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Old 2nd June 2017, 11:56   #1
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Default Mystical Sikkim - Utopia here, now!

"No distance is too long with good company."

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This story is about magical Sikkim, about friends and about family. A leisurely vacation conceived over a casual chat between friends united by a common passion for cars and road travel.

So, before I start with the long lines of black and white, let's add some color to this page

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A casual telephonic conversation sometime in late April culminated in to a conference call. We were discussing Borong, a quaint scenic village less than twenty kilometers from the tourist town of Ravangla in South Sikkim. A Eco-resort operated by two of our very own Team-BHPians there had garnered rave reviews all over and was on my wish-list since March 2016 when due to paucity of time and broken roads I had to return back from almost their doorstep. The village and the resort is not new to this forum and there are already two crisp travelogues of this place by D-BHPian Blackpearl.
http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...-baiguney.html
http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...th-sikkim.html
Even a T-BHP meet was planned at the same location, but I guess it did not materialize.

We finalized a two nights stay at Borong. For the rest of the trip we started searching for secluded places in the Kalimpong district of West Bengal. Being the peak season during the summer holidays we were constrained of finding a place to our liking there or thereabouts. This and the lack of available accommodation elsewhere resulted in the group having to go for separate itineraries converging in at Ravangla for our onward drive and stay at Borong. While one half of the group picked Tinchuley and Lamahatta, our itinerary looked like this :

Day 1 : Kolkata to Siliguri (overnight stay at WBDTCL Mainak Tourist Lodge)
Day 2 : Siliguri to Temi (overnight stay at Cherry Resort)
Day 3 : Temi to Yuksom (overnight stay at Hotel Red Palace)
Day 4 : Yuksom (lazing around)
Day 5 : Yuksom to Borong (overnight stay at Wildflower Retreat)
Day 6 : Borong (local sightseeing)
Day 7 : Borong to Raiganj (overnight stay at WBTDCL Raiganj Tourist Lodge)
Day 8 : Raiganj to Kolkata

While bookings for the WBTDC facilities and Wildflower Retreat in Borong was done through their respective websites through an easy and instantaneous process, the bookings at Cherry Resort in Temi and Red Palace in Yuksom was done over telephonic conversations, e-mail exchanges and bank deposits. The booking process for Temi was particularly scary as they were late in confirming receipt of advance and booking and also mistakenly sent an apologetic mail conveying inability to host us a day after confirming receipt of advance and booking. But soon all the loose ends were firmly knotted and by 11 PM of Saturday, the 20th of May, we were stocked, loaded and ready to roll for a scheduled 4 AM departure.

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Old 2nd June 2017, 15:28   #2
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DAY 1 (21.05.2017) - Kolkata(WB) to Siliguri(WB) approx 575 kms

While checking the luggage for any loose baggage I realized how much stuff one needs to pack while traveling with a kid in tow. The entire boot was stuffed to the brim and there were bags on the middle and front passenger row leg space!! All this for just a week long trip with two and a quarter of us. After taking all the blessings we could get, we started to roll before daybreak towards our scheduled rendezvous point at Dankuni Toll Plaza. We finally met up with the Safari Storme near Singur and continued together till Shaktigarh where we stopped for tea at daybreak.

We took the usual SH-7 route from Burdwan and ambled along the highway cherishing the lush greenery surrounding us. We were in no hurry and made countless stops to treat our sore eyes to the opulence of rural Bengal

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The entire stretch of SH-7 has excellent surface barring a 10-12 kilometers stretch around Khargram where the surface is rough and has potholes deep enough to swallow a small car. This area also has two highly congested market areas which may cause some delay. Luckily for us, we sailed through the stretch without much fuss and hopped on to the erstwhile NH34 (now NH12) at Moregram. We immediately pulled over into the BPCL Dhaba for breakfast where we caught up with a common friend on his way to the North East in his Swift. From this point onward the three cars moved together till the outskirts of Bagdogra.

