Trip to Gangtok
Kolkata to Gangtok Trip
Autumn in India has got its own wings. Nuh! Not because of the azure sky that stretches from the Himalayas in the North to Kanyakumari in the South and from the Rann of Kutch in the west to the Deltaic Islands in the East but for the festive mood that commence from Ganesh Chaturthi and continues till the festival of lights, Diwali. Last year I was in the grandeur of the world's biggest Autumn festival, The Durga Puja, in Kolkata with my family and friends. We usually don't hop pandal to pandal but our mood during this festival vows to a get together with glasses of spirit, tandoori shrimp and the bright rays of the illuminated streets. That day was an unusual get together and unfortunately with my family. So expecting a spirited mood was out of question rather I was thinking of a sound sleep. But slowly the discussion over the regional soaps and serials that was aerating in my house picked up four undesirable mind out from the satellite box. I, my cousin sister Esha and her parents decided to move out of the regional parody and to find out our significance of being human. I was much keen to discuss on Esha's budding affairs and being her elder brother I loved to pull her leg. The decent and the polite girl used to tolerate my pranks like digesting unhygienic food, her parents being the sole encouraging spectators. Anyways we picked up our dinner and went straightaway to the terrace under the dim sky reflecting the city hues.
Few days back my other cousins had a weekend getaway to Darjeeling. Unfortunately I couldn't join them because of work pressures and all. Esha and I were then busy checking out their snaps from my mobile. I wonder how much luck one should have to take a glance of Mt. Everest from Tiger Hill. Well according to me... if you have a true heart... then luck is just a mere unconditional word in the dictionary. If one can brush off the saccades of the masses of people buzzing around then one can even beat the far-fetched snow capped towering peaks of Mt. Lhotse and Mt Makalu and capture a sight of Mt Everest or Sagarmatha as it is known to the Nepalese. Stretch your eyes further to the east and you can enjoy the spectacular view of the Kanchenjunga family. 'Wow...Esha! Just check this out... Anjishnu captured miles in a 8 inches frame...phewww...' I expressed and Esha avowed, 'beautiful.' Anjishnu's 'Darjeeling Weekendgraphy' made me to draw my own mythical album of some breathtaking sights of Himalayan peaks. 'Esha... what do you say...?' … though my words were incomplete but Esha read my eyes and replied, '… Darjeeling... in October will be too crowded...'. I added, 'Gangtok?' Well it takes less than a day to reach Gangtok from Kolkata. Even one can find easy means of transport from Kolkata to Gangtok. Anyways our luck favored us when my uncle and aunt both supported us for an Autumn getaway to the land of some high altitude lakes, monasteries and the heathen culture of the Nepalese, Bhutanese and Lepchas.
The following morning, just after the taking the vows (aarti), I kick-started my chagrined Yamaha to get hold of some Gangtok Tour Packages from some nearby travel agents who also organizes sightseeing in Gangtok as well as deal with budget hotels in Gangtok. Well… I was aware of all the expenses as well as the route but my noetic mind didn’t allow me to take the risk that time. Planning a holiday with family is a matter of prestige than planning with friends. Hence I picked up some brouchers and straightaway steered my wheels back to home. ‘Esha… where is uncle? I need to discuss with him…’ before I could convey her the message… my dad smartly nosed, ‘What you guys are cooking?’… I indirectly and honestly replied, ‘…Momos… Khabe ki? (Momos… would you like to have some?)’ My dad further intruded seeing the brouchers in my hand, ‘what’s all this about? You guys are planning a trip to Gangtok or what? Who is going to bear the expenses? Your dad?’ Well… there I got a point to make a fool out of him… though it was a peak tourist season but I was getting some exciting hotel booking offers on hotels in Gangtok from the travel agents. ‘Dad… don’t worry… we are looking for budget hotels and few agents are giving 50% PUJA DISCOUNT that will cut our trip to a nickel-and-dime wallet…’ Well the plan worked but my dad was bit surprised and exclaimed,’50%!!!’ Truly speaking 50% off on hotel during Autumn and that also on hotels in Gangtok was out of the question and my dad was aware of that but somehow he ignored it and added, ‘who else are into this mess…’ I laughed and said, ‘Esha’s parents…’ There I skillfully glanced a sixer on my dad’s swinger. ‘Swairik…’ my uncle called me down the stairways… ‘Ya… coming…’ After an hour research on google my uncle smartly designed his own itinerary that appeared competitive enough against the brouchers. Anyways… hashing out whole lot of opinions we reserved our berth on tatkal quota in Teesta-Torsa Express from Howrah to New Jalpaiguri for 17th of October 2012. Thereafter I called up an agent to book one of the best hotels in Gangtok for couple of nights though our plan was a long-drawn-out one – 2 nights in Gangtok followed by Pelling-Ravangla and Darjeeling. That day the azure sky just fetched me to get hold of an ethereal exposure of our holiday in Gangtok with a fancy diorama of the Kanjenjunga Peak and its surrounding towering snowcapped peaks that educes an adhering shadow upon the Lesser Himalayan Biosphere.
