Friday, June 3, 2016

North East Part 1

It’s been ages since I blogged and once again I am at a loss for words. There’s so much I need to fill up on that I don’t think I can even do it!

So the much awaited trip is finally over but I still seem to be in a hangover. There was pre-Trip excitement and now there is post trip euphoria. Will I ever reach steady state equilibrium?

I wish I could be that person who gives a beautiful travelogue chronicling the journey from Day 1 to Day 10 but sadly I simply cannot do it. Or else I’m going to do a really short version of that and then elaborate on some snapshots.

So we started off from Bangalore on 10th of May around 7.30 towards Kempegowda Airport and had a quick breakfast on the way. The landscaping enroute to the airport has been spruced up to give any person landing in Bangalore a wonderful impression of the city. Broad lanes, flowering shrubs on the sideway and skyscrapers doting the foreground made it picture perfect. :)

Call me a kid but I still am and perhaps will always be excited by air travel. The whole atmosphere of the airport makes you feel you are out to do something big! *me and my silly thoughts*But to be honest, a lot more people travel by flight these days. Our Indigo flight was packed to the brim and it seemed like the AC compartment of BLR-Shimoga train except this was high up in the sky amidst the clouds! After a fairly uneventful journey and some blatant gazing at the airhostesses we landed at the Baghdoghra Defence Airport which is tiny compared to BLR airport. Our Driver for the first leg of the journey, Amrit had arrived and we bundled into the Innova and set off. After lunch at Bihari vegetarian restaurant we proceeded towards Darjeeling through mild showers and through tea gardens on flat land. In the initial leg of the journey, background music was provided by me and it made the journey all the more beautiful as we made our way through the hills. We had a quick Maggie stop and began the first of innumerable “Tea Breaks”. We reached Darjeeling by 8.30 and the drizzle had intensified into a steady shower as we checked into Little Tibet. It was a cute property (as we discovered in the morning) but we were exhausted by a day of travel so we had a quick dinner and hit the sack.

The next day was Darjeeling sight-seeing. We did not visit Tiger Hill (famed for its flaming red view of the Kanchenjunga) as the mist had not cleared after yesterday’s rains so it was unlikely that we would see much. We visited a few places like the Japanese Temple, Peace Pagoda and a tiny art gallery which is promoted as a tourist attraction. We visited the Padmaja Naidu Zoological Park for its main attraction, the red panda where we also happened to meet Likki and her family. Lunch was at this hotel near the zoo and after this we headed towards the Tibetian Refugee Centre where we saw a lot of kids who were probably used to being photographed! Our next stop was Mall Road where we did some shopping and hogging in Pizza Hut (Ah, Bliss!). We visited the famous Glenary’s Bakery. It’s a 1950’s cafĂ© where you can sit out and watch the mountains over a cup of tea and you will not realize how time flies. After this we walked further ahead on Mall Road till we reached an open air theatre where people performed some acrobatics on one side and on the other side was a screen playing Arijit Singh’s tracks. We spent a good few hours here and then returned to Little Tibet for dinner.

Day 3 began on a drizzly note so we sent up our prayers which were duly answered. We drove out of Darjeeling and made our way towards Pelling. We drove through the hills and children walked along the sides as they made their way towards schools. Dressed to suit the chilly weather, young girls and boys walked under the shade of umbrellas in the backdrop of mountains. For them it was another day, for us it was a memory to cherish. We waved out to them, some waved back and a little boy cried as he watched his geometry box slip and tumble down the mountains.

We drove alongside the Teesta River flowing in all her glory through the mountains. The rains subsided as we reached Melli.  We took the longer round which would give us 5-6 rapids and lasted about 40 minutes. We were driven to the rafting point in a jeep and believe it or not, 16 people were bundled together in a single jeep (including the rafting men hanging on to the sides of the vehicle!). Nidhi and I took the oars (while I strongly believe that majority of the work was done by the pros seated at the back, it was still a tiring job to row through the force of the river but everytime we faced the rapids, it was an amazing feeling as the raft rocked to and fro and threatened to turn over but was expertly maneuvered by the raftsmen  (I made that up lol). So we struck up a conversation with one of the raftsmen and when we revealed that we were from Karnataka, he amazed us with a “Kannada swalpa swalpa baratte” since he’d lived here for a few years. Nidhz and I took a dip in the Teesta River and it was cool and refreshing. I still cannot believe how I was singlehandedly hauled out of the river by the raftsman as though I was just another fish in the river! Post another maggi and chai session, lunch was at Hotel 10zing where I tried the local delicacy of Thukpa but perhaps it was not meant for me! We proceeded further towards Pelling and we reached Norbu Gang in the evening. It was another drizzly evening so we stayed inside our wooden cabins and warmed the room with the heater. We took a long walk in the rain, explored the cute property and then settled down after dinner.