All three at the Moregram Dhaba

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Post a hearty breakfast we started to cruise through the pristine toll roads. Ballalpur, Farakka and Kaliachak was dusted in no time and the Tank was Storming towards Maldah. At this point we made a stop. A day before, friend and Bhpian Arav (AJ_got_BHP) had posted some photos of the under construction Maldah bypass road. Lured by those pictures we decided to try it out and avoid the perennially congested Maldah town. The entry to the unfinished bypass is visible from the main highway and we wasted no time in taking the diversion. The road started with an even but loose dusty surface and gradually changed to just landfill with deep ruts created by construction vehicles and slush. In no time the Swift got stuck and had to head back to the conventional route. With the Storme 4x4 at my tail, I gathered enough confidence and ploughed ahead until we reached a dead end, a partially constructed flyover. We dropped down to do a recce on foot. Thankfully, a local pointed us to a narrow track which took us down to a makeshift exit from the bypass into the alleys of Maldah.

A portion of the bypass

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A video of the exit from the incomplete Maldah bypass for reference. The bypass can be used by any vehicle with high ground clearance, but not advisable unless absolutely necessary. More so as the monsson sets in.



We followed Google maps to track our way back to NH34 and met the highway just ahead of the railway crossing at Mangalbari. Thankfully the road was clear and in no time we had crossed the dreaded stretch and landed on the four laned tollway to Raiganj. Funnily, the Swift was ahead and waiting for us down the road. So, in all, our tryst with the Maldah bypass remained a fun excursion and served no purpose.

As planned, we stopped at the Raiganj WBTDC facility for lunch. It was a long break of nearly two hours but as usual the food was fresh, homely and satisfying.

Tuffey resting at Raiganj Tourist Lodge :

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Mithi was enjoying herself and kept the spirit high with her rhymes and songs. During the lunch break, she got her much awaited opportunity to cuddle with her dad

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Post the lengthy and rejuvenating lunch break we continued on NH12 for some 15 kilometers of rough, cratered roads till the exit to the Bengal to Bengal (popularly known as Botolbari ) route to Dhantola on NH31 near Islampur. The surface was excellent all through but owing to more than normal traffic and villagers using the road to dry crops and thereby barricading many portions of the already narrow road, the journey was slower than usual. We finally merged on to NH31 and gunned our engines for the final leg of the days journey. Soon, the appearance of tea gardens along the highway hinted at our near arrival and we stopped for a photo shoot :

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We soon reached Bagdogra with ample daylight remaining and took a long tea break. We also needed to stock up on emergency medicines which we had mistakenly left back at home. After completing some minor errands, we finally checked in to our hotel at Siliguri

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DAY 2 (22.05.2017) - Siliguri(WB) to Temi(SK) approx 125 kms approx

The next morning, after having the buffet breakfast served at the lodge, we headed for the hills.

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As soon as we crossed the hustle and bustle of the city of Siliguri, we were greeted with the freshness of the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary. This road has always evoked mixed feelings in me. While driving up north it makes you feel like the happiest person in the world, but on the way back, this stretch brings you back to the harsh realities of mundane work life. It literally symbolizes the beginning and conclusion of every holiday you spend in this region. Anyway, the customary stop and photo :

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Almost spontaneously, towering mountains appear on the horizon and the gurgling Teesta announces herself

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We crossed over into Sikkim at Rangpo. My mama (maternal uncle) is stationed there. After meeting and handing over the stock of Rosogullas and Mangoes we have been carrying for him we went in search for a decent restaurant for lunch. Most of the restaurants at Rangpo serves only vegetarian dishes and the only option was seemingly the Dominos outlet. By this time, it started to drizzle. We were already carrying food for the kids, so decided to head for Temi and have a late lunch at the resort itself. It was a very romantic drive in the rains after crossing the town of Singtam :



We reached Tarku and took left for Temi. The road from Tarku to Temi is undergoing thorough widening work. In most parts deeply rutted with lots of slush. Till the time the widening work is complete it is advisable to take the Namchi-Damthang-Temi route instead. A video clip of what most part of the surface is like follows, however, in some parts, the actual condition is far worse than what appears on the footage.



Almost the entire stretch from Tarku to Temi was a crawl. But finally when we arrived, the area was covered in cloud and mist and looked heavenly. We stopped by the tea gardens with the resort visible on the hilltop and barely a kilometer away.

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While the Storme was still busy with an extended photo session we rolled in to Cherry Resort.
The ambiance around the resort was truly mesmerizing. We were touching the clouds which were engulfing the resort every now and then.

