Friday, 26 September 2014

Itinerary for 8 days tour to Mystic Sikkim

The hill state of Sikkim has a wide variety to offer, from the capital town of Gangtok with its own culture and lifestyle to the forbidding mountain scapes that have remained unchanged through centuries.

Though i personally feel that every day in Sikkim has different colour and every place has it's unique natural beauty and it's not possible to cover every nook and corner of the state even in years, however one can visit the most scenic places of Sikkim to get an idea , how panoramic and picturesque, the entire state is. 

For those planning a trip to Sikkim, i am posting an itinerary, which may help making their trip an unforgettable one.7 nights and 8 days tour should be sufficient to capture Sikkim at its scenic best.


Amidst the grandeur of the mountain peaks, lush valleys, fast flowing rivers and terraced hills, Sikkim offers a spectacular and unique experience. Within a matter of hours one can move from the sub-tropical heat of the lower valleys to the cold of the rugged mountain slopes that reach upto the areas of perpetual snow.

Day 1: New Jalpaiguri- Gangtok- 124 kms (4-5 hrs) 

Arrive in New Jalpaiguri by train or fly into Bagdogra. Hire a Taxi for approx. four and half hour's journey to Gangtok. Plenty of hotels and lodges, you will get in and around Gangtok.

Day 2: Gangtok Local Sightseeing

An early morning trip to Tashi view point (offering fabulous views of Kanchenjunga) followed by a full day sightseeing of Gangtok. Other tourist attractions in Gangtok are Rumtek Monastry; one of the largest and sacred Buddhist Monastry in Sikkim, Banjakhari Waterfalls, Ganesh Tok, Hanuman Tok and Saramsa Garden. 

Kanchanjenga Amusement Park may also be an option for those intending to spend leisure time with their kids.
Rumtek Monastry

Banjakhri Waterfall

Day 3 : Gangtok- Chungthang- Lachung 116 kms (5-6 hrs)

Local Sightseeing of Gangtok is just like a starter before the main course. The adventure begins, when one heads for North Sikkim. You may start your journey of Lachung Valley early morning after having breakfast and take luncht at Chungthang which is at the confluence of Lachen and Lachung valleys. Halt at Lachung for the night. Lachung itself is a very scenic place located at the altitude of around 10000 ft.

Permit is required to be obtained from Tourism Department in order to visit Gurudongmar Lake and Yumthang valley  in North and Nathula/ Tsomgo Lake in East Sikkim due to border area reason. Before proceeding for these places, permits need to be obtained at-least a day before.

Day 4: Lachung- Yumthang Valley-Zero Point-Lachen- 148 kms (8-9 hrs)

Yumthang valley, popularly known as the Valley of Flowers is aroung 35 km. from Lachung. You will see many varieties of Rhododendron flower with the snow bound mountains in the backdrop along the way. If you have had enough of seeing flowers and clicking too many photographs, you may go upto Zero Point, 16 km. from Yumthang, to enjoy with snow.  Start return journey to Lachung by noon and take lunch at Lachung. Then you may proceed to Lachen, which is 48 km. away. Night halt at Lachen. 

Lachen is a small tribal village ruled by the Dzumsa. If you reach Lachen before evening, you may like to see Lachen Monastry, situated at the top of the village and offers panoramic view of the valley.

Yumthang Valley - Valley of Flowers

Day 5: Lachen- Gurudongmar Lake- Lachen-Gangtok- 240 kms (10-11 hrs)

A visit to Gurudongmar Lake is a must while in Sikkim. Gurudongmar is one of the highest situated lakes (17100 ft.) in North Sikkim. Remember the altitude here may cause breathing problem. Move slowly towards the pristine lake and watch it motionlessly. An early morning start will help you to return Gangtok by 8 :00 or 9:00 pm in night. Night stay in guest house in Gangtok.

Gurudongmar Lake

Please note that the foreigners are not allowed to travel to Gurudongmar Lake.

Day 6: Gangtok- Nathula Pass- Gangtok  110 Kms ( 7-8 hrs)

It will take whole day to enjoy the beauty of Tsomgo Lake (popularly known as Chhangu Lake), Nathu-la pass and Baba Mandir and to return back to Gangtok. Normally tourists coming to Gangtok on a short trip, go to Nathu-la  pass. 

