Saturday, June 7, 2008

The End

It’s been more than a month (yea so I am a lazy Slouch) since I climbed on that Indigo flight from Kolkata with Vineet & Panda back to Hyderabad. Today I am back to my mundane activities of sitting on front of my comp at office, cursing all my higher authorities for whatever miserable things go by my way. But yet at times I tend to reflect at that one week of bliss which had in ways made me believe that the world still did have a saner side to it.

When I am not in my Socratian mood, I just tend to think of the serenity that had prevailed then. The sheer fact that we were immobile had been such an amazing feeling. No tie ups, nothing to look forward to except for the snow covered mountain peaks. It was like the perfect retreat for us from our hectic schedule & boy did it work out miracles.

We got to meet new folks & Romesh (he would have definitely wanted it to be written this way) had too been an amazing company. He had just begun as a chaperone but later had become one of the key sources of entertainment. And for that matter of fact even Baichung whom we had just met like a couple of times, had somehow figured in all our conversations with his chinky looks & free flowing hair too.

On a personal front, the three of us bonded pretty well & at the end we had come out as better friends than when we had initially caught hold of our Kolkata bound flight. Vineet was at his relaxed best & as the perfect foil to his usually silent self was the ever chirpy Panda. Had it not been for their antics & histrionics I definitely would have felt like in one of those award winning ART movies (damn I always did like some masala in my movies). Their combination definitely deserved plaudits for making this trip such a bloody memorable one.

And finally of course the cream of the crop should go to Sikkim. The place may have had steep slopes, treacherous roads & no roads at times, but at the end its beauty still leaves you breathless. Be it the magnificent view of Kanchendzonga, the frozen view of Tsomgo, the huge flags hoisted at almost all of Sikkim, the calmness in Yuksam, the many lakes & waterfalls or even the chill in Yumthang, if you are looking for that one shot at some scenic expedition, soul searching or whatever name you want to give it, pack your bags & head over to Sikkim.

As for my road tripping escapades, I still got my snorkel out & scuba diving off the coast of Andaman sure does sound exciting. Till then I got to kick some butt here & try refilling my piggy bank. So bon voyage to all those travelers out there!!!!!

12th April, 2008

On this final day of our whopper of a trip, I got up at 7 am with a subtle sense of gloom. We were quite relaxed today, since there was jus some local sightseeing in Mirik on our agenda & then the drive to New Jalpaigudi Station wherein our evening train was supposed to take us to Kolkata. So at 10.20 am we checked out from the Viraj, & headed straight to the nearby Sumendu Lake. There had been some Bhojpuri flick shooting which was going on at the lake & when Vineet & Panda walked on, some people came & asked them where they were shooting (some glamorous people I had for company).

The lake itself was a beautiful scene, but like most of the other locales in WB, this one was also kind of littered here & there (Sikkim sure did raise the standards for us). While Panda decided to show off some of her equestrian skills, I, Vineet & Ramesh were busy snapping away the lake. If that was not the case we were eyeing at the local belles (some ogling arses we sure turned out to be).

Our nest stop was at the Bokar Ngedhon Choekor Ling Monastery. While the ambience was quite similar to the previous monasteries we had been to, this place was bustling with monks of all ages. And it was am amazing scene to see all of them in their maroon robes against the maroon backdrop of the monastery.

At nearly 11.30 am we decided to get on the road to Siligudi (as we hadn’t collected our tickets too). After an hour of going through all those looping & curvy roads for the first time in a long while we were back on flat terrains. Well the earlier day’s sight of calls for a separate Gorkhaland was still visible in bits & pieces through the route. Our way back home took us through the Sukna Military station & as we crossed the outpost, we passed through the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary. Well it was just a 10 minute drive through, but what the heck, I was happy to get one more place in my list.

