|1st November 2015, 12:47||#1|
From Snarl to Old Silk Route : Rishi Khola, Gnathang, Kupup (East Sikkim) & Icchey Gaon
Was it a hurried trip? No
How can a trip that involves an Indo-China Border, a route that is under Protected Area and Restricted Area Permit, a drive to 14000 odd feet above sea level and staying there overnight, with my wife as co-passenger and our 'modest hatchback' EON at our disposal, be risked to be unplanned? It was indeed a planned one.
In the end we saw 'Mother Nature' in its full glory, quite different from the other Himalayan trip we made. We saw color of the vegetation change from green to orange with altitude, some man made and a lot of Nature sculpted masterpieces and significantly noticed the temperature and oxygen dip.
Welcome by the tea gardens
A beautiful valley on the lap of Himalayas
A lot of waterfalls wiping out the stress of city dwellers like us
Some sunsets that remains etched in memories forever
A man made marvel pulling us up towards higher altitudes
Colorful valleys never before seen anywhere
Some high altutude exquisite lakes
Trekking to unknown places together
And, how can I forget the Majesty, our beloved Mt Kanchenjunga
I would like to mention that the travelogue is long as I tried to recapture the moments with pictures and writings. This travelogue is meant for ourselves (My wife and myself) as much as all the readers.
Table of Contents
Last edited by gearhead_mait : 9th November 2015 at 00:23.
|1st November 2015, 17:29||#2|
After our West Sikkim drive to Kaluk and Pelling in January this year (refer travelogue here) , I was told by several BHPians that now I am bitten by Himalayan bug and I will now look out for every opportunity to rush to the secluded and winding roads. I didn't understand the emotion properly at that time, now I can.
In May 2015, after a shortish vacation at Santiniketan (WB), we were back to office and I was on the lookout for a long drive to the Himalayas during Durga Puja. I stumbled upon the Sikkim Silk Route thread by ADC (self drive in 2009) and Drivetrain (by Rented Car in 2010).
Travelogue by ADC
Travelogue by DriveTrain
Both were very informative, but the problem was that both the travelogues were a bit old, with no clue about the recent updates. I shared my thought with my wife and the answer was 'Yes'. We together researched a lot on the Homestays, the route itself and contacted Sebastian Pradhan and his daughter Pranita. Sebastian Pradhan became our contact point for the road condition update and information regarding our permit requirement, while Pranita took care of the homestay bookings.
We finalized our Itinerary like this:
Day 1 - Kolkata to Siliguri
Day 2 - Siliguri to Rishikhola. Stay Rishi Eco Tourism Homestay.
Day 3 - Rishikhola to Nimachen. Stay at Tsu and Tsultim lodge.
Day 4 - Nimachen to Gnathang via Zuluk. Stay at Gnathang.
Day 5 - Sightseeing around Gnathang. Stay at Gnathang.
Day 6 - Gnathang to Iccheygaon. Stay at Iccheygaon.
Day 7 - Iccheygaon sightseeing. Relax at Iccheygaon.
Day 8 - Iccheygaon to Siliguri.
Day 9 - Siliguri to Kolkata.
As the day of our journey approached, about a fortnight earlier suddenly came to know that BHPian BlackPearl made this journey. Contacted him directly over phone. Although their trip was short, but I got some valuable information regarding the road condition and permit procurement from him. Thanks to him!
N.B The detailed procedure for permit procurement and various contact points of the Homestays and other important contacts would be shared in the later part of the travelogue.
Last edited by gearhead_mait : 2nd November 2015 at 12:40.
|1st November 2015, 17:50||#3|
Day 1 - Kolkata to Islampur (70 kms before Siliguri)
Kolkata to Siliguri route information with regular updates are covered in details in a separate thread. I have also shared the road condition update, route taken etc in my post below:
So in this thread I will restrict myself to the travelogue only with road condition and other details in the Hills only.
The day of our journey arrives. This was the first self drive journey to the Himalayas we are doing without our parents. So, they were a bit nervous as well. We told them that we would be in contact and take good care of ourselves. We took their blessings and moved forward.
Ma Baba wishing us good luck
We, before starting our journey
All lit up, after all its the Autumn Festival time
Tea Break at Saktigarh
After driving for 563 kms, we reached Islampur (about 70 kms before Siliguri) at 10 pm in the night thanks to a 3 hour traffic snarl at Farakka bridge (due to Farakka bridge repair). We decided to stay overnight at Islampur (instead of our planned destination at Siliguri), get some rest, start early the next day and move directly to Rishikhola. That way, we would enjoy driving through the tea gardens located in the proximity of Bagdogra in the morning, and that was a bonus as well. I inquired of a room at the Islampur Municipal Guest House located in front of Islampur Bus Depot and found a decent AC room for just INR 600. Our EON was parked at the Bus Terminus and looked after by a nightguard. We moved in to the hotel, had some light dinner and went to bed.
