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Old 24th February 2019, 09:48   #1
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Default A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!

Finally after years of lurking around, I decided to become a member of this esteemed forum! Thank you to the moderators for accepting my membership request.

For my first post, let's start with a travelogue for the East Sikkim silk route! Most of the research I did before my trip was on these forums, and it is only fair that I should share my experience here.

Before I begin my travelogue, a few words about myself. I am a geologist by academic background and geophysicist by profession. I spend most of my time on a ship sailing around the world to conduct seismic surveys for Oil & Gas companies. We acquire data on offshore blocks, from which subsurface maps are created to help the O&G companies decide on drilling wells. I have been doing this for over 7 years, straight out of university. I have traveled (& worked) in almost 30 countries across the 6 continents, sailed over the 7 seas and have had loads of adventures on the way!

When I am not on a ship, I live in Calcutta. I spend most of my free time watching (or playing) football, listening to music and driving. Because of my job, I get about 5 months at home every year, and I make good use of that time to travel & drive as much as I can. The first car I bought after I got my job was a first generation Renault Duster RxL. I fell in love with that car doing the test drive and it served me well for over 4 years. When I bought the Duster, I knew I was buying it for 4 years, because I always wanted to upgrade to a proper 4x4 SUV. I went for the Duster because that was what I could afford at that stage (did test drive the Thar, but it was rejected by my family and most of my friends, as it was not practical for more than 2 people on long distances).
So, in 2017, when I had saved up enough money, I decided to upgrade to the Ford Endeavour 3.2 Titanium! I loved that car ever since it was launched and I read and re-read every post on the Endy thread(s) on Team-BHP! I was sad to see my Duster go, I held on to it for almost 2 months after I bought the Endy, but a restricted garage space meant I had to sell it. I finally sold it within my family so that I could still occasionally get to see and drive it.

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-20160601_094217_c.jpg

where I spend most of my time!

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-8.car.jpg

and where I spend most of my time when I am not sailing.

On to the travelogue now.


North Bengal and Sikkim hold a special place in my heart. The Dooars were a big part of my growing up. My grandma grew up in Jalpaiguri town, and I spent a couple of weeks at her ancestral home almost every summer holiday. The small town charm, the amazing weather, spending countless afternoons on the banks of the Teesta - all these left a mark on me growing up. I don't know if people can have a "favourite river", but Teesta would be that for me. I have since traveled over the world and seen the Mississippi, Amazon, Nile and Congo rivers, but haven't seen a river as beautiful as the Teesta. So much was my obsession with the River and the Darjeeling Himalaya region, that I ended up doing my master's dissertation on a landslide zone on the banks of Teesta. And I convinced 5 more of my friends to their dissertations on the same region, plus 2 of my friends went on to do their PhD's on that region as well!
Every year, I try to go and visit Teesta at least once, especially now that the mighty river is being tamed by all the dams coming up - who knows she might lose her beauty one day with all these constructions. In all my multiple trips to Dooars, Darjeeling and Sikkim, I had never visited East Sikkim.
Ever since I got my Endy, I wanted to do the silk route run. And what better time to do it than in winter. Less tourists mean less cars on the road, clear skies and (hopefully) some snow - seemed perfect!


The planning for the trip ran into some obstacles early on. Initially I had planned the trip with 2 of my friends from 24th-30th December. I was supposed to return from my posting on the 16th and then get everything ready for the trip in the next week. The plans were in place, my friends got their leaves from their respective places of work - but one week before we were supposed to leave, tragedy struck. One of the friends' father had a heart attack and had to be hospitalized. He was okay, but had to go for a heart-surgery. So we decided to postpone the trip for a few days. But unfortunately, the same friend was leaving for Seoul for work on the first week of January. So he dropped out of our plans altogether.
Meanwhile, there was news of heavy snowfall in Darjeeling and Sikkim around new year, and this made us even more determined to do this trip!
So me and the other friend frantically started calling up people asking them to join us - we didn't want to do it just the 2 of us, after all, more the merrier! We decided on 10th-16th Jan as the finalised dates as I couldn't put it off any longer, I had to leave for work on the 21st.
Our team of 4 was finally put together on the 8th, 2 days before we were supposed to leave. To make things easier for now, let's call my friends S - a driving enthusiast like me, and a senior journalist, M - the lady in the group and a lecturer in a city college and A - the kid in the group, studying engineering.