As we entered the city limits of Siligudi, the calmness & friendliness which we had grown used to over the last week on the roads was replaced with the continuous honks of the horn & yells from the adjacent drivers. Hell yeah, we were so getting back with our regular lives. At around 1 pm we pulled into Sikkim National Transport Compound & had our last flavor of Sikkim for lunch. After lunch we started for NJP. At NJP, we came to know from Baichung that we would be receiving our tickets at around 4 pm.

Once we got our tickets, we then bid adieu to Ramesh. Over the last week he definitely had been one nice source of entertainment & the bloke sure had also gotten real attached with us over the time. We could see a glimmer of sadness in him, but I think that did pass off real quick when he saw a couple of hot babes on his way out. At around 10.30 pm (after an hour from our actual departure time), we boarded our Sealdah bound train (the transition period at NJP was pretty much cynical & passable). And as the night waded off, so did the curtains come down on this much touted trip that we had managed to cook up. All I could muster to think was – ONE BLOODY AMAZING RETREAT sure this was.

Friday, May 9, 2008

11th April, 2008

I was sure getting a real sore habit of getting up real early these days. Today was no different & the other fact was that it was going to be a long day too. At around 8.30 am the trio of us were all ready & had bid adieu to the Dafla Gang staff & were back on the road. Today would be our last day in Sikkim. Come to think about I sure didn’t have a bloody clue of how fast time had traveled.

Our first halt for the day came in the form of the Pemayangtsi Monastery. The place was huger compared to Bon one we had visited in Kewzing. But the only drawback was that photography was not permitted inside the monastery & that was big loss for us. This was 3 levels of spirituality, serenity & historical scrolls too. On the second floor there was this beautiful manifestation of how heaven would be, and since our cameras weren’t there all we could imprint of it was in our minds (& I am pretty sure I would be forgetting it as I reach Hyderabad thanks to my good ol memory).

Resuming with our journey once again, Ramesh did quite comically point out some of the flowers that we had missed out in Yumthang. The Scorpio again came to halt at the Reshi Hot Springs (also know as Taatopaani in the local lingo). Well but before we could get to see the springs, we had to walk down some real steep steps, cross a creaky suspension bridge & then walk through another narrow path all the way to the banks of the Legship lake. Well once we reached the springs, we saw this small encircled area separated from the lake & that my friends, was were the water was hot.

There were plenty a people who were relaxing in the hot waters of Reshi & more were just flowing in getting out of their clothes in a whim & taking a dip. My personal thoughts were that though the area was pretty, it could be a tad better maintained. The walk back was as arduous as it was earlier, but after some pants & whiffs, we did manage to get back to the Scorpio (Ramesh had conveniently decided to wait back in the vehicle).

At 10.30 am, after days of pure bliss we finally crossed over into the state of West Bengal. Sikkim had been a revelation of all sorts for us & it was disheartening when we exited it. We were headed to Darjeeling & the roads were no different from how it was till now – bumpy, narrow & steep. In fact we even did feel that it was getting steeper with every hair pin curve we took.

Now as you pass through the roads that carry you to Darjeeling, you shall note that the entire road is surrounded by tea valleys. So there were plenty of tea gathering ladies with their head gear on (some of them were even carrying their babies in these head gears & that my friends was one heck of a sight). It had been hardly an hour that we had entered into West Bengal & we were faced with our first road fright throughout the trip. We were climbing up a slope, when Ramesh had just failed to judge the elevation & had to back a little. Well it sure did seem like a small reverse, but during that split second he somehow managed to drag the rear wheel of the Scorpio in the adjacent ditch.

So there we were stuck on an inclined slope with one of our wheels kind of airborne. But to our good luck, there were so many of the local folks & ongoing drivers who stopped by to check on us & even offered help. It was one such help which was offered that later came in the form of a dozen of the nearby tea estate workers & some machine (it was a quite interesting one) that finally managed to get our airborne vehicle back to the grounds.

