Journey through the winding roads || Dzuluk, Gnathang Valley || East Sikkim || Silk Route

Tripoto
21st Dec 2017
Photo of Journey through the winding roads || Dzuluk, Gnathang Valley || East Sikkim || Silk Route by Sayan Mitra

The Old Silk Route or Silk Road which passes through East Sikkim is a part of the ancient network of trade routes which connected China to India. This route passed through Lhasa and Nathu La and Jelep La Pass and finally reached the port of Tamralipta (present Tamluk in West Bengal) from where it took to the sea and reached far east. This Ancient Silk Route is expected to have been discovered by traders as early as First Century AD.

Keeping aside history, the route is well known for its exquisite scenic beauty,the famous zig-zag road,the surreal sunrise and the spectacular views of Mt.Kanchenjugha.
The locals are simple.They will make all possible efforts to make your trip amazing and to ensure you leave with the thought of returning to the place yet again.
Thus every year, the snow-clad, rhododendron-filled path welcomes tourists from all over the world.

The Magnificent Kanchenjunga

Photo of Journey through the winding roads || Dzuluk, Gnathang Valley || East Sikkim || Silk Route by Sayan Mitra
Day 1

After a tiring bus journey we were all dying to get our lungs filled with the fresh mountain breeze. Our travel partner 'Spring Vale Resorts' had made all arrangements prior to our arrival at Siliguri and so without wasting any time we headed for Sillery Gaon.The route to Sillery passes through the busy Kalimpong town,the headquarters of the Kalimpong district.

From Kalimpong you have to take the road that goes towards Rishikhola and somewhere in between the car switches to a narrow trail full of ups and downs,filled with boulders and gravels.The smooth ride suddenly becomes extremely bumpy.But be patient because, after this half an hour ride gets over you will find yourself in one of those dreamy mounatin villages with abounding nature, laid-back village life and magnificent views of the Himalayan range.

At an altitude of 6000 ft,Sillery Gaon is a quaint sleepy hamlet lovingly called by the locals as "New Darjeeling".

The cottage-type houses with slanting tinned roofs having a backdrop of pine forest looks mystic and picturesque. The name Sillery comes from an edible green known as 'Sillery Saag' which once used to be cultured and harvested here by the villagers and sold in the market.

Sillery Gaon

Photo of Sillery Gaon, West Bengal, India by Sayan Mitra

On reaching the homestay, we were greeted by the owner. The rooms were nice and cosy and the balcony offered views of the entire village. After having a warm and delicious lunch, we went for a village walk. The village was indeed a very small one.You can probably meet all the 50 odd families who live here in an hour's time.There was an open field at the end of the village where we got involved in a game of football as well with the locals. The mercury dropped significantly during the evening and a camp fire was just the need of the hour. Many of us were meeting each other for the first time and hence an introductory session was a must. It turned out to be an amazing one. I always felt that the mountains have the power to develop new bonds, to make old bonds stronger.Seemed as if my feelings were true.

Sillery Gaon

Photo of Journey through the winding roads || Dzuluk, Gnathang Valley || East Sikkim || Silk Route by Sayan Mitra

Sillery Gaon

Photo of Journey through the winding roads || Dzuluk, Gnathang Valley || East Sikkim || Silk Route by Sayan Mitra
Day 2

It was 4:30 in the morning when the alarm started ringing. We immediately got ready and started walking towards Ramitey Dara to watch the sunrise. Outside it was pitch dark and the half an hour hike through the forest in complete darkness was quite an experience. The Ramitey view point is one of the vantage locations to view both the Kanchendzonga and the meandering Teesta with its 14 bends, a rare sight to behold. A bird’s eye view of the entire region is visible from this point right from Teesta Bazar to Majhitar on a clear day. However Ramitey actually being a sunset point, the sunrise couldn't be seen. Plus the gloomy weather played its part as well.

But after sometime the clouds decided to unveil the sky painted in red. The hills on the other side looked mysterious with the river in between appearing like a silver thread. The day couldn't have started any better.

Ramitey Dara

Photo of Journey through the winding roads || Dzuluk, Gnathang Valley || East Sikkim || Silk Route by Sayan Mitra

Post breakfast it was time for us to bid goodbye to Sillery Gaon and start our journey towards Zuluk. Suraj Pradhan, the owner of Dilmaya Retreat and Dawa Sherpa had already arrived and soon we were back on the roads.
After getting our permit done at Rongli we headed for Zuluk covering Lingtam and Padamchen.

Lingtam

Photo of Journey through the winding roads || Dzuluk, Gnathang Valley || East Sikkim || Silk Route by Sayan Mitra

We could get the feel of the winding roads but the visibility was so poor that we could hardly see a thing outside. It was around 6'o'clock in the evening when we reached Zuluk.