Meanwhile, I got my car through a mini-check up from the local garage, installed a couple of HID fog lights just in case, and also got around to install the dual channel Blacksys dashcam that I had bought from the US almost a year ago!

Day 1 - 10th January

Our initial plan was to start as early as possible and reach Siliguri by night. There was some uncertainty about the Farakka situation, so we wanted to have extra time in our hands.
But as always, things don't go according to plan! In response to the all-India Bandh called on 8th & 9th, the Bengal govt cancelled all leaves for its employees from 7th-10th. That meant M had to sign in for work or she would be show-caused. So, we delayed our start to 10 a.m, so that M could go to her college and sign-in. This meant we had to face the city traffic, and by the time we finally crossed the Dankuni toll plaza, it was already mid-day.

Our plan for the silk route was still flexible. Since it was totally off-season, we didn't book any accommodation. We originally wanted to start from Gangtok, get the permits for Nathu La and the silk route and then do the route from North to South. With that in mind, I started calling up hotels in Gangtok and asked them if they could help us with the permits. The general reply I got was it is more difficult and time consuming to get the permits in Gangtok, it would be easier to get it in Rongli. Still we were determined to start from Gangtok, because we wanted to include Nathu La. In stepped S with his high profile contacts through his work. He made a few calls, and we were told that permits could be arranged without a problem, but the road from Gangtok to Nathu La is blocked from excessive snowfall and is not going to open for at least 2 more days! The northern part of the silk route was blocked off too. So, straightaway our decision was made for us: We will get the permits in Rongli and drive till where we are allowed to and then turn back.

Our Day 1 drive was pretty straight forward. Took the tried and tested Barddhaman - Khargram - Morgram - Farakka route. Road conditions were mostly good (although the Morgram stretch connecting SH7 to NH114A - NH12 is still a nightmare). Had our lunch in Hotel Shanti near Khargram - highly recommended, that is our go to place on this route.
We reached Farakka at around 7pm. About 5 kms before Farakka, we were diverted to the opposing lane by Police, as the Northward Lane was being used to park Trucks. Drove up to Farakka on the opposite lane and was then directed to a smaller queue of around 15 private cars and small goods vehicles. As you might now, due to repairs on the bridge, only one direction of travel is being allowed at a time. When we reached there, it was the south-bound lane that was open, so we had to wait for about 40 minutes before the North-bound lane opened. After that it was pretty smooth up to Malda town, where we faced moderate traffic.

At this point we decided we won't try to make it to Siliguri on that day, in case we have trouble getting accommodation after midnight, especially with a lady in our group. Our initial plan was to stop at Raiganj Tourist Lodge, but that was dropped because of a past experience of one of my friends who found the gates closed and no one responding after 8pm in Raiganj. We crossed Malda, and stopped on a Patha Sathi Motel (located opposite Golden Park Hotel). This was the first time I stayed in Patha Sathi, I have stopped there before for meals and always found them excellent. The rooms in Patha Sathi were quite big, but not well maintained at all. The toilets were spacious with geyser which didn't work. But it was comfortable enough, and all we needed was a bed to crash in! These Patha Sathis are run by women from nearby villages, who cook and clean the rooms and also maintain the motel. There was not a single man working in this one!
We paid the 800 rupees for the rooms, and had a nice dinner and called it a night.

We had travelled around 350kms, in 9 hours with numerous breaks in between. The route we followed was:
A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-route_day1.png


Day 2 - 11th January

We got up early had breakfast and was ready to leave by 7.30. Thankfully there was not much fog on the road. Our destination for the day was Kalimpong. The plan was to reach Siliguri by afternoon, have lunch and then on to Kalimpong.