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We kept roaming around the resort soaking in the awesome weather. Then the Storme arrived

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During check-in, we got a sweet surprise. We were given free upgrade to suite rooms. The rooms were large, well appointed. We wasted no time in ordering half of the items on the menu. The food was mouth watering and we licked the platters clean. The resort has a big open roof top area that offers a panoramic view. Due to the weather, the snow peaks remained elusive, but that did not stop us from enjoying every moment spent there chit chatting among ourselves over cups of hot tea. The kids also equally enjoyed playing in the wide open roof top.

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We enjoyed the hospitality of our cute hosts

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It started to rain forcing us to take our conversation indoors. We had a fun time cracking jokes and sharing experiences and memories. The kids also enjoyed on their own. We walked down to the restaurant for dinner and after having our fill retreated to our cosy rooms for the night.




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Old 3rd June 2017, 12:25   #3
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DAY 3 (23.05.2017) - Temi(SK) to Yuksom(SK) approx 110 kms

We woke up late and decided to have breakfast at a way side cafeteria nearby. So we checked out with a plan to visit Temi again for an extended stay.

We bid adieu to Cherry Resort

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and stopped by the way side joint

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We ordered wai-wai and strolled into the tea gardens for some candids while the breakfast was being prepared

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Ahead of us, lay the beautiful Ravangla-Damthang road. This stretch is my most favorite drive in Sikkim. The surface is generally smooth and the drive is relaxing. On a bright sunny day, you will be accompanied by the majestic snow peaks all through while on a cloudy day the drive would be through mist and clouds.

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We crossed the colorful town of Ravangla in no time and stopped at the helipad

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On a clear day, this location provides a majestic view of snow capped mountains.

This is Cringer at the same spot in 2015

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We meandered through the small towns of Legship and Geyzing. After crossing Pelling, ominous dark clouds engulfed the sky

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We curtailed all stops and photo breaks and continued onward. Soon the weather cleared up and we were happily gliding along the Darap-Yuksom road in company of lush greenery



This route hosts four famous sight seeing spots for tourists lodged in Pelling. These are, Rimbi falls, Khecheopalri Holy Lake, Rock Garden and Khangchendzonga falls. As we had visited these spot few times before, we decided to skip them and maybe plan a visit for the next day from Yuksom. As it was late afternoon, we did not encounter too many tourist vehicles either. The road beyond the Khangchendzonga falls was uncharted territory for us. It continued to be pristine and beautiful.

We came across a bridge spanning a noisy ravine

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We finally arrived at the beautiful Hotel Red Palace, Yuksom

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and checked into rooms which seemed straight out of a fairy-tale

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We were so hungry that we ordered noodles, momos and sandwiches. We waited for the food at the rooftop balcony adjacent to our rooms. Service was prompt and we were even quicker in going through the meal.

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The dark clouds we had left behind en-route seemed to catch up with us and a light drizzle forced us indoors

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As soon as we retreated to our rooms we dozed off. Hours later, the door alarm buzzed us into a rude awakening. The very friendly room attendants were there to take our dinner order. We settled for homely food items, rice, dal, sabji, chicken curry. Here, I must mention, that although located at a secluded place, the hotel had all the items on the menu available. The food tasted great and was served in abundant quantity. We had the best food of the trip over our two night's stay at hotel Red Palace. The service too was top notch.

Some photos of the innards of Hotel Red Palace

The reception and lounge area

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The dining hall in the basement

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Old 5th June 2017, 15:57   #4
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DAY 4 (24.05.2017) - Around Yuksom(SK) approx 10 kms

We woke up to a bright, sunny and colorful morning.

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After a cup of hot tea, we walked around the resort for a while

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Just then, to our utter glee, the majestic mount Khangchendzonga made a brief appearance

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After having our breakfast, we decided to take a trip to the places of interest. We thought it would be prudent to avail the services of a taxi as parking around the popular spots in peak season might pose a problem. However, ultimately, we decided to skip the popular spots and take Tuffey along for a small drive around Yuksom. The Storme decided to stay back at the hotel and relax.

