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Old 24th December 2009, 00:52   #1
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Default My Sikkim trip ... Greenery, greenery everywhere!

This is about my recently concluded Sikkim trip (5th to 11th Dec in Sikkim), and this travelogue's going to run into a lot of pages, albeit in instalments ... so be patient!

Before we start off - it has been overall a family trip (not actually an adventurous type that I usually like) with me, my wife, her parents (that's of course my in-laws!) and her brother. So had to take special care in packing up for them as well, and advising them on what may be the potential health problems they may face - some of that was sure to scare them off a bit

Planning of the itinerary - I and my wife started with a fight of whether we should go to Sikkim, given that it may be quite cold for her parents (obviously her point was, I did not want to take my in-laws). A few "debates" where I am anyway supposed to lose, we agreed. Itinerary was initially fixed at Gangtok and surrounding areas including Tsomgo lake (also called, Changu lake) and Nathula Pass. Later, after talking to three different travel agents for bookings, we decided on Gangtok and the lake (Nathula Pass taken off from the list, given our limited time availability and the fact that the army does not allow tourists there on certain days of the week - for us, Monday was feasible), Baba Mandir (more on that later) and North Sikkim till Yumthang valley. Another round of fight of making it to at least some extreme weather, and I "won" - also added Yumesamdong (Zero Point) to the list.
I was also trying to fit in Gurudongmar lake (at 17000+ feet), but took it off from list due to several feedbacks on breathing problems there, given my in-laws in the trip who are around 60 yrs of age.

So here we go ...
1) By train: Bhubaneswar -> Kolkata (to pick-up my in-laws) -> New Jalpaiguri (NJP) ; starting on 4th night, reaching NJP on 6th morning
2) By jeep/taxi: NJP -> Gangtok (via NH31A) ; 6th
Keeping Gangtok as the base (all travels being in jeep/taxi, till returning to NJP) ...
3) Tsomgo lake and Baba Mandir ; 7th
4) North Sikkim: Lachung (stay) -> Yumthang -> Yumesamdong (Zero Point) ; 8th to 10th
5) Back to Gangtok, then local sight-seeing ; 11th morning
6) Gangtok -> NJP ; reach by 11th evening
7) By train: NJP -> Kolkata -> Bhubaneswar ; reach BBSR by 12th night

Bookings - Sikkim is under strict military control due to being a border area (with China - the sensitive Tibetan border). Vehicle movement is severely controlled - vehicles that take you from West Bengal till Gangtok can only ply on that route ; there are separate vehicles that ply to North Sikkim, to Nathula Pass and Tsomgo lake, to places around Sikkim - each having the corresponding route permit. Fine for violation is Rs.5000 and/or jail.

End result? .... multitude of bookings to be done.
To start off with bookings, consulted two guide books - the Lonely Planet guide for India, and the Bengali guide "Bhromon-shongi". Going through all the entries we thought of booking the hotel in Gangtok and take an exclusive trip to Tsomgo lake route and North Sikkim.
All train bookings were done on the net (www.irctc.co.in) - note that there is a direct train from BBSR to NJP, but we had to go via Kolkata to pick up my in-laws.

Trips from NJP to Gangtok (and back), local sight-seeing etc. would be taken impromptu at the site through local transportation available at the respective places, so no bookings for them. But may require hard negotiation.

My dad-in-law being an ex-SBI officer, managed to book the SBI holiday home at Gangtok (which was quite decent and good - regular fare per night there was rs.700-800, whereas we got them for rs.400).

For Tsomgo lake (and Baba Mandir on the same route), as well as North Sikkim, we compared four tour operators, talked to them over phone, and pointed on one - contact person being Sougata Sen who runs the hotel Anola in Gangtok.
Tsomgo lake trip came for rs.2500 (if you include Nathula Pass, it will be rs.6500), North Sikkim upto Yumthang was rs.12500 after slight negotiation (other operator rates were in range of rs.14000-rs.17000), for either Zero Point or Katao from Yumthang will be an additional rs.2000. Paid 50% advance through online bank transfer (Zero Point was not in the plan then, but was added when we reached Gangtok and met him in person - he was able to arrange for the required permit for the next day).
For Katao, you will have to negotiate with the driver once you reach Lachung or Yumthang. Note that Lachung is the stop-over where you have to stay ; there is no accommodation in Yumthang, Zero Point or Katao. For Zero Point, it has to be pre-decided and booked as it requires separate permit. You also require separate permits for Tsomgo lake, Nathula Pass, and North Sikkim (checkpost on the way is in the town of Mangan).

