Sikkim: In Search of Majestic Views of Nathu La and Khangchendzonga
India’s north-east region is a goldmine of diversity. It had been on my travel radar for quite a while. However, given the location and distance from the mainland, it would take a lot of time to get a true feel of this enchanting region. So when I had only about a week to spare, I had to prioritise. I chose Sikkim hands down as I had been craving for some Himalayan views. The title of this blog post could be slightly misleading since I couldn’t get a picture-perfect view of either. And thus Sikkim remains to be visited again for I couldn’t completely fulfil what I inteded to. However, it did leave a strong impression and here’s a short take on my visit to India’s second smallest state in the lap of Himalayas.
The fastest way to reach Sikkim until even today is by flight to Bagdogra near Bengal-Sikkim border and then by road to the capital city of Gangtok. However, a few years ago, there were news that Sikkim is to get its own airport in coming year. It does look like it will be opening in next few months. Anyway, so that meant my journey to Sikkim began at this north Bengali town. This also gave me a chance to try the Bengali Hilsa cooked in yellow mustard sauce at a roadside eatery. It was delicious and left me craving for more!! Rice, like in south India seemed to be in unlimited portions. With heavy stomach and lulled senses we moved on. The first stop however was at Kalimpong: a hill town in Bengal almost near Sikkim border and only a couple of hours away from Darjeeling.
A few kilometeres before Kalimpong, we cross over the mighty Teesta river. We stopped at the Teesta bridge for a few minutes. The view was breathtaking. The water, muddied because of the monsoon rains, was flowing in a ravine surrounded by the thickets and deep jungles on the slopes. The flow was steady and slow which made the ravine even more deadly for I knew it must be very deep. I stared at the horizon where the river disappeared. With this welcome by rivers and jungles we restarted our journey.
Most haven’t even heard of this town. Sprawled atop a hill in the north Bengal region this town is a definition of a cozy and beautiful but bustling town. I really wanted to visit some off-the-beaten-path locations en-route Gangtok. This was the first and it blew my mind, literally, figuratively. I had my first paragliding experience here. It was CRAZY!!! Our host, a young chap of Nepalese descent, had a really wonderful AirBnB (pictured above). He has maitained few wooden cabins in a bit of wilderness and has a great touch of local culture. They also practice beekeeping in the yard! This also was my first AirBnB experience and I loved it.
Paragliding in Kalimpong
For paragliding it is important that enough wind is blowing (as it is not powered gliding) and there’s good visibility. If either is questionable, it becomes risky. When our host recommended a paragliding centre that’s just 10 minute away, I knew I had to do this. We had to wait for a few minutes for the winds but then one by one everyone began riding the clouds. For paragliding, usually, the glider (me+instructor in our respective ) runs down a slope with the chute trailing behind. As the wind fills up the chute glider gets pulled up in the air. I was pretty relaxed when it was my turn (I usually am around any adventure sports for that matter). However, the instructor pulled off a stunt soon. When I had settled well in my seat enjoying the landscape, out of the blue, in a strong gust, he pulled one end of the glider forcing it to revolve. We had at least 7-8 rapid revolutions in a period of 4-5 seconds. I was sure that it was the last day of my life. Only realised later that he deliberately did that. Best experience ever! 😀
Sounds of the forest, Rinchenpong
From Kalimpong we left for another offbeat village in Sikkim: Rinchenpong. Deep forests surrounded the serpentine roads. At times though, road condition was not very good and we had to stop for the traffic to clear off. We reached this town very late in the evening. The place we had booked for the night wasn’t easily accessible especially when there were no street lights. Eventually we made it but the real beauty of this palace-like bunglow was not revealed fully until the next morning. (Not everyone agreed, but) this secluded incredibly beautiful bunglow in the middle of deep forest was a delight for solo traveller like me. I’d recommend this place for anyone who likes peace and nature. Incredible sounds and visuals from all around were a treat for ears and curious eyes.
A cricket! Terrifyingly loud sound. Can anyone help me identify this? Comment below if you know anything about this.
I would have loved to stay here longer, but alas, we had only 2 nights here. The weather also played spoilsport, else I was really hoping for a nice view of the peak Khangchendzonga (Kanchanganga).
I would say, hands down, best drivers and traffic in the entire country. During my stay in Gangtok and in Sikkim overall, I was absolutely delighted to see very disciplined traffic and no horn honking. It was also amusing to see a behaviour change on our return journey just as we left Sikkim border 🙂
Gangtok is one of the cleanest cities in India and it was evident through the spotless roads and alleys up the hills. This visit being in June, the weather was cloudy, rainy and foggy. M G road lined by the fancy cafes and resturants is the hip place in the city. It was also amusing to climb up and down the stairway-alleys along the slopes of the hill as I observed the locals up and about amidst the sea of tourists. I also loved the murals all over the city. Murals always give a place a classic feel. The plan, once in Gangtok was to visit Gurdongmar lake in the far north but it turned out those were package tours and the road condition wasn’t great. So we decided to skip it. Instead we focussed the attention on Nathu La.
The only open land border between India and China, Nathu La, is in Sikkim and very close from Gangtok. Obviously it is heavily guarded. I was really excited about visiting this place as I had heard how close the two posts were to each other. The location also was scenic and picturesque. One needs a permit to visit Nathu La and only limited number of vehicles can visit each day. This means, when traveling in group it’s best to make these arrangements beforehand. Luckily we managed it just in time. It was funny how the permits were being distributed by the government official who came riding on his motorbike. I wondered how that worked!
The journey to Nathu La was short however was a bit disappointing because of dense fog all around and in the valley below. The actual pass and the Indian and the Chinese posts including the surroundings too were covered in the fog. Photography is prohibited here. I was completely mystified by the whole atmosphere and the feeling that I’m so so close to the border right across a Chinese soldier who probably is observing my every movement. And then I spotted a few of them in flesh and blood right across the fence. I could if literally jump across if I felt like and shake hands with them! Of course I didn’t do anything stupid and returned safely to write this blog 😉
This is the biggest monastery in Sikkim and one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. Accessible by local transport from Gangtok and a 10 minute walk later you enter the sprawling courtyard of the monastery. The monastery looks so peaceful in all its colours! This monastery played a key role in the history of Sikkim. Sikkim was just another independent kingdom in the subcontinent and highly influenced by the Tibetan culture. It came under the rule of Chinese Qing dynasty later before the British took control. The religious leadership played a key role in the kingdom’s capital for a long time. Sikkim joined the Union of India only in 1975, nearly 27 years after independence, by an overwhelming majority in the referendum. There are interesting references to this modern history on the Rumtek monastery walls.
The next time I plan to go during Spring season when the Rhododendrons will be blooming all over the state. Im sure then the weather will be better and I can get a clear view of the Khangchendzonga!