Day 7: Gangtok- Yuksom- Pemayangtse- 160 kms ( 5-6 hrs)

Reach Yuksom, the first capital of Sikkim by taxi via Samdruptse; the holy spot where the tallest statue of Guru Rinpoche has been built. 
Yuksom is a scenic spot set amidst the backdrop of the Himalayas. It is a historical place, for in 1641 Buddhism was introduced here. Visit the Khecheopalri Lake after lunch at Yuksom. Afterwards, reach Pemayangtse (32 km away from Yuksom) to see Rabdantse ruins - the second capital of Sikkim & Pemayangtse Monastery. Night stay in a guest house.

Rabdentse Ruins, site of 2nd capital of Sikkim

Day 8: Pemayangtse- New Jalpaiguri

Drive back to New Jalpaiguri/ Bagdogra to fly back home.

Comments and feedbacks related to the post are welcomed.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Sikkim : The Jewel of Eastern Himalaya Part- II

Anyhow, leaving those gloomy faces behind, i started for my destination filled with imagination (wings provided by internet) and certain degree of dilemma.

Reaching to Bagdogra was uneventful and was like any other journey, leaving me alone in my train of thoughts (In order to reach Gangtok, one has to reach New Jalpaiguri (NJP), if travelling by train or Bagdogra Airport, if by flight. From there, taxi or SNT buses will take you to Gangtok in 4 to 5 hours.). 

I only noticed the difference in atmosphere, when  our taxi covered the distance of 25-30 km. on metalled roads of siliguri. Our taxi had suddenly started to move ahead in zig-zag motion along the curves of NH-31 A, which instantly forced us to acknowledge the fact that all beautiful things are not easily accessible. Second difference, which was easily noticeable was that the scorching heat had given way to cool air. 

The journey from Siliguri to Gangtok can be as beautiful as the destination itself, only if one endures the physical pain inflicted by the steep, spiralling and patchy hilly roads and focuses on the scenery the journey offers. 

A fair lady accompanies everybody, who travels to Gangtok by road, without discriminating on any ground. That fair lady is none other than River Tista, which flows along the way and it's green- colored water looks very soothing and pleasant to eyes. The greenery along with the shrubs and floral trees on both side of road makes a very beautiful sight.

Tista River
Coronation Bridge at Sevok, Siliguri
One more interesting thing, which kept us in good humor during the journey, was the sign-boards displaying hillarious one-liners put up by BRO (Border Roads Organisation) along the way. Some examples are given for your entertainment:

Be Gentle on my curves.
Be Mr. Late, not Late Mr.
Mountains are the pleasure, only if you drive with leisure.
Drive; don't fly.
If married, divorce speed.
Don't be Gama in the land of Lama.
Drive on horsepower, not on rumpower.
After Whisky, driving risky.
This is not rally or race, drive with grace.

Appreciating every masterpiece of  God's architecture, we entered Gangtok city limits in the evening and from the outskirts of the city, it looked like a glowing mountain. With in minutes of entering the city area, dazzling lights were welcoming us in the hill city.

As i reached our guesthouse at Gangtok, i was informed that i had to go to M G Marg (Mahatma Gandhi Marg) for dinner, since cook was on leave. May be it was god's wish to add one more glistening feather in my Sikkim's experience of the first day. As i crossed the over-bridge to enter M G Marg, i felt that i was in different world altogether. Walking on empty MG Road flushed with flood-lights and well-decorated shops was a long-lasting experience. 

M. G. Marg at night
To make the experience unique, clouds were also taking a stroll with me and i felt, as if, i was on cloud nine. The first impression of MG Marg had left an indelible imprint on me and for the rest of 3 years, i stayed in Gangtok, i was in awe of the place.

To be Continued....

Monday, 15 September 2014

Sikkim : The Jewel of Eastern Himalaya Part-I

Sunrise View of Mt. Kanchendzonga
A picture is worth thousand words and sometimes it tells a story, which may be difficult to be described in words as effectively as by a photograph. More so, when one talks about Sikkim, where every moment of life is so picturesque, so beautiful. The panoramic sunrise view of the imposing Mt. Kanchendzonga, the 2nd highest peak of the Himalayas and presiding deity of Sikkimese people, aptly describes the beauty of the place, it literally holds in the lap.

