The Sikkim Sojourn

29th Dec 2016
Photo of The Sikkim Sojourn by Sonalika Debnath

brushstrokes of blue and green

Photo of Sikkim, India by Sonalika Debnath

Returning to Sikkim was like to coming back home to an old friend. In my previous visits, I had covered almost every nook and cranny eastern Sikkim had to offer. This winter, parts of north and southern Sikkim were on the agenda and as per usual, this stunner of a state greeted me with strange new towns and a truckload of stories.

And with Sikkim’s first airport now being fully operational, travelling to the state has become completely hassle-free. Rather than flying out to Bagdogra, flights will start to and from Pakyong, that's 30 kilometres away from Gangtok. It also happens to be India's 100th functional airport!


Day 1

en route Gangtok, via Darjeeling

Photo of Darjeeling, West Bengal, India by Sonalika Debnath

I hopped onto one of the many jeeps parked on the Lebong Cart Road taxi stand in Darjeeling, that drove to Sikkim daily on a shared basis, charging a 250 rupees for the entire journey. I still wonder about those four hours crammed up in the middle seat, by virtue of the people I was seated with, the warm conversations that ensued and most of all, the scenic vistas that waited for us at every corner.

Usually when I’m travelling alone, I try to keep the trip open-ended and not make bookings at hotels prior to arriving at said place. The reason being that when you are sitting in the bus or the local taxi, taking you away from the railway station/airport, if you manage to strike up a conversation with your driver, it's almost guaranteed you will end up staying at a wonderful place, depending on your budget.

ebb and flow || Teesta

Photo of Deorali Bazar, Gangtok, Sikkim, India by Sonalika Debnath

En route Sikkim, I was fortunate enough to be travelling along with a small Sikkimese family of three, who on their way to Kalimpong, regaled me with stories of their favourite haunts, made me jot down a list of the best street vendors for momos, thukpa and left me with the names of a few Sikkimese music artists. Next up, an old couple came aboard at Rangpo. They had both grown up in Lachen, a small town in North Sikkim at an elevation of 2750 metres. So by the time I arrived at Deorali, where usually all vehicles arriving from Darjeeling drop you off, I had a rough framework for all the places I wanted to explore at the back of my mind.

A local taxi took me to Kundau Residency, which a short ride away from the bustling MG Road. I loved the locale mainly because if one hiked a little away from the hotel, the trail embraces you with a canopy of rhododendron trees, that douses you in chilly morning sunshine.

golden evenings ||

Photo of MG Marg, Vishal Gaon, Gangtok, Sikkim, India by Sonalika Debnath

I spent my first evening at Baker's Cafe, and after enough coffee and cake, I started scouting various travel agencies, talking to local drivers in MG Road in a quest to find the cheapest commute and rates, for the next few days.

Day 2

dreamy winding roads

Photo of Ravangla, Sikkim, India by Sonalika Debnath

straight out of a Ruskin Bond book

Photo of Ravangla, Sikkim, India by Sonalika Debnath

a tea-scented daydream

Photo of Temi, Sikkim, India by Sonalika Debnath

Early next morning I left for the town of Namchi, with the first stop being Temi. We drove through sunlit forests and roads dotted with vibrant cottages for a little over two hours to reach the tea estate. No amount of words could do justice to the instrumentation of the clouds sitting atop the blue peaks, looking over the rolling green hills. Walking through the garden was a tea-scented daydream. Be sure to get yourself a plate of the steamed momos before you leave for Namchi.

sun dappled streets

Photo of Samdruptse, Namchi, Sikkim, India by Sonalika Debnath

The Samdruptse Monastery was next on the list. The gargantuan copper and gold statue of Guru Rimpoche or Padmasambhava is visible for miles before you actually reach the sylvan Samdruptse ridge. There’s no better way to spend an afternoon in Sikkim than to be sitting in one of the monastery rooms, listening to the droning music of the rattle drums, and later talking to the Lamas over a cup of their sweetest tea.

Photo of Char Dham, Rhenock, Sikkim, India by Sonalika Debnath
Photo of Char Dham, Rhenock, Sikkim, India by Sonalika Debnath
Photo of Char Dham, Rhenock, Sikkim, India by Sonalika Debnath

A few very dulcet hours later, chasing the setting sun, we reached the glorious Chardham. This devout theme park sits atop the Solophuk hill, south of Namchi. As you walk barefoot on the compound, feast your eyes on the myriad of colours and the dazzling architecture, palpable in the Lord Shiva statue towering over the replicas of the illustrious Indian pilgrimage sites such as Dwarka and Rameshwarm. As you drive back to Gangtok, the sun starts to go down, leaving being a serene rosy hue.

Day 3

I had decided to spend New Year’s in Gangtok itself. And New Years’s night at MG Road is enthralling. The main market is peppered with makeshift stalls, adorned with fairy-lights. Mulled wine and kebabs entice you as walk down the street.