Later on as we entered the heart of Darjeeling, we were greeted with some amazingly hot babes. But then it was different thing that they were all involved in a student’s rally. Well true to it’s commie blood line, there was this huge & never ending rally of all the schools in Darjeeling (man there were some number of schools there) demanding in the latest fashion of new statehoods in India for a GORKHALAND.

As if this was not enough, there was a sucker of a traffic jam that had us going in rounds & rounds for like an hour. Finally we managed to get a parking spot just opposite to the famed railway station where the Toy Train would roll out. But to our messed up luck (quite contrasting I would say) we arrived like after 2 pm & the railway counters were all closed. So there blew our dreams of taking a ride in the Toy Train. After having our lunch, we found out to our compounding misery, that Sikkim registered vehicles were not permitted to go to the local sightseeing locales.

So off we trotted on foot to the much heralded local bazaar & to our disappointment we came to find that stuff weren’t as cheap as we had presumed it would be. Finally after just purchasing some of the local tea, we decided to head off to Mirik. Honestly after having an overview of Darjeeling, it fell way below our expectations. Other than the babes, Darjeeling sucked big time when compared with Sikkim.

At 6 pm the visibility on the roads had deteriorated due to the thick fog that had popped up. The area was brimming with military personnel considering the fact that it was bordering Nepal. Finally after like checking out with a dozen of the locals we managed to get hold of a decent hotel to rest our butts for the night at the Viraj Hotel. Considering the real long day that we had, exhaustion finally did catch up with all of us & after a quick dinner all of us waiting to hit the bed. Tomorrow would be the last day of our vacation & we sure wanted to go out with a bang!!!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

10th April, 2008

At 6.30 am I was staring at the ceiling, thinking should I get up or just laze away my fat butt for some more time after all. It was like day 5 of our vacation in heaven, and for once we were in no hurry to get out on the road. The only worry that we did have was the absence of a geyser sure meant that we could be in some cold water after all. But Rob boy did have us covered on that one.

As we had feared the previous night, the strike had just begun in West Bengal & there were some rumors doing the round that it could even be an indefinite one. Well Kalimpong was cancelled for sure after hearing this news & I for sure was a lil glum over this (I did prefer Kalimpong for some inane reason over Darjeeling). So we were back to the discussing board with Baichung over the phone, & a new plan was charted to head over to Pelling & stay for the night over there. As for tomorrow, well we were just mumbling under our breath that the damn strike gets called off so that we could get done with at least Darjeeling & Mirik.

So we were back to Gupta’s for our breakfast & while Panda was playing with the local children & Vineet was hogging his bread & butter toast (it’s real rare that you get to see this sight), I was busy feeding a dog (whom I decided to call CHARLIE BOY). At 8 am after stuffing ourselves we decided to check out & bid adieu to Yuksam (this had by far been a REVELATION of sorts). As we got out of Yuksam & got onto some tar road, our butts were finally able to get some rest. Plus the genius within us had come out with another amazing trick since the last day.

As we were had been traveling from one place to another since the previous day we were not exactly able to get our towels dried. And in one of those moments of the bulb lighting up your head some one amongst us (sorry for my bloody memory) suggested hanging the towel on the window of the passenger seat as we drive on. End result was that we had ever dry towels (some engineers we sure turned out to be). Getting back to our tourist exploits the first pit stop for the day came in the form of the Kanchendzonga Falls.

Now don’t get me wrong on this, but at Sikkim with each water fall we kept running into, we just ended being more spell bound than the previous one. So here we were again running to get snapped at the falls (not me in particular cos I have always felt that I came out real bad in those bloody snaps). Well for once we were not bothered about the ongoing strike & were more reveling in the picturesque beauty of the Kanchendzonga Falls.

After having some tea, we resumed our road trip at 9.30 am & pretty soon our happiness about the whole tar road had evaporated & we were doing the swaying act inside the Scorpio. As for the ambience within the vehicle, Vineet was as usual in his ever eloquent & charismatic pose for the camera. On the contrary Panda & Ramesh were gossiping all the way to glory. As for me, while I was not penning down these crappy notes, I would chip in the gossip sessions once in a while.