I never thought even in my wildest dreams that i will be able to witness vivid hues and colors of nature in it's glorious best, that too for so long. Then, one day came in my life, when i was presented with the heaven sent opportunity to spend 03 years of my life at Gangtok courtesy my posting by my organization, though i only realized it to be so during later years of my stay. 

As i was to proceed to join my office at Gangtok, my family and friends were worried for me, as they were under the impression that it was going to be a real hardship for me to survive there. However, i somehow knew that the fair amount of anxiety and fear  shown by my loved ones was attributed to Sikkim, being an unknown territory for them including me. One of my friend's mother even went on to the extent of suggesting me to quit the job, if the company does not change my posting (as if getting a new job is so easy). 

Honestly saying, i too had  only a faint idea of the place that it is one of eight states of North-Eastern India. Being a weak student of Geography and not an ardent follower of "Look East Policy" of our Govt. (A lower middle- class Bihari Citizen aspiring to achieve materialistic accomplishments in life, often looks North, i.e. Delhi or Lucknow and West, i.e. Mumbai and other industrial cities), i didn't know the geographical location of Sikkim. 

Then Google came to my rescue and in just a fraction of seconds, the sense of fear and anxiety in my mind was replaced by that of absolute thrill and joy.One interesting thing, i discovered that Gangtok was just 550 Km away from my native place, which i had thought to be in the range of at-least 1500-2000 Km. I tried to convince my parents with renewed vigor that i am going to heavenly abode (not that i was leaving this world or anything like that) which is not far away, but all in vain. I guess, i failed miserably in convincing them, as Google was also a unfamiliar term for my not so internet- friendly parents and there was visible trust deficit and lack of appreciation shown by them for the revered search engine.

Anyhow, leaving those gloomy faces behind, i started for my destination filled with imagination (wings provided by internet) and certain degree of dilemma.

(To be continued......)

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Bhutan : The Land of Thunder Dragon!

Everybody makes some new year resolution and look forward to certain opportunities to practice the same. Though, i have not been too keen on making resolution and sticking to it, i also made a resolution first time in my life on the occassion of 28th new year, i have witnessed so far. The idea was to be more outdoor, more extrovert and more social. Grabbing any opportunity to visit new places, meeting new people and getting acquainted with more and more known and unknown places and persons were the parts of the plan. 

May be it was also the idea of the almighty to help me out in carrying out my new year resolution, my office colleagues came with the idea of visiting Bhutan during new year's holidays, courtesy "Negotiable Instrument Act". It was indeed a grand step towards fulfilling my resolution in the very beginning of the year. Definitely, i jumped to the idea and hence a group of 13 persons proceeded for Bhutan on 1st of the January 2014. The year 2014 started with a bang and i could not have asked for more. Though some people in the group were apprehensive that Bhutan will have nothing new in store for us, as we have seen everything in Sikkim and it may turn out after the visit that Sikkim was more beautiful and scenic. Some were enthusiastic that they will be able to witness a new variant of Tibetan culture and practices from close quarters. 

With those conflicting thoughts, we proceeded to Bhutan from Gangtok, via Jalpaiguri (West Bengal). In the afternoon of 1st January, we reached Phuentsholling, a border town of Bhutan and biggest commercial hub of the country. For me, the travel to Phuentsholling was sheer pleasure, as we travelled through many tea estates and road to phuentsholling was just superb and in complete contrast to the image of indian roads.

Phuentsholling : Gateway to Bhutan
After reaching Phuentsholling, we started our struggle for obtaining permits for individuals and vehicles, so that we can visit Paro & Thimphu, two most famous tourist destinations of Bhutan. Some members faced difficultites in obtaining permits,as they were not carrying proper identification papers recognized by Bhutanese authorities.They had to resort to Indian Embassy's help to get travel permits. Indian citizens need to carry Voter Identity Card or Aadhar Card for identification purposes and one or two passport-sized photographs. 