My friend S always insists on filling up the car in COCO pumps. So, although we still had enough fuel to take us to Siliguri at least, we topped up the tank from a COCO pump a kilometer away from Patha Sathi. Thereafter, we started noticing a strange flapping sound everytime the car sped up. For the life of us, we could not figure out where the sound was coming from! We stopped at a road-side tyre shop and asked the guy to have a look - even he could not find anything. I took the wheel from S to see if I could feel it from the driver's seat. After 5 minutes, I was sure that the sound was coming from the sun-roof, although we could not find anything stuck there. I just opened and closed the sun-roof 3 or 4 times and then the sound went away! I guess I was wary of the sun-roof from the beginning because I had had trouble with it in the last year (the water draining channel from the sun-roof got blocked and during the rains water started leaking into the cabin).
Then on, the drive was smooth. Took the Botolbari-Dhantola route on to Islampur and then Siliguri. Google Maps suggested me to take the Bagdogra-Darjeeling More - Sevoke Road route, but I was determined to try out the Fulbari by-pass. I asked at the toll booth before the bypass if the road was ready and he said yes. Parts of the road are still in construction, especially a flyover to negate a level-crossing, but most of it is in amazing condition! It is almost like a runway and you have to be careful you don't get carried away with your speed! In no time we were in Fulbari More, and from their we took the Google Maps suggested route on to Sevoke Road - big mistake, should have taken the longer, but faster Eastern Bypass route. We got stuck in heavy traffic and were down to creeping pace. We were all very hungry at this point, and finally when we were free from the traffic we noticed a swanky new mall called Vega just before Salugara. Just what we needed - a proper parking space, good food and clean toilets.

Refreshed and replenished, it was about 4pm when we were back on the road again to Kalimpong. The road onwards was pretty straightforward, and one that I have traveled countless times before, so wasn't expecting any surprises. But our plans of reaching Kalimpong by nightfall were soon put to rest as we had to cope with a steady traffic of cars and trucks all the way up to Teesta Bazaar.

On the way, I took a small pit-stop at Birik Landslide, my dissertation as I always do when I am traveling here! area

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-20190111_161523.jpg

The bend in Teesta at Birik

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-20190111_161659.jpg

A fold visible, the landslide zone is just to the right of this.

We called up Morgan house on the way and booked 2 rooms. It was almost 7pm by the time we reached Kalimpong, and it was difficult to follow Google maps suggested roads in the dark. We got lost for a bit, but got back on to the correct track and reached Morgan House in no time.
Though I have been to Kalimpong 4/5 times before, this was the first time I was staying in Morgan House and I absolutely loved it! Absolutely recommended to anyone traveling to Kalimpong.

A few drinks and a hearty meal later, we were all fast asleep.

The route we took on Day 2:
A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-route_day2.png

Day 3 - 12th January

Had an early breakfast and we were ready to leave at 9am. Our plan for the day was get to Rongli, get the permits and then on to Phadamchen for the night.
Before we left, we took a few pictures of the beautiful Morgan House:
A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-img20190119wa0026.jpg
A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-img20190119wa0034.jpg

For our route, we had 2 options: go via Algarah-Pedong up to Rongli, or go down to Teesta Bazar and then to Rangpo and take right to meet the first route at Rhenock. The first route is by far the shorter, but I had read reports that it was not in a good shape. I asked a taxi driver who was waiting in Morgan House which route I should take, and he told me to go via Pedong as the roads were all in good shape. So I decided to follow his advice.
A statutory warning here: Do not go by only Google Map in hill towns like Kalimpong, it is very easy to lose your way. It is much better to ask locals for information. Also, if you know a few words and understand a little Nepali, it really helps in this region. Knowing Nepali is not a requirement, you can get by with Hindi, but the locals appreciate it if us plains-people show our effort to learn their language and they are more helpful. Even small things like calling someone "Daju" instead of "Bhaiya" or "Boini" instead of "didi" matter.

As the taxi-driver had said, the Algarah-Pedong roads were mostly in good condition, and we made good time on that road. We had to stop at the WB-SK border check-post in Reshi and had our details taken down at both sides of the border.

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-img20190119wa0018.jpg
The Endy parked at the SK side checkpost.

I asked the police posted at SK side about the permits at Rongli, if he knew if the roads were open or not, will we have any trouble getting permits etc... He told us that since we are driving a private car with a white number-plate it straight away meant we had an all-India permit to drive. So the Rongli permit is just to take down our details and for the army to check. It is not really a "permit", as we did not need one. That was an excellent way of putting things down, and quite different from what you would hear if you called up a Sikkim tourism office and asked if you can drive your own car!