The train whistled to a halt two hours late from its scheduled arrival time at New Jalpaiguri Railway station. It was pitch-dark outside except the lights in the railway station. The chilling breeze forced us to head for the waiting room. ‘Strange isn’t it?’ Esha wondered taking out her jacket from her rucksack. Staring at her poor and helpless daughter my aunt stated, ‘…be ready for the bleak winds playing in the Himalayas…’ and she continued to remind her, ‘…hope you have packed your medicines…’ Anyways we waited for the dawn, though it was already 4 but things there after arriving in New Jalpaiguri have changed. Losing my patience, yawning over an hour, I decided to check out if there were any mode of transportations available that time of the day. I found few shops were open and few people, I guessedtruck drivers, were getting ready to head somewhere. I asked a shopkeeper, ‘dada… Gangtok’er gari kakhan pawa jabe? (Bro… at what time I can expect transportations for Gangtok?)’ He pointed me out two people resting inside a Tata Sumo and moved I on to wake them up and asked, ‘areye..bhaiya…Gangtok chalogey? (hey dude… would you drive to Gangtok?)’ Though his eyes were lacking visibility to see my face but his eardrums were clean enough to listen and maneuvered his boodle brain to clamor, ‘chalunga… paanch hazar…’ I felt to give him a wake up kick but my humanity controlled my exhausted legs nonetheless my filthy mouth poured out a certified Bengali slang that worked upon. ‘ha to paanch hazar…ha? Bhai Gangtok jana hai… Gangotri nehi…’ I had this idea that it takes hardly 3-4 hours from New Jalpaiguri to Gangtok and that costs after a great deal approximately to Rs. 2500. But that guy screwed my becalmed nerve to a revolutionary mind and that morning I had decided that if I go to Gangtok…I will be going in his cab only and that also not more than my knowledgeable cost. Though I had an option to head further 3-4kms from where buses ply from Siliguri to Gangtok but at that hour it was a foolish thought. Instead I kept on bargaining and started from, ‘1700…1900…’ slowly my ascending numbers motivated him with descending numbers, ‘4500…4200…’ and at last the session was adjourned at Rs. 2800. A sweet smile poured upon my jolly face and I asked the driver to follow me to bring and load our luggage.