We started to roll into the unknown

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A Chorten also acting as an intersection

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A short while later, we arrived at the Yuksom Helipad.

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The spot offered excellent views. The little hamlet is surrounded by towering mountains on all sides. No wonder it was the first Capital of Sikkim. It must have been impregnable back in its glory days.


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After spending some time at the helipad we took the road towards Dubdi Monastery. Built in 1701, it is the oldest Monastery in Sikkim. The road up to the monastery is basically a rocky trail used by trekkers venturing in to the Khangchendzonga National Park. We encountered some trekkers making their way up with horses leading with the luggages. We also encountered Yaks en-route. However, some way up the climb we encountered a patch of deep ruts and slush and a Sumo was stuck badly in it blocking the road ahead. I turned around, dropped down to asses the situation with the Sumo and realizing that I couldn't be of any real help left them promising to relay the news to the nearest settlement down below.

A video of the climb towards Dubdi Monastery:



Bhpian PointZero had managed to get all the way up there. Here's the link to his relevant travelogue for ready reference:

http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...ce-sikkim.html

We drove back towards our hotel. On the way, we came across a Gompa with huge Prayer Wheels. We stopped by to pray

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After a sumptuous lunch at the hotel we gathered at the balcony area for an extensive chit chat session

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The chit chat continued long into the evening punctuated with tasty snacks and hot soup. The superstars of the trip, the little ones, were having there own share of fun. We enjoyed quality time in very comfortable weather. The calmness and serenity of Yuksom was healing our minds and bodies.

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Old 5th June 2017, 22:52   #5
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DAY 5 (25.05.2017) - Yuksom(SK) to Borong(SK) approx 115 kms

It was another bright and clear day and the mighty mount K showed up in full glory. We quickly rushed to the vantage point.

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After a hearty breakfast, we thanked the staff of Hotel Red Palace and checked out.

The parting shot

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The morning drive amidst the cool air through deep vegetation and meandering roads were so very rejuvinating



Our destination for the day was Borong, but first we would have our grand meet at Ravangla. After a short refueling break at Pelling, we paid a visit to the touristy Pemayangtse Monastery on the outskirts of Pelling

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We continued towards Ravangla through the tried and tested circuit, however after reaching the town of Legship we were informed that due to ongoing repairs, the road to Ravangla was closed to traffic. We were diverted towards Jorethang with faint guidelines for an alternate route. We tried checking this route out in Google maps to no avail. The road towards Jorethang was scenic, meandering along the curves of the river Rangit. But there was no surface to speak of



We continued on our way seeking directions from the locals. A bit ahead, we were guided to a freshly laid road taking us down and over river Rangit. The route onward was mostly smooth surface but narrow and steep at places. We started to gain altitude quickly. We were so looking forward to meeting up with the rest of the team at Ravangla and had already lost time due to the road closure, we did not stop for photos en-route.

Sharing a couple of videos of the scenic alternate route to Ravangla





We reached Ravangla and headed towards the picturesque Buddha Park, the designated meeting point.

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Mithi offered her tributes to Lord Budhha with a prolonged roll of the prayer wheels



We were awaiting the rest of the team who were running late due to sight seeing errands around Namchi. Meanwhile we ordered for lunch at a joint just outside the main entrance to the Budhha Park. The food was sub-standard and inordinately expensive.

Finally we were united with the rest of the team

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After exchanging not-so-pleasantries, we wasted no time in heading towards Borong.

The big boys (Storme and Crysta) led the way



The road to Borong was through almost untouched nature



We reached our resort

Icebeards Wildflower Retreat

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The landlord was kind enough to lend us his personal parking space

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We checked in to our rooms which were neat and clean. Throughout the rest of the evening we enjoyed quality time indoors. At night, we went down to the restaurant for dinner.

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Old 9th June 2017, 12:29   #6
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DAY 6 (26.05.2017) - Borong(SK) approx 25 kms

Last night, we had made elaborate plans for this day. So, we woke up early and went to the restaurant for breakfast. While waiting for the food to arrive I strolled around the pristine property

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While we were engrossed at our breakfast table, ominous clouds set in and in to time it started to rain heavily. We made a hasty retreat to our rooms

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A steady shower continued for hours and while I generally take a liking to this kind of weather in the hills, it was marring our plans for the day. Also the thought of uncertainties like landslides was starting to seep into our minds. We decided not to venture out in this incessant rains and cancelled our plans in Ravangla and booked our lunch at the resort itself.

