Sikkim is a perfect blend of rich cultural heritage, at the same time it’s no less modern from any of the big cities of India. When I think about my heavenly time in Gangtok, I remember I was in that constant state of mind where feeling of love and longing to be there with no intension of going back persisted.
Day Rather Night We Started
We took a train from Guwahati to Siliguri at night. It was a pleasant journey and in about 8 hours we reached NJP. With empty stomachs growling, breakfast was our immediate goal. We were yet to figure out a way to reach Gangtok and had a faint idea about share cars. But that’s something we decided to deal later. After a quick and filling breakfast, we head our way back near to the station. There were a number of taxis, mostly Sumos and few others that were available to take us to our destination. The distinct calls of several Men screaming at top of their voices *Gangtok/Darjeeling* you will never miss. Soon one of them approached, I asked for the rate and tried my luck at bargaining, but sadly it was a fixed rate – Rs 250 till Gangtok and Rs 200 till Darjeeling. Well we got in, realizing later that he needs 7 more customers only then will he move. To our surprise we were his first 3 passengers, which meant we needed to wait for another 4 so we could move.
My lack of patience made our wait a little difficult and nothing much we could do about it but still managing our way out to jokes and distracting ourselves well enough. Finally the cab moved, but the driver was a different guy not the one who approached everyone, which means that guy who guided us to this cab is someone who was there only for commission and not the actual driving. That must be the way it works there. Anyway there were people getting down in different places in and around Sikkim like Kalimpong or Manipal. So I decided to check with the driver about the hotel we have booked, basically how far it could be from the place he is going to drop us. He explained and a couple of locals joined in the conversation too. Willingness to help from people makes you feel very welcomed in a place you have never been before, so that helped. Finally we reach the common taxi stand of Gangtok, which is where all the share cabs halt, and the driver explained us the route to the hotel. Since walking is the best way to explore any new place, we decided to walk and find our way. And we kept on walking and walking and walking…but our hotel didn’t seem to materialize! It was nowhere to be seen. We asked a few passer bys but they too had no clue. I finally decided to call the hotel and ask them. This guy, with a very pleasant voice, picked up and explained, and with the directions we were back to the place from where we started. And there it was, in its full glory standing before us the hotel that we conveniently missed and walked our way to oblivion. The hotel, Sonamla Retreat, was an absolute delight. As I enter, I see this pretty huge and neat room with all the facilities. So, I took a quick shower and got ready to take over the evening.
Exploring MG Marg, The Highlight of Every Evening
MG Marg is brilliantly planned and set up with all the beautiful and different kind of flowers and the Mahatma Gandhi statue placed right in the centre. It has this amazing ambience with people around all decked up for the evening. People hanging out, clicking pictures, shopping, and from plenty of small food joints to fine and dine restaurants to satisfy the foodoholic in you and the varieties of shops for the shopaholic in you, and finally the pubs to give you all the happy hours for an alcoholic in you.To our luck, the evening we went, there was this festival going on called Red Panda. They had set up these different tents coloured in blue and white (cute combination of colors) with various delicacies and other goodies in respective stalls. It was quite an interesting sight overall amidst all the nature around you. Most of the shops and restaurants close by 8 PM but pubs will not disappoint you until 10. Finally a late night stroll, at the end, out there is quite fulfilling to end the night.
A Day of Miscellaneous Sightseeing
After we came back from MG Marg, we spoke with the hotel staff that evening to arrange a car for the next day (and they definitely gave us a fair deal). I had this list of places we needed to visit and hence discussed the same with them and went our ways to the rooms for a good night sleep.
Finally we woke up nice and early, ready to explore everything on my list. It will take more than five days if done with leisure. However, we had only three days in hand, so we covered as much as we could, which if I think is almost everything. If we start by 9 in the morning, we should be able to cover a few places by 5 in the evening. Now that will definitely test your time management skills. We wanted to squeeze every place within our short trip. It’s another thing that even a hundred visits may be less to enjoy every bit of Sikkim. It’s like you see the same thing in a new light.
We began with Rumtek Monastery If you are ever there, you will agree when I say that it’s the most beautiful representation of the Tibetan culture. While on one side there are the religious scriptures and cultural paintings adorning the monastery in the inside, on the other hand the outside is surrounded by streams and mountains. It’s beautiful and you will find many welcoming inhabitants within the premises, after all it’s the largest monastery of Sikkim which has three storeys, and each part of the building provides some rare works of Buddhism. As per a legend, this monastery has preserved a unique hat that if released in air will fly off. That hat was created out of the hair of the fairies who came to gift them to Karmapa after he successfully concluded his years of meditation in a forest. The monastery is filled with legends and some of the significant sights, such as the Golden Stupa of the 16th Karmapa, hand painted wall murals, paintings in silk and a garden through which you get a glimpse of the other side of Gangtok. I was in a trance but with visit deadlines approaching we had to cut short and move on to our next destination.