There the Sumo honked and we gave an ecstatic look on each other. I took the front seat as I had to deal with the driver at every turn as well as for Esha’s new Digital Cam that was in my safe hands for some photography on the way. Slowly the aurora showed our way to hit the highway passing by the vast tea gardens and patches of hillocks. It was then approximately 6 and the sun decided to wake up from its cozy horizon respiring upon the dewy hills and stretch of evergreen forest dotted with villages. The highway took its turn up… up converging to the meandering path that slowly elevated from the plains to the valleys. All of a sudden we were lost in the mist but then it seemed for the driver his vision was clear enough to drive at a speed of 40 to 50 kms. Whenever I was in the Himalayas I had this feeling that how come these drivers drive so reliably in the mist… but a certain situation couple of years back made me realize that driving in such mystic mountains is a matter of time and speed. If you ever notice… you will find that even on a clear and sunny day the drivers will drive at the same speed. They know their turns as we mug up word by word just before any theory exams. Gradually the road reached at an imposing height wherefrom the mist slowly disappeared pioneering the fresh morning beam. Down the valley was covered with a stretch of clouds and up when I fetched my eyes to the horizon it dilated a panoramic view of the Lesser Himalayan Range. The breathtaking sight awakened us to pay a tribute to the forthcoming hues of our drive to Gangtok. We took a halt at a small village on our way where we had our tea and breakfast and thereafter a series of charming panoramas busied me to capture it enjoyably. ‘Lobo…’ I called the driver and asked, ‘do you have any idea on this hotel in Gangtok named Norling Resort & Spa Well after certain gestures from Lobo I came to know that he was certainly unaware of it. Our driver’s first impression was wrong. Instead the Lepcha guy paid for the tea and on our way he kept us telling certain realistic stories that kept Esha and her parents digging out facts. This motivated Lobo as well. Up and down our road trip was filled with some dangerous twists and swings but Lobo’s smartness and his enthusiasm kept us spirited. Well… his attitude slowly turned out a Jackpot for him when I and my uncle decided to book him for our sightseeing in Gangtok as well as for the entire trip from Gangtok to Pelling followed by Darjeeling to Siliguri. hence it seemed like he was a part of our holiday in Gangtok and rest of the trip. Anyways after two small halts on our way Lobo affirmed, ‘baas… 14km aur… (only 14kms to go…)’. There his words ended and our eyes fell upon the ridge spotted with houses amidst the lush greenery. ‘Gangtok – 10kms’, the sign board showed. It was around 10.30 when our journey from New Jalpaiguri to Gangtok came to a halt at the private bys stand. ‘So…here we are at last. Now where is the hotel?’ I checked the booking and the address that directed the hotel towards the national highway. ‘This town is so developed. Isn’t it Esha?’ I asked. ‘Ya… it’s so modern…’ she affirmed. Down the alley, after asking the direction from a local, we passed by an array of hotels and after crossing the landmark, as directed by the local, we spotted our hotel Norling Resort & Spa, which is one of the best Gangtok Hotels that maintains 9 elegant rooms overlooking the breathtaking Himalayan range. We checked in after all the formalities.After refreshment and lunch we headed for Do-drul Chorten that is regarded as an eminent religious center for the locals. The stupa have a gold plated spire and there are 108 prayer wheels. To interpret the encrypted letters or the mantras though were out of our wits but the place retained a calm and picturesque setting allowing me an Esha to capture some jovial moments. The sound of a collective chant emanates from the prayer and meditation rooms in the monastery can also be heard in the background. Thereafter we drew ourselves away amidst the lush green vales up to the Enchey Monastery that is dubbed as the 'Solitary Monastery', which is one of the oldest Buddhist temple in Gangtok. The monastery is crowned by a shining golden cupola and it houses a number of images of Gods, Goddesses and religious objects. With the colourful and encrypted prayer flags fluttering around, the ambience holds a serene atmosphere. At around 5 in the evening, the weather started to play its own game once again and we headed down back to the town to the M.G. Road to stray the shopping area. The trendy street just at the evenfall musters up the liveliness to seize a mass of hippies and fogies. The street arrays with number of hotels, pubs, continental restaurants, cafes, Momo shops and bakery shops.Traditional attires, jewelleries and handicrafts were the trademarks aligned down the street on both the sides. We stepped inside the House of Bamboo that caters excellent Thai food and maintains a very ethnic atmosphere inside. Next to our table we pointed out another Bengali family who were much keento discuss on their next day sightseeing in Gangtok. Anyways we ordered two plates of something called ‘Khao na pet’ that is dished out with boiled rice, roast duck and chillies in soy sauce as condiment. ‘Ma ora ki khache go… (Mom… what are they having?)’ the little girl from that Bengali family remarked. ‘hahaha…’ we gave her a smile in reply and I asked her dad, ‘You people are from Kolkata?’. Well after swallowing his food the person replied, ‘no… we are from New Delhi…actually we came here to visit her parents (pointing his eyes toward his wife) in Siliguri…so before going there going there we thought to spend couple of days in Gangtok…’ After a conversation it came to my knowledge that they boarded a flight from New Delhi to Bagdogra and thereafter they hired a cab from Bagdogra to Gangtok that took them more or less 4 hours. Anyways after dinner we headed back to our hotel. Well… the dinner was as spicy and delicious as it was heavy and after it I felt I was actually missing few drops of spirited water that could have added a moist ambience inside my mouth and navigating to my stomach. Nonetheless my somber moment was forthwith captured by Esha who tried to meet my thirst with a glass of water.
