The plane hovered parallel to the Kachendzonga and it was unbelievably beautiful! Distance makes the heart long & it seemed no less this time. We could witness the aerial views of the summits of Kanchendzonga – snow-capped & breath-taking: infused with a peaceful life! In love with the mountains yet again!
The drive from Bagdogra to Gangtok was a five hours affair, but nothing seemed long enough, every turn had an element of newness. Crossing the borders of West Bengal we entered this landlocked state of Sikkim. Smitten I was! The welcome gate with flags of kaleidoscopic colours had a check post to verify the traveller’s identities. The little miniature existence of this land of Lamas was no less than god’s way of placing them in a land which was best suited to the natives, geographically. And there we were in Gangtok, as if mounting a ship from its deck, while sitting in a car. The topography is escalating & the houses & hotels here seemingly overlap each other. They are systematically placed in ascending order, well of course Gangtok is a planned city & hence the Capital!
We quickly checked into the hotel to freshen up & give ourselves the pleasure of witnessing the Gangtok market. A quick walk around was enough to catch the life of the Capital, thriving in travel & trade both. Soon we retired to bed early in order to leave for Lachung the following day, also making up for all the travel fatigue. The wine helped of course!
Morning sun shone overhead & I quickly turned to peep out of the windows to witness a typical Gangtok market. Post breakfast we left for our destination – Lachung, 128 Kms from Gangtok, in a 4 hours’ drive. It’s a scenic drive to Lachung with dense forests on either side & the narrow roads chasing you into a quasi –rural setting. So rural, yet so perfect, the greenery, the little wooden houses brightly drenched in colours of red, green, blue & yellow. Sure to make one crave to own a house in the higher reaches of Sikkim.
On the way there were countless waterfalls, oozing out of the mountains, the first where we took a halt at, was Butterfly waterfall. A soft fall, with a small joint for quick snacking was just an hour away from Gangtok. Soon David , our driver played his playlist, with the most youthful songs – well such are the small joys of travelling, you get to enjoy someone else’s playlists.! Next David enlightened us about a Ping game he used to play with his pals/ brothers (Daju, in Nepali).The next stop was Dikchu Bridge, in the North Sikkim, over the still waters of Teesta River, it is a scenic delight, reminiscing a message of peace.
Next on our way was the majestic Lachung, a Bhutia village, set at an altitude 9,500 m. But before this stop we drove to a homestay, on the midway for lunch & of course some amazing home cooked food was on our way. Amongst the innumerable waterfalls, we stopped at the one last on our way to Lachung, the Naga waterfalls. This huge waterfall seemingly emerges from a cloud! It is indeed grand, the misty clouds on one side & hustling waterfalls add to a dazzling effect as you stand below it. This fall is also referred to as the Bhim Nala, for its profundity & mighty presence.
Misty clouds soon led us to Lachung, our homestay in Lachung, Eden La was no less than a paradise for its setting so unique & blissful. Eden La has the most hospitable staff that catered to our needs with the most homely touch of hospitality. The following day we witnessed a zero degree temperature accompanied by snowfall making it all the more worthwhile. Next on our list was the Yumthang Valley at 3,564 m.
A paradise for nature lovers, celebrated for almost 24 species of rhododendrons. The million dollar drive from the homestay till Yumthang, was a sight to capture with, snow decked houses & the snow friendly Yaks, all along the way. The way to Yumthang was now to be made on foot, after a 7 Km drive till the zero point. Snow makes it a little challenge to walk on the route to Yumthang, moreover if the snow does not permit, the army might block the way ahead to avoid any mishap. About 1 -1/2 Kms from Yumthang, there is a hot spring close by Tsa –Chu, immensely popular for its curative properties.
Singhik, a small monastery with a little visibility of Mt. Kanchendzonga is close by, a must be on the to- do list in Lachung. Ahead of Lachung, is Lachen, a small town in North Sikkim perched at an altitude of 2750 m. Lachen, literally means a big pass. Lachen is not only beautiful in its grandeur but is also one stop for adventure activities. From Rafting to Trekking, Lachen is THE place to indulge in the outdoors of Sikkim. The popular places around Lachen are, Gurudongmar Lake, Lachen Monastry & of course a visit to the famous annual Yak race, organised in Thangu every summers. In spite of enough options to explore, our journey to Lachen was so adventurous, that we nearly failed to visit this place thriving in all its glory! The initial route from Lachung to Lachen is akin to passing through a mini Kashmir, laden with snow & greenery all around! Pristine it is for its lush green mountains & absolute snow laden roads. A constant sense of peace is what you can feel in this land of lamas.
But to our dismay the 3 hours’ drive from Lachung to Lachen suddenly turned all daring, as we were on absolute edge, -The edge of the roads! With small landslides & perpetual snowfall, the narrow roads failed to make a provision for us to go ahead, even though we were merely 2 Kms behind Lachen. The driver refused to take the car any further & we of course could not walk on foot with all the baggage for a 2 Km trek. Whatsoever, there is an immense pull even in the challenges we face and Lachen, with all its magnetism will surely get me here the next time we make a trip to Sikkim.
Determined to go back to Gangtok that very day, we made yet another thrilling journey of 7 hours to reach Gangtok. Traversing through the thick forest trails with not a streetlamp all the way was not only a challenge for the driver but a trial for the passengers. It was as if we had opted to pave a way to nowhere. Nothingness was in our minds; however, once we entered Gangtok the journey seemed more like breaking through our blocks – the blocks of FEAR! Returning to Gangtok the same day we took a hotel in the market place, to soak up the urban lights penetrating through the rustic experiences recently accumulated!
The next morning took us to the M.G Market of Gangtok, bustling with the essence of Sikkim, its people & its delicacies. Having taken a bit of everything we winded up our affair with Gangtok to be led to the Dharma Chakra Centre Complex – Rumtek Monastery.
24 Kms away from Gangtok, Rumtek monastery sprawls across 74 acres in the foothills of Himalayas. The seat of the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, who founded the monastery is said to have shifted his residence from Old Rumtek monastery to the present Dharma Chakra centre. The monastery is also home to the Nalanda Institute for Higher Studies. The institute imparts knowledge on Buddhist philosophy, religious history with Tibetan language as the medium. The prayers here are performed to ensure world peace and to spread tranquillity and compassion by following Buddha’s teaching.
The day ended with our return to Siliguri, in a drive of 5 hours. The hustle bustle of Siliguri, a rapidly growing metropolis of West Bengal was a return to the urban life & its regular charms. However, the pleasant weather took us back to the place we had just been to. The message of peace ought to remain with the soul for a lifetime, as this land locked state has locked up so much within to be cherished for the longest time, until I hearken to the call of Land of Lamas once again!