally when it came it was like WOW!. The breadth of the river was just immense! Not a vehicle was on the sethu and I drove across making animal noise of happiness and got on the other side and faced a line of 400 trucks queued up and blocking the way. That is when I realized the need for all the discussion on avoiding the sethu on team-bhp. After much deliberation, took the road that ran parallel and joined at Naugachia. I was exhausted from the day's drive and badly wanted to halt for the night. Called up Sheel and requested him to help me find a room at Purnea. Reached Purnea in another hour's time driving in fog and met up with the man himself at the hotel where he had booked me a room for the night. He came in a new black scorpio and and the two Mahindra's saw eye to eye as their respective owners exchanged pleasantries. Planned to start early the next day but the car was incredibly dusty and badly needed a wash. Waited for Mahindra service to open the next morning and put the car for a wash. Told Sheel where I was and he promptly called up folks he knew at Brajesh requesting them to give me a decent look. Thanks once again mate. Folks like you don't come in large numbers. Interesting thing that happened at Purnea was the spotting of a KA registered santro in the same hotel I was put up and then running into its owner, another crazy traveler from Bangalore who was on his way to Tawang in Arunachal and a north east loop with his family. All along I thought I was the only maniac around. Hats off Srinivas!

Started for Siliguri post noon and made it by evening. Planned to go to Kalimpong the next day but decided to stay away from town and got a small place at Alagarh. This was the base for the next few days as I planned to see a few places around. And one of those places happened to be Sandakphu.


Mesmerizing Sandakphu - In a Mahindra Thar-dsc_00751.jpg

This was a trail that I had dreamed about for a long time. The plan to try Sandakphu the next day was made while we sat on top of a hill at Algarah 12km from Kalimpong catching the sunset. The plan was completely dynamic as we did not know if the landrover organization at manebhanjan would allow us to do the 12000ft climb. The journey was extremely treacherous and only hardy 4wd with experienced hands behind the wheel attempted it. Sanjay, the homestay owner at Kalimpong, were I was put up made a few calls to his brother Deven who stays at Manebhanjan and coaxed him to come along as well just in case we needed local help. It was Deven’s daughter’s birthday the next day and he was a trifle reluctant at the outset but relented and promised to come along. We made a 4.30am start from Algarah and we hit sukhia around 7.30am to find that we were short on fuel. Got diesel at Rs. 60 a litre and put in 20 liters. The owner of the place we stopped for tea was surprised when he was told we wanted to go to Sandakphu and immediately told us the perils of the journey and why it would be very difficult for us and our jeep. After all the dents on our collective confidence, we headed for manebhanjan from where Sandakphu is a 32km climb of monumental proportions. Deven joined us at Manebhanjan as we reached the ticket counter for singalila national park. We had to take tickets for the jeep, camera and people and I shelled out 500 bucks for all of us to do the trail. I was told by the army person that the trail could be done but I had to be very very careful. As we stepped out of the ticketing room , I got a shock as the jeep’s bonnet was open and lots of heads were peering inside and having an animated conversation. As I reached them, I had to face a volley of questions. “Where was I from”, “What is this jeep”, “Did I not know that this was landrover territory” etc. I realized that this was the landrover gang and they were gauging the outsider who had stepped into their den. Nevertheless, they said I could go and asked me to have a nice trip.

The start of the journey itself was an extremely intimidating steep uphill hairpin left and in my excitement of getting started on the climb, I broke the door lock of the Thar. Not a great beginning. This was followed by an even more steeper hairpin right where I encountered three Nepali cows and a boy who had no clue what to do with the frightened lot and the panic stricken cows ran all around the Thar and we had to stall in an awkward position. The mighty land rovers were all over me by then. This was just not the right way to start a climb. Thereafter things started to run smooth. It was 4 wheel drive terrain all the way thereafter. We reached tonglu check-post where we were given two envelops to deliver at Tumling and Gairibash by the guards there. At Gairibash, we ran into army excise inspector Gour who developed a special liking for us and started telling us tales and treated us with tea and momos. He promised more hospitality on the way back as we bid adieu and headed toward sandakphu.

