Saturday, May 14, 2016

Beating the summer heat, the North-East way!

Planning : The mystic Himalayas have always intrigued me. Finally in the month of March 2016, I started planning for the coveted trip. I had tough time finalizing the itinerary. Northern Sikkim is a must visit, said my friend Sandeep. But I could find only few trip packages, which included it. After some deliberation, I finalized the package, exactly a month before the tour!

Escaping the heat:  Bengaluru had already crossed 37 degree Celsius in the mid of April. I was going to beat that heat by going to one of the coldest places in India! But during the packing of warm clothes for the trip, I ensured that they were minimal, so that luggage stays light. Visiting various places within a week, carrying lighter baggage is always better. Following was my itinerary visiting Sikkim and Darjeeling

Itinerary :
Day 1 (21 April 2016) : Bengaluru to Bagdogra, Transfer to Gangtok
Day 2 : Changu Lake, Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir
Day 3 : Journery to northern Sikkim, Lachung
Day 4 : Yumthung Valley, Zero Point and return back to Gangtok
Day 5: Gangtok Sightseeing, Transfer to Darjeeling
Day 6 : Darjeeling sightseeing
Day 7( 27 April 2016):Bagdogra to Bengaluru

At 8 am, on 21st April 2016, I boarded the cab, which would drop me to the Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru. Since it was morning, I could reach the airport within an hour to catch the Indigo Airlines flight to Bagdogra, scheduled at 10:35. It feels good to reach the airport in short time, avoiding the city traffic on the way.

Arriving at Bagdogra, I met my travel representative, who briefed me about the proceedings that day. I boarded Toyota Innova to begin my journey to Sikkim. After a while, the driver stopped at a restaurant in Siliguri, where the lunch had been arranged by the travel agent! That was a surprise, as it was not mentioned in the package. I also met my co-travelers in the restaurant. After lunch, our travel agent briefed us about north eastern part of India – its weather, people and gave us some travel advice.