Hotel New Madhuban was quite decent and clean with friendly staff - note that it was SBI holiday home, so it was more on us to make ourselves comfortable. Blankets and hot water (geyser) were provided along with the regulars.
Regarding north sikkim package, Sougata Sen, Hotel Anola is a friendly guy, very helpful - recommended us Zero Point against Katao (subsantiated by others later who visited both). His contact is +91 9433841525/ 9933020037/ 9332266026. The whole package was quite good - all bookings can be made online, and reasonable rate as compared to other tour operators ; also, totally hassle-free. Hotel Apple Valley Inn was great - 3-star quality with hot water (geyser) and two layers of blankets provided, squeaking clean rooms, good food, and a somewhat friendly manager - the hotel boys were very hospitable. Driver provided was very friendly, cheerful and extremely dependable. Suggestions on what time to travel, what to see, when to visit later, all came from both the manager and the driver. Fooding is limited in Lachung - preferences need to be communicated earlier to tour operator as everything is carried there from Gangtok in the same vehicle. We did not stay at Hotel Anola run by Mr.Sen, but it seemed to be quite good ; rates were at par with respect to other hotels in vicinity as it was the prime area (MG market) ; refer to www.hotelanolagangtok.com

Preparations - Given that it would be quite cold (apprehensive of severe cold in Zero Point), we packed regular winter outfits which of course included at least one good jacket for each one of us, body warmers, woollen caps (make sure they cover your ears), woollen socks, gloves and woolicot fittings. Apart from that specifically for the cold, a small bottle of brandy was in our bag.
By the way, do not forget to take your camera gear by any means!

..... would start off with the trip from the next thread.
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Old 24th December 2009, 00:58   #2
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Day 1 (5th Dec)
Though our actual day-1 started on 4th when we boarded the Puri Express at BBSR, there was not much update on that ; hence would call it day-0. Nothing much to write about that as, as soon we boarded, we had our packed dinner and slept off.

So, our day-1 started when we reached the Howrah station at Kolkata. At 4:50am in the morning, pre-paid taxi counter was closed, and there was a mayhem at the station to get the taxi - utter confusion ; must say, the Howrah station taxi management is pathetic. Negotiated with a few taxis (while my wife stood at the pre-paid queue) and ultimately got into one. Settled at rs.190 (most other taxis "demanded" rs.250 to go to my parents' home in Behala area).
Our train to NJP was at 7:35pm in the evening from Sealdah station (depending on rhe day of the week, the train is named either Kanchankanya Exp or Uttarbanga Exp alternately!). Got there on time and waited. Contrary to the general view that Howrah station is the cleaner of the two, I found Sealdah tidier (probably it would be otherwise comparing the platforms for the local trains).
All was fine, when gradually into mid-night it was getting colder as the train was passing through the northern part of the state (West Bengal). So had to put on all our jackets in addition to the overlaid blankets.

Day 2 (6th Dec)
Reached NJP on time at 7:00am in the morning. Negotiation to get a taxi to Gangtok was an ordeal in itself - what an experience
Asked the police, but they were totally indifferent - no help. The taxi operators were chained together as agents, who kept following us. At one point we were literally threatened to be thrashed if we do not take a taxi from one of the operators!! We went out of the station, but other taxis dropping off passengers there were not allowed to even stand there to negotiate. Ultimately negotiated at rs.1100 outside the station, and they strictly told us not to say anything of that when we go back to the station to get the baggage and my awaiting in-laws - so while coming out of the station, we had to act as if we were going to take breakfast to a nearby eatery, and then jumped on to the taxi (Tata Sumo) with the baggage! Rate of taxis inside station was supposed to be rs.1400. NJP to Gangtok ~ 130km.