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After driving for an eternity on narrow, broken and an uphill track, we made it to Kalapokhri which is just 6km short of Sandakphu. Things took a turn for the worse here and the steepness of the gradient was unbelievable. It was as if we were climbing vertically with sheer drops to either side and two way traffic all the way. I was simply thrilled that we had chosen to do this trail. Just a few km short of Sandakphu, a bunch of army men with lots of luggage waved us down and we helped them with a lift. As we finally reached Sandakphu, it was a jeep full of assorted folks who stepped out and my day was done. It was such an amazing experience and I must admit one of the most thrilling moments of my driving life. Had noodles and tea for lunch and exchanged pleasantries with the army folks before deciding to head back. The climb had taken us 3.5 hours one way for just 32 km.

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The return had challenges of a different kind as the complete mountain scenery was clearly visible to us and we could make out what a mistake could cause us all too clearly. We met the enterprising inspector Gour from the forces who again treated us to snacks and tea and gave us tidbits into the how the army operated in these harsh regions. The return journey had to be done before sundown and the onset of fog as well as for another very important reason. It was Deven sir’s daughters birthday and he had made time to come all the way with us. We reached manebhanjan after dark and decided to get gifts for the birthday girl before proceeding to their home which was just 6kms from town. We were greeted by a warm family, hosted to a fabulous dinner before setting off on our return journey to Kalimpong. The roads were deserted and we had a an easy drive. Drove continuously for 20 hours that day but it really brings a smile to my face when I think of a Mahindra Thar from Bangalore chugging all the way up to the highest point in the singalila national park in West Bengal.

Last edited by megazoid : 7th January 2015 at 10:18.
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Old 7th January 2015, 10:37   #2
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As I mentioned earlier, I was put up at Alagarah near Kalimpong and wanted to see places around. After Sandakphu, thought of going to Rishop. This is a beautiful place near Lava and is near the Neora National Park. View of Kanchenjunga was a delight from here and was my first view of the peak. Was a fabulous feeling to see it so near.

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Rishop was an extremely enchanting place, great solitude and good for long walks and far away from crowds. After spending three days at Kalimpong, I had to go to Bagdogra airport to pick up my wife who was flying in from Bangalore. The rest of the journey would be together and I would not have to sing to myself all the time. Decided to take the beautiful Lava route via Damdim to Siliguri and it was a lovely drive. Reached Siliguri, had lunch at a fine dine restaurant and moved onto Bagdogra airport. Picked my wife and started driving to Gangtok at 5pm. In these parts it gets dark very early and the drive to Gangtok along the Teesta was in complete darkness. Reached Gangtok at 8.30pm.

The development area at Gangtok was a real surprise for us compared to other places. Clean, disciplined and quiet, it felt nice to see an indian city this way. We had booked at Nettle and Fern, Gangtok and it turned out to be an excellent choice. Naresh, the owner of the place had been in touch with us throughout and was instrumental in helping us choose hotels in sikkim for our roadtrip. N&F was a nice and cozy place to park ourselves before we kickstarted the sikkim leg of the trip. Did I mention that food at N&F was one of the highlights of the place.

Next day started early with us walking to Enchey Monastery and the climb got our legs aching. Coming to think if of it, the distance was a mere 30 min walk but the climb was steep. The monastery was nice and the views of Gangtok from there were superb.

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Got back to the hotel, had a sumptuous breakfast and then left for Rumtek Monastery with the jeep. It was a nice drive to Rumtek through the winding roads.

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After getting back from there, headed out to MG Road and tried our hand at some shopping.

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This is a customary visit for all sikkim travelers and was for me as well. We drove to Changu and the experience was a nice one. Broken roads, great views and biting cold. Tsongmo (aka changu lake) was not crowded at all and we had the place to ourselves. Had read so much about the place that when I got there, felt like a familiar place.