Journey to Gangtok : Then began the five hour journey to the capital of Sikkim, Gangtok. When I reached my hotel at Gangtok, first thing I got served was a hot cup of black tea. It was very refreshing in the chilling cold night at Gangtok.
Changu Lake, Sikkim
Changu Lake and Harbhajan Singh Mandir : It was my first day of sight-seeing in Sikkim. I never expected to find snow. But to my delight, I could see the indications of snow fall on my way to Changu lake. Driver suggested visiting the lake on our way back as we had to go to higher altitude to reach the Harbhajan Singh Mandir. Crossing the lake, negotiating the sharp curves, we stopped at a place, where we could see Changu lake clearly from above! For our amazement, this place was full of snow! I was seeing such a place for the first time in my life! We came out of our vehicle and played with the snow to our hearts content. After a while, we headed to Harbhajan Singh Mandir, built in memory of Harbhajan Singh, an Indian soldier. Its close proximity to Tibet-China border is what makes the visit thrilling. It is also a place, where one can purchase souvenir items of Sikkim.
Snow covered region just above Changu Lake
Tashi View Point, Kabi Long Stock and Seven Sisters Waterfalls : Next day, I along with three co-travelers, headed to Lachung located in northern Sikkim. On our way, we visited several tourist spots, which made the five hour journey interesting. Tashi View Point is just outside Gangtok town, where one can find the panoramic view of the hilly region. But I was interested in getting the view of Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest mountain. But sadly, I did not find it. Moving ahead, we then stopped at Kabi Long Stock. It is a historically significant place, where Lepcha’s and Bhutia’s owed blood brotherhood, setting aside their differences. Stone statue erected based on this event is the attraction here. Then, we visited the famed Seven Sisters waterfalls. This waterfall is beautiful with its three tiers. One can also get the traditional Sikkim dresses here, to pose in front of the fall! Further on our way to Lachung, we witnessed the pristine beauty of the Himalayas with its mountains, streams, gorges and of course, narrow and dangerous roads! That was an experience in itself!
Golden Peaks at Lachung
Lachung, Yumthung Valley and Zero Point : In the evening, at about 6 we reached Lachung. After checking into the hotel room, I came to the balcony to witness something truly amazing. Three giant mountains, facing the whole Lachung town, making the town look so tiny! I was instantly, reminded of the Machu Picchu mountain of South America! I thought it would be wonderful, just sitting in the balcony, viewing the magnificent beauty of nature! But we had some other plans next morning. I woke up at 5 am next morning to witness one of the beautiful sights in the Himalayas. Sunrays were kissing the tip of snow capped mountains, which were invisible when reached the evening before. Mountain tips were now glowing in golden color – a fascinating sight indeed. At 6 am, we went to visit Yumthung valley. We stopped here to rent jackets, gumboots, gloves to tackle the extreme cold at much higher altitude (14540 feet) of Zero Point – where the civilian road ends. Commuting along the 26 km stretch to Zero Point was exciting too. Snow capped mountains, trees and houses greeted us! When we reached Zero Point, it was already filled with tourists and I could see the enthusiasm on their faces. I joined party too witnessing snow all around me and sun right on top! The place was landlocked by snow capped mountains. A stream ran through breaking the icy ground. I ran and jumped only to get tired quickly because of the low oxygen there! Then, I kept clicking my camera till I exhausted. How can one capture the entire beauty of nature? After spending an hour there, we were back to Yumthung valley. It was a calm and serene place, filling positive vibes in me. Though I wanted to be there in northern Sikkim for some more time, we had to return to Gangtok as per our plan. So, that day evening we reached Gangtok.
Me at Zero Point
Gangtok Sight-seeing : City sight-seeing does not excite me much. But I was curious to visit the Buddhist places of worship in Gangtok! But at first, we went to the flower show in the city. But it was way smaller than the ones, I had seen in Bengaluru. But orchids in the show, caught my attention. Our next stop was at Directorate of Handicraft and Handlooms center. Photography is not allowed here. I bought few things from the sales emporium. Then, we visited Dro-dul Chorten(a stupa). Moving the prayer wheels at the Stupa was like becoming one among the local Buddhists. Then, we visited Research Institute of Tibetology, learning the aspects of Tibetan culture. By noon, we were on our way to Darjeeling encountering steep and sharp curves. By evening 4 pm, we were at Darjeeling.
Japanese Peace Temple, Darjeeling
Darjeeling : One unique aspect of Darjeeling is that it provides panoramic view of the Himalayan range including Mount Kanchenjunga and Mount Everest, on a clear weather day from Tiger Hills. This got me excited during the plant of the trip itself! So, at 4 am next morning, we began our journey to Tiger Hills in a Mahindra Xylo. But it was disappointment for the huge crowd gathered, as it was misty that day and we could not get the glimpse of the mountain range! Then, we visited Japanese peace temple. It was a place of serenity. With my keen interest in Buddhism, it was a place of tranquility for me. Episodes from Buddha’s life depicted on the walls of peace pagoda were both beautiful and educating. Then, we were back to our hotel and had our breakfast before heading to Himalayan Zoological Park. First, we visited the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute inside the park, to witness the memorabilia of mountaineers. I was ecstatic to see a floor dedicated to Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain. Equipments used during the climb and flags planted at the summit were awe inspiring. Then at the zoological park, we spotted the red panda feeding on the bamboo. It is an endangered species. So, it was great to witness one of the rare animals on earth! After this visit, at 1 pm, we were at Darjeeling railway station to board the train which runs through the roads of the Darjeeling. We had some snacks – momos in particular just before our boarding time. It was awesome riding the heritage train which runs parallel to roads of Darjeeling. Then we reached Batasia loop at the high altitude which provides very good view of the town! Train briefly stopped here and I went on photo clicking spree! When the train reached Ghoom, we got down. Then, we roamed around the colonial city of Darjeeling. Chowrasta, the vehicle free part of the city was great of a stroll and some purchase. By evening, we were realizing that our awesome vacation was coming to an end.

Back to Bengaluru: Next day at 7 am, we headed to Bagdogra to catch the Indigo Airlines flight at 12 20. We reached our home in Bengaluru at 6 pm, ending an exciting trip.

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