Sikkim Diary - Part 1

After a 7 day, 100 kilometer trek to Samiti lake and Goecha La in West Sikkim, we finally got back to Darjeeling. While rest of the gang were all set to fly back to Bangalore and Chennai the next day, Robert and myself weren't done with our adventures just yet. We had another 8 days to explore the beautiful Sikkim & West Bengal; all we lacked was a plan. Though a well thought out itinerary is advisable during travel, it cannot match the small surprises that an unplanned trip throw up every now and then. So after a good night's sleep and seeing off the gang to the Bagdogra airport, we walked into Glanary's for our morning dose of apple pies.

Nothing facilitates clarity of thought and unbiased decision making like apple pies. So as we sat there at Darjeeling chowrastha, drinking coffee and watching the morning mist slowly taking over the city, ideas started taking shape. A ride on the toy train from Darjeeling to Siliguri was a priority item on our wish list. The tickets were all sold out for the next few days and we decided to try our luck at a travel agency. Bang opposite to the railway station was an agent who had two tickets for the day after, of course at a premium. Now that the tickets were arranged, we had two days to wander around and we decided to go to Sandakphu. Sandakphu is the highest peak in the state of West Bengal. It is situated at the edge of the Singalila National Park on the West Bengal-Sikkim border and is famous for the fantastic views of Himalayan ranges it provides. Without wasting much time we started our journey to Mane Bhanjang, from where the Sandakphu trail starts. Jeep service is available to Mane Bhanjang from Darjeeling old supermarket junction.

Mane Bhanjang is a beautiful village at the gateway of the Singalila National Park. This place still got a bunch of those old Land Rovers running up and down the hillocks; they even got a Land Rover Owners Association there. The jeep trip to this village was quite entertaining - we bought and ate fresh carrots on the way (just a kilo of it), four clouded leopard cubs crossed our path and we had to prove our identity at two checkposts as we looked 'different'. Once we reached Mane Bhanjang we realised that the trek to Sandakphu is a costly affair - some 3000 rupees as trek fees plus charges for a mandatory guide plus other charges! Someone had told us of a Buddhist monastery about two kilometers from Mane Bhanjang on top of a hill, and we decided to walk up to the monastery first and then decide on the course thereafter. Though it was early afternoon, the visibility was hardly 5 feet as we walked up the winding path through the pine forests. Bright blue pine cones on emerald green branches was quite a sight and the gigantic ferns only added to the beauty of the landscape.

The two kilometers walk to Chitre monastery was tiring, in fact we were sure the distance was more like some 5 kilometers. The monastery looked beautiful and the monks were busy with renovation works, in time for some festival the coming week. After spending some time there though we decided to walk towards Sandakpu, we soon realised it was a stupid decision. The mist became so thick that we could not figure out our way forward or back. Even the sun seemed to be all set for an early retreat. But then, as you see in the movies, we heard a voice from the clouds. No, it wasn't the burning bush shouting 'Behold ye arrogant idiots'. It was the unmistakable noise of utensils and the barking of a dog. We made best use of our olfactory senses and walked towards the sound, though a little worried about a flesh-ripping welcome by the dog. Fortunately it was the house of Phuntsukh -Eagle's Nest- and he invited us in for a cup of tea!

One thing I like most about travel is the excitement of meeting interesting people and making new acquaintances. Phuntsukh had moved to Mane Bhanjang some 20 years ago from Bhutan and he was gracious enough to offer us their guest room for the night. The offer became irresistible when he said he will treat us to some good Nepalese noodles, hot parathas and Aloo Dum (not that we would have refused the offer without the food). We could also smell some fine Roxy in the making. Roxy is a local alcoholic drink. Phuntsukh's wife later showed us the urns in which they ferment rice to make Roxy. After some hot coffee and snacks we retired into the guest room and it soon started raining. The guest room had tin roofing and the raindrops were doing tap dance on it. It was one of the finest moments of the entire trip, as I lay there under the comfort of a heavy blanket, listening to the Raindrops Symphony, reading 'The Secret Life of Plants'!

The next morning we woke up to a magnificent sunrise and had Nepalese wheat noodles for breakfast, listening to Rod Stewart singing 'Have I told you lately..'. We said goodbye to Phuntsukh and family after breakfast and started our descend back to Mane Bhanjang. The mist had cleared and the valleys looked beautiful this time. We got back to Darjeeling by afternoon, checked into a motel and soon set out to see the Tibetan Handicraft center. When we got back to the chowrastha, the place had woken up from the drowsiness of the morning and was filled with people and horses. We took a walk around to see the beautiful St. Andrews church and ended the day with a tasty dinner at Glanary's. We picked up some local music CDs on the way back; some compilations of Sabin Rai as well. After arranging for an early morning pickup to visit the Tiger hills, we retired to our room for some much needed sleep.

Click here for more..
Sikkim Diary: Part 1
Sikkim Diary: Part 2
Sikkim Diary: Part 3
Sikkim Diary: Part 4


Maria said...

Mr.Bloger, How many days u took leave? "One thing I like most about travel is the excitement of meeting interesting people and making new acquaintances", then why don’t u go the Venice of The East? Actually u r missing the beauty of Kuttanadu.
Definitely u should go. That is a wonderful, everlasting journey.

attiDuDe said...

Thanks for the suggestion. I have been to Kuttanad, though I cannot say I have seen it all there.
Beautiful place indeed, will definitely go there again!
And to answer your question, I went on a 16 days trip to Sikkim - 7 days of trekking and 6 days of wandering around :)

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