Khecheopalri Lake or the wishing lake, which happened to be our next stop, was a holy lake when it came to the natives over there. According to myths (which I picked up from their tourist board right before entering the lake) it is believed that the lake is in the shape of the Goddess Tara’s footprint when she had descended from the heavens above. Unlike the other lakes & falls this one did have an atmosphere more in lines with a monastery (considering the fact that it was sacred too). And if you weren’t caught up with the spiritual atmosphere, then you would definitely be blown by the view it had to offer you, especially on the wooden board flanked with the traditional Buddhist rolling bells (or something like that) on either side leading all the way to the lake.

The only blemish in the entire beauty of the Khecheopalri Lake didn’t come from it but from an outside source. While we were done capturing the beauty of the lake on our cameras & decided to return back to our vehicle, there was this arse who decided to take a leak on the side of the path. This especially after there had been many public urinals right at the entrance. Some bastards just continue to remain the same way.

We were out of the lake premises at around 11.30 am after a round of tea & snacks (our regular high octane tea diet as usual). Our Scorpio came to a halt next at the Sewaro Rock Gardens in Rimbi. It wasn’t just that our vehicle took us all the way to the garden. We had to descent some steep distance (by now we were really getting accustomed to this routine for sure) & then we stepped into this beautiful garden built alongside the local river. Adorned with rocks, trust me when I say that this picture sure is something that is going to be imprinted for a real long time (not unless some hot Brazilian babe decides to walk in a small bikini – that would be some picture). But getting back to rock garden, Vineet & Panda decided to take some timeout playing in the water, while I decided to focus my attention on the activities of a fisherman (Oh yeah also on his catch too).

At 2 pm when we did manage to get back to the Scorpio (panting of course), Vineet was given a chance to get behind the steering wheel. After whizzing for a while, he returned the wheel back to Ramesh (seems like Ramesh got scared with Vineet’s driving – a nice joke). But yeah Ramesh sure did turn out to be one good source of entertainment through the ride. Later at 3.30 pm we checked into the Dafla Gang Hotel in Pelling.

Later at 7 pm we decided to walk through the roads of Pelling & we even got to have some nice rounds of cocktail (read that as I) at a trendy resto-bar by the name of Taatopaani. They even had a live band performing (most of them being the staff & Ramesh’s friends too). But since there was a power loss problem going on we quite couldn’t enjoy their performance (Panda however did get to have herself clicked with the guitar though).

At 9 pm we got back to the Dafla Gang & dined on some nice fish curry (prepared by the hotel proprietor Mr. Shankar Basak). We did call up Baichung to have a confirmation for the next day’s set of activities (Yeah there were talks of the strike being called off) & then head off to get some nice winks of sleep. After having another of those picturesque days, I was real sure that the Zzzz’s would be real smooth tonight.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

9th April, 2008

At 5.30 am the morning light of Gangtok awakened me. Our honeymoon at Gangtok was drawing a close, but our trip was still far from over. By 8.30 am the three of us were all dressed & raring to go. Yumthang the previous day had been kind of disappointing, so we were really wary of our coming days. While we feasted on a quite heavy breakfast, Ramesh arrived with a new plan. While I called up Baichung for the confirmation of this, I was informed that Pelling was chucked out from our itinerary & a place called Yuksam was inserted in its place. I hadn’t come across this place during my ground research before starting with this trip, so naturally I was kind of skeptical about the whole thing.

Finally a 10 am after bidding adieu to Kishen & Vinod (the proprietor & room boy respectively) of Pandim, we were on the road with our entire luggage stacked in the Scorpio this time. Panda had decided to reminiscing about her days of goonda gardi & entertaining the entire group. At 11 am we passed through the village of Singtam & in this process entered South Sikkim. As we were passing through all those hair pin curves, we had started playing the age old game of Antakshari (again courtesy Panda) & were belting out Hindi numbers in our rugged tunes.