Now before proceeding any further to our experiences over there, I should mention a few facts about the place.

Located at a height of around 10,100 feet on the rugged terrain of the lower Himalayas in East Sikkim, Zuluk or Dzuluk is a small village beside a winding road. It was once a transit point to the historic Silk Route from Tibet to India. This small village accommodates a population of around 700 people. There is also an Indian Army base at Zuluk, which has been used as a transit camp for the army movement to the Chinese border, a few kilometres away. Zuluk itself does not offer views of the snow peaks but only 14 kms away the Thambi View Point offers a panoramic view of the entire Mt. Kanchenjungha range.

The evening was extremely cold and we were all shivering. Temperature had nearly reached the freezing point and it was the fire lit outside that kept us warm.
Must say the hospitality of the people in these parts are amazing. They'll serve you to the best of their abilities, they'll listen to all your tantrums and come up with a solution just to make your stay a pleasant one and also because they want you to leave the place with a smile.

We finished our dinner early because we had to wake up in the middle of the night and go to Lungthung to catch one of the most beautiful sunrises one would ever see in their whole lifetime.

Day 3

The night sky was absolutely clear with uncountable stars glittering like diamonds. The wind had stopped howling and seemed to be much less fierce. The whole atmosphere was so peaceful,so calm. The car kept moving through the winding roads for an hour before coming to a stop. The place was filled with other tourists as well, all waiting for the spectacle to happen. All this while we had probably ignored the cold outside because as soon as we got exposed in the open, we were blown away. The mercury had definitely dipped below the freezing point and I could literally feel my muscles shivering and my teeth chattering.

All our eyes were set on the horizon which was gradually changing its colour. In the faint red and yellow hues of the rising sun, we could see that we were standing above the clouds. And for once at least, I thought it was no less than the ocean. Soon on the other side we could see the peaks of the Kanchenjunga being kissed by the first rays of the sun. It seemed as if the peaks wore an orange crown which soon changed its colour to golden.

I have seen 'The Sleeping Buddha' many a times but never so beautiful.  We considered ourselves extremely lucky to have witnessed this breathtaking sight and experience something truly surreal. With all these visuals in mind we left Lungthung.

Sunrise at Lungthung

Photo of Lungthung View Point, Sikkim, India by Sayan Mitra

Sunrise at Lungthung

Photo of Lungthung View Point, Sikkim, India by Sayan Mitra

We checked out a bit late from Zuluk and even got a scolding from Suraj Bhaiya for that. Actually in these places you can never trust the weather. For once you ll see the sun shining bright and the very next moment it may vanish behind the clouds. The route was the same one that we had taken while going towards Lungthung. This Zigzag road is probably the most dizzying road in the world. The road includes more than 100 hairpins in just 30km. It's one of the most famous hairpinned road in the world.

Our first halt was at Thambi View Point. Located at an altitude of 11,200 ft above the sea level this is the point from where you can get unhindered views of the Three Level Zigzag roads as well as the Kanchenjunga at the same time. This geometry of curves cannot be described by any means, at least in words. Its looks like a maze and often is termed as the 'Bhul-Bhulaiyaa'.

Mt. Kanchenjunga

Photo of Journey through the winding roads || Dzuluk, Gnathang Valley || East Sikkim || Silk Route by Sayan Mitra

Kanchenjunga from Thambi

Photo of Journey through the winding roads || Dzuluk, Gnathang Valley || East Sikkim || Silk Route by Sayan Mitra

Zig Zag Road from Thambi

Photo of Journey through the winding roads || Dzuluk, Gnathang Valley || East Sikkim || Silk Route by Sayan Mitra

The Zig Zag Road

Photo of Journey through the winding roads || Dzuluk, Gnathang Valley || East Sikkim || Silk Route by Sayan Mitra

The cloud floating in the deep Blue Sky

Photo of Journey through the winding roads || Dzuluk, Gnathang Valley || East Sikkim || Silk Route by Sayan Mitra

From Thambi we headed towards the Old Baba Mandir and Kupup. The road leading towards the Kupup valley has a bifurcation at Tukla and connects to the Old Baba Mandir (Bunker). At this place the samadhi of Baba Harbhajan former soldier of the Indian Army has been built and is famously known as Old Baba Mandir.

You'll find the entire history revolving Baba Mandir in the below link.

http://www.sikkimsilkroute.com/baba-mandir/

After visiting Baba Mandir we started our journey towards Kupup Lake. Locally called Bitan Cho, it is one of the most sacred lakes of Sikkim, with high mountains and valleys bordering it. Owing to its resemblance to elephant, Kupup Lake is also known as Elephant Lake.
The lake nestles at an altitude of 13,066 feet, on the way to Jelepla Pass, bordering area between China and India. Dawa Bhaiya pointed towards Jelep La and even the disputed area of Doklam was visible from Kupup Lake.

