Friday, January 18, 2008

Sikkim Travelogue

Finally - after so many tries, and inspiration from my friends one-shot narration - here's my Sikkim trip accounts and some pictures. Now I plan to zip up abt Sikkim for quite a while now!

22nd December Mumbai/Chennai – Delhi –Bagdogara - Gangtok

Sleepless night, early morning flight – tiring! The gang met in Delhi – made fun of and embarrassed sis (cant seem to stop myself, and in my defense she does the same!). Flights are such a drag, so whiled away Delhi to Bagdogra by wondering if we should rag the airhostesses and cracking up. Ride to Gangtok was beautiful, with Teesta for company. Decided Momos were not our ‘plate of snacks’. Our first landslide experience was a 30 min stop in the drive. Shocked by nightfall at 5.30. Dinner at 9 – we were the only souls roaming around Gangtok.

23rd and 24th December Gangtok – Lachung (stayover) –Katao –Lachung – Yumthang – Zero point –Lachung –Gangtok

Yep- Days 2/3 were a long road trip with most of the time spent inside a Mahindra Maxx with a family from Calcutta. It was a family of 6, with the 2 women nagging their men, particularly one lady yelling ALL the time. The 2 spoilt brats of daughters couldn’t have sulked more – in fact I felt like slapping them and asking them to behave- luckily, they were not my kids. The trip started of auspiciously with us and the family fighting for ‘preferred seats’ in the Maxx. And the lady continued to yell more often than not – to keep us company – until we and then the driver told her to shut up. Seriously, I would have hated myself if I kept nagging like that. Of course, for us the funny family was an added entertainment other than being a mild irritant – so no hassles.

Loved Lachung. Loved the drive from Chungthang to Lachung. The feeling of driving down to a valley surrounded by gigantic and humbling mountains was beautiful. Infact, it was “night” when we started our descent and all we could see was a cluster of lights from the village cradled between stern, tall rock faces standing like guards – it almost felt like this town was hidden from the outside –like a Shangri-la (Lost Horizon, James Hilton – I loved this book btw, and they don’t write like this anymore!).

Woke up 4 in the morning to Katao – it was once again a fantastic drive. Freezing cold morning, but still managed a quick hike beyond the final driving point. Saw sun rise over the mountains – a beautiful sight. Its lovely how the sky turns pink, peach and golden, colors I haven’t seen before on the sky. Then to Yumthang and zero point – both a slight disappointment in comparison. Lunch at Katao resorts, Lachung. Loved lazing around in the terrace, by the log shelf – the location felt like a swiss cabin house (or what I think a swiss cabin house could be!) – would have loved to spend the afternoon cuddled around a book right here on that terrace – but had to head back to Gangtok!

25th December Gangtok – Kewzing

More driving – today we were off to Kewzing. A late start and a 3-4 hours drive passing through lovely tea gardens, it was well after 4 when we reached. A welcome ‘ceremony’ in the Kewzing monsatry and a hike to our homestay. It was almost night (5:00 p.m) before we got settled. At our pleading references to “hikes”, Mr.prez took us around the village on a one –two hour hike. The lepcha monastry burning bright atop the hill was a lovely sight. A nice campfire, starry skies, a taste of ‘chang’, classic rock songs (for once loved mobile phones) finished with a hot tasty dinner.

26th December Kewzing

Today was monastery day – hiked through village – we were totally in love with these cute wooden bhutia house by now (not to mention the priceless location!). On through a cardamom forests for a nice hour to Bon Monastery’ (an older form of Buddhism, and this is one of the oldest monastry or Gompa for ‘Bon’) – then on to Lepcha monastery or Mangbrue monastery.

Our hike from Bon to lepcha was exceptional starting of behind an old colonial house passing through Stupa ruins, views of the beautiful valley and river Rangit. On the whole, a fantastic trek!

We loved this spot - I thought this point made a good suicide point - but others thought it would be too bloody.

Afternoon spent outside gazing at mountains, warming in front of fire, with what my sis calls ‘soul to soul’ conversations with her! Then a lost cell phone, a night hike (no lights except for the stars! Ok, alright, I had a small torch, though I tried to keep it shut when i could) with the search party, and a scary, scintillating village fight to spice the stay and day!

27th December Kewzing – Reshi hot springs – Tashiding Monastry – Legship –Yuksom
After goodbyes to the bhutia family and loads of last minute pics, we set of to Reshi - hot springs or tatopani were a disappointment and didnt match up to my vision of a jacuzzi in the middle of a seculded forest. Drove to Tashiding monastery. 40 min walk according to our driver took nearly 2 good hours including our breaks - headed to Yuksom, hungry and even more hungry. Maggi and rounds of literature for the night - the latter after a long long time!

28th December Kanchendzonga
Today's plan was to trek in Kahnchendznga national park. We targetted the second bridge (6km one way). Interesting route filled with lose rocks and loose mud has all concentrating on every step. I love trekking like that, where all your six senses are tuned into gauging ur next step, foothold. Tiring, but fun! Supposed to Dubdi monastry and a couple of ASI sites- gave it a pass.