Just when the mood was starting to get gloomy in the rooms, the weather cleared up just as quickly as it had set in. The snow peaks started to peep through the clouds and we wasted no time in rushing to the vantage point for photos

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Mount Narsing and company put up a spectacular show. We continued clicking photos to our heart's content. Even the resort was looking totally transformed in bright sunshine

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We had a quick lunch at the restaurant

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While the rest of the team were finishing up with their lunch, I paid a quick visit to the in house Borong-Polok Handmade Paper Unit.

Some information about the Paper unit picked up straight from the Wildflower Retreat website

"This Handmade Paper unit is located within Wild Flower Retreat Premises. Established in 2003, the Borong-Polok Handmade Paper Unit is a successful venture by the Sikkim Development Foundation with equity capital and local participation from local households. The locals first discovered the papermaking technique involving the use of raw plants to make paper, without pollution or logging of trees while on a trip to a neighbouring state. They saw this as a business opportunity to provide the villagers with additional source of income and also a way to promote entrepreneurial spirit amongst them. Today, the unit produces a variety of handmade paper products including decorative lampshades, notebooks, envelops, greeting cards, gift wrapping papers and sell them locally as well as to other states in India. The handmade paper is lightweight, long-lasting and insect-resistant. Explore the process of paper making and learn from us this ancient art of how paper is made traditionally from the bark of the Argeli (Nepali language pronounced as Ar-gay-li) or Edgeworthia gardneri plant (a fast-growing plant that grows abundantly throughout Sikkim and other regions in the Himalayas). "

After a short visit to the mill, we collected some souvenirs from the shop. Mithi was particularly excited about her peacock!

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Thereafter we started towards the Ralong Monastery



The new Ralong Monastery was built in 1995.

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And is supremely located

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The fantastic four at Ralong

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The expansive courtyard is spectacular

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The friendly Monks had lots of stories to tell

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and boy did they roll in style too!

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Last edited by mi2n : 13th June 2017 at 13:30.
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Old 12th June 2017, 21:20   #7
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DAY 6 (26.05.2017) - Borong(SK) continued

Unlike other Monasteries that we have visited, there is apparently no restriction on photography inside the Ralong Monastery

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Hours passed without us noticing. We lined up to leave the Monastery

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On our way back we stopped by a waterfall

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A brief pause at the entrance of the old Ralong Monastery before we retreated to our hotel.

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Over the evening chatter, the Crysta and the Storme cancelled their return plans and decided to move on to Bhutan. That meant, the Swift and Tuffey would be the only cars to return to the plains the next day. I planned an early exit and after dinner we said our goodbyes.


DAY 7(27.05.2017) - Borong(SK) to Raiganj(WB) approx 300 kms

We left Borong by 05:30 in the morning leaving the snow peaks behind

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With every twist and turn the peaks were getting further away

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We were informed that the Swift had left Ravangla at 4 A.M. and was gunning for Kolkata. So, we took it easy and after picking up my mama from Rangpo, stopped at Melli for an elaborate breakfast. Soon, we left the hills behind and were galloping across the plains. We reached Raiganj Tourist Lodge and were treated to a trip end surprise. The seasonal birds had just arrived at the Kulik Bird Sanctuary!

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The evening was spent lazing in the large and comfortable rooms munching on tasty pakoras and narrating the details of our trip to mama. We ordered a sumptuous dinner. After dinner I went down for a stroll and spotted BHPian gmhossain's steed at the hotel parking. It was too late to knock, so I went back to our room and dozed off.


DAY 7(27.05.2017) - Raiganj(WB) to Kolkata(WB) approx 405 kms

We made another early exit but still got stuck for an hour in total at Kaliachak and Ballalpur. We stopped for breakfast at Moregram. The journey onwards was smooth apart from a patch of rougly 10 kilometers in and around Khargram where the road condition has deteriorated. Our next stop was for lunch at NH-2 barely 70 kilometers away from home. Tuffey brought us back home safe and sound by 2:45 PM.