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After spending time at Changu, headed to Baba Mandir which was a few km further. We had some spectacular views for company along the way.

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Last edited by GTO : 8th January 2015 at 13:02. Reason: Merging back to back posts :)
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Old 7th January 2015, 14:05   #3
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The next day was a long drive to Lachung from Gangtok and had a lot of very bad roads to negotiate. We had made bookings at Yarlam residency in Lachung and reached the place after the very long drive from Gangtok. It was frightfully cold at Lachung and we were having to battle the cold during the journey. Had a good meal and retired for the night with plans to do Yumthang valley very early the next day. Yumthang is around 23 km from Lachung and the drive is mind numbing beautiful. After Yumthang we proceeded to zero point but the day we went had too much snow and we had to turn back a few km short. Enroute, we saw what could happen if things went wrong here. A sumo had fallen off from the mountain and could be seen at the side. Apparently, this happened a year ago.

After getting back to Lachung and having tea and snacks, we made a dash for Dombang, a beautiful village about 5km from Lachung.

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After returning to Gangtok, we proceeded to Darap via Pelling. Darap was the base for seeing places nearby.

Kecheopari lake was a short drive from Darap but gets crowded during the day with people. So we opted to get up early at 5am and drive to the lake. The plan went well as we found the lake deserted at 6.30am and had the place to ourselves. The mist was lifting from the waters and made a lovely sight. The sun was slowly rising and the lake was immersed in beautiful morning light. A few ducks were making some amazing formations in the water and made for some good photographs. Kecheopari or the ‘wishing lake’ is surrounded by thick forests and makes a lovely setting for photographs. After spending couple of hours at the lake, we drove back for breakfast to our hotel as we had yuksam lined up next.

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Yuksam, “The meeting place of three lamas” is a quaint little village in west sikkim and is mostly known as the start point of the Dzongri trek. This little village sees an assorted crowd of foreigners and Indians and is the gateway to the Kanchenjunga National park. Beautiful climate, friendly people and lovely monasteries characterize Yuksam. We reached Yuksam around 11 am driving our jeep from our stay at Darap near Pelling and went straight to Gupta’s. Gupta’s is a small eatery at Yuksam but is popular for its tasty recipes. Had lunch and set out on the somewhat grueling walk up-to Dubdi monastery. It was a 45 min walk up a steep path that seriously exercises ones resolve. We kept a steady pace, took frequent breaks and made it to the monastery. The walk was lovely through the pristine, silent forests. The monastery premises were really nice and the solitude was just awesome.

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There were a couple of foreigners who were observing the intricate carvings at the monastery in complete silence. That’s when a war cry loomed large and a bunch of lunatic Indian tourists charged into the premises babbling loudly and exhibiting incomparable foolishness and stupidity. They made a mockery of the silence, clicked pictures of themselves against walls, painting, trees and everything they could find and had absolutely no interest or respect for the place of worship or for anybody else around. I was seriously feeling ashamed to be part of the breed. We really need a complete overhaul in travel decorum, be it public behavior, waste disposal or knowledge of things that we go to see and the sooner we realize this, the better. It was a big relief when the group withdrew and peace and calm once again embraced the monastery.

The walk back down was tough on the knees and our aching muscles just managed to hold up till we finally got to level land and made our way to Gupta’s. Gorged on more tasty food, exchanged notes with fellow travelers and decided to make a move to our hotel.

South Sikkim was the next on the list and we had managed to get accomodation at Mt Narsing, Ravangla thanks to Naresh from Nettle and Fern, Gangtok. Ravangla was extremely cold but the view of the mountains spectacular. Spent a night at Mt Narsing and also viisted Samdruptse and Pemayangtse monastery as well as Rabdentse ruins.