We continued on that road towards Rhenock. The roads on the Sikkim side are excellent and much wider than the WB side. There is a petrol pump at Rhenock 4-point junction, we decided to refuel here as Google suggested it was the only petrol pump on the silk-route section. Just after crossing this, before Rhenock village, we were stopped at a road block. We were told that the roads will be closed all day due to repairs and we have to take the Aritar de-tour for Rongli. The Aritar detour comes back and joins the Rhenock-Rongli road about 5kms from where the road-block was, but the detour itself is over an hour! The road condition on the detour is decent, but it is quite narrow and steep. And sections of this road are missing from Google Maps, so we had to stop and ask a couple of times. But this gives an excellent opportunity to visit the Aritar lake, though we skipped that as we wanted to reach Rongli as soon as possible.
We reached Rongli at around 1pm and set about to get the permits.

Getting the permits for silk route at Rongli:

The whole episode went way smoother than any of us anticipated! As soon as we reached Rongli, we parked the car in the Bazaar parking area and I headed to the Police Station. The Police Station is on the left side of the road as soon as you enter Rongli after crossing the bridge on the Rangpo - you can't miss it. I went inside and spoke to the policewoman on duty. She asked me if I was the owner of the car and if everyone had ID proof and a picture. I replied in the affirmative and she said permits will be done no problem. But to get them, we had to go to a travel agent, as they are the only ones authorised to apply for the permit, an individual cannot do so. There are 3 or 4 travel agents in the bazaar, you can go to any of them. They took 300 rupees as their fee and filled up our forms. For documents, we had to give 1 photo and a xerox of DL/Voter-ID/Passport - Aadhar doesn't work here. For the car, they only asked for a copy of the insurance, and nothing else. Armed with these documents, we went back to the police station. We asked for a permit for RN & JN roads, which is basically the entire silk route up to Gangtok (RN - Rongli - Nathu La road, JN - Jawaharlal Nehru road, running from Gangtok to Nathu La). But the lady said she can only allow us up to Lung Thung check post, as everything beyond it is still closed due to snow. We tried to negotiate saying that we will turn back if there is snow, but if the roads clear tomorrow we would like to go all the way. She refused and said the army has explicitly asked not to give permits beyond where the roads were open. Apparently tourists before had misused the permits and got stuck in the snow. My friend S, the journalist, tried to convince her by showing his Press Card, and here the lady just lost it! She said never to show his Press Card again, especially to the army or else they would not cooperate with us. She went on a long rant in Nepali about how some journalists had shown the army and Sikkim police in bad light when some tourists got stuck in North Sikkim last year, and from then on they were wary of any journalists.
So we had to be content with our permits till Lung Thung, but the policewoman said that we could go on, if the army check post allowed us to.

We decided to get our lunch in Rongli before proceeding towards Phadamchen. Over bowls of steaming Thukpa and momos, we called up a homestay in Padamchen to book 2 rooms.

After lunch, we got back on the road and made our way slowly towards Phadamchen. The roads were still quite good, but the ascent from Rongli is steep. At Lingtam, we had to stop to show our papers to the army check post. By the time we reached Phadamchen, the clouds had already started to come down and drape the valleys, if we were another hour late, we would have lost all visibility on the road. We had a little trouble finding our homestay, as it was a little bit off the main road. To complicate things, cell network is almost non-existent here! We finally reached our home stay, Tashi Delek Home Stay. Again, highly recommended, this comes with excellent views looking out towards the valley. We were charged 750 per head for room and food.

The temperatures dropped to freezing as soon as it was dark. Our hosts organised a bon-fire for us, which was much needed! By the side of the fire, we had a nice chat with our hosts over a few drinks. They told us about Sikkimese history, especially the history of Sherpas in Sikkim.
We asked them about the road and where we could go the next day. They said the roads were still closed and we can't go beyond Lung Thung. We could still drive to Thambi view point, and maybe stay in Zuluk, or maybe even in Lung Thung which has a couple of home stays. But they discouraged us as the temperatures up there reach -10 to -15 degrees Celsius at night and the homestays are all very small without any heater or hot water facilities. But we still wanted to try! So our host said that he would hold our rooms for us the next day, if we couldn't find a decent place to stay in Zuluk or Lung Thung, we could come back and stay in Phadamchen.

A few pics of our bonfire:
A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-20190112_204117.jpg

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-img20190119wa0017.jpg

We went off to bed by 10pm, still not knowing what the next day holds for us!