Our driver, Ganesh Sherpa - a lean simple man ; in fact throughout our trip, we found the people in the hills quite dependable and friendly ; more on that later. A few kilometres off, we stopped and had breakfast (puri & aloo-curry, tea) before getting on to the hills. The road took us through a long stretch of forests with a lot of army presence and barbed wires to prevent elephants from entering the road (and nearby villages). Starting on NH31A through the turns of the hills and bridges that joins the hills across rivers and gorges, we entered the zone of breathtaking beauty of hills and mountains.

Fact file: At lower altitudes, the forest is inhabited by a lot of monkeys (breeds include rhesus monkeys and baboon macaques; felt their aggressiveness when trying to take photos). As we ascended, they vanished. Lower altitudes had tropical and sub-tropical vegetation. The river Teesta which can be spotted along the road starting a little uphill offers breathtaking views as above.

We stopped after crossing the Tar Khola bridge where there is a local grocery market by the road side. Bought some oranges (these are popular, and have great taste compared to what we get in our cities) and took a few photos around.

Fact file: In Nepalese, each bridge was named as xxx Khola, xxx being the underlying river's name and Khola meaning river. We also saw packs of round red chillies (very hot in taste) which we planned to take while returning. These are called Dolle Khorsani in Nepalese, meaning round chillies. These chillies are great for pickles - locals dry them under the Sun for two days, mix with salt and keep it soaked in oil in glass bottles under the Sun.

Proceeded on our trip, and reached the West Bengal - Sikkim border. The border police checked our photo ids and whereabouts ; got to know that non-Indians need special permits and certain nationals are not allowed in Sikkim.
At last after quite a number of twists, turns, ascents and a single tunnel, we reached the taxi stand in Gangtok. From there we had to take two taxis (local taxis are allowed to roam in and around Gangtok, maximum people allowed in each is 4) to the holiday home (New Madhuban hotel, Development Area ; near Zero Point SBI branch and Bajra taxi stand). Each taxi fare was rs.80.
The hotel was quite good (non-A/C rooms). Had a basic restaurant where we got Bengali dishes (good for my in-laws). Rooms had attached bath with geyser ; and the cold was manageable with respect to having bath using warm water. There was a nice balcony view of the hills around, though mostly in mist when we reached.
In the evening we walked to the MG market, the main shopping & marketing spot in Gangtok with lines of posh hotels, eateries and shops. Went to hotel Anola and met the contact person for our bookings, where we extended the package to Zero Point and made the balance payments.
Way back, we bought two ethnic dishes for snacks from the restaurant Taste of Tibet - chicken momo (Bhutanese/Sikkimese) and chicken Seaphyle (Tibetan). Excellent taste indeed!

Fact file: Sikkim is plastic-free zone, and you can only throw trash in roadside designated areas or trash-cans. Huge army and police presence everywhere, so you just can't violate the rules. Shops pack everything in paper bags or give you jute/synthetic bags for bulk buys. We also bought kukri (traditional knife - the bigger brash looking ones re Nepalese, decorative ones are Tibetan). There are local shops where you also get sticks made of condensed yak milk (tasted like wood though!). Roads are safe, and the footpaths have boundaries and take forms of flyovers at crossings to make walking safe as well.
Local taxis are mostly Maruti Omni. Long distance vehicles (north sikkim, tsomgo lake trips etc.) are Tata Sumos, Maxx, Armadas et al. These are all two-wheel drives ; 4x4 not required until there is snow, as per the drivers ; these also save on fuel. All army vehicles are 4x4 - Maruti Gypsy's abound (and I'm impressed - already started dreaming of it as my next vehicle), along with huge 4x4 army trucks labelled "vehicle factory, jabalpur" (see pic below).

Back to the hotel, had our dinner and slept off dreaming of the next day.

Day 3 (7th Dec)
Woke up in the cold at 6:00am (don't know the temp, though guess would be around 12 deg), but managed to have bath - thanks to the geyser. This was a sort-of conscious decision as bathing is not an option when we go to north sikkim. Had breakfast and we were ready for our Tsomgo lake-Baba Mandir trip.
The jeep (another Tata Sumo) picked us up from the hotel at 7:45am sharp.