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It was a memorable trip for us on many counts. A trip the entire team wants to relive and repeat sometimes down the line.

Thanks for reading!

Last edited by mi2n : 13th June 2017 at 13:51.
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Old 14th June 2017, 07:18   #8
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Thread moved from the Assembly Line to Travelogues. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 14th June 2017, 14:54   #9
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Awesome will be an understatement. Excellent pics and great narration.
You have very well put up the essence of this place. Rated 5*.
I have been to most of these places except Borong. A stay at Wild flower retreat looks very tempting. The layout of this resort very well complements the serenity of the place. Will definitely include Borong in my next trip to Sikkim.

This trip of yours brings back my memories from my 2015 trip to this part of Sikkim!

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Old 14th June 2017, 16:07   #10
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Beautiful travelogue! Rated 5 stars.

We visited Sikkim in Oct 2016 for a trek. Yuksom was our base camp. We had touched the foothill of Mount Pandim & almost reached till foothill of mount 'K'. Every day we spent in our trek was mesmerizing. Nature could not let us feel the pain in trekking.
In Yuksom, we had a chance to enjoy local delicacies of Sikkim & specifically 'Chang'.

We were amazed to see the driving discipline observed by the locals in Sikkim & specifically cab drivers. Sikkim has been added to my bucket list of road trip destination.
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Old 14th June 2017, 18:38   #11
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Default Re: Mystical Sikkim - Utopia here, now!

Lovely Travelogue Mi2n. The photographs are fantastic!! Haven't been W Sikkim in a while. Seeing your TL, I think my next trip will be to west.

Mithi looks happy being on a road trip !!

Keep Travelling & Keep Writing

Regards

Pawan
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Old 14th June 2017, 19:51   #12
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Lovely travelogue, the photos are excellent and the Mt K view from Yuksom are a treat to our eyes.

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Originally Posted by mi2n View Post
[u][b]DAY 1 (21.05.2017) - Kolkata(WB) to Siliguri(WB) approx 575 kms

We reached Tarku and took left for Temi. The road from Tarku to Temi is undergoing thorough widening work. In most parts deeply rutted with lots of slush. Till the time the widening work is complete it is advisable to take the Namchi-Damthang-Temi route instead. A video clip of what most part of the surface is like follows, however, in some parts, the actual condition is far worse than what appears on the footage.
Due to the road widening from Tarku, they have redirected to an alternate route through the villages which turns left about 5 kms before Tarku. It’s an awkward turn with a small signboard with an arrow with Namchi written below it. It is very easy to miss the signboard. This road is narrow but mostly tarred and takes you directly to Temi bazar. We took this road in December 2016 while visiting Temi. Its a shorter route and takes half the time.
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Old 14th June 2017, 22:15   #13
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Wow!!!
The pictures in the opening post itself had me gripped. I knew right away that my evening is going to be interesting. After that, I did not even realise how fast the clock ticked and how soon the next 45 minutes passed.
Thanks a lot mi2n for sharing your wonderful trip and the beauty of this magical land with us.

I so badly wish to visit Sikkim. But, as of now, I guess I will have to settle for "Someday man, Someday!!!"

By the way, I guess there is not a single location North or East of Kolkata where the legendary BlackPearl has not set his foot on, and not a location left where he hasn't written a log of.
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Old 15th June 2017, 00:42   #14
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This is nostalgic! Sikkim is where my heart lies and every place brings back lovely memories. Superb narration and pics @mi2n. Thanks for sharing this travelogue!

Quote:
Originally Posted by mi2n View Post

Bhpian PointZero had managed to get all the way up there. Here's the link to his relevant travelogue for ready reference:

http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...ce-sikkim.html
We had made it all the way up in 2014 August as well. It was pure 4WD territory due to the slush and mud.

http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...ml#post3530495


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By the way, I guess there is not a single location North or East of Kolkata where the legendary BlackPearl has not set his foot on, and not a location left where he hasn't written a log of.
This is embarrassing
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Old 15th June 2017, 11:37   #15
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Yet another blockbuster tblog. There is so much left to explore up East. Eastern Himalays has its own charm altogether. Lovely pictures as well. Bong Duster needs to do all these trails. Thanks a lot for sharing.
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