Our route for the day:
A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-route_day3.png

Continued in the next post...

A few pics to whet your appetite!
A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-9.car.jpg
A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-12.carstop.jpg
A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-13.road.jpg
A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-16.road.jpg
A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-18.road.jpg
A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-24.kupup_elephant_lake.jpg

Last edited by 1987 : 24th February 2019 at 13:11. Reason: grammar and formatting
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Old 24th February 2019, 12:54   #2
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Default re: A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!

Day 4 – 13th January

We were all up and ready to leave by 9am. Had a quick breakfast at the homestay, where our hosts reminded us that they would love to host us back if we didn’t find a place to stay that night. They even tried to call an acquaintance who has a home-stay in Lung Thung for us but couldn’t reach his phone.

Soon we were on the road, our plan was to go till where we could safely go, or till where the army allowed us and then turn back and look for a place to stay overnight. With that in mind we proceeded along the beautiful silk route.
About half an hour after leaving Phadamchen, we were in Zuluk, and that’s where we first saw snow! There was not much snow, just specks on the road side, but it was enough to make us hungry for more. We went up the steep switchbacks, stopping a few times to take pictures of the beautiful Zuluk village below us.

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-1.leaving-zuluk.jpg

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-3.switchbacks.jpg

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-zuluk_pano.jpg

A few miles before Thambi, we got our first glimpse of the snow-clad Kanchenjunga range.

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-2.first-view-mt.jpg

We could already see the clouds coming in, so we sped up towards Thambi view point. All this while, the car thermometer was hovering around 0 degrees even in the bright day light. Soon, we reached Thambi. Although the Kanchenjunga range was partially obscured by clouds now, it was still breath-taking! There was the range on one side, and the switch-backs leading down to Zuluk on the other.

A few pics from Thambi;

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-4.thambi_mt.jpg

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-5.thambi_switchback.jpg

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-6.thambi_dog.jpg

The amount of snow by the road side kept increasing as we went higher up the road, but still the road was free from any snow. We got back on our cars and continued our journey to Lung Thung.
At Lung Thung check post, there was a small col leading up to a hill where the army had their communications post, and all this was covered in snow. We got down and asked permission to go to the hill to take some pictures and we were allowed to do so. While there, we showed our permits, and asked if it would be possible to go ahead. The guys told us that since we have come this far, we should definitely go see Baba Harbhajan Singh’s bunker, which was another 30-45 minutes’ drive away. They told us that there is snow on the roads, but if we drive slowly and carefully, it should not be any problem.

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-7.lungthu_icicles.jpg
Icicles forming at Lung Thung check post.

Thus encouraged, we continued onwards. About 500 metres from the check post, we went around a hill, and there in front of us was a winter wonderland! There was thick snow either side of the road, and we could see that the snow was cleared from the roads to make way. Where the sun was shining, most of the snow on the roads had melted away anyways, but on the shades, we had to be careful as there was still some ice on the roads. A few minutes later, even the roads were under snow, and we had to carefully drive, sticking to the tracks made before us by army trucks.
A few kilometres on, there was wide clearing next to the road, and it was covered in snow. We saw a few tourist cars stopped there, and people playing around in the snow. We stopped here as well, to join in the fun!