Day 4

first snow ||

Photo of Lachen, Sikkim, India by Sonalika Debnath

On the first day of the new year, I started for Lachen, a small mountain village in North Sikkim. I’d hitched a ride with two local girls, Diki andJaya, and everything that could go wrong in that journey, went theatrically wrong. Tyres were punctured, rains were met with and finally, the jeep broke down stranding us under a thunderstorm. When we finally managed to get on a rickety old bus, it dropped us off at an alley from where we were supposed to hike up to the home stay. On our way to Pema’s – the home stay we were supposed to stay at, things went south. A rain started, followed by a hailstorm and then like some very wise man once said that everything happens for a reason – it started to snow. Soft, sugary snow fell like pillows atop our heads and around our feet enveloping us in a warm, white cocoon. I stood in front of Pema’s ramshackle blue house for a few long, numbing minutes trying to etch into memory my very first snowfall.

Day 5
Photo of Chopta Valley, North Sikkim, สิกขิม, อินเดีย by Sonalika Debnath

On 2nd January, we started at 4am for Gurudongmar, marvelling with sleepy eyes, the inky blue sky sprinkled generously with stars. We stopped by for breakfast at this tiny hut run by three sisters. An extremely beautiful, empowering thing to note about all the home-stays, tea stalls, hotels in and around Sikkim, are that all of them are majorly run by women. Chai and toast had never tasted better than that morning as we sat by the make-do bonfire, a ginger glazed breeze calming the runny noses and shaky hands.

Photo of The Sikkim Sojourn by Sonalika Debnath
Photo of The Sikkim Sojourn by Sonalika Debnath
Photo of The Sikkim Sojourn by Sonalika Debnath

Unfortunately, we couldn’t go all the way up to the lake, and instead stopped at the Indian Army’s forward base in the town. That morning was nothing short of a comic tragedy. The second we stepped out on the road, our feet went through the glacial structure, deluging our shoes and giving us hypothermia. When we finally did manage to walk up to the army-run canteen, we were welcomed with so much warmth that all our frost glazed troubles were tentatively forgotten.

After getting over the initial shock at women travelling alone, the soldiers brought out plates amassed with gulab jamuns and samosas and narrated a plethora of stories set back at their respective homes, at the current base and many a tale about their families. After bidding our goodbyes, we drove back to Lachen for lunch and then started for Lachung.

Day 6
Photo of Lachung, Sikkim, India by Sonalika Debnath

We reached Lachung at around midnight, and found ourselves showered by thick sheets of snow, the second we entered the mountain village. And most often than not, we end up meeting strangers by poetic accident, who radiate such warmth, kindness and candour that they end up staying with us long after we have said farewell. At 9600 ft, teeth chattering and snowed in, Yangchen, the single mother, rosy cheeks and eyeliner on point, was one such person. She invited us to her home, whipped up chai and the most luscious egg curry. And after producing heaped plates of food within seconds, she entertained us by boisterously chronicling the aftermath of the implementation of demonetisation in the small town of North Sikkim, far away from the capital town of Gangtok. At the wee hours of the morning, the conversation veered towards the US elections, and she left us with a plethora of colourful Tibetan cuss words.

Photo of Yumthang Valley, Yumthang, สิกขิม, อินเดีย by Sonalika Debnath

On our last morning in Sikkim, we woke up to a cluster of tinted windows delineated with a fine sheen of sugary snow . The smiles on our faces and the wonder in our eyes didn’t leave our faces for a long time. With the boots Yangchen had so graciously let us borrow, we trekked for hours on an end in the snow, stopping every once in a while to ogle at the cute guys selling rum and spicy channa. Nothing however, could have prepared us for the surreal drama that was Yumthang. Snowflakes waltzed in front of us, over our heads, atop our noses, before carelessly landing on our mouths. It was the perfect end to the journey, as the snow melted on our tongues, frosty one second and watery candy, the next. Our souls swooned as we realised it was an unbidden, wondrous orchestration. The Kangchenjunga was slowly draping itself in white, adorned by the prayer flags that fluttered with the breeze in the horizon, as the snow shimmered like a thousand little suns.

All the pictures are sourced from @sonalikad.

5 Comment(s)
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Hey.... nice blog.... i would like to know few things.... how to get permit for nathula pass????? And would i be able to access baba mandir and nathula during the end of january????
Tue 10 02 18, 11:25 · Reply · Report
Hey.... nice blog.... i would like to know few things.... how to get permit for nathula pass????? And would i be able to access baba mandir and nathula during the end of january????
Tue 10 02 18, 11:25 · Reply · Report
Hey! How were you able to manage your trip in 5k? How did you commute and how many of you were there?
Wed 01 31 18, 18:10 · Reply · Report
the airport is not operational yet !!!
Wed 01 31 18, 15:41 · Reply · Report
Hey Sonalika.. interesting trip! I've heard a lot about gurudongmar, wish you guys had made it :) which month did you go?
Thu 04 27 17, 18:40 · Reply (1) · Report
Hey! I went there in January. :)
Sat 04 29 17, 01:27 · Report
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