My current home in India is Siliguri, north of West Bengal may not be the most alluring for tourist destinations. But it is the most important city in the entire Eastern Himalayas due to its geographical location. As city is unabashedly an industrial centre and gateway to seven sisters of North-East along with Sikkim & eastern part of Nepal. My parents moved here ten years back and by that time I had just started my career; never had ample holidays to explore any thing around. Always I used to be too tired to get out of home and end up with novels and old music. But this was for the first time I did take days out to visit Gangtok.
Though journey was not very memorable or different than that of those I had while growing up in North-East region except that Pamela was with me this time. Traveling by Jeep through those narrow winding roads is an experience in itself where our co-passengers thought that we are going for honeymoon trip. The drive was very scenic with Teesta River flowing all the way. The forested hills are still green but truly there is continuous deforestation going on for either cultivation or smuggling woods.
We reached Gangtok after midday and the Taxi Stand was the most active part of the city like any other small or hill town in North-East. There are too many touts to rob you. If you travel light and are able to carry your luggage yourself you can avoid them. We stayed in a ITDC hotel near to M.G.Marg where we had our lunch at its expensive restaurant. Then we went out for booking our trips for sightseeing & daytrip for next 2 days. Being a tourist place it seems everyone wants to rob so you need to have good negotiating skill & make sure what you need you get the same. After bargaining we were able to book our trips for next 2 days. Then from there we went to the Government Institute of Cottage Industries (also called the Directorate of Handicrafts and Handloom) which promotes and teaches the ancient crafts of Sikkim (like painting, mask making, weaving, wood carving) to keep them alive. It is located at zero point, few km uphill from the main Gangtok town.
Day II, we had Allu paratha as breakfast early morning near to Bus stop at Agarwal restaurant & got the same packed for the route also. Then we headed towards our agency. Indians are famous for their IST so our co-passengers. After waiting a while for them to join we started our trip to Tsomgo Lake.
Tsomgo Lake is situated at an altitude of 12,310 ft on Gangtok-Nathula highway. Just few kilometers away from Indo-China border. This road also continues to Lasa, Tibet. Drive to that region is again very different with snow capped mountains & this whole belt is undertaken by Indian military. Salute to our Indian army who are taking pain to guard those borders to make our life easy & peaceful. Really I wonder sometimes how they are struggling there to earn their meal in those extreme cold regions far from there near one.
On reaching Tsomgo lake (pronounced as Changu Lake which means source of lake) we hired snow boots as all the travel agents take their customers to respective brothers stall for hiring jackets, snow boots and water-proof boots. Because of the high altitude heavy woolens are required which we already had.
From there we went immediately to Baba Harbhajan Singh Memorial which lies between Nathula-Jelepla pass which is at still more higher altitude of around 13,450ft. Actually, it is built in memory of a sepoy of 23rd Punjab regiment. It seems after few days of his missing he appeared in the dreams of his fellow comrades & expressed a desire that monument be built in his memory. Now it has acquired a statue of a pilgrimage, being Sunday there was langar (free meals served after Sikh services) offered by Indian Army. After one hour stay we came down to Changu Lake.
Weather was getting worse. Tea, snacks & film rolls are available at the dozen of temporary stalls near the lake. But there is no facility of accommodation or proper toilet for the tourist. Rides on yaks and mules are also offered which was worthless to enjoy for Pamela at that temperature.
In the evening, we walked on the main street of M.G.Marg which is normally closed for all vehicles from 5 to 9 PM. Looked for budget restaurant for our dinner; we found one and also found a long queue waiting for their turn. The wait was delightful.
Day III started for us early morning as we wanted to return to Siliguri ASAP. We started our sightseeing activity from Rumtek monastery (largest monastery of Sikkim) and ended with exotic orchid show along with Enchey monastery, Do-drul stupa.
Gangtok is a blend of the traditional and modern, where modern concrete multi-storied structures clings to the hillside along with stupas and monasteries; buddhist prayer flags flutter with the mountain breeze; young college girls in trendy dresses while elderly matrons clad in traditional ‘bakus’ and lamas in colorful maroon.
Now, looking forward to travel to North Sikkim some day which we heard is more beautiful with valley of flowers and lakes to explore.