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-14.road.jpg

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-15.road.jpg

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-10.car.jpg

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-11.car.jpg


Meanwhile, we could see army gypsies and 4x4 trucks coming down, all with snow chains on their tyres. We stopped one of these trucks and asked them if it was okay for us to continue. He said the same thing as the guards in Lung Thung: We should definitely continue till Baba’s bunker as we have come this far.
It was already noon at this point, and we had to quickly take a decision on where we wanted to stay the night, because if we got delayed, there was absolutely no way we should be driving in these snowy roads after dark. And even if we found a home-stay here, the day time temperatures were -6 degrees, didn’t think we could survive there at night without proper Alpine gear! We decided to go till Baba’s bunker any ways as we were so close to it.
Few kilometres on there was an army checkpost. There, a tourist Xylo was parked (this was the last civilian vehicle we saw on the road). I got down to talk to the driver. He said that Baba’s bunker was another 2 kilometers from there, but he refused to drive on the snow in his 2WD car. So his passengers had decided to walk up to there, and he was waiting for them! He tried to discourage as well, but we were adamant to go at least go till the bunker.
We continued and reached the bunker in another 10-15 minutes. Later on we realised we forgot to take any pictures here at all in the bitter cold! Anyhow, we went up the steps to pay our respects to Baba Harbhajan Singh. We had to take of our shoes and walk up about 2 storeys barefoot in sub-zero temperatures! Our feet went numb after that, but still we were only there for the day, our army has to survive there for months on ends.
We had a quick snack of pakodas and samosas with piping hot tea at the army canteen there. There was an army Captain passing by and he got talking to us, since we were the only tourists around. He told us that he was driving down from Gangtok and the roads had been cleared of snow that morning. He was impressed that we were the only car that made it to Baba’s bunker that day, and told us if we have come this far, we can go all the way without a problem. We would have to drive slowly on the snow for another hour till we reached Kupup, and then on, the roads were all clear. He even gave us tips on how to drive safely in these roads.
With his good wishes, we decided to carry on. Slowly we drove on towards Kupup. Everything was covered in snow all around us and it was absolutely gorgeous.

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-17.road.jpg

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-19.road.jpg

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-20.frozen_waterfall.jpg

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-21.road.jpg

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-22.road.jpg

Elephant Lake near Kupup:

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-23.kupup_elephant_lake.jpg

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-25.kupup_elephant_lake.jpg


We made it to Kupup around 4 o’clock and stopped at the army check post. The army man patrolling the post turned out to be a Bengali guy from Barddhaman. He was surprised to see a civilian vehicle, that too being driven by guys from Calcutta! We told him that our permits were only till Lung Thung, but we were told by the jawans at earlier checkposts that we could continue till Gangtok. He turned out to be a big help, he made a call to the next check post and asked the road conditions. He then gave them our car registration number and requested that we be allowed to go all the way till Gangtok! True to his & the captain's words, we did not get any snow on the road after Kupup. Till about Chhangu we got a lot of snow, but the roads had all been cleared during the day.

We were really in debt to all the jawans that day who first allowed us, and then encouraged us to complete the whole silk route! Without their support, we would have turned back from Lung Thung and missed the entire spectacle of the route.

Next on our route was the New Baba Mandir, near Nathu La. We made a quick stop there. The army was having Lohri celebrations, and they invited us to join them, but it was already getting late, and we wanted to get a glimpse of Chhangu Lake before it was dark, so we respectfully declined.
There was a couple of tourist vehicles here, who were doing the Gangtok – Chhangu – Nathu La – Baba Mandir circuit, and they were surprised to see us coming down from the other direction. The drivers asked us how the roads were, and hearing our stories, the tourists all wanted to go that way too!!

Pit stop at New Baba mandir:
A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-26.baba_mandir_new.jpg

We moved on from Baba Mandir and left the road to Nathu La on our right and made our way towards Chhangu lake and Gangtok. Chhangu was totally frozen. We stopped to take a few pictures, but since it was after hours, we were not allowed to enter the rest area. So after a quick stop, made our way towards Gangtok.

First view of Chhangu Lake:
A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-27.chhangu_first.jpg

Chhangu Lake:
A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-28.chhangu.jpg
A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-29.chhangu.jpg

Icicles on the car!
A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-30.icicles_car.jpg


The rest of the journey to Gangtok was without anything of note. We were a bit worried that we might be stopped by police to check our permits, since our official permits still stated Lung Thung, and we only had a verbal agreement with the army. But nothing of that sort happened, and we checked in to our hotel in Chandmari area or Gangtok at around 7 pm.

Our route on day 4:

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-route_day4.png

Day 5 – 14th January

We decided to keep this as a rest day and start back towards Calcutta on the 15th. So we slept in, and then slowly made our way towards MG Marg for some food and shopping.
We had our lunch in Nimtho on MG Marg. This is an absolutely gorgeous restaurant that serves local, Nepali and Tibetan cuisine (including local alcohol). The food is lip-smackingly good – highly recommended.

Only thing of note would be this interesting sign board I saw on the way:

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Day 6 – 15th January

We started our way back down at around 10 am. Our plan was to stop for the night in Raiganj Tourist Lodge. On the way, I booked the rooms online.
The journey was without anything worth mentioning. We stopped at Sevoke for our lunch. This time we took the Eastern By-Pass and avoided the Siliguri traffic, having learnt our lesson the last time. There is a COCO pump at Fulbari More, where we filled up the tank again. Then followed the Fulbari by-pass – Islampur – Dhantola – Botolbari – Raiganj route and we were in our rooms by 8 pm.

