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 (http://www.taasindia.com/)
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!

8. ECOSS
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 (www.blueyonder.com) - 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

9 comments:

karthik said...

you seem to be going to all the places I planned to go but couldnt make it :)

Ms.N said...

@ Karthik...
hehe - I feel like I was probably echoing those feelings sometime back! Now i am glad I do the little i do do!

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Arun said...

Useful post. Thanks for the link on homestays. Do write more on Sikkim, with pictures, wilja?

Ms.N said...

@Arun - thanks! photos coming shortly...

Girl With Big Eyes said...

It's been my dream to visit Sikkim for sometime now. Your post has rekindled it!

Ms.N said...

@girl with big eyes...
glad my post could do that!

Anonymous said...

Hi!..

An amazing write up on Sikkim....felt like being teleported there....

And above all truck loads of useful informations...

Sikkim has now become no.1 in wish list...!!

EOS

Ms.N said...

@EOS/anonymous..
:) :) :) thanks very much! and yes, sikkim is beautiful.

feel free to drop a line for info -whenever!