Elephant Lake , Kupup

Photo of Kupup, Sikkim, India by Sayan Mitra

We finally reached Gnathang at around 3'o'clock in the afternoon.

Gnathang Valley or Nathang Valley is popularly called the "Ladakh of the East India". Situated at the height of 13,000 ft. above the sea level Nathang Valley is one of the most beautiful places in Old-Silk-Route. Surrounded by snow capped hills and mountains the valley is basically an army cantonement. Chinese Watch Towers on Jelep La are clearly visible from Nathang valley in naked eyes. Nathang is the highest location to stay in the Indian part of the Old Silk Route. It is one of the remotest Tibetan habitations in Himalayas.

Nathang Valley appears in different colours in different times of the year. In autumn it looks golden when the grass dries up, in rainy season it's covered in flowers and in winter it is buried in 5 feet of snow. Nathang Valley is also visited by migratory birds just before the onset of winter.

Gnathang Valley

Photo of Gnathang, Sikkim, India by Sayan Mitra

Gnathang Valley || Road to Kupup

Photo of Gnathang, Sikkim, India by Sayan Mitra

Nathang happened to be love at first sight. It is probably the most scenic destination in the whole of Old Silk Route. Few streams crisscross the valley and prayer flags flutter on the mountain edges. The best part about the place is that it is simply a vast plain  having absolutely nothing. A monastery, a temple, a small bridge over a small stream and a war memorial carrying the memories of "Tukla War". That's All!

We had to rush to catch the sunset immediately after finishing lunch as we were already quite late. The sunset at Nathang is quite special. One gets to see the sun gradually hiding underneath thick clouds. A local took us to the war memorial saying that the sunset could be watched better from over there. But in reality the views were magnificent from the place just in front of our homestay.

Sunset from Gnathang

Photo of Journey through the winding roads || Dzuluk, Gnathang Valley || East Sikkim || Silk Route by Sayan Mitra

We could feel the nip in the air during the evening. The dew lying on the grass, the water flowing through the ditches had frozen. Some of us were extremely tired and decided to take a short nap. Although it was pitch dark and cold, a few of us decided to stay outside. We would probably have regretted badly if we had chosen the warmth of the room heaters. Outside, the sky was unbelievably clear. It seemed as if we were standing underneath the galaxy with countless stars giving us winks. And we witnessed something that none of us had ever seen before. We had seen the sun vanishing underneath the clouds before, now it was time for the moon. 'Moon-set' it was!

It was Christmas Eve. Out of the eleven people in our group, four of us were standing outside in the middle of a deserted road in the biting cold. It was extremely quiet and peaceful outside. We looked up in the sky and got lost in the star trails. For quite some time we didn't speak to each other. We observed the constellations and we could even see the shooting stars. It felt as if we had reached our dreamland where the night was just like the one mentioned in one of the Christmas carols.

"Silent Night, Holy Night
  All is calm, All is bright..."

12:00 AM || GNATHANG VALLEY || MERRY CHRISTMAS.

Day 4

Goodbyes are never easy. No matter how much you try you can never evade this moment. But I knew that it was only a matter a time and soon we'll be back to the mountains. This is where the soul lies.

The downhill journey all the way to Siliguri was quite long and hectic. But no matter how tiring it was, we were fresh and in good spirits. Probably this was because of the energy injected in us by the mountains. We made new friends, we made new memories, some being extremely special. All these would remain deep imside within us and we would treasure them throughout our lives.

A few things to keep in mind:

1) Accommodation in these areas are very basic, so don't expect any sort of luxury.
2) Start early for Rongli. The Inner line permit is issued here and takes some time.
3) Its better to keep medications for Altitude Sickness.
4) While returning from Gnathang its better to halt somewhere for a night rather than directly going to Siliguri. The journey is indeed a long one and there lies a chance of missing the train.
For people travelling through air, halt at Siliguri.
5) It's nature at its very best. Do not harm the environment and enjoy responsibly.

Signing off until next time.

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CHEERS!!

The Squad

Photo of Journey through the winding roads || Dzuluk, Gnathang Valley || East Sikkim || Silk Route by Sayan Mitra

Making memories

Photo of Journey through the winding roads || Dzuluk, Gnathang Valley || East Sikkim || Silk Route by Sayan Mitra
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Tue 03 27 18, 23:59 · Reply (2) · Report
Thanks Ritabrata
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Thanks Ritabrata
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