29th December Yuksom - Khecheoplari - Pelling - Kalimpong
Started off to Khecheoplari. This trail was once again different from any of the other we had done - and most tiring as most of it was uphill. Lake itself wasnt very pretty. Lit lamps for wishes. Savored the truly fantastic maggi and steaming chai. Quick stop at Rabdintse. Another short hike to the palace - the palace is perched almost at the edge of mountains and the location is breathtaking. Continued to search for the Kanchendzonga peak - which proved elusive. Landed in Kalimpong when town was half asleep for a halt.

30th December Kalimpong -Malli (rafting)- silguri
Rafting started at Malli (2km from) Kalimpong to 29th mile - yep, lots of places are named in just miles like 4th mile, 5th mile! Not sure if this rafting was better than dandeli or not, though dandeli is more professionally organized, but was fun. And cold - the raft-man tells us 'u jump once, u'll want to do it over and over again' - we did ,and we realised that he meant 'if u havent frozen to death already, jump in again!'. Cold rafting followed by some hot and spicy samosa chat. Night at Silguri spent watching 'Welcome' and no the movie isnt welcome. though i was in splits mre because i was in a cranky mood rather than the movie.

The gang that went - all ready to raft

31st Back to Mumbai
And finally we were off to Mumbai. flight delay by 3-4 hours - more literature - strategising on how to handle the 45 min trfr time at calcutta for sister's chn flight. in the end, it all worked out. Spent the whole day in airports- slipped into bed, the moment i got back and slept through new years!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Not so frequently found answers on Sikkim

While planning for Sikkim, I found a lot of information on some of the popular destinations or packages like the Yumthang valley tour or the Nathulla pass tour. However, I was looking for some info beyond this and found it on one or two rare websites. So have decided to put these titbits and some knowledge gained on the trip down here –

View from Kewzing of Kabru and Narsingh

1.Sun Down by 5:30
Traveling in Decembers, the sun down time came as a shock – yea, the sun sets by 5:30and by 6 it feels like 11 in the night. And yea, in most of the places, Gangtok inclusive, most restaurants etc shut by 9. So ideally, try fighting the biting cold and waking up early to maximise your day, cos not much is possible beyond sun down!

2.Who needs Avomines???
The first thing that struck us and we all loved about Sikkim – hardly any hair pin bends. After fear of being nauseous for the whole trip, it was a pleasant shock that we didn’t feel the “uphillness” at all – not even to the levels one feels while in ooty or kodai! Ofcourse, Ofcourse, the Yumthang to Zero point stretch is an exception to the case – but otherwise, the whole drving experience turned out to be not too tiring and good fun!

3. Allocated stands for Cabs
All cabs, depending on the part of Sikkim they ply to, are segregated and have specific stands they are allocated to. So you will need to transfer to a local cab (Maruti Omni's) from these cab stands.

4. TAAS (
There is a sikkim travel agents association called TAAS. Their website lists a number of travel agents. In most cases, the travel agents suggested that we come to Gangtok and make payments - we were just asked to keep them informed in advance - may not be the case in peak season.

5. Most Landlines don’t work. So don’t bother with those.
In my case, none of the landlines I tried worked. And after 3-4 days of banging my head I gave up. My theory is that these lines are probably down due to landslides which are common in the state. And now with prevalence of mobiles, people must have stopped bothering about landlines. Mobile connectivity was good in most places.

6. Accomodation
By friend has done an exhaustive feedback on all places we stayed. You can check it out here: Sikkim for Travelers
Katao Resorts : I particularly loved this place in Lachung. It was arranged through Dreamland Tours and Travels.
Deki Lodge: This place in Sikkim was also a great pick!
Yangrigang: This is the best available in Yuksom - so says it all!

7. Dal , Chaaval and Aaloo
well, that was our meal in most places! I was quite surprised to dfind that rice instead of rotis is the staple here. And for some reason, veggies were limited to aaloo, gobi and mattar!

is an NGO which has been working towards creating homestays is several villages. I came across their Sikkim homestay program from their website . Though their website lists just Dzongu, they have it in other places such as Naitam. You can contact Mr. Adrian Parkhin from ECOSS who was also very helpful with out itinerary and trip planning.
Contact: Adrian Parkhin 9733003300

9. Kewzing Tourism Development Comittee
For Kewzing, there is a community based organization KTDC which manages the homestay program. We loved our 2 days here and I would have loved to base myself in this place for more than couple of days. The cost of homestays (not just in Kewzing) is however slightly more expensive as compared to Sikkim average standards, but the experience was worth it.
Contact : Yugen Bhutia, President, +919434865154

10.The homestays are geared largely for foreigners
I think it would be difficult for Indians to get taken in by some of the stuff as it is possible that u might have seen this in your own houses or villages. But definitely, staying in a bhutia house, hot home cooked food, campfire at night, meeting people, and hikes around the village was beautiful. We loved this place

11.Arranging Treks
Ok - everyone i spoke to kept advising me 'land up and figure it out'. While this is good advice for people who have done it before, it just left me clueless - where to look for guides, how to go about arranging it? Though, I dont think i finally figured it out completely!-

In gangtok, the regular travel agents help arrange for guides, and porters for any trek. One agent i spoke to mentioned that it was possible to get sleeping bags for hire too. Not sure if travel agents are the best option, however. One can also talk to drivers - they have good contacts.