Total Toll paid for the day
INR (60 Dankuni Toll + 65 Palsit Toll + 10 Aban Setu toll + 20 Bolpur Municipality Tax + 45 Toll gate before Farakka + 65 Toll just after Dalkhola)
= INR 265
Total Hotel Expense for the day
Last edited by gearhead_mait : 8th November 2015 at 23:26.
|2nd November 2015, 02:27||#4|
Day 2 - Rishikhola, a gorgeous valley with magnificent river Rishi.
We woke up early in the morning, got ready and left Islampur by 6am in the morning. It was a bright day and in 20 minutes we were driving beside the tea gardens. The clear sunny sky, lush green tea gardens and the view of the mountains slowly coming into picture took away all the tiredness away from our body.
Posing with EON amidst the freshness of the morning
Breath of fresh air
Soon we crossed Siliguri. We tanked up our EON at an Indian Oil outlet, checked the air pressure and off we went. Now, we are moving steadily towards Sevoke.
The all green Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary on the way
N.B. The same stretch was mix of golden brown and greens in January 2015 ref. Image of the same stretch in Jan 2015
EON amidst the greenery
A selfie at Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary
Now we arrive at Sevoke. I love this place as this gives the first feeling of the silence of the Hills, specially in the early morning.
At Sevoke Rail Crossing
An icon in itself, the Coronation bridge
We had our breakfast at Teesta Bazaar. We ordered Wai Wai with vegetables. No matter how many times we try Wai Wai at our home, I don't know why we can't get even close to the taste they offer here. A secret recipe? Or the charm of cool winds and fresh air? Still remains a guess.
Mighty Teesta river
As we continued our journey, we crossed Kalimpong. The road to Kalimpong was moderately steep with a "Jalebi twist", but the road was good throughout. Kalimpong is a congested city though. And please be aware of the one way rule predominant here. I almost took entered a wrong way. It took us 20 minutes to get to the other side of the comparatively small Kalimpong market. About 15 kms from Kalimpong we reached Algarah fork. From this fork, the right side road leads to Lava, whereas the left side leads to Pedong. For us, its the road on the left side.
The road from Pedong to Rishikhola was about 15 kms and road was again pretty good. It was a gradual descend with roar of Rishi river getting prominent with every turn.
A few kilometers before our destination for the day we see this
Yes, a landslide had occurred a few days back. The picture above is just a trailer of a whole movie we were going to see later. After each hairpin bend after this, the road was getting worse. Suddenly, we found that a portion road has sunk in for about 4 inches and after that there was only boulders. I knew that no matter how good I tackle this, EON will scrape its bottom when the front tires fall off the concrete portion into the sunk-in portion. I decided to land my EON a bit diagonally so that the scraping is minimized. My wife had to get down to guide me through this. Although the ploy worked, but not without a scrape of the side skirting. After that for 500 meters or so it was all boulders up to the bridge connecting East Sikkim and West Bengal. A cautious driving hence with multiple times getting down from the car to analyse the correct path, landed us to our destination for the day. It was 1 pm on the clock and we found out that we have to park our car here and trek for about 20 minutes to reach our Homestay on the other side of the river. So, this means we park our car in Sikkim and stay in West Bengal. That also means that we leave the heavy luggage in the car and take minimal load with us.
Although, we had initially thought about the 20 minutes trek a bit apprehensively, but it turned out to be very relaxing. First we had to get down to the bank of the river from the Sikkim side, trek a bit on the same bank, then cross the river using a makeshift narrow bridge (or "Shanko" as we call it in bengali) and reach West Bengal side and then walk through the forest for 7 minutes to reach our destination. We were tired, but the sound of Rishikhola beside us brought a splash of energy everytime.
On reaching the resort, we were shown our room. It was a simple setup of a separate cottage with one middle sized room with a attached bathroom and an open dining just outside the cottage. Both audio and visual of gurgling Rishikhola could be heard and seen from our room. We simply fell in love with the place, for we have never stayed in a valley close to a river with high mountains and forests surrounding us. Heavenly!
Relaxing in the Rishikhola
The gorgeous valley
During the night, the power went off at the homestay. Only the roar of Rishi river broke the otherwise silence in the valley. Flickering of lights in the distant hills added to the magic. It was an awesome ambiance. We were enjoying it thoroughly until we decided to have our dinner a bit late. Our dinner was served in the open dining in a casserole and the homestay workers all went to sleep early around 8:45 pm. My wife and myself continued to enjoy the beauty of the valley chatting among ourselves. Suddenly, we heard the pet German Shepherd started barking continuously facing the hills behind us. We turned back to see that it was pitch dark towards the back side of our cottage (more so as the homestay workers already went to sleep). And on that side it was dense jungle and there is no fence guarding our resort from the jungle. I couldn't explain what we went through at that time. We were in a dilemma whether to quickly finish the dinner or take our dinner inside our room. We finally decided to point our LED torch towards the back side and have our dinner(in the open) quickly. I don't know how many times we looked behind while having our dinner. It was an experience to remember.