Our initial impression of Bhutan was of not so tourist-friendly nation, however it changed as we progressed further to Paro & Thimphu. We stayed at Phuentsholling first night and next morning, proceeded for Paro via Gedu, Chukha and Chhapcha Valley, around 175 Km away from Phuentsholling. It was a smooth ride of six hours, courtesy Project Dantak of  Border Road Organisation of Indian Army. One topographical difference,which i observed between Sikkim and Bhutan is that Sikkim mountains are lush green and replete with numerous streams, flora and fauna, while Bhutan Mountains are rugged and naked. 

As we proceeded to Paro, the weather got colder with increasing altitude. Finally, we reached Paro and the first impression of the small city was quite good. Like other hill stations, it also reflected neatness and calmness. We could hear gushing sound of Paro river flowing in the vicinity, just after entering the city. Paro also boasts of a miniature Airport, which has flights connecting it to Indian cities including Bodhgaya, a major Buddhisth pilgrimage centre.
Paro Airport is the only International Airport in Bhutan
Overview of Paro Airport

Paro City
It was freezing cold in Paro in the evening and we literally ran for the shelter and got accomodated in hotel rooms. All types of Hotels are available there in Paro. Searching for vegetarian food in any part of Bhutan may be a difficult task especially in Paro, as local people take mainly non-veg food. We also came to know an interesting thing that Television and Radio were banned in Bhutan til late 90's in a bid to preserve their culture from onslaught of any undesired influence. 
After getting refreshed and equipping ourselves with all the winter-wears we had, we took a stroll in the empty lanes of the city and interacted with some locals, mostly young bhutanese girls. They were genuinally very warm and hospitable towards us. We got all the information regarding places to visit in Paro and their historical importance from them. 

Next morning, we started our local sightseeing and the first on the list was Taktshang Monastry (Tiger's Nest). People playing Archery were the common sight along the way in Paro.
Tiger's Nest (Taktshang Monastry), Paro
Perched on a cliff-top, Bhutan's Taktshang monastery, also known as the Tiger's Nest, is one of the most breathtaking temples in the world. The Buddhist place of worship is built on a rock around 3,000m (10,000ft) above sea level and stands above a beautiful forest of blue pine and rhododendronsThe main temple complex was built in 1692 and is considered to be one of the holiest for the Bhutanese people. There are no proper roads and visitors have to trek for hours to reach the temple. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche flew to this site on a tigress’ back to subdue a local demon. Thereafter, he meditated here for three months. It is blessed and sanctified as one of Bhutan’s most sacred religious sites. 
Apart from monastry, we visited old fort of Paro and museum and then started for next destination, i.e. Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan Royal Kingdom and power centre of the country (around 50 K.m. away from Paro) taking with us wonderful memories of beautiful Paro. Again following the same pattern, we reached Thimphu in the evening and stayed in hotel to get ourselves recharged for next day's tryst with the capital city.
Thimphu City

View of Thimphu Valley on way to Buddha Dordenma Statue
Thimphu, as a capital city was like any other commercial place and full of shopping centers and many of us went on shopping spree, despite knowing very well that almost all the goods are mainly imported from India and hence costlier.
Next Morning, we started our local sightseeing with Buddha Dordenma statue, one of the largest statue of Lord Buddha in the world. This massive statue of Shakyamuni measures in at a height of 51.5 meters, making it one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. The statue is made of bronze and is gilded in gold. 125,000 smaller Buddha statues have been placed within the Buddha Dordenma statue. Each of these thousands of Buddhas have also been cast in bronze and gilded. The throne that the Buddha Dordenma sits upon is a large meditation hall. 
Buddha Dordenma Statue

Standing from the statue, one can see entire view of Thimphu Valley. Like Rashtrapati Bhawan in India, Royal Palace of Bhutanese Kingdom is also an attraction of Thimphu, so we decided to pay a visit to the royal family. The palace, located just outside the main city, looks imposing and imperious.

Dechencholing Palace, Thimphu
Having seen the treasure of happiness of Bhutanese people from the close quarters, it was time to say bid adieu to the land of thunder dragon and we started for another exhilarating journey way back to our motherland taking vivid and colourful memories of the hill nation with us. 

May be some happiness was rubbed on us too!