Fact file: Vehicles on long routes in Gangtok are not allowed inside the city from 8:00am to 6:30pm. Any such vehicle entering the city has to leave by the time - so we had 15 min in hand to go to the Gangtok outskirts - there was a police on bike who followed us and checked the timing! Other times, the vehicles can come only upto designated taxi stands in Gangtok's outskirts - for example, vehicles plying to north sikkim stand in Bajra stand towards north of Gangtok.

Coming back to the trip, a local school teacher stopped our driver to take a few kids to a village on the way. We exclusively booked the vehicle, but obliged as they sat at the very back. It was an added bonus for us in terms of taking great people photos. The driver was a nice man, talked less and always had a smile (forgot his name though).
The hills at the sides gradually started showing streaks of snow - had been quite cold in the night below freezing (couldn't feel that back under our blankets in Gangtok). Saw a monastery with prayer wheels rotated using a small hydro-mechanical arrangement run by a small cascading stream, and a waterfall on the way (Kyongnosla waterfall). Also, a Shiva temple and a small Kali temple built by the army.

After quite a number of twists and turns on the roads along huge gorges, we crossed the Tsomgo lake (would be our stop-over while returning) at around 12,600 ft and proceeded. Stopped at a spot where Baba Harbhajan Singh's (of the Indian Army) hat and rifle are kept in front of a canon as in reverence for the brave soldier who died in a brutal accident on these hills. From there, we also got a distant view of the India-China border (we saw an Indian watch-tower and a Chinese checkpost at the distant top along a running boundary wall to some distance).

Proceeding further, saw a Tibetan market where Tibetans cross over the border to come and sell knick-knacks (seasonal, we did not find anyone that day). Subsequently we reached Baba Mandir built in his honour - the water at the mandir seems to relieve of all injury and pain. We got a chance to meet an army officer there from Orissa whom we later dropped at the Nathula Pass gate while returning. We missed going to the Nathula Pass (14000+ ft) as it was Monday.

Returning back, got some breathtaking views from atop, of the Changu lake. Descending down, there was a local market at the lake side where we had our lunch - chowmein, fried rice, thukpa (chowmein and egg in soup). Late lunch at 4:00pm, and it was already freezing cold. There was a thin layer of ice formation on the lake's surface. Got on yaks and took photos. For that they charge rs.30 ; for a ride around the lake, its rs.120.

By 5:00pm we started off as it was already getting somewhat dark (and colder), and reached the taxi stand. It was not 6:00pm yet, so had to get down there and took taxis to the hotel - fare for each rs.50.
Was decided that next day we will start at 10:00am from Bajra stand for north sikkim. Had dinner and took to bed.

Day 4 (8th Dec)
Before I proceed ...... we booked the 2 nights/3 days trip to North Sikkim. You may also book 1N/2D, or 3N/4D et al, depending on how much you want to cover - Yumthang valley, Zero Point, Katao, Gurudongmar lake. As for the route - Starting from Gangtok, you cross Mangan (checkpost) and reach Chungthang. Here the road breaks up into two - one diversion goes to Lachen (where you stay) -> Thangu -> Gurudongmar lake ; other one goes to Lachung (where you stay) -> Yumthang valley -> Zero Point & Katao (again on two different routes). Will give a review of the tour operator later.

Ok, lets' start .... "Early morning, and I was eating thukpa with rassogolla" - ok, that was my dream on that night!
Getting up, routine morning tasks - bath and breakfast - we took two local taxis and reached Bajra stand by 10:00am. The operator who arranged for the vehicle was Anup Mishra from Mystic Himalayan World Travels. The driver was driving back from Mangan, and was late by half-an-hour ; reason being road construction work on the hills. Anyway, he reached and we started off. Driver - N.T. Tamang (alias "Saila"), a very cheerful guy who dances on the seat while driving, and a very dependable guy. Vehicle was a Maxx (you generally find either this or Sumo/Victa on this route).

A few kilometres ahead just while leaving Gangtok we reached a turn where there were a lot of vehicles formed a queue. Came to know that road construction's going ahead. Fortunately it was near to the Tashi View Point which gives great views of Mt. Kanchenjunga. So, as our driver parked the vehicle, I jumped out with my camera and literally ran to the top of the view point - alas, it was all so misty that time that I did not actually get any view beyond the clouds. Anyway, the wait was for around 40 min, which gave me enough time to look around ; a shop with knick-knacks, a hotel, an army standpost, and nothing much around.
So we started again, and twisting and turning through the hills, reached the Seven Sisters waterfall. Enjoying the views, and standing on the rock almost beneath the falls (crudely same as what you experience under Niagara Falls, US), a few click, we again started on the trip.