After this we went to sleep, but suddenly heard a strange noise like someone screaming in a peculiar manner and at the same time beating two utensils together. The sound came from the other side of the Hill. We tried to find the reason and pointed the torch out of our window towards the Hill on the other side of the Rishikhola. Found nothing. It was a strange ambiance, we were scared a bit but at the same time were enjoying the atmosphere as well.
Total toll paid for the day : INR 55 before Siliguri on our way from Islampur
Last edited by gearhead_mait : 4th November 2015 at 14:10.
|2nd November 2015, 08:45||#5|
Day 3 - Rishikhola (Continued)
After an eventful night, the morning brought out the true beauty of the valley. It was a sun and shade game in the valley and Rishikhola, the river, was flowing with the usual gurgling sound. To match this, there were many varieties of Himalayan birds that came to the valley to feed. We decided to take a morning stroll on the valley and asked our host to serve the morning tea in a makeshift wooden bench beside the Rishikhola.
My wife with the cup of tea
A cup of tea always craves for this ambiance
Not only a beautiful place for a cup of tea but an awesome place to have a bonfire or BBQ at night as well
Mystic, isn't it? Do notice the beautiful cottages of the locals up on the lap of the hills
The founder of the Rishi Eco Tourism Lodge, Mr. Sebastian Pradhan, is a pioneer in the development and promotion of tourism in East Sikkim as well as beautiful villages in West Bengal like Iccheygaon, Sillery gaon, Ramdhura etc. It is said that he conceptualized the homestay culture which has laid the foundation of economic development of the people. He is treated with utmost respect all over this region. We had a decent chat session with Mr. Pradhan whereby he explained a lot of things which is otherwise not known to many.
Mr. Pradhan is now focusing on the word "Eco" that is tagged to his homestay here. Why? He explained.
The vegetables grown in the campus
The river bed being used for gardening and cultivation as well
Awards and accolades received by Mr. Sebastian Pradhan from West Bengal and Sikkim Government and some other institutions as well
Mr Pradhan demonstrating the locally engineered hot water management system. The pipe carrying the water coils through the furnace and lands into the Plastic tank, which acts as a hot water supply to the guests for bathing purposes. The saucepan is used to prepare hot water for drinking purposes simultaneously. Very innovative indeed.
Proud to be in the same frame with the Mr. Sebastian Pradhan. A great and humble person
After a beautiful demonstration session, we spent some time in the river bank. We were addicted to the place.
Nothing beats a foot massage like this
A selfie together
A parting shot of the valley
As every good thing comes to an end, and we have to move on, with heavy heart we packed our bags again and got ready to leave. We promised that we would be back here sometime soon.
Some parting shots on our way back to our car.
The "Shanko" (wooden bridge) I was referring to
Our next destination was Nimachen, which is very much part of the strategic Old Silk Route. But first we have to get the permit from Rongli SDPO or Rongli PS.
Last edited by gearhead_mait : 2nd November 2015 at 19:16.
|2nd November 2015, 08:48||#6|
Day 3 Continued : Off to Rongli | Permit procurement
As we were leaving Rishi Eco Tourism Resort, Mr. Pradhan called me and asked for my driving license. I handed it over to him. To my surprise, I saw Mr. Pradhan had a Permit Form with him and he started filling it up on my behalf. I provided all the personal information he needed for the form. He also provided a booking slip containing all the booking information in the Silk Route. He told me to show this at Rongli PS and refer his name, if required (though he was confident it would not be required).
Having the permit form already filled up and the backup of Mr. Pradhan certainly gave a lot of confidence that we would get the permit for our vehicle.
The road towards Rongli (20 kms from Rishi Eco lodge) was in bad state with BRO working on the repair of the majority of the stretch.
A bailley bridge on the way
Just on the entry to Rongli, I stopped and asked a traffic sergeant regarding the office of the SDPO. He informed me that there is a governor visit that day and SDPO has gone to Gangtok for some official work. I further inquired regarding the permit for Silk Route whereby he told me to park the car in the private parking place (Yes you heard it right, there are separate parking place for private and commercial vehicles at Rongli) and informed me that I should be able to get the permit from the Rongli Police Station as well.
I parked my car, got the car documents as well as our identity proofs and went ahead towards the police station which was just round the corner of the entry to Rongli. A group of Sikkimese drivers were waiting outside for the permits for their tourists and they gladly pointed us to the concerned Inspector. I went ahead to the Inspector and told him:
"I am coming from Sebastian Pradhan's homestay at Rishikhola and he has done the booking for us at Nimachen for a night and Gnathang for two nights. I have my own car so I need permit for ourselves as well as our car"
He asked us a few questions:
"How many people will be traveling?"
Ans: 2 (Me and my wife)
"Do you have the car documents and your identity proofs?"
Ans : Yes
"Under whose name is the car registered?"
Ans : My name
"Who is going to drive the car?"
Ans : Me
Then he verified each and every document and granted me the permit. I was ecstatic. An awesome feeling that cannot be explained. We were indeed very happy. Meanwhile, the drivers asked me various questions regarding the road I took till Siliguri, how much time it took me. They were very happy to see someone driving from Kolkata to visit their place. They started guiding me on the various tourist spots to see in the Silk Route and I took this opportunity to clarify some of my questions related to the route as well. They were very helpful. In fact after getting the permit one guy even took me to the photocopier store and told me that I should get 3 copies of the permit done and submit them at respective check posts above. He also offered me a cup of tea. I will never forget the hospitality they offered.