At noon we made a small snap stop at the beautiful Temi Tea garden. After like playing for a while through the tea fields we decided to continue with our journey. At quarter to one, we stopped at another small hill village of Ravangla for lunch. Right after lunch our first pit stop was at the Yung Drung Kundrak Ling Bon Monastery in Kewzing. It was picture of serenity & spirituality. It was the only Bon monastery in the entire Sikkim. Once we alighted from the monastery we had a little snap timeout at the Rangit Dam.

While I & Vineet were snapping at the river, our playboy Ramesh was making hay all the while with the passing local belles. He sure turned out to be one smooth operator. As we crossed the Rangit river, we entered into the West Sikkim territory of Tashiding & our Scorpio was back to traversing through the hair pin curves. Panda was busy in waving at the local school kids (some didn’t wave back, but the major ones would flash back a huge smile along with their waving hands) & as for us we were just stunned & gaping the scenic marvel that was unfolding along the way.

Just before entering Yuksam, we happened to stop at the Phamrong Falls. This happened to be one huge mother of a waterfall & we had provisions of a stair all the way till the summit. The cigarette intake sure had fucked my stamina, but that didn’t prevent me from climbing those stairs (in fact I beat Panda & Vineet to the summit too). Atop after taking some time to catch some breath, we began to be amazed at the sight from there.

Once we were done with our timeout at Phamrong, we started our journey to Yuksam. At 4 pm we entered Yuksam – which happened to be the first capital of Sikkim. Well one thing which comes up your radar when you enter Yuksam is the fact that there ain’t any roads over here. But then once you get to see the place all that takes a backseat. The amazing view & the peaceful atmosphere over here just make you go completely gaga.

There were plenty of foreigners who were just sitting at the local restaurants & sipping beer & coffee – seems like Yuksam is also a place that is a favorite for trekkers. We checked into Hotel Demazong & met up with the proprietor Rob. By then we even heard some distressing news about a strike that had occurred in West Bengal. Since Kalimpong, which was our destination for the next day, happened to be in West Bengal we sure did have some worries. But for the present we decided to do some exploration of the village. But before we decided to walk through the village, we decided to get our tummies stuffed at one of the local eatery.

Once we were done hogging at Gupta’s restaurant (that happened to be one of the happening places in Yuksam) we walked off to a nearby lake. The Kathog Bla Tsho (Tsho it seems meant Lake in the local language) was a mystical lake & we were the only souls present at the lake when we entered it. After toying around there for a while, we headed for the Coronation Throne Norbugang, which was supposedly the birth place of Sikkim. Maybe it was the evening but the trees that surrounded the coronation monument sure were a lil creepy.

While I & Vineet were landscaping the surrounding areas, Panda had made company with the local children & was yapping on & on (the children in Sikkim sure were real independent). At around 6.30 pm we had to pry away Panda from the children & since it had already gone pitch dark we walked back to our room. Later that night we went over to Gupta’s once more for dinner. I was glugged in a couple of beers & then later we were joined by a sweet lady named Rebecca all the way from Atlanta, USA. Well we did carry on our debate over India (we were trying to tell her that Sikkim was still a part of India) way past the usual time in Yuksam (which closes down by 8 pm) & I was blushing every time she kept complimenting me for my Kerala looks (I swear she did). We said our goodbyes to Rebecca & proceeded back to our hotel. Before hitting the bed, we decided to do one more round of cards & as usual we thrashed Panda once again. Considering how the day had shaped up, I was quite sure tonight I could go easy with some nice sleep. Yuksam sure had bowled me all over.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

8th April, 2008

One of the other pains that we have to endure during these vacations is the fact that at times we have to sacrifice our nice cozy sleep. Today was one of those days – we got up at 4.30 am & were all set to start for the day by 6 am (gosh on a regular day this is the time when I shut down the alarm). Today we were supposed to be traveling on a real long journey to North Sikkim where we were supposed to check out the Yumthang Valley.