The route we took:

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-route_day6.png

Day 7 – 16th January

The final day of the trip. We started from Raiganj at 9 am, then got royally stuck at Malda bypass! It took us almost an hour to cross Malda. But Farakka was a breeze. Like last time, we were directed by the police to the oncoming lane about 3 kms before the bridge, then at the mouth of the bridge we were led to the front of the queue of trucks. The south bound lane was moving at the time, so we wasted not time at all in the queue and were across the bridge in 15 minutes. That was the quickest I have ever crossed Farakka!

The rest of the route was familiar to us, so we sped on. Reached Khargram around 4pm and stopped for lunch at our trusted Shanti Hotel again. After the pit-stop we were back on the road for our last stretch. Faced some moderate evening traffic in Barddhaman, but wasn’t too bad, and once we were on Durgapur expressway, sped back home.

Sunset over fields of mustard:

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-20190116_164729.jpg

Final odo reading:

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-20190116_211916.jpg

The route we took:

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-route_day7.png

All in all, it was a great trip and we got to see more than we had hoped for. And it was all down to the support and encouragement of the army on the silk route. Even when the locals tried to discourage us, they egged us on and gave us the confidence that we could complete the route.

Hope you have enjoyed this account!

Last edited by 1987 : 24th February 2019 at 13:21. Reason: grammar and formatting
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Old 24th February 2019, 17:25   #3
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Old 24th February 2019, 19:11   #4
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Beautiful travelogue with nice pictures! The time you chose to travel was great as there are very less tourists during this time. Your Endy looks very nice in silver. What are those auxillary lights?
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Old 24th February 2019, 21:19   #5
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Fantastic travelogue and great pics of your car in snow. Awesome way to kick-start your journey in team-bhp!
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Old 25th February 2019, 06:37   #6
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Beautiful travelogue with nice pictures! The time you chose to travel was great as there are very less tourists during this time.
Thanks!

Yes, I always prefer travelling to the mountains in winter. You can see them in their full glory, and with much less tourists around. Especially this winter with the unusually heavy snowfall and blocked roads around new year's, there was even less tourists.

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What are those auxillary lights?
They are 7 inch 55 watt Xenon HID lights that I fitted a couple of days before I left, just in case we encountered heavy fog.
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Old 25th February 2019, 09:38   #7
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Default Re: A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!

Superb travelogue 1987 coupled with great pictures. Brings back memories of our trips to Silk route in 2016 & 2017 in our Duster AWD. They Endy looks superb in those snowy vistas.

1. Was the car always in control or did it fishtail or slide sometimes ?

2. How did the AT perform in the hills ?

3. If I read is correct, you got an FE of 8.5 kpl right ?

Sorry for blasting you with so many questions.

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Road conditions were mostly good (although the Morgram stretch connecting SH7 to NH114A - NH12 is still a nightmare).
Next time take a right from Panchgram on SH7 & then left from Nabargram to join NH114A.

Keep traveling & Keep writing !!

Cheers,

Pawan
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Old 25th February 2019, 11:22   #8
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Default Re: A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!

Hello 1987,

Welcome to the forum, and a nice travelogue to start off with. Amazing pictures, I must say.

Yes, I must agree with you. I love winter road trips as well. As you said, lesser tourists, and comparatively, traffic free roads. And no better car to do it in than the Endeavour. Do read my travelogue on a winter road trip across Scotland.

Looking forward to more such travelogues from you.

Cheers.
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Old 25th February 2019, 11:27   #9
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1. Was the car always in control or did it fishtail or slide sometimes ?
It was always in control. The snow was mostly fresh powdery snow, not much black ice, so it wasn't much of a problem.
The army drivers instructed us to keep the car in 1st gear and use engine braking at hair-pin bends, instead of the brakes. So I put the car in "S" mode and basically let it creep, avoiding the accelerator as much as possible.

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2. How did the AT perform in the hills ?
It takes a bit getting used to, especially going downhill. Uphill is a breeze, the 3.2 is a monster of an engine, and sometimes it would pull up a slope in 3rd gear from standstill without a problem.

