We moved back to Kolkata at the beginning of the year and while the ladies took a flight, I drove the K10 down from Bangalore to Kolkata. Since then, apart from the office commute and city runs, the only time she saw the highway was when we made a trip to Tajpur in June. Hailing from the south, my wife lamented the lack of quick getaway options around Kolkata. I, being born and raised in Kolkata, naturally felt obliged to defend the glory of my home state. Eventually, it boiled down to the most logical option for a denizen of Kolkata – a roadtrip to the Himalayas!
We decided to stay back in Kolkata during Durga Pujo and enjoy the revelry that we had missed for many years. I figured that we should also be able to beat the mad rush of tourists to the hills by staying back. Pujo was immediately followed by a roadtrip to Vizag to visit my in laws. I accomplished two objectives, ran in a new set of tyres (replaced the stock Bridgestones after 6 years of duty) and also collected some brownie points with my in laws. The trip to the hills was to happen a week after we came back from Vizag and despite the 1800 km roundtrip just behind us, we were raring to go.
While it was to be a Himalayan roadtrip, I did not have a specific destination in mind. Being a Bengali, Darjeeling was one of the usual suspects, more so since the wife is yet to visit. I was not keen apart from perhaps passing through on our way back. Darjeeling has been done to dust and did not want to drive up only to tear my hair out figuring out where to park. Bhutan was an exciting prospect but with the additional distance
involved, we put it on the to do list.
Thus, I had the perfect excuse to burn more hours poring through travelogues in TBHP, not that an excuse is really needed. The Kolkata chapter of TBHP has been making a serious dent in the Himalayan road tripping scene. Sedans and hatches have been making short work of treacherous mountain roads. Trawling through the TLs helped narrow Sikkim down as the most feasible choice. The last trip I had made to this tiny kingdom in the Himalayas was a couple of decades back and memories of the Tsomgo lake are still etched in memory. I needed to do more research as all that I could recall from my previous trip were Gangtok and Tsomgo. However, I knew that a readthrough of a few TLs would make me no less than a destination expert before the day was out.
The following TLs by fellow members Gearhead_mait
<https://www.team-bhp.com/forum/trave...chey-gaon.html (From Snarl to Old Silk Route : Rishi Khola, Gnathang, Kupup (East Sikkim) & Icchey Gaon)
https://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travelogues/174581-east-sikkim-sailed-through-old-silk-route-hatchbacks-sedans-thar.html> grabbed me by the eyeballs, more so because they were done in hatches. Gearhead_mait has been taking Sikkim by storm in his ‘Sherdil’ Eon and I felt an instant kinship since we drive small cars long and far. Thanks to these TLs, the east Sikkim circuit became a de facto choice, with the old silk route through Zuluk as the prime attraction. The minute detailing of routes, sights and where to stay made me lazy and our plan was woven around how these gents had traversed these parts. Out came the woolens to be mothballed before being pressed into service. Luggage space was always going to be at a premium and I solved the problem by stuffing my surplus underwear in my backpack, so that the ladies could have the lion’s share of packing space. I made a couple of calls to the homestays we planned to stay. This was an improvement over our usual practice of trying our luck at hotels without a confirmed booking.
A lot of tea has been spilt and much has been written over the state of the roads linking Kolkata to Siliguri. The straight NH34 is no longer an option and one often has to do some sightseeing in Bihar before getting a whiff of the mountain breeze. As a pujo bonus, in the run up to the festive season, repairs of the Farakka bridge was announced. The time taken to cross this crucial link over the Ganges could play Russian roulette with driving schedules. Suddenly, it seemed that we had one too many mountains to climb. Fortunately, we were going a couple of weeks after pujo, and I knew more than a few fellow forum members would drive up this route. Sure enough, updates poured in that the traffic was being managed well around the repairs and that the pain will be the same, and not more. We scurried for some last moment shopping with the ladies picking up some jumpers. I wanted to feel prepared and unable to think of anything else, bought a sturdy hammer and a bigger flashlight besides stocking up on nylon ropes. The K10 was on song during our Vizag drive and hence, I opted for a quick check at Sumanda's (Alok Automobiles) over a full fledged service. With the checklist all ticked out, we were set for an early morning departure from Kolkata on the 4th.
4th November – Kolkata to Siliguri via Bardhaman, Futisako, Moregram, Farakka
We would have left the day before on Saturday. But mid term report cards were to be handed out that day and as conscientious parents, we had to at least pretend that grades took precedence over road trips. Therefore as planned, we left our south Kolkata home at 4 AM on Sunday. I made some silly mistakes in choosing the right route out of the city, getting ourselves caught in truck traffic. We made it to Saktigarh soon after dawn to munch on some monster langchas. Dankuni approaches Great snack, just not the right time of day! Just after Moregram
Barring some confusion near the chaotic railway station at Burdwan town, the drive till Moregram was uneventful. Right after the BP COCO, I expected diversions due to Farakka repairs. I was not disappointed as entire stretches of the north bound flank had turned into parking lots for trucks. When we made it to the bridge eventually, it took me a few moments to realize that we were on Farakka, what with all the dust and trucks around. I was happily inching along when without warning, the traffic ground to a halt. And that was that for a good hour or so.
