Saturday, April 22, 2017

Sikkim - Final

Despite the MMT fiasco, the Sikkim trip was worth the time and definitely worth the money. The overall cost actually worked out cheaper because of the package. We paid 37,000 to MMT and spent another 7,000 for food, entry fees, shopping, airport to residence taxis and other expenses like paying extra to the driver to take us to Zero Point and to the paragliding venue. If we include 3000 that we paid for paragliding, the 7 day trip cost us 47,000 in total, per person. 

This final post on Sikkim traces the tourist spots covered in the MMT itinerary.  

Visit the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology to trace the art, culture and religious practices of Tibet.  

Wear the traditional Sikkimese dress. For just Rs 50/-. They are available at all the places frequented by tourists. It's a nice, colorful, wrap-around dress. They even give you matching neck-chains and a hat to go with the dress so that your picture is 'complete'.
I remember doing this is Dehradun, in 2003. I had worn the Garhwali traditional costume with a big matka (pot) in hand. 

We don't have this very "touristy"  'try-the-local-dress-and-pose-for-photos' thing in any of the tourist locations in the South. I guess, a saree doesn't lend itself to such touristy gimmicks. 

This is the Seven Sisters Waterfall. There are seven distinct points at which the waterfall drops. You can see each one as you climb up the steep hill. You have stairs and little benches kept along the climb. We girls went up half the way, saw there wasn't much water (someone remarked "there are only 2 sisters, bhaiya"), got dizzy by the sight of the upward climb in the hot sun and got engrossed in the Sikkimese dress photo session, instead. 

The remarkable thing was the elderly couple from Delhi climbed right up, all the way! And they did this everywhere - whether it was the icy slopes or the hills or the 100+ steps climb! At every spot where the taxi stopped, the couple would rush right ahead, uncle clicking pics of his wife and the scenery.  We would huff and puff but not they. Naah! Age truly is just a number. We three 40ish women couldn't match the pace of the 60ish couple. 

This was a common sight in Sikkim, no matter where you went. The cold demands the drink. This tiny shop at least had a glass shelf. In most places, it would be nicely stacked on just a pushcart, hawker-style, an Old Monk standing cozily next to a Blenders Pride. Even the  smallest, hole-in-the-wall shop had an enviable stack of liquor. 

And I thought Goa was the only liquor paradise. 

This is something I found in a magazine in one of the shops - the 2012 tourist inflow statistics. A whopping 5 lakh Indian tourists visited Sikkim as compared to a very low turnout of just 23,000 foreigners. That's a huge and rather surprising gap between the domestic and international travelers to the state. 

And that shawl on Chiranjeevi. I too have it. It was gifted to me by one of my Assamese students. It is called a gamcha, I think. It's worn by both men and women in most North Eastern states. 

The statistics regarding the crime rate.  Sikkim is ranked the lowest at 30 in the crimes against women index with just 55 cases. Something for the other states to mull over and emulate. 

The sights that will stay with you long after you have left the state.
The Bhim Nala Waterfalls also called Amitabh Bachchan Falls because of its height! 
Another beautiful waterfall. 
The Seven Bowls. In Buddhism, each bowl stands for a particular aspect of prayer. The offering encourages the spirit of giving & water is the purest & the easiest material thing that we can give. 
The view from the Gangtok rope way. The rope way ride costs you Rs 200 and gets over in less than an hour. If you have been on more exciting rope way rides, in other states/countries, pass this up. But if it is your first time on a ropeway, lap it up because it provides you with a stunning view of the town and the hills surrounding it. And a new, unique experience.

We stopped at a memorial in the woods where there was an annual feast going on. The men were busy preparing for the festivities. It was an occasion to pay homage to their ancestors.
 (aside: isn't the chakli on that plate a typically South Indian snack?) 
The  stream, the mountain peaks and the breeze. Beautiful combo!
The sight of the snow - fresh and soft - is by itself worth the money spent on the trip, so says the woman who grew up in the hot and humid coastal belt of Karnataka.
 If you ever get a chance, to plan or be a part of a trip to Sikkim, don't think twice. Say yes!  

Monday, April 17, 2017

Sikkim - Part Three

 Make My Trip and our experience with them and the lessons learnt - all in part three of the Sikkim travelogue. 