Documents required for the permit:
For the car:
1) Tax token
2) Registration Smart card
3) Car Insurance paper (should be valid at that date)
4) Pollution certificate (should be valid at that date)
5) Driving license
1) Voter identity card / passport (Aadhar card is not accepted) of each traveller.
2) A passport size color photograph of each traveller.
Points to remember for Private car permit:
1) Either the owner of the car should be the driver or the driver should be authorized by the owner. Please remember that the owner of the car and the driver should have family relation between them. In short, hired drivers are not allowed to drive in private cars.
2) You are allowed to carry your family members freely in your vehicle. Colleagues, friends etc could be allowed but the authority may also deny them travel in your private vehicle on the ground that you are carrying tourist in a private vehicle. Tip would be introduce them as your cousin or someone from distant relationship.
3) The photocopies of the permit have to be submitted at Lingtam, Phadamchen and Kupup check posts.
4) The permit is valid for maximum 3 days. As I had total stay of 3 nights in the Silk Route circuit, I was told to return early on the fourth day.
5) The photocopies of the permit have to be submitted at three check-posts Lingtam, Phadamchen and Kupup.
The permit form
Cost of the permit
INR 20 per vehicle
Last edited by gearhead_mait : 8th November 2015 at 22:43.
|3rd November 2015, 01:14||#7|
Day 3 Continued - Nimachen, A nature resort and a birder's paradise.
Before I proceed, I would like to confirm that the entire stretch upwards from Rongli has good roads. I got this clue earlier from a driver at Rongli who said "Idhar tak a gaye hai toh pura hi chale jayenge aap".
After having some tea at Rongli, we went forward to our destination of the day - Nimachen. We crossed the first checkpost at Lingtam after submitting a copy of our permit.
Many people who have done this route may ask, why stay at Nimachen and not Zuluk?
1)To be frank Zuluk is nowadays congested with tourist population. Also, as it is very close to Thambi view point and Longthu Sunrise point, its a base for all the tourists doing this circuit. But, we had ample time in hand so decided to stay at a more serene place.
2)At first I had asked Pranita to book at Zuluk for this day. But she confirmed that being a festive holiday period a large group of Tourist would be in Zuluk that day and it would be better if I stay at Nimachen.
EON on the way to Nimachen
The prayer flags, a distinctive sight at Sikkim
A grey wagtail found on the way. I clicked this from my car a few feets away, still it didn't move. Perhaps she was in the mood for photography.
Kuekhola Falls on the way
Soon, we reached our stay for the day - Tsu and Tsultim lodge, Nimachen.
Nimachen, located a few kms before Phadamchen, is a beautiful small hamlet amidst dense green forest at a height of 7700 feet above sea level. Variety of birds inhabit the place and there are a few nature walks available for tourists including a hike to a nearby Gompa.
Tsu and Tsultim lodge
Pasang Sherpa, the owner of Tsu and Tsultim lodge at Nimachen and a true gentleman, told us on our arrival that last night there were no rooms available as there were around 40 tourists. They have all moved to Zuluk today. So, today we are their only guests. Yes, we were the only tourist in the whole hotel! Thanks to Pranita Pradhan as she had already foreseen this and booked our stay accordingly.
Yes, that's the parking for our EON (seen from the balcony)
The lodge is a 3 storey building with a beautiful balcony cum dining on the third floor (where we stayed). The lodge is adorned by beautiful mountain flowers like gerbera, orchids etc. The balcony overlooks a beautiful green valley facing the west. So, a perfect spot for witnessing the sunset. Also, we could see various kind of Himalayan birds from the balcony itself, but we didn't have a camera with sufficient zoom to capture the beautiful birds.
The balcony with the beautiful view
And the dining area
The beautiful sunset
On arrival, we had our lunch and went for a walk around Nimachen. We enjoyed the greenery, but what appealed to us more is the silence with occasional burst of the sound of cricket and chirping of birds.
Wild flowers on the mountain wall
Just behind the houses, the trail leading to the Gompa and some other birding points can be seen
The night here was cold but beautiful. The darkness with shimmering light on the valley, a chilling but gentle wind and the absolute silence was enough to bring a sense of being lost somewhere.
Next morning, we were ready to scale higher altitudes.
A snap with the helpful gentleman, Mr. Pasang Sherpa, the owner of the lodge
Nimachen will be remembered for its beauty which a general passer-by wouldn't know.
Last edited by gearhead_mait : 4th November 2015 at 15:56.
|4th November 2015, 07:16||#8|
Day 4 - Towards the beautiful Gnathang Valley via Zuluk
This was the day I was looking forward to the most. On this day we climb from 7700 feet to 13500 feet above sea level, the day we see the marvelous zig zag road (aka zuluk loops) and witness the beautiful Gnathang and beyond (for we have never been at that elevation before).