I rarely push the K10 on the highway nowadays and generally stay within the 80-90 mark. That and the bridge delay meant it was dark by the time we entered the Botolbari – Dhantola stretch. We were at Islampur around 8 pm and fumbled around looking for a municipal guest house to stay the night. Unable to locate it, we decided to make a dash for Siliguri. Checked into Hotel Vinayak on Hill cart road at around 10. Hill cart road by night
5th November – Siliguri to Rishikhola via Kalimpong and Pedong
The ladies were excited about starting the business end of the trip today. I went about the boring stuff of refueling and withdrawing cash – both are in short supply on the Silk route.
We were using a Nikon Coolpix P&S with 38x zoom along with our smartphones. The lens on the Nikon sticks out quite a bit, giving, at least to me, the impression that it’s the next best thing to a DSLR. Never mind that the photos can sometimes be out of focus. But that is down to me. Mahananda wildlife sanctuary Some lessons being dispensed, so what if its a holiday! Pehle aap
It did not feel like a dream mountain roadtrip as we limped through the congested Kalimpong traffic. At Pedong, the roads narrowed down such that I almost drove inside a school compound, not able to tell the town exit road from a side street. This is a landslide prone area and the road surface worsened as we came across three inclines one after the other. There was no tarmac, only dust and a generous few inches of it. The second incline was a monster and the K10 lost traction sliding down on the first attempt. After parking the car at the base of the rise, I did a recce on foot. I was nervous, my patchy grasp of high school trigonometry failed me and apart from coating my footwear liberally with dust, I was none the wiser. The layer of dust was dry, fine and thick. To ensure enough thrill, the gradient was liberally garnished with rocks. As I stood scratching my almost bare scalp, a youth came up on a pulsar. He was a local resident passing through and stopped when he saw us standing by a tiny hatch with a registration number far away from home. He suggested that I could try reversing the car up the slope, after building some momentum. All the aimless googling that I keep doing on automobiles also rang a bell in my head, to attempt something similar. Our good Samaritan then proceeded to dune bash his way up the slope on his Pulsar. He parked his bike and stood at the head of the incline, with an expression that said he does not have all day for this. The wife was also looking nervous, with only Joyee able to see the funny side of things.
I chose my intended line of assault, kicked a few stones out of the way and then did a 15 point turn on the narrow road to have the car facing the other way. The three cylinders roared in unison as the K10 scrambled half way up the slope, before losing traction. There was furious wheelspin, an ugly screeching and an unappetising smell of a clutch beginning to fry. I slid a bit before gunning the engine, the tires dig in and the brave K10 scurried to the crest with her bum pointing up. I was overwhelmed and pumped the hands of my guide in gratitude. He appeared bemused before dashing away in a cloud of dust.
We faced another one of these but with my tail up (figuratively) the K10 was able to sail through. We crossed a Sikkim police checkpost shortly after and were at the point where we had to park the car by the road and trek down a wooded descent to the resort by the Rishi river. After about 10 minutes, we realized that our woes were worth it We made it look harder than it was The Reshi eco resort down by the river Shot of the valley Babbling brook, glad to be able to use the phrase! Let me chew in piece
6th November – Rishikhola – Rongli – Nimachen
The first order of the day was to reach Rongli and get the permits done. The route from Rishikhola to Rongli is in good shape, especially in comparison to what we faced the previous day. Reached Rongli and asked a couple of cabbies where to go for the permits to be told that the police station issues these. Parked and went to one of the Xerox shops dotting the main street where they help you fill the form out and of course, make copies of the permit to be submitted at each of the checkposts on the way. I walked down to the end of the street to the PS with the filled in form and was granted permit through Zuluk, Gnathang and Kupup all the way to Gangtok. The process was so smooth that after the cop returned the stamped form to me, I looked back and around, wondering, that’s it?!
Our destination for the day was Nimachen, 20 odd kms from Rongli and on the old silk route. The first of the permit photocopies was handed over at a checkpost before Nimachen and with that, we also stamped our presence on the legendary route. Munched on some momoms here At Nimachen The green building is the Tsu Tsultim, our homestay at Nimachen Too tired to pose and apparently to eat as well, the meal was lovely though Fog swoops down in these parts in a blink of an eye Dusk...