On the way as part of our high octane tea diet we stopped at the Tashi View point, & yeah we also got some glorious views of the Kanchendzonga range. From there we continued with our foray into North Sikkim. There were plenty of waterfalls & bridges throughout this stretch & we even got ourselves snapped in some of these. North Sikkim came as one of those wild stallions which are amazingly beautiful yet hostile. In North Sikkim’s case its beauty lay in its picturesque landscape, while its hostilities were the road conditions.

The roads were bumpy & there were some patches when it was purely treacherous. But it was still heartening to see the BRO come out with signs such as INCONVENIENCE REGRETTED. Our bladders had taken quite a toll & we were on the search for public restrooms every now & then (especially the lady). However we didn’t have much work to do here, since there were public toilets maintained for your disposal at most of the areas.

I had decided to keep track of the villages that we were passing & had come real good with a list which started from Phodong, Namok, Mangshila & Mangan. However at Mangan we faced our first real test of patience since getting on that plane from Hyderabad. What started off as a routine Police Check post thing stretched all the way to hours together. While Ramesh had gone over to remit some cash & get a bank receipt, we went out shopping in the local market, came back & started playing cards, checked out the police women (who I must say were really HOT). Plus since Mangan was at a low altitude, the sun was pretty much in our faces.

So like after enduring all this for like 3 hours & having ourselves entertained with Panda’s histrionics (she sure was the entertainment box for this trip), I decided to go in the search of Ramesh, & ended up finding him waiting in a never ending queue in the Bank of Sikkim. I was left aghast & then accompanied him to the local police station where I met up with the officer in charge. It was from him that I learned that other than the Inner Line Permits that was required by us to travel into North Sikkim, it was also a local rule that tourists could not travel in cars having private registration of SK-02. They were only supposed to travel in SK-04 & SK-06 registered vehicles (don’t ask me why). So after pleading with him, he sent an officer with Ramesh to the bank to get the receipt. At last after 4 hours of wasting time at Mangan we resumed with our journey north.

After Mangan we could see the change in the vegetation on the road. The river Tista was still visible over here & the trees were growing thicker on either sides of the road. We even ran into one of a military tank. Well that was the last thing I remembered before I went of for a quick doze. When I got up I came to know from Vineet (who was awake & snapping furiously) that there we had passed 3 such tanks.

In Phenong we passed the Indo-Tibet Border Police camp & later passed through another border village in the form of Chung Thang. Finally at around 3 pm we pulled into Lachung. By this time we were already related to some dead log. We got into one of the hotels of Baichung’s acquaintances. We decided to go on to Yumthang & then return to have our lunch. Yumthang happened to be just like another 30 minutes or so from Lachung. But when we stepped out of our Scorpio at Yumthang we were left really disappointed. We expected a lot from Yumthang – which was termed as the valley of flowers. Don’t get me wrong, the snow covered mountains on one side & the Tista River’s branch flowing on the other side can be a treat at times. But when you endure for like 4 hours & then go through all those bumps & curves we certainly do expect a lot. And that’s where Yumthang failed me, Panda & Vineet all alike.

We started our descent back with pretty much gloom within the Scorpio, stopped at Lachung & had our lunch & began with our return trip to Gangtok. At 9.30 pm after an uneventful drive back (except for a bit when Panda tried humorously to play cards & ended up spraying the cards all over the place) we pulled into the parking lot of our lodge. Dreary, let down & sleepy eyed we just couldn’t wait to get to our sacks. I did make it a point to call up Baichung & give him a piece of our mind. To sum it all we had a real torrid day & as I type these last words, I am seriously hoping for a better tomorrow.