A stop to submit one photocopy of the permit at the second check-post at Phadamchen
Now, as we move on, the road becomes a bit steeper with the amount of hairpins increasing. We see the vegetation changing gradually. We were now driving between tall pine trees. The road is absolutely superb.
A shot with the pine trees
After driving for 30 odd kilometers we reach Zuluk (10100 feet above sea level). Driving the last few kilometers before Zuluk was breathtakingly beautiful and at the same time unnerving - not due the steepness but the fog that engulfs the road leaving one totally blindfolded at times.
We decided to have our breakfast here. When we approached a homestay asking about the availability of breakfast, they said that they cannot provide breakfast as they have their own guests (the tourists staying there) to attend. Suddenly a driver, whom we met at the Rongli PS, called us. We were surprised that he still remember us. He pointed us to a homestay kitchen where we got our breakfast.
While having our breakfast, I told the ladies working there about Sebastian Pradhan and was taken aback by the reply. They told:
"Woh hamara sabse bada dushman hai. Woh hame booking nahi deta".
I couldn't understand the reason, neither did I tried to know. It's their personal matter to settle.
I just replied:
"Hum to dushman nahin hai na?"
And they laughed and told:
"Nahi, aap to hamare guest ho"
Breakfast done, we decided to move on. Now we are actually climbing up the famous zig zag road, the view of which is available from above.
The beautiful Zuluk village seen after a few switchbacks. Zuluk Army base to the left.
After a few more hairpins we saw the marvel for the first time. It was simply awesome! Once I saw this road among the top 10 dream roads to drive on and now I am driving on this road.
The famous zig zag road from the "chota" zig zag point
Suddenly fog came from nowhere to render a mystic view
My two companions for the journey
After a few kilometers we arrive at the famous Thambi View Point (11200 feet above sea level)
Zig Zag road with the hairpins clearly seen
But, we were not lucky to view Kanchenjunga from this view point. It was covered with dense fog on that side.
Delighted, she was! So was I!
EON at Thambi view point (taken on the way back)
After having a hot cup of tea at Thambi view point from the only local shop there, we started ascending again. After driving for hardly few kilometers, I suddenly got another view of the zig zag road. There are no markers for this one, but it is hard to miss (unless on a foggy day).
Here it is!
From now onwards, as we were moving up, we saw the vegetation to change drastically. The beautiful green trees gave way to burning orange colored plants (from the lack of oxygen) who were dominating the terrains now. Words and camera can't capture the beauty that is unfolding slowly.
The tall trees gone!
Replaced by orange colored plants
Now we see shepherds with a herd of Yaks. Had a tough time getting past them.
EON amidst the orange colored valley
The more we ascended the more beautiful terrains were getting revealed. Then we reached a fork where tbe road to the left (going downwards) leads to Gnathang valley (where the homestays are) and thne road to the right takes one to Old Baba Mandir, Kupup Lake etc.
As we had two nights booking at a homestay in Gnathang valley, we decided to do visit the lakes, old baba mandir etc. the next day.
For the rest of today, we would spent exploring the valley, knowing the peoples and their lifestyle.
We took the left side of the fork and start descending towards Gnathang valley. The descend is pretty steep with very bad roads at stretches making the drive a bit tricky at times. After about 2 kms, we reached our homestay and met Pema Sherpa, our contact point.
At first we thought that we have been booked in "Daftar Bungalow".
Nevertheless, I parked my car in front of Daftar bungalow. The moment we stepped out of our car, the bitter cold made us searching for cover. And it was just 11:30 am in the morning!!
Only one photo with my EON and Daftar Bungalow, before we rushed inside the homestay
We met the owners of the homestay. They were a family of three (husband, wife and a 15 year old girl). The husband and wife manages the homestay while, with all the adversities, they have send their daughter to study at Gangtok. Yes, she is in class 9.
They served us a cup a hot tea, and we, in the meantime, tried to know a bit about their culture, their lifestyle etc. In off season when the tourists are rare, the husband works for the BRO. The youngest member studies at Gangtok but returns home during vacations which coincides with the tourist seasons and helps her Mother in managing the tourists demand.
Soon, they said that the lunch is ready and we should go for a walk around the village after lunch. We were blown away by their hospitality.
Hot lunch served. Taste was heavenly!
After lunch, we went for a walk around the village. As it was bitterly cold outside, we put on 4 layer of garments, but still were shivering.
But the beauty of the valley was unmatched.
Before the Gnathang gompa
The beautiful valley
The toughest selfie I clicked in my life. I could hardly hold the mobile properly in the bitter cold.
A lone white horse in the valley
Beautiful rugged landscape. My wife's attire says everything about the freezing cold.
This picture reminds me of "Project IGI" mission grounds
During afternoon, the wind speed increased and with it the coldness. But, more harsh was the lack of oxygen at that elevation. We went back to our homestay and locked us up in our room. The coldness was slowly getting beyond the limit of enjoyment. I started to have a mild headache, so I took a quick nap.