Must say - the greenery around was astounding! (see the pic to experience that). We had our lunch at a local hotel serving Bengali thali at Namok - part of the package.

Twisting & turning, and jumping on the winding roads, we reached Mangan by 2:30pm. The driver wanted to get some repair work done on the vehicle there, before moving on, in addition to presenting the required permits (entry to North Sikkim) at the checkpost. All these went on till 4:00pm at a local workshop - the vehicle seeming to balance itself on big rocky chunks on a steep slope where the workshop was situated. We spent our time roaming around the Mangan local market (had to walk up a small hillock to get there) - see pic. Ended up buying a long huge umbrella (intend to use as a beach umbrella back home at Puri) for rs.150! Also throughout the way, my wife had picked up a few bamboo shoots (yellow-green variety, and red variety) which we have carried back home for interiors.

Starting off again, we were transversing narrow hillsides (sometimes the one of the wheels being barely touching the ground seeming to hang of the cliff edges!) - at times, scary.
By 5:30pm we reached Chungthang - it was already pitch dark. Had tea there (rs.6 a glass) - the tea shop was situated at the juncture where you find the diversion to Lachen. By around 7:30pm or so, we at last reached Lachung. The hotel we were put up was Apple Valley Inn (named after the apple trees at the back of the hotel). Rooms were quite comfortable and squeaking clean. The manager, Pradip Ghosh, was a somewhat friendly man, and was quick to make us comfortable. Took a night photo of the hotel, freshened up, had dinner and somehow slept in the shivering cold.

Fact file: First, the temperature profile we transversed:
Gangtok at 14-15deg (day) to 10-11deg (night), Tsomgo lake at 2-4deg (day itself), and now Lachung at 5-6deg (night). Temperature at Lachung dropped to 3-4deg late night/early morning. Yumthang next day was 2-4deg (day), Zero Point at [COLOR=red]-4 ~ -5deg [/COLOR](day).
Next, the people profile as described by our driver:
You find three sub-races of hill people in Sikkim - Nepalis, Bhutias and Tibetans. First two are sometimes confusingly called Gorkhas. Tibetans generally confine themselves to monasteries, and are peaceful. First two tend to fight (nowadays not literally), are very faithful and totally dependable people during the day, but totally unpredictable once drunk in the night. (Must say that I had personally experienced all their moods during my erstwhile travels to Darjeeling & Duars region ; once putting myself on a life's risk one night in Darjeeling).
People are quite disciplined and helpful, whether while driving - giving others right-of-way, specially to vehicles going uphill ; wearing helmets on two-wheelers, et al ; or when somebody gets stuck due to vehicle failure. By the way, about two wheelers - I only saw bikes (can't be very specific as I am not a bike enthusiast) and Bajaj Chetak in north sikkim.

And then I dreamt the rest of the night, thinking of the not-yet-seen valley and beyond.

Day 5 (9th Dec)
Got up at 5:30am as our plan was to leave by 7:00am. Had enough time, and got ready. Coming outside, found that our Maxx, being a diesel vehicle, just won't start - as per driver, expected problem. So he got a bucket of boiling water and slowly kept pouring it into the radiator (hope I'm getting this technically right) and on top of the engine at intervals. By the time I took a few photos of the first sun streaks falling onto a distant snow-clad mountain from the back of the hotel, the Maxx had started after making a few grunts while the pedal was pushed with ignition on. Breakfast being served (the manager advised us to have stomach full - seems to help in breathing at high altitudes, and also keeps you fine for long hours without food), we were all done half-an-hour late ; so we started at 7:30am.
Fortunately, the sun showed strong and bright - as per driver, if not, then roads get packed up with ice not melting and we may had to stop short of reaching Zero Point.