So, we took a quick tour comprising Ganesh Tok, Enchey Monastery, Tashiding Monastery and the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology. You must go before four to enjoy the beautiful scenery within the Institute. Another magnificent spot that you cannot miss is the Tashi view point. You could see the mystical view of the hills and the natural treat that it presents. We also took the Rope Way/Cable car to move from one place to another and it was an experience that everyone should have a feel of. Among the other treats of the land are the engaging Lal bazaar, the beautiful Do drul chorten and a very interesting Plant conservatory. And don’t forget to get lost within the water paradise – Burtuk Waterfalls. The cascading water through a narrow steep of a mountain path and finally spreading across the stony walls, well that’s a sight one should never miss.
While nature has a lot to offer, among the hills there are also many who lived weaving and carving their unique artistic styles. Be it the carpets, which are known for being hand knotted, or the sculptures that depict the cultural heritage within the state. In fact, pick up any of the wooden carvings and you would find fascinating carvings with stories on Buddhism or the famous monasteries or other emblems etched with care. There’s also the floral side of the land, and when we entered the flower show complex, it was like entering a floral paradise. You could breathe in the nature and take a walk across the trail with every step leading you to beautiful colorful arrangements that are a sweet treat for any eye.
Day 3 – A spiritual retreat
The next day too began early, and to cover most of the places it is important the one begins early morning. Our first stop for the day was Samdruptse near Namchi. We had to stretch our neck to see the simmering gold statue that greeted us, which was expected as it’s the world’s tallest statue of Guru Padmasambhava, or as popularly known, second Buddha. It’s almost 135 feet tall. It’s a serene ambience, and it’s believed that Sandruptse is the point where wishes can come true, after all Samdruptse means “The wish fulfilling hill”.
With wishes sealed inside Sandruptse, we took to our next destination which was the Buddha Park in Ravangla, a park that’s built to celebrate the birth anniversary of Buddha. A mini valley is what you would associate with when walk along the cemented path with well-maintained lush green grass and trees surrounding you. And far at the hill top, the statue of Buddha sits in a calm, demure manner. The essence of the parks brings in peace and clarity that makes it all the more enjoyable.
The Namchi parvat (hill) has a lot to offer to our spiritual sense. The most talked about places on it are the Char Dham and the Sai mandir, apart from Sandruptse. Char Dham as the name pinpoints is the place where you find all the four dhams of India at one place. The beautiful spread has a huge statue of Lord Shiva, or Lord Kirateshwar, as the locals call it, as the central point. The place is surrounded by the replicas of the four Dhams – namely Badrinath, Jaganath and Dwarka dedicated to Lord Vishnu and Rameshwar, dedicated to Lord Shiva. It’s a binding form of faith that heralds the communion of nature and spirit. It’s one of those places that fascinates you and seeps you in. There is no way one can miss such heavenly bliss.
Away from the parvat is a region that stands to rejuvenate our spirits, it’s called the Temi tea garden. Well the morning cuppa is a much needed affair and this garden definitely creates some of the finest leaves to sip. It’s the only tea garden in Sikkim, and caters to a lot of tea demands under various brands. If you ever happen to come across names, such as Kanchanjunga Tea, Temi Tea or Mystique, now you know which garden they came from. The greenery is where you will want to get lost in and never found again. And that happened to be our last stop for the place.
Our journey may have ended, but there’s a lot to explore and ponder upon. In fact, while coming away I just had one thought – this trip is just the start of my relationship with Sikkim. While I may have planned on certain spots, but I truly believe that more than going through the Wikipedia or reading blogs about each spot, you rather have a first hand experience. Do not go with any set expectation in your mind. It’s more interesting that way to explore and it will definitely make you feel accomplished.
Before I conclude, I must confess yet again my love for Sikkim, fascinated by all that Mother Nature has bestowed upon this place, enchanting beauty, rich culture, soft spoken people always willing to help (best part they speak and understand Hindi), yummy momosto lots of fermented and unfermented delicious dishes. It’s Traditional yet very modern, a perfect combination of both. Do visit this Amazing place and get ready to be enthralled. I promise you shall go back as a happy person.
Guest Writer : Nayona Dutta