In the evening, our hosts provided a warm cup of coffee and tasty veg pakoras to go with it. The pakoras tasted even better at that time. We dare not step out of the homestay as it was freezing outside. On the back of my mind, I had the thought of my EON and how will it fare in these conditions. Will it even start in the morning? A lot of what-ifs went through my mind. At 6:30 pm in the evening, I decided to start the engine once. I went to the parking area and my EON started at the first crank. After idling the engine for about 10 minutes, I turned it off. I had brought a small gunny bag with me. I used it to partially cover the bonnet area, but it seemed inadequate.
On my return to the room, my wife asked if everything is okay? I replied - "Till now it is, but I don't know what will happen overnight. Its freezing outside!"
Nevertheless, we spent the rest of the evening watching a movie on my laptop. Afterwards, we had a light dinner and went to sleep early as the next morning we have to visit the sunrise point at Longthu (aka Lungthung).
Last edited by gearhead_mait : 6th November 2015 at 16:33.
|6th November 2015, 08:23||#9|
Day 5 - Around Gnathang : Old Baba Mandir, Tukla Valley, Kupup Lake, Memencho Lake..
We woke up at 3:45 am in the morning, got ready, and went to our EON. What we found is this:
I have never seen my EON in this state. I was surprised. There was nil snowfall last night, the sky was clear, but the temperature went to -7 degree Celsius at night. That's why the dew formed overnight turned to ice.
The drivers of the local Boleros, Maxx etc. were trying to start their cars but wasn't able to do so. The tourists scheduled to leave with them were waiting. The drivers were pouring hot water over the windshield and bonnet. Some of them also put a stove under the diesel tank.
I was really scared whether I should start the engine or not. Seeing the condition of the SUVs my confidence was lowered. I went inside the car, prayed to God and cranked the engine. There it was! The engine started at the first crank and I was ecstatic! My confidence in the car quadrupled. I turned on the heater and directed the flow to the windscreen using Climate Control knob. The ice melted in a few minutes. The only thing that froze in my car was the windscreen washer fluid (water + shampoo).
I was the first one to start towards the Sunrise point (I say this proudly). The homestay owner requested me to take their daughter with us, and I happily obliged. Off we went, three of us.
The sunrise point at Longthu is merely 3-4 kms from our homestay. The sky was clear with the stars visible clearly, a perfect combo for sunrise over the Mt. Kanchenjunga. When we reached the point, it was still dark, with Kanchenjunga visible on one side. The young girl told us that sunrise would be from the opposite side of the mountain and the light from the Sun would ignite the Kanchenjunga, a sight to behold!
Gathering to see the beauty. Mount Kanchenjunga visible on the right side of the frame.
First light on the Kanchenjunga
The queue of cabs captured with the Sunrise
The valley getting the first light. An awesome sight!
EON in a colorful parking lot
A rainbow formation in the fog. Unique in its kind.
We returned to our homestay for breakfast. After breakfast, it was time to explore the beautiful places around Gnathang.
We were on our way
Aw inspiring landscapes
Gnathang village seen from above
A few more landscape shots
The ice by the road side
Within a few kms, the beautiful Strawberry lake came into view
Then came the Old Baba Mandir or Baba Dham.
Details of the shrine can be found here
Baba mandir seen from distance
My wife before the mandir
The Baba shrine
The steps leading to the Bunker
EON standing proudly
The beautiful Tukla valley
Here, I met some Jawans of Indian Army and we shared stories with each other. I salute their dedication to the Nation. They were amazed that I drove from Kolkata to here in my own car. One of them was even asking about the car and its cost and about my MapMyIndia device. The Jawans were so excited that they started circulating the news among themselves.
After spending some quality time here, we move forward again.
Enjoyed the drive!
Now, we made progress towards the famous Kupup Lake (or Elephant lake for its appearance). Details here.
On a stretch of road here, we were on the lone car. No other vehicles were visible. Suddenly, I could hear the noise of bullet and the feel of it striking the ground below us. Then it happened repeated times as we moved on. I was perplexed as to what may have happened. Did I enter a forbidden zone? A lot of questions crossed our minds and we were scared. My wife suddenly started rolling up the windows. I told her that if that is sniper aiming at us, even the sheet metal can't stop the bullet. She was scared already and my comment added to the scare. After a while, we could see a few Indian Soldiers in front of a board saying - "When the flag is red, firing is in progress". And it was Red at that time and firing was in progress in the valley below.
First view of Kupup Lake (around 14000 feet above sea level) at a distance
Kupup Lake - watch the elephant's trunk shape
Ice on top of barren mountains
At Kupup village
We had our permit till Kupup. I went to Kupup PS to show the permit and get it stamped. I asked the inspector whether we can go till Memencho Lake. He thought for a moment and said that we can go till the junction from where Memencho lake is seen and come back from there only. I promised him that. We then explored the Souvenir shops in Kupup, but there were only two of them. We didn't find anything to our liking and decided to move on.