In Yuksom, we contacted Tensing Bhutia of Yangrigang. We had vaguely heard of a one "Mr.Bhutia" who helped arrange treks - and we managed to track him down. Very helpful with planning our itenerary here. Contact : 9434164408 / 9474351279 / 03595-241217

12. Trek routes
I was looking for doing some treks which could start of near Kewzing, to avoid any more driving than necessary... these were some of the options i came up with.

  • Tendong hill trek, can be done from Damthang. From Rabongla, the road splits one way for Damthang and another for Kewzing. Kewzing to Rabongala is an hour walk. Kewzing to Damthang maybe an hour and a half drive.
  • In Kewzing, if u are halting for more number of days, there is a route to trek to reshi hot springs - 2 to 3 hours one way, i think.
  • The Reshi hot springs as such wasn't so great - it is definitely a miss, except for maybe the trek. Couldn't find info about any other hotsprings, which are more hidden and lesser known.
  • Kewzing is a good place to base yourself, if in south sikkim. You can do the oldest Bon Monastry and Lepcha Monastry from here as well. Tolung monsatry which also has a lovely "jungle walk" leadign to it can be done - but you may need to drive a bit from Kewzing.
  • From Rabongala, also there are lot of options. On a wall, there was a map painted which indicated a lake, a very tall buddha and couple of monastries in the area.
  • As for trekkking between towns, these are a few options: Yuksom - Khecheoplari, Khecheoplari - Pelling, Pelling - Yuksom - these are not mentioned in too many places. Lots of small places can be trekked, but call an agent in the area to check.
  • Khedi trek. There is a KHEDI Ecotourism & Ecodevelopment Promotion department, but like mentioned above, the landlines werent working. So couldnt fine much information. This starts from Pastenga.
  • For moderate trekkers, we were able to do 14-16 km in 7 hours which includes breaks. This I think is a good gauge for people unsure of how much they can do in a day.

13. Jeeps?
Initially, we were not able to get much info on how often jeeps ply betweent towns. But after landing up there, we found jeeps are the way to get between any two places and almost equates to public transport. But, using these local jeeps would also mean a lot of "waiting" time to get one- as i dont think these are too frequent. So, if you have a sizeable group, and are short on time, it may make sense to hire one for ur group - although you may miss the "true wing it your way" experience.

14. Seeing the Kanchejunga
I am still not sure if we saw the Kanchenjunga peak from Gangtok. I believe it is more visible from Pelling???

15. Rafting
While Malli close to Kalimpong is the most popular one, you can also do it at Legship as well as Chungthang in the North.

16. Our Best find : The perfect map of Sikkim
We found this perfect map hanging in a restaurant at Legship, and in my opinion, its the best map of Sikkim i have come across so far. Most of the maps of Sikkim i saw (online) didn't offer these many details - were there were details, the map was split into 4!!! This was the only one which showed all places i wanted to see (Temi, Damthang, Kewzing, Reshi, Rabongla...) Anyway, sadly these are not in ciculation according to the owner. Well, what else are digi cams for??!!!

15. Other Links:
The Blue Yonder ( - For sample itenararies
Arun on Sikkim : Yumthang Valley
Arun's trip report to Geochala
Mridula on Sikkim
Sikkim Trekking Tour guide - lovely trek options
FAQ from Mridula - she has a lot more posts on Sikkim, so poke around
Tendong Hill from Escape Artist
Geochala Pass Trek Account on Travelpod - here is how we tracked down Tensing Bhutia
Things to do in Sikkim

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Where dreams come true - Khecheoplari

I have been browsing my usual blog roll, and surprisingly, there seem to be very few posts dedicated to the New Year. Though not surprised, I have to say I am disappointed. It’s kind of nice to know what everyone is looking forward to as one ushers in a new year.

For me, 2007 was the year I discovered nostalgia. Not the nice reminiscence which fills ones being with warmth and happiness, but rather an yearning to go back into the past, and holding you back from enjoying the present and taking steps into the future. I have spent way too much time this year looking back. As a friend says, ‘Its too early to start looking back. More than that, to start going back. Save that for your 60’s’ – I most definitely should and will!

Anyway, it seems significant that three days shy of new years eve, we landed up in Khecheopalri Lake (Sikkim) - the significance being that this lake is considered as a “wishing lake” by the Buddhist - and the timing perfect for new wishes and resolutions. In front of the lake, is a room where people can light lamps to voice their prayers. Though not really a believer of such rites, we still liked the idea of lighting lamps as symbolic way to give fire to your dreams. So, we each lit a lamp. And I do hope all dreams, whether wished then or ever does come true!

For a year better than the last,
for new authors and books, who have so far taken me to places I could never be,
for friends, who make all the difference in this world and to this world
for new meetings, who add colour and a different perspective to life
for changes to keep me on my toes,
for new things, most importantly happy things,
and for all those wishes buried deep inside, and meant only for each of us!