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Last edited by GTO : 8th January 2015 at 13:03. Reason: Merging back to back posts
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Old 8th January 2015, 13:05   #4
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Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to the Travelogues Section. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 8th January 2015, 13:13   #5
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Hi megazoid,

No surprises you took the Thar against the Polo Tdi.
Fantastic write-up & equally amazing pics (dude which camera?)
The terrains you took the Thar to, really proves why Thar is the Automobile It is!
Fantastic travelogue!
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Old 8th January 2015, 14:26   #6
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Dear Magazoid - lovely memories came flooding back, thanks. I remember flying down from Mumbai to Kolkata, my driver driving the test car all the way from Nasik and then we going up into serious Land Rover territory out there, the same place where you went. This is outright 4WD area, going in there without 4WD and without mechanical lock differential is asking for serious trouble. I had the same fixed hubs which are there on your vehicle for 100% reliability.

I am sure that you must have experienced the initial dismissal of your Thar and all other 4WD vehicles as "absolute rubbish" by the Land Rover guys out there. However, what were their final comments? I remember one quite senior guy who was initially very critical, actually bowed down before my test vehicle when I overtook him between two hair pin bends and then disappeared in a blinding cloud of dust. I gave him the vehicle to drive, he loved it. He gave me a present, a box containing some lovely local flavor tea. They did some local "puja" on my vehicle to wish it the best of luck. I felt so nice, these guys are decent folk, I have very good regard for them, we just need to respect their point of view also. All this happened in 2009. Then I drove all the way back from Kolkata to Delhi and then back to Nasik.

Best regards,

Behram Dhabhar
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Old 8th January 2015, 15:04   #7
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What an awesome travelogue it has turned out to be! Awesome narration and great set of pictures. Rated a well deserved 5*.

Your white Thar looks gorgeous in white snow! Believe me i always wanted to see a pic of a white Thar in white snow! It may be my childishness but am really happy to see the pic which i desired to see from such a long time! Thanks a lot!

Doing Sandakfu self driven always feels like an achievement. Even i dream of doing that some day!

You have driven to Changhu lake and beyond and to North Sikkim too. Was it easy getting the permits for your SUV?

Watched the full 9 minutes video from Lachung to Zero point and back. It reminds me of my drive a couple of months back in the same stretch. But i envy you seeing how easily your Thar conquered those roads while i had a tough time saving my car from getting damaged. I drove a Toyota Etios. You check out my video on the same stretch.

Lachung to few kilometers before Zero point. Even i couldn't make till Zero point due to heavy snow on road. Had to turn back 5 kilometers before zero point.

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Old 8th January 2015, 15:37   #8
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Wonderful videos both of you !

So Zero point can be reached in summers? June/July?
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Old 8th January 2015, 16:02   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DHABHAR.BEHRAM View Post
what were their final comments?
Sir,

Well, the initial shock that I had when they opened the bonnet and looked inside evaporated once the conversation with them started. They were really curious about the vehicle and inspected it in some detail. They were even more surprised that I was driving to this place from Bangalore. Once they gave the vehicle a once over, they said it would do the climb and and only had doubts about me being able to drive it

But as you mentioned, they were nice and quite accommodating in sections where giving way was pretty difficult on the climb and some other vehicle other than a landrover was involved.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Samba View Post
What an awesome travelogue it has turned out to be! Awesome narration and great set of pictures. Rated a well deserved 5*.
Quote:
Your white Thar looks gorgeous in white snow! Believe me i always wanted to see a pic of a white Thar in white snow! It may be my childishness but am really happy to see the pic which i desired to see from such a long time! Thanks a lot!
Thanks for the appreciation Samba. Have been through your travelogue as I planned this trip and quite liked the way you did the loop in a car. Gave me the choice of taking my Polo as well.

Quote:
You have driven to Changhu lake and beyond and to North Sikkim too. Was it easy getting the permits for your SUV?
In a strange way, us being from Bangalore helped as the intent was clear. But I must say that the officials were nice and helpful and did not create a problem at all. Had to answer a few queries to clear up whatever doubts they had.