On the way to Memencho
Last edited by gearhead_mait : 6th November 2015 at 19:21.
|6th November 2015, 08:27||#10|
Day 5 - Around Gnathang : Old Baba Mandir, Tukla Valley, Kupup Lake, Memencho Lake. (Continued)
We crossed YoungHusbands track on our way to Memencho lake (ref link)
The beautiful Memencho lake
The location was awesome. So was the weather. It was bright and sunny with cool breeze blowing over the mountains. We had brought a set of chair and coffee table with us from Kolkata and also carried the necessary ingredients for preparing tea/coffee. So, out came the items from the boot. After all we were there to relax.
My wife preparing the hot cup of tea
Stress? What is that?
The ultimate relaxation
After spending a quarter to an hour in this beautiful place, we decided to retrace our way back to our homestay at Gnathang.
A parting shot of Kupup lake in its true form
Kupup Lake - Another view
EON standing at a distance
A place to remember for life
Last edited by gearhead_mait : 7th November 2015 at 00:48.
|8th November 2015, 17:38||#11|
Day 6 - Towards Iccheygaon via Rangpo
After spending a two memorable days at Gnathang, it was time we head towards a beautiful Hamlet tucked in the Himalayas. Iccheygaon, located in West Bengal and comparatively at a lesser altitude at 5800 feet above sea level, was our destination for the day.
We woke up early again to watch the sunrise at Longthu, but this time instead of returning to Gnathang homestay, we plan to move forward directly towards Iccheygaon from there. We bade farewell to the Gnathang homestay owners, thanked them for all the hospitality and help and moved on. That day, Mount Kanchenjunga was completely hidden behind cloud cover, so no chance of any sighting. We waited there for some time though, even after all the other tourists have left. There was something at this place that we were attracted to and that demanded a few more minutes from us. Fogs and sunlight created a beautiful magic that no words can explain.
Then we started descending down and crossed Thambi view point, Zuluk, Nimachen and reached Rongli. There are two routes to Iccheygaon from Rongli. First, is the one we followed during onward journey i.e. Rongli-Rishikhola-Pedong-Iccheygaon. But we were sure the landslide that we encountered near Rishikhola would have been aggravated by heavy vehicular movement during this 3 days.
I decided to call Mr. Sebastian Pradhan, who confirmed the extensive damage done to the road near Rishikhola. He guided us to take Rongli-Rangpo-Munsong road-Iccheygaon.
The road from Rongli to Rangpo is being widened and has many bad stretches. But this road is easily manageable by any hatchback with proper
driving. It took us an hour to reach Rangpo from Rongli.
Between Rongli and Rangpo
We had our breakfast at Rangpo. After breakfast we started our final leg of the journey to Iccheygaon. Just about 700 metres after the police check post at Rangpo, there is a road to the left that climbs up towards Munsong village. Iccheygaon is 6 kms from Munsong village. The Munsong road is a beautiful road (in terms of quality of surface and surroundings) through the jungle with sparse traffic. But the road is narrow with some blind curves. On top of this, due to sparse traffic expecting an oncoming vehicle is significantly lowered. So one had to drive cautiously.
We crossed Munsong village and reached a point where a beautiful view of Teesta could be seen. It is quite similar to the longest view of Teesta river at Ramitey view point. So anyone unable to trek to Ramitey, could find this useful (as this is just by the side the road)
The view point
Soon, we reached the approach road to Iccheygaon. It was on the left side of the road and it was narrow and steep. The first section of the road is concrete paved but the later section is all boulders with even greater steepness. One should drive very cautiously, more so if driving a hatchback.
We reached the homestay of D K Khawas at about 12 pm. After a climb down from around 13500 feet to 5800 feet, our body could feel more oxygen in the air. Our lunch was ready. After lunch we decided to roam around the place a bit.
Beautiful Iccheygaon with colorful flowers all around
Our room was on the ground floor of the building on the left side
EON standing proudly at Upper Icchey
The day was foggy with no view of Kanchenjunga. But the night was beautiful with shimmering lights from Darjeeling and Namchi visible right from the balcony. We had our dinner early and retired for the day.
Last edited by gearhead_mait : 9th November 2015 at 23:14.
|8th November 2015, 17:48||#12|
Day 7 - Iccheygaon and around
When we are on Holiday, we never wake up late. As usual we woke up early in the morning as well. But Mount Kanchenjunga wasn't visible. Bad luck!
We decided to have a morning walk around Iccheygaon. And our guide was a 7 year old cheerful boy, named Ayan, the nephew of D K Khawas. He took us walking across the village while calling his friends as well other villagers out to wish them good morning. A realization struck that in our daily chaos, do we wish even our family members good morning everyday? And this young boy is wishing the whole village. A lesson learnt indeed.
Also, its a tradition that every one in the village, irrespective of age, should guide the tourists when needed. And Ayan seem to take great pride in taking us on a tour across the village. And, as he was wishing the people good morning, he also let them know that he is the official guide today.
On asking, he mentioned with pride that he has even taken tourists to Sillery gaon trek across the jungle.
The village is beautiful and inhabited by some really nice people.