With luck on our side, we reached Yumthang valley first - 22km from Lachung. Nothing much to see (fanatastic landscapes are now taken for granted) as such except that the vegetation started showing temperate flora with pines and ferns, and streaks of powdery snow here and there covering the roads and trees. Something interesting caught our attention - water falling from a pipe being frozen still! These pipes carry the water from small streams and waterfalls to supply water to habitations like Lachung. We planned to stop over Yumthang during the return, clicked a few shots and drove ahead.

Yumthang to Zero point - another 18km. Winding through smooth roads, off-roads, no-roads, snow-covered roads, ice-melted roads, broken bridges, and not-to-be-seen roads with scary moments of vehicle seeming to fall off the cliffs (plus, the breathing problem of my dad-in-law beyond 13K+ ft), we ultimately reached Yumesamdong, popularly called the Zero Point - there is no further road beyond, surrounded by snow-capped & clad peaks, and with the no-man's land between India and China. Vegetation was almost zero or dried up. As per our driver - as winter progresses, there will be none, everything covered in snow ; and as it falls towards Mar-Apr, new blossoms of colorful flower beds sporting varieties of orchids.

So, if you want to see quite a bit of snow here (road from Yumthang to somewhere near to Zero Point) with dried or no vegetation, its Dec. To see only snow, its Jan-end till Mar-mid. To see new blossoms, then Mar-mid to early Apr. To see the flower show across the valley, in Apr.

We enjoyed walking around the snow with our feet sinking down a few inches till be became careful, throwing handfuls at each other, walking and slipping off on frozen streams (careful not to break our arm on the rocks) and clicking away in the [COLOR=blue]tttttteeeething cold[/COLOR].

Spending more than half-an-hour (or nearly an hour - given that my dad-in-law had to rest for sometime, and wife had a little nose-bleeding), we started off on the return trip. Spotted numerous yaks and horses (stocky and sturdy, unlike we find in the plainlands) on the way. There was another Maxx whose leaf spring broke off, so our driver stopped to help. That took around an hour to fix - fortunately we found a few guys to talk to as other vehicles also stopped to help by) and a nearby Shiva temple built by the army.
Started off again and stopped somewhere on the way where there was supposed to be a hot spring. Two of us went down to see that - it was oozing hot sulphur water, but was bounded inside a hut built across a broad stream which you have to pass through by a bridge.
By the time we came to Yumthang (around 1:00pm or may be a little later), two things kept us from getting down and spend some time there. First - we were already quite hungry. Second - the local had killed three yaks and chopping them off ; gruesome indeed!

So, back to our hotel by 2:00pm, had dinner by 2:30pm, and took rest, chatted etc etc till night - then dinner and sleep overtook us.
Also to add, met a few other guests ; one couple from Bangalore on 4N/5D package heading for Gurudongmar lake the next day, another from Kolkata with a hurrican 1N/2D package.
Oh' yes, I got a migraine due to the extreme cold that night - would be around freezing point (if that means zero-deg). Medicine used - Sinarest.

Day 6 (10th Dec)
The day of return to Gangtok. We started a little early, hopeful to catch a glimpse of Mt. Kanchenjunga from one hidden viewpoint on the way that our driver said he knows. So we got our lunch packed and Maxx's radiator filled up with hot boiling water quite early. One thing we noted was, a Sumo Victa parked beside our Maxx faced the same problem, albeit an army Maruti Gypsy started off at the very first morning crank uphill.

There was too much dust when we reached Chungthang due to road construction work which was going on. We waited in one of the narrow roads to let a lorry pass off - the outer tyres at its back (which has two each on each side) and the front tyre of that side was sort-of hanging off the cliff ! - the driver was very afraid as we saw him passing by when he told us so as well.
On the way we got a nice waterfall ... what's in the name? ok, I forgot
A few clicks specially of kids off for school in that shivering morning, and we had our breakfast there.

Slowly, steadily and gradually we reached that hidden view point - we had to walk down one of the hills (stairs being made) passing by a small hanging restaurant (all building made on hill slopes seemed to hang) and reached the spot. Awesome, breathtaking view of the Mt. Kanchenjunga indeed! Met two girls who run the restaurant, clicked their pics along with Tony (a pom dog they had).