Quote:
Watched the full 9 minutes video from Lachung to Zero point and back. It reminds me of my drive a couple of months back in the same stretch. But i envy you seeing how easily your Thar conquered those roads while i had a tough time saving my car from getting damaged. I drove a Toyota Etios. You check out my video on the same stretch.
Watched your clip and yes it would feel very different in a car. Nicely done. I drove in gay abandon with the Thar as there was nothing much to worry about. My lowered Polo would not even have been able to make it past Mangan.

Last edited by Rudra Sen : 8th January 2015 at 17:42. Reason: Back to back post. Please go through board rules.
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Old 8th January 2015, 17:26   #10
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Wow, you are born to cover roads on wheels. First, amazing writeup, but i wish you posted more pics especially of the hotels where you stayed. Do post if you can.

Second, your observation about we noisy Indians making our presence felt is spot on, unfortunate, and irritating. Whenever I have been on jungle safaris in a canter, i pray that no other Indian should be there on the canter, i pray for foreigners to accompany me. Reason? We Indians are extremely impatient, we LOVE to keep talking, and majority of the times, visiting places is just to "Tick" the itinerary rather than to actually seep in the place and experience the ambiance, the beauty and silence, etc. I can only imagine ho beautiful and serene those temples would be in that silence with just the nature having the right to speak. Please do post lots and lots of pictures and wish you a lot lot many more travelogues.
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Old 8th January 2015, 17:48   #11
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Excellent travelogue and equally aspiring journey. Just Praying I can do this someday! Excellent snaps, dude!


Quote:
Originally Posted by DHABHAR.BEHRAM View Post
Dear Magazoid - This is outright 4WD area, going in there without 4WD and without mechanical lock differential is asking for serious trouble. I had the same fixed hubs which are there on your vehicle for 100% reliability.
...
Best regards,

Behram Dhabhar
Sir, a question best answered by you only, can a scorpio 4WD do this terrain? This is particularly important to me to know what I shouldnt try with my 4WD.
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Old 8th January 2015, 17:59   #12
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Mesmerizing Sandakphu - In a Mahindra Thar-dsc_0090.jpg

Kecheopari lake

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Kids at the place I stayed at Kalimpong

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Scenery at Dombang

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Yarlam Residency, Lachung

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Sunset near Lava, Kalimpong

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Algarah, Kalimpong

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dieselritzer View Post
but i wish you posted more pics especially of the hotels where you stayed. Do post if you can.
A quick summary of places where I stayed if not the pics.

Gangtok - Nettle and Fern - Simply superb
Ravangla - Mt Narsing - Nice
Lachung - Yarlam Residency - Nice, but expensive
Algarah - A small homestay. Cozy and nice.
Darap - Cherry village resort - ok

Last edited by Rudra Sen : 10th January 2015 at 16:52. Reason: Merging back to back post.
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Old 8th January 2015, 18:08   #13
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WoW!!!! Returned from Bangalore-Ladakh trip and still reeling under those memories. And here comes one more target that is too difficult to avoid. Itch already started and need to build up on the tempo to realize it. Thanks for starting the fire. I have a group of fellow BHPians who are equally crazy/ready to do this trip. Will need your inputs and will keep engaging you on discussions. Will August be a good time to do this circuit?
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Old 8th January 2015, 18:40   #14
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Will August be a good time to do this circuit?
April May would bring out the best in terms of flowers in Yumthang Valley. It would be a mish mash of colors red, purple blue. See if you can do it then. Once it starts raining in Sikkim, all bets are off. Landslides are very common and is enough to upset a tight plan. Winter for clear skies and April May for flowers is how I would classify it.
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Old 8th January 2015, 19:15   #15
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Default Re: Mesmerizing Sandakphu - In a Mahindra Thar

Wow what a trip! The pictures are awesome and the narration crisp, rated 5 stars! The white Thar is looking awesome and it confirms that I made the right choice going for a white Thar as well. I might just steal a few of your pictures as both our Thars look almost identical... just joking
It seems that we were both in the same part of the country at one point, only that my trip was a sedate one and not of the adventurous type as yours. Good that you took the Thar to Sandakpur as that is the only place that I feel does justice to buying a 4 wheel drive vehicle.
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