Check it out here:

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Sikkim - Part Two

Will I ever be a traveler like him? Jacket, bike, shades, food and my country's flag for company traversing through a foreign landscape, absorbing the sights and smells. 
Found this bike parked near the Hot Spring. Imagine travelling like this through the rocky mountains! We, of course, traveled in a Tavera. Five of us - we three girls plus the elderly couple from Delhi with us. Thank God, they were a friendly couple and quite accommodating too. Otherwise, imagine the deadly combination of bad roads and bad company on a week long journey!
This was how bad the roads were! Horrible! Drive on these not-there-roads five hours at a stretch just to be able to see one sight-seeing point and you will wish the viewpoints could come to you. 
Broken bridges and roads in disarray at many places. The Chief Minister, Pawan Chamling, of the SDF (Sikkim Democratic Front) has been in power since 1994!!! The party has won 1999, 2004,2009 and 2014 elections. Or rather, the people have voted him to power. Wonder what they saw in him or maybe they didn't have a choice at all. Such an important state for tourism and yet so badly neglected. When I asked this to our driver, he said that yes, they had made a mistake by re-electing him every single time and that it was time to let him "rest" the next time around. 
Sikkim is India's smallest state by population and second only to Goa by area. On the map, it is just a small speck of red! But as they say, small is beautiful. The landscape of Sikkim is breathtaking. 
The S shaped roads and the flowing water at twelve thousand feet, Yumthung Valley, famous for the flowers that bloom in April.

The roads that look like someone drew the curves on paper.  
The  glistening snow

I love these Buddhist prayer flags. They are so thin and light that they flutter constantly. Even the slightest movement of the wind is enough to set them in motion. The belief is that the mantras written on them are carried by the wind, spreading compassion and goodness into the world and purifying the air. 

The people continuously mount new flags as old ones fade. It is a reminder that life changes and we are all part of this eternal cycle of change, as new replaces the old.

These tiny shops, along the road to the Hot Spring, a tourist spot, sell tea, liquor and other knick-knacks. I sat in one of them and chatted with the lady of the shop while my friends explored the hot spring. She told me they have to pay a rent of Rs 70,000 a year. They travel more than an hour from their homes in Lachung to the hot spring. Since there is no government transport, they hitch rides on tourist cabs that ply on these roads. 

Sikkim has 11 official languages and interestingly, Hindi is not one of them. But most people speak Hindi as that is the only language that connects the tourists with the locals. I couldn't have conversed with the tea-shop lady if it weren't for Hindi. 

That's me all wobbly from that glass of brandy. Damn! I wish I had been sober and had played in the snow and stayed back till i carved out my own personal snowman. 

This was not my first time in snow. In Manali, Tanvi and I had played in the snow. But it was only for a few hours. And there were so many people and a handful of snow. The snow was brown and hard. We had been there end of August, the last of the snow on the mountains. But this, here in Zero Point, half an hour from Yumthung Valley, it was real snow, snow as I had dreamed all my life. It was soft and cold and pure white, glistening in the afternoon sun. 

In Manali, we had been to Rohtang Pass and had been covered in the appropriate snow gear, top to bottom, all rented - boots, suit, gloves, all hired locally. At one point, it was so hot inside that Tan and I took off our overcoats. But in Lachung and near Zero Point, it was sub-zero temperatures, freezing cold and I was in my Jockey thermals - not at all enough to ward off the biting cold. The brandy saved my life or this poor not-used-to-snow-South Indian would have died.  
That's the sparkling, freshly melted ice. There was soft snow even on the water. The water could chill a South Indian like me, who is new to snow-capped mountains, to death.  The locals themselves, for that matter, were tightly covered in the warmest sweaters and caps.
Please note that Zero Point (ZP) is not in the tour itinerary of most operators. The package trips include the drive up to Yumthung valley only. So you have to pay the driver extra to take you to ZP. No vehicles are allowed beyond ZP. Only army jeeps go beyond this point. You can see the Indo-Chinese border from around here but only if there are no clouds. Foreign nationals are not allowed as it is a border area. Security reasons, I believe.
We were in Sikkim when this landmark celestial event happened and the moon looked magnificent from between the mountains. 

You can't help but leave Sikkim with a persistent thought ki kaash inn Wadiyon mei apna bhi ek ghar ho (I wish I had a house in the valley)