Back to Namok where we had quite an early lunch at 12:30pm. And then to Gangtok where we exchanged phone numbers with our friendly driver, promising him to call him back and sending him a few trip photos. Back onto taxis, we broke off here - me, my wife and my mom-in-law went for a visit to Ranka monastery and Ban Jhakri falls (24km from Gangtok, rs.600) ; my dad-in-law and bro-in-law back to the hotel at rs.50. I first wanted to see Rumtek monastery (which is older and more famous), but then the driver and my wife (who had seen it before on an earlier trip and came back not at all impressed) convinced me on Ranka.

Fact file: We chatted for long with our driver (name, Amar Thapa) who gave us a nice glimpse of local diet - (1) soup made of young bamboo shoots boiled and cooked with onions and chillies ("dole khorsani", I described above) as part of their staple diet (2) yak meat preparation with boiled meat, again served with something similar to chicken stocking/soup (3) Kind of fruit called "quash" - two of them if boiled and eaten, can keep your stomach filled for hours on end (4) locals prefer to eat everything boiled as this serves to supply much needed water to the body and also keep it warm ; even water is drunk hot!
More of his inputs: With respect to Ban Jhakri falls - long back (and in some hill forests even now), Ban Jhakri's exist/existed who were kind of male witches - they cured people from diseases, made medicines, and performed exorcism. Even now, hill people approach them when someone falls ill, before going to a doctor. The wife of Ban Jhakri is called Lemlemey - a female evil witch who soughts to kill people when they enter their forests, and have their feet turned backwards. There are instances where the Ban Jhakri would kidnap small kids from the villages, keep them for years hidden (even from Lemlemey - as they can harm and kill both the kid and the Ban Jhakri), teach them medicine, horoscope etc, and release them back to their homes.
Again more inputs on their life: As for their gender-work distribution, women work equally, if not more, as men. All their earning is to enable them to be financially independent. They are treated in the society at par as well. Marriage generally happens after a man dates at least a few women (and vice versa) and finds the right soulmate. Himself being an example, he (the driver) drives taxi and only pays for his kids' education, whereas his wife works in a private firm in Gangtok, earns more than him, and runs the household.

Actually the monastery is Lingdum monastery, situated in a place called Ranka. The monastery was relatively new, started in 1999, housing over 150 monks. We were fortunate enough to witness the evening prayer offered to Buddha (Padmasambhava, as per Tibetan Buddhism). The monastery itself was huge and beautiful, with a long impressive row of prayer wheels. Contrary to what you may think, photography was allowed inside the core building where Buddha's huge golden idol is placed and worshipped - nevertheless, I asked a few monks if that was permitted, and they okayed (note that the house was full that time with prayer going on).

On the way, we got a fantastic glimpse of the whole of Gangtok spanning across three hills - panning from left to right from that view point at Ranka, the left was northern part (with our hotel, Bajra taxi stand, etc), middle was the central downtown (with MG market, Lal Bazar etc), and right was the southern part of Gangtok (with taxi stand for vehicles plying to Pelling, Darjeeling, NJP etc). The middle and southern part is also connected via a ropeway.
Also, to mention overwhelming glimpses of a variety of flowers (orchids), orange orchards and "quash" plantations.

Now, to Ban Jhakri falls. Feedback - not recommended (though its on the way and its my opinion only). Its all beautifully decorated, with lots of resting places till you get to see the falls, artificial fountains, sculptures to showcase the story of Ban Jhakri (as our driver mentioned), it looked too artificial and un-authentic/ non-ethnic. The whole maintenance affair is given to some private party who separately charges for the "artificial park", and along with rs.15 per person, rs.20 for car park, rs.5 for camera, they also charge additional "mandatory" fee of rs.30 for some #@$%& energy museum, whether you see it or not !!

Anyway, back to our hotel. Evening was spent in the MG market. I bought a "kukri" and my wife a few gifts for people back home. Came back after loitering around a bit, and then the usual affair of chatting, packing up for our return to NJP the next day, dining and sleeping off.