The next morning was fairly sunnier and Mama and I took an early morning walk, spotted a tiny petrol bunk at the edge of a cliff and failed to get a decent cup of tea anywhere. Our new driver was Bittu who had decked up his Xylo with ManU merchandise. We started off towards Rabdentse ruins but did not venture further. We instead visited Pemayangtse Monastery from where we got a good view of the ruins and we spent some time observing the architecture of the monastery and the carvings, scriptures and paintings on the walls. We visited Singshore Bridge which is the second largest suspension bridge at a length of 189 metres. The view was magnificent and called for some photoshoots. As we proceeded further in our journey, waterfalls accompanied us and the joy of watching fresh water cascade downhill is indescribable. Through the course of this journey we had some great music providing a wonderful backdrop against the scenery. From Bollywood to English tracks to even some Nepali numbers, the playlist was just perfect!! We reached Kecheopalri Lake in the afternoon and this is supposed to be a holy lake where wishes made are said to come true. I bought one of those “Om Mane Pe Me Hu” Thoranas and it’s the one thing that I’ve added to my corner of the room to bring some colour. Lunch was at this veg restaurant suggested by the driver and we even saw some legit South Indian food and also CURD (Woohoo. When I say Curd, It was REAL LIVE CURD, not the uggh yuck muck kind of curd they make from the powdered milk! :P

 Kanchenjunga Falls was the next pitstop and it was tucked away in the interior. One of the locals helped us hop nearer to the falls ensuring that we didn’t slip on the way.There really is no word to describe how you feel as you watch pure unadulterated, unpolluted, crystal clear water gushing down in all its glory and splash across leaving a wave of lush greenery around it. That is how nature paints her magic; silently, quietly but so remarkably inimitable.

After this, we travelled further through hills and valleys until we reached Yuksom which is basically the starting point for the Goecha La / Dzongri trek. (DO read about these epic treks lasting for 9/10days entailing sleeping in tents, under the open skies and living it rough until you reach the Goecha La peak) We were to stay at Tashi Gang Hotel (we learnt later that this was actually managed by Danny Denzongpa [the Bollywood actor btw]’s brother). It’s remarkable how useful online reviews are, because the description perfectly matched what we had read on TripAdvisor. True to the review, the hotel was good and the view was promising but it seemed like it was only managed by a couple of teenage boys. Just as we had read, they sat watching the television and much to our (particularly Atthe’s) chagrin, it appeared that there were no other tourists residing In the entire hotel. Black and white photographs of Lepcha and Bhutia tribes of Sikkim taken in the 1800s adorned the eerie walls and bugs and beetles awaited us indoors. Atthe and Nidhi skipped dinner, so Mama and I went down and saw that they had prepared quite a few things (for the only residents of the hotel!). In most places, when we specified that we were strictly vegetarian, you could notice how their face fell by the tiniest fraction. Eggs, Chicken and Meat probably form a vital part of their diet so they were not used to such a ‘plain’ fare. We asleep soon enough and I had the most ABSURD dream. EVER. 

The next morning we woke up a beautiful view in our balcony (as promised by the TripAdvisor review), packed up and left towards Ravangla, Namchi and Samdrupse Hill.

Ravangla has a huge Buddha statue and a shrine underneath with a lot of intricate murals describing the life of Buddha. I purchased a few souvenirs here and we had some hot momos, maggi and more chai. The place was well maintained and flowers of all varieties enhanced the picture perfect frame. After this we headed to Namchi in South Sikkim where a huge statue of Shiva was at the epicentre while 12 temples (of the Jyothirlingas) surrounded it along with  4 Dhams (Rameshwar, Badri, Dwarka and Puri- This does not refer to the traditional 4 dhams as established by Adi Shankaracharya). After a quick lunch of Roti and Subzi, we did our round of the temples and then proceeded towards Samdrupse Hill. It was during the journey that Atthe struck up a conversation with the driver and discovered more about him. It was indeed surprising to know that he was a post graduate and intended to get into the Police force and had already made an attempt. Just like how Appa engaged Tanveer (our driver in Kashmir) with a lively banter, we learnt a lot about Sikkim, its culture and people through these interactions.

Some of the snapshots: 
I intend to share more pictures of our travels but my crappy network does not seem to support this idea. -.-

At the Kanchenzonga Falls

View from 301, Tashi Gang, Yuksom 
At Ravangla Buddha Park

View from Norbu Gang, Pelling

At Peace Pagoda, Darjeeling.