Last year Feb I did a Darjeeling - Kalimpong - Rishop drive and basically learned how to handle the AT going downhill there. I almost burned out my brakes in the Ghoom - Teesta Bazar descent, I was just letting the car roll down in D with no accelerator input and braking at the turns to slow down. When we got down at the Teesta view point before Teesta Bazar, the tires were smelling of burnt rubber and there was smoke coming out of the brake shoes! Got a bit scared there, just waited till the brake shoes were cool enough to touch before continuing. Learnt my lesson there, from then on I only use the S mode in hills, especially going downhill, and then manually shifting down to control the speed going into turns rather than braking.
Worked like a charm this time, didn't face any problems.

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3. If I read is correct, you got an FE of 8.5 kpl right ?
Yes! Got about 9.5-ish in the wider highway sections like the Durgapur Expressway, fell to around 9 on SH-7 and Botolbari-Dhantola routes.
On the hills it was hovering around 8.

I get around 7.5-8 kmpl in city traffic.


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Next time take a right from Panchgram on SH7 & then left from Nabargram to join NH114A.
Thanks for the tip!
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Old 25th February 2019, 15:24   #10
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Ever since I got my Endy, I wanted to do the silk route run. we had to go to a travel agent, as they are the only ones authorised to apply for the permit, an individual cannot do so. There are 3 or 4 travel agents in the bazaar, you can go to any of them. They took 300 rupees as their fee and filled up our forms. For documents, we had to give 1 photo and a xerox of DL/Voter-ID/Passport - Aadhar doesn't work here.
Welcome to the Family and congrats for the Endeavour. It's one of the most capable SUV available in the market. I too am planning a Road trip to Sikkim next month and have been advised to use Taxi from Gangtok as they donot give permits for private cars unless we know someone in Army. Was it because of the low season you got the permit from Rongli or is it normal to get the permits from there and are these permits valid for trip to Lachen/ Gurudongmar/ Zero pint as well?

Can you share details of the agent that you used to check the present day situation?
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Old 25th February 2019, 17:14   #11
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Welcome to the Family and congrats for the Endeavour. It's one of the most capable SUV available in the market. I too am planning a Road trip to Sikkim next month and have been advised to use Taxi from Gangtok as they donot give permits for private cars unless we know someone in Army. Was it because of the low season you got the permit from Rongli or is it normal to get the permits from there and are these permits valid for trip to Lachen/ Gurudongmar/ Zero pint as well?

Can you share details of the agent that you used to check the present day situation?
This is not true, you can get permit for private vehicles as long as you are not carrying too many people. If the passengers are your family members, no one will stop you.
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Old 25th February 2019, 18:29   #12
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Mod note: Please avoid quoting entire large post for short replies. Thanks.

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Finally after years of lurking around, I decided to become a member of this esteemed forum! Thank you to the moderators for accepting my membership request.


Welcome to the Family and Great Travelogue to start off your journey as a member.

Last edited by Jaggu : 25th February 2019 at 18:37. Reason: Trimming large quote. Thanks.
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Old 25th February 2019, 20:19   #13
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What a terrific way to start your journey in TeamBhp!
Welcome on-board. Will look forward to meet you and your steed on a Kolkata TeamBhp meet.

Loved the way you narrated the story, backed up by some lovely pics. Every SUV owners dream to go for such trips. Will wait for many more such travelogues from you in the future.

Rated 5*.

Clicked during our East Sikkim trip in March 2016.

A winter drive on the East Sikkim Silk Route in the Endeavour...and an introduction!-12920458_1043042292434330_7428307663666583059_n.jpg

Last edited by Samba : 25th February 2019 at 20:25.
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Old 25th February 2019, 21:59   #14
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Beautiful travelogue and amazing pics. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 25th February 2019, 22:46   #15
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Welcome on board. I totally understand the Jalpaiguri and Teesta part. I too have my roots at Jalpaiguri, though somehow my favourite river of that part is Karala, which meanders through the town. I am sure we will have the pleasure of more such travelogue of the region from you. And as an added bonus, the way of life in your exploration ship, the experiences. Really interested to learn that. Do enlighten us.

Last edited by sbanerjee : 25th February 2019 at 22:48. Reason: Adding point
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