Lobo kept on knocking our door, from 4 am, which was an alarm for our day out around Gangtok. His Sumo had that board, Siliguri to Gangtok, which made me say, ‘Lobo can you just remove this thing for the coming couple of days… it looks odd… you are booked already…’ He smiled and without any hesitation he put the board under the back seat. The engine whined to a loud start breaking the tranquil ambience that echoed down the alleyway waking up two-three street dogs. ‘Good Morning… ‘ I joshed upon them and we steered our way to Nathula Pass en route Changu Lake and Menmecho Lake. Well… one who is planning his or her trip to Gangtok must not forget to include these three sights that offers a picturesque ambience amidst the snowcapped towering peaks right infront of eyes. Even when you are dealing with certain Gangtok Holiday Packages… do check out the itinerary as well as places covered.As the road took its turn to a steep rise from 1700 mts, we found ourselves lost in the mist once again for an hour until it reached a soaring height of 3500mts within couple of hours. My eyes were bulged out as we hill-trotted leaving down a mystifying and dangerous rift. Lobo was still finding it easy to share his stories, which at that moment were sounding like gimcracks. All of a sudden our Sumo came to a halt. ‘Here we are…’ Lobo affirmed and guided us to Changu Lake aka Tsongmo. To my glory… my I couldn’t hold my excitement. Me and Esha pelted along the rugged terrain to see the crystal blue lake right on the lap of snowcapped mountains. The chilled water was as clear as mirror and it limned a world of its own reflecting the heights of the surrounding mountains and the drifting clouds. The glacial lake at an altitude of 3780 mts is one of the high altitude lakes in the world that attracts lot of people, adventurers as well as leisure travellers, from all over the world. How an hour passed by, just clicking onsnaps and exploring the nature, God only knew but the moments were framed forever. Thereafter we drove to Menmecho Lake that’s approximately 20kms from Changu Lake and nestles on the lap of the beguiling nature on the way to Jelepla Pass. Well… this lake is usually close to tourists but because of Lobo popularity in this part of the country…we were lucky enough to explore the lake and its surroundings. The lake is a formation of melting snow and rain waters and source a tributary of River Teesta. Spending an hour more… we headed for Nathula Pass that is said to be the Old Silk Route. The Pass onnects Sikkim with China as well as reduces the journey time to Mansarovar Lake from fifteen to two days. We were then at an altitude of 4310mts, one of the highest motorable routes in the world, when we decided to sip a cup of tea at cost us Rs. 10 per head. Well… that didn’t bother us much except an unusual gesture. The area was filled with military personnel who were keen enough to guide us to the international border from where we sighted Chinese soldiers on the other side of the barbed wire. With patches of snow layering on the alpine flora, Nathula Pass offered us breathtaking view of the surrounding mountains as well as enlightened the mystic hues of high altitude realm. After spending couple of hours… we headed down to our way back to the hotel. By late evening we were once again amidst the modernity from the nature’s proximity. All through the night, me and Esha shared our pragmatic vibes dilating the fresh memories.
All through my lifelong travelogue I find my journey from Kolkata to Gangtok wasn’t a bad idea during festive mood in Kolkata. Anyways we packed our bags to head for Pelling-Ravangla that is close to the Nepal border.
By Swairik Das
Best SeasonOctober - March, March - June
LANGUAGESNepali, Sikkimese, Bhutia, Lepcha, Hindi, English, Limbu, Newari, Rai, Gurung, Mangar, Sherpa, Tamang and Sunwar