A journey to pristine land: Sikkim

14 Mar 2020

Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before. – Dalai Lama

It is better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times. — Asian Proverb

 

A journey to pristine land: Sikkim

Taking these wanderlust quotes by heart we charted upon the Sikkim trip by Naturewalk outdoors.

Sikkim occupies a unique place in Indian geography. Touching Bhutan in the east and Tibet in the north and northeast, Nepal in the west and West Bengal in south, Sikkim is kind of gateway to many cultures. It is a home to rich variety of 5000 species of flowers, rhododendrons, bamboos, ferns and medicinal plants in Eastern Himalayas. Sikkim is also notable for its alpine and subtropical climate as well as host to highest peak in India, the famous “Kanchenjunga”.

After we landed in Bagdogra and continued through the snarled-up traffic on way to Gangtok, it was kind of hard to hide any disappointment in the initial impression. But as we crossed West Bengal into Sikkim, the excitement started building after seeing alpine peaks and hilly areas with trees. Gangtok is a largest city in Sikkim located in the hilly area with small roads. However, we were surprised to not hear any horn from any vehicle on road, even on congested roads! Imagine travelling like that in Pune. It sure gave an impress of  accommodative and courteous Sikkim culture that we encountered over the trip. While relaxing overnight in Sikkim’s oldest hotel (Elgin Norkhill), it was disappointing to clouds all around with no Himalayan peaks in sight. We were told that Himalayan sightings would be up to the weather Gods! Next morning 5.30 am we were pleasantly surprised to get a wake-up call to come take a look at the golden peaks of the great Kanchenjunga!

It was certainly a magnificent sight to watch in wee morning hours as darkness cleared the way to golden sun rays and eventually the clear sunshine.

Gangtok is a lively place and the day was well spent by visiting local Rumptek monastery, ecological park and driving through roads in winding hills around Gangtok. The downtown area is certainly fun to walk around as the main street is a walking only plaza which is rare is any other town. Main road is dotted with traditional food places along with some international food places like French bakery. It is indeed a pleasure to walk around in the evening.  Next day we started for Lachung (North Sikkim). Lachung is the most picturesque village in Sikkim. Located at 10000 ft, it is at a confluence of Lachen/Lachung rivers both tributaries of Teesta river. Road to Lachung is serene with windy roads and many waterfalls. Backtracking to Gangtok for a quick stay, gave us some time to relax. We started to Yuksum/Pelling (West Sikkim) the next day, visiting lush Tami tea garden, sprawling across the mountains. Tami tea garden is the only tea garden in Sikkim and considered one of the best organic tea brand ‘Temi’. Also, on the way was Tathagata Tsal, which has a fantastic Buddha statue blessed by Hon, Dalai Lama against a majestic backdrop of hills.

 

Yuksum was the first capital of Sikkim and place for first coronation of Sikkim and holds a special place in Sikkim’s history. Many incredible stories are wrapped around in history about Tibetian monks flying to Sikkim. It is a hometown of actor Danny Denzongpa, whose family runs a hotel. Many interesting walking trails in Yuksum/Pelling area especially the one we took to oldest Dubdi monastery in Sikkim.

 

From Yuksum, we started the last part of journey to Okhrey, turned out to be climax of the trip. Okhrey, located at 8000 ft is very small picturesque village very close to Varsey Rododendron Sanctuary. This sanctuary is a home to many species of animals and birds, especially elusive Red Panda (Master Shifu, if you have seen the Kung Fu Panda!). Morning birding and a day trek into the Varsey sanctuary was the best part of the trip! On a clear day, you can Kanchenjunga on one side of the trek all the time. Okhrey is so small that the only place to stay is homestay. Our Sherpa hosts were gracious and warm, making us comfortable. Tasting local vegetable dishes along with home brewed Chaang, was indeed a unique experience. With heavy hearts we started back to Bagdogra and as we merged into traffic, made us realize the harsh reality of our urban lives, cherishing the experience of a fabulous trip to Sikkim serene landscapes and warm polite culture.

 

Sudhir Alekar

Pune