The village walk. Follow Ayan, our guide, talking to and wishing all the people.
Ayan, a nice boy and guide
Iccheygaon in the morning
That is Angad, D K Khawas' son, with my sunglasses
After our village walk, we came back and had our breakfast. Our next plan for today was the jungle trek to Sillery and Ramitey and back (a total of 11 kms). And for this, we have a very able and helpful guide and friend - Hari Bhaiya. We started off from Iccheygaon at 9:30.
Start of the trek
Our official guide - Hari Bhaiya
Sillery gaon is another beautiful hamlet located just on the other side of the hill. Ramitey view point is about 3 kms from Sillery. During our trek we have to climb up the hill from Iccheygaon and down the hill towards Sillery. The trek was through dense jungle, with Hari Bhaiya demonstrating the importance of each plant for medicine and other purposes.
Hari Bhaiya demonstrating the use of plants
A quick snap
The seeds of this fruit is burnt and the smoke is used to relieve throat pain
A wild butterfly
Through the forest
After our climb down towards Sillery gaon, we decided to take the left before arriving at Sillery and move towards Ramitey view point. Our plan was to come back to Sillery gaon for tea and then start our return journey from there.
A holy worshiping area on the way to Ramitey
Moving towards Ramitey View point
My wife, on reaching Ramitey
The view of Teesta at Ramitey. Similar view from Munsong road, isn't it?
We, at Ramitey
Myself with Hari bhaiya
Kanchenjunga was still behind the clouds. After spending some time here, we started again for Sillery gaon.
N.B. : The road from Sillery to Ramitey is SUV territory, mainly due to ground clearance issues.
Sillery gaon is beautiful with much more facility than Iccheygaon. Few lavish hotels are being built in Sillery. But, I think Sillery gaon has been commercialized and has lost some of its charm now. Its entirely my personal opinion though.
My wife and me getting some rest at a tea shop in Sillery
After about 45 minutes in Sillery, we started our trek back to Iccheygaon. Hari Bhaiya fed some dogs with biscuits at Sillery and afterwards one of them followed us till Iccheygaon.
The dog that followed us the whole way back
Just before entering Iccheygaon
On our return, we had our lunch. At that time it started to rain with black clouds engulfing the valley below. The temperature started to drop quite a bit. It rained overnight that day.
Last edited by gearhead_mait : 9th November 2015 at 12:21.
|8th November 2015, 17:53||#13|
Day 8 - The day we leave Iccheygaon and head for the plains.
Next morning we were scheduled to leave the hills for the plain land. The trip was awesome, but something was missing. That something was a perfect sunrise on a clear sky over the Mount Kanchenjunga. After the rain last night, I was positive that this could be the perfect day.
And, it was indeed! The clouds settled below in the valley, a perfect clear sky and the Majesty was visible even before sunrise.
I will let the pictures do the talking.
The valley before sunrise
Kanchenjunga before sunrise
And slowly getting lit up
Notice South and North Kabru and Pandim as well
True essence of Iccheygaon
After having our breakfast, with our hearts full of joy, we packed our bags and got ready to leave the place.
With very helpful D K Khawas and his nephew Ayan
A parting shot of my EON with Kanchenjunga
We stopped briefly at Delo hills on the way
Kanchenjunga range from Delo
Then we moved towards Siliguri. We had lunch at KFC, City Centre near Bagdogra and, as it was only 2:30 pm then, decided to head further southwards instead of staying at Siliguri. We reached Malda at 9 pm and stayed overnight at Malda.
Next day (Day 9) we started from Malda early around 5 am and reached our home in Kolkata at 2 pm.
One shot with my EON at Morgram.
Tripmeter reading after the journey
And the total kilometers covered till then
Last edited by gearhead_mait : 9th November 2015 at 12:23.
|8th November 2015, 18:11||#14|
Route and map details of the journey
The route I followed from Kolkata-Kolkata are as given below. Please refer the links for the detailed breakdown.
Kolkata to Siliguri and vice versa
Reference gmap link here
Reference gmap link here
Reference gmap link here
|8th November 2015, 22:32||#15|
Total toll paid:
Total Homestay/ Hotel expense:
Homestay in Rishikhola (WB, 1 night), Nimachen (SK, 1 night), Gnathang (SK, 2 nights) and Iccheygaon (WB, 2 nights) = INR 800 per head per day (All inclusive fooding and lodging).
N.B: Food includes Morning tea, breakfast, lunch, evening tea and snacks and dinner. However, the menu is fixed. Lunch generally includes Egg Thali and Chicken Thali for dinner. Evening snacks include veg pakoras or veg momos.
Total = INR (800 * 2 * 6) = INR 9600
Islampur (1 night) stay : INR 600
Malda (1 night) stay : INR 800
Total distance covered = 1665 kms
Total petrol = 91 litres (approx)
Total cost of fuel = INR 6100 (approx)
Fuel Economy ~ 18.29 kmpl
INR 19780 for 9D/8N trip.
Last edited by gearhead_mait : 9th November 2015 at 02:13.
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