Day 7 (11th Dec)
Way back to NJP. We got ready and started after an early lunch at 11:00am (the driver earlier day advised us to start early, given that our train was at 8:30pm ; hill roads are unpredictable). Reached the taxi stand where we get buses and vehicles to go downhill. Negotiated to rs.1300 till NJP (vehicle was Tata Sumo). Coming up was cheaper than going downhill
Stopped over at Tar Khola to buy oranges and 200gm of "Dole Khorsani", and then at a town called Malle where our driver had a very late lunch (3:00pm) and we had veg momo and mutton momo. No further stops after that, only clicking away.
Reached NJP by 5:30pm with at least three more hours in hand. Somehow spent the time loitering around, eating parathas from a railway authorized outlet, chatting with other people waiting, and also met a family from Karnataka who were struggling to get seats in some train to Kolkata as they did not have reservation tickets.
On the train, the IRCTC people while washing the train left their pipes open, thereby overflowing water into the compartment floors. We tried somehow sitting our feet raised and all baggages up on the upper berth. No amount of complaint to the TT improved the situation till next morning. Somehow managed to sleep by each one of us putting a baggage or two above our heads!

So, here's how I would conclude my travelogue. Wherever you travel in India, be prepared to get dirty here and there, and no one can beat you! ... and yes, in a cold place at 14000+ ft with below freezing temperature, you just can't get dirty even without a bath for a few days !
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Old 25th December 2009, 11:41   #3
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More pics please. Would love to have these kind of trip. Hope this politician resolve there issue soon.

Last edited by arin_12 : 25th December 2009 at 11:48.
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Old 25th December 2009, 12:21   #4
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Hi Car-go,
A very detailed and inspirational travelogue. You have taken lots of pain fo include every details of you journey.
The travelogue with Fact files inlcuded, make up a very interesting read.
Very well written.
Would surely like to see more of snaps. I guess you would have taken loads of it.
Before I forget, the time difference between your first post and 2nd post is of 6 minutes. Did you really manage type all those info in 1st post in 6 minutes flat. Commendable!!

Originally Posted by car-go View Post
Ok, lets' start .... "Early morning, and I was eating thukpa with rassogolla" - ok, that was my dream on that night!
A trait of a true bengali.. hehe..

Last edited by Fordmanchau : 25th December 2009 at 12:22.
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Old 30th December 2009, 22:32   #5
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Was a little late in replying since, as soon as we returned from sikkim, we had to make a short trip to our Kolkata home.
Originally Posted by arin_12 View Post
More pics please. Would love to have these kind of trip. Hope this politician resolve there issue soon.
Thanks for your comments - that was sort-of inspiring indeed. Don't think the politician will resolve any issues there soon - earlier thrice on the same route (NJP to darjeeling) we had faced the same problem with vehicle operators.
Originally Posted by Fordmanchau View Post
Hi Car-go,
A very detailed and inspirational travelogue. You have taken lots of pain fo include every details of you journey.
The travelogue with Fact files inlcuded, make up a very interesting read.
Very well written.
Would surely like to see more of snaps. I guess you would have taken loads of it.
Before I forget, the time difference between your first post and 2nd post is of 6 minutes. Did you really manage type all those info in 1st post in 6 minutes flat. Commendable!!

A trait of a true bengali.. hehe..
Ok, to be frank, I actually did a copy-paste from another forum where I've written it all for the first time. Had put it again here to reach the larger and a little different audience and contribute here in team-bhp.

You can follow my thread at:

..... you'll find more photos there. Further, I'll still follow this thread here and answer any queries that may come up on this trip.
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Old 31st December 2009, 00:52   #6
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Nice travelogue. Thanks for sharing.

Originally Posted by car-go View Post
Fact file: ...
We also saw packs of round red chillies (very hot in taste) which we planned to take while returning. These are called Dolle Khorsani in Nepalese, meaning round chillies. These chillies are great for pickles - locals dry them under the Sun for two days, mix with salt and keep it soaked in oil in glass bottles under the Sun.

These chillies look very much like Habanero. Vivek, if you are reading this travelogue: are these the ones that you were referring to the other day.
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Old 31st December 2009, 11:34   #7
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Nice pictures there Manas. Hope you have lot of them. TFS.
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Old 31st December 2009, 11:41   #8
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Amazing pics and good narration car-go! Hope you have many more pics to come
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Old 31st December 2009, 23:14   #9
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thanks akbaree - for you being able to relate to 'habanero' ... ok, I need to know how it looks
thanks abhinav - you may check my thread in a different forum (bcmtouring) mentioned in my above post#5.
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