Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Sikkim Diaries..

A family vacation in Sikkim.. This right in the middle of a project proceeding at breakneck speed. Well, though it seemed impossible I did what I should have been doing all along. Just took off!!! .. And was it worth it.We flew from Bangalore -> Calcutta ->Bagdogra.
A Train puffs its way up the hills.
A Toyota Innova took us comfortably to Darjeeling. The ride took us along small winding roads. Narrow Tracks and small trains chugging along in the pretty mountain air. We stopped at 'Ghum' , which is a UNESCO certified heritage site. Tea and biscuits by the roadside and we were on our way to Darjeeling.
The Tracks are soo close to Human settlements. If Someone were to reachout from their  window they could almost touch the passing train..
The British Raj turned to Darjeeling to escape the heat of the plains in Summer and this led to its development as a hill station. Peace and Quiet are just one side of her personality. She was also the epicenter of the demand of a separate Gorkha Land. We stayed at 'Rurdra Bhavan', the owner of which had an illustrious lineage interlinked with the political thinkers of the state.
Apr 16
Breakfast of Tibetian Momos and Hot Parathas
We breakfast at a little place and leave for the days sight seeing. The place serves traditional Tibetian Momos and hot Parathas. Pipping hot tea follows.

Our First stop, we try our hand at Rock climbing. What fun minus the scrapped knees :)

We try our hand at Rock climbing..
We visit the local zoo. Get to see ' The Red Panda' , the state animal of Sikkim. It is native to the Himalayan region. the Loss of habitat in recent years has made it an endangered mammal.
We stop at a Tea Plantation. Tea contributes to the economy of this hill state. We try our hand at elementary rock climbing.


We reach the top..
The view from our Room..
The people here have the same gentleness and mildness of manner that you see in most people from the hill. They are just Nice to put it in the simplest of way. Having been on the Bangalore Roads for several years now am used to people pushing each other off the edge and to me that had become an accepted part of Survival in the Bangalore Jungle . I was pleasantly surprised to see people stop and let others go here up in the hills. Life here is a study in Contrasts. It seems unhurried on the surface and yet these folks go by the clock and are more punctual than most people I know. The place suffers from acute water shortage and we were told about the need of thrift in usage.
River Testa
Apr 17
We leave for Gangtok which is the capital of Sikkim.
We stop by the wayside to take pictures of the river Teesta which originates in the Cholamu lake and finally joins the mighty Bhramaputra in Bangladesh. We were warned that the innocuous looking river had lured many unsuspecting travellers to its fatal embrace.
We reach at around 3:00 PM and walk around a bit. The Place is city like and bustling with activity. We spot a few restaurants and call it a day early.
Apr 18
On our way to NathuLa
The days plan is to visit Nathula, the pass that takes you across the Himalayas to China. Nathu means "listening ears" and La means "pass" in Tibetan. It is located on the Indo–China border connecting the Indian state of Sikkim with the Tibet Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China. In retrospect this was one of the most interesting rides that I've been part of .
Some sights on our way to NathuLa
Along the way we got rare glimpses into the life of those chosen to defend the borders. It kept getting colder as our Tata Sumo climbed the Mountain. We stopped to get permits and passes and at each stop we rushed to capture a few frames..
The final leg of the journey was a climb up a fleet of steep steps (thats what i choose to call it)..
Nathula
It was snowing and ice cold when we got there.
An Honour to meet the Indian Jawans..
It was wonderful to meet soldiers from all over India. Most people who made it to this point were in awe. The excitement was tangible. We spent some time talking to the handsome men in uniform. There were times when I wished I knew more Hindi.
The Chinese Border..
Subu got a message on his Airtel Phone , welcoming him to the China Network.There it was right across the border. We were warned not to give our cameras to those across the border as they were known to walk away with goods on many occasions.
Strinking a pose .. With Chinese Soldiers from across the border. If you notice theres a barbed fence seperating the two of us..
We did get pictures with the soldiers from across the broder. You can't tell from the snap that the two of us are on different sides of the fence. Nathula was quiet an experience. There are few things which will ever leave you with such an amazing feeling of contentment.
One of the many snowfed Lakes along the way..
And then the drive back..The Scenary was brathtaking. Ice cold blasts of wind, Numb Fingers , the Absence of Sunlight.. and the Invigorating mountain air. Along the way , frozen lakes and white snow stood out on the Barren Brown Mountains
Himalayan Peaks..
High Altitude Loos :)
The Lovely Hillsides
We were lucky to catch the snow fall. We wound our way along the Rustic Way side nad stopped for pictures. They were never enough of them anyway :)..Finally it got too Cold and we were all too hungry to hold on...
We were taken to a small place for lunch.
We devoured the noodles and rice .
A walk in the clouds..
The Menu..
This is how the menu read at the little place we stopped by to grab lunch..
Where we had Lunch..
Elfy with the Yaks..
When we got back that day, exhausted , it all  felt so great that I wasn't sure if it was in a dream..
Who would have thought we would trek all the way to China :)
Entrance to Rumtek
We visit the Rumtek monastry the next day the largest in Sikkim and the seat of the 16th Karmapa in exile. Forced to flee Tibet beucause of the Chinese occupation the 16th Karmapa arrived in Sikkim in 1959. He undertook the task of rebuilding the monastry which had been constructed by the 9th Karmapa in the 16th century and which was in ruins then. Monetary support from the Sikkim royal family saw his efforts bear fruit after four long years.
Buddhist Monks..
Catch them young..
And the very Old..
Sharing a lighter moment..
The Football Stadium - Gangtok Sikkim
The hotel overlooks an football stadium. One of the prettiest sights I've seen, - The stadium perched above the clouds and majestic mountains in its backdrop. Morning sees little blue and red specks racing along the lush green field doing their routine practise seeions. In this part of India Football and not cricket is the most popular sport
The Buddha..
Testa
View from the Winch..
We take a ride on the Winch and see the city ..
From the winch..
At the Level Way Crossing..
A little bit of shopping and walking around the place was all we had time for before we headed back home. The next time I visit Sikkim I would definitely like to trek more. The mountain sides seem to have cast their spell on me and its hard to resist the lure. But for now I have to be content with this week in the life and times of Sikkim!

-Meena Venkataraman

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