Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Sikkim- A heaven to visit while alive

Let's know India as India

People usually take India for granted in terms of  tourism, but I must say that India is no less beautiful compared to any other place in the world. After seeing places like Sikkim, Chopta, Kashmir and many more I would like to share a small thought about a wrong impression among Indians. And in favor of that and contradicting  to my own statement in my  previous post where I used word mini- Switzerland to define Chopta, I would like to correct it by accepting the fact that no place in India should be called the mini Switzerland or compared with any other tourist destination as that downplays the individual identity of the place.  I will make sure in my future posts that I don't repeat the same mistake also request you all to respect India tourism individualism.
 To make you agree with my above statement right now right here,

Let me take you to the place worth getting lost in

Sikkim: Northeast India

Sikkim is a landlocked state of India, located in the Himalayan mountains. The state is bordered by Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan.  Kanchenjunga, the world's third highest peak is located on the Sikkim's border with Nepal. The capital city of Sikkim is Gangtok.
Sikkim used to be an independent country until 1975 when it was annexed by India. It is said  that and I also heard from a local person that Sikkim chose to become a part of India and appealed to the Indian Parliament for the same.  After visiting Sikkim, I feel thankful to god for making this gem a part of India.

Sikkim is the best place for those who love to trek, there are many options starting from 1 day onward. Another happening thing to do in Sikkim is Paragliding. There are 2 certified locations, Bulbulay Dara in Ranka and  Baliman Dara, both are near Gangtok. One more thing which may attract you is a Gangtok ropeway in Deorali market close to MG Marg, Gangtok.

Note- A point for solo female travelers that Sikkim is a very safe place to go though precautions and alertness are always required no matter wherever you travel to but you can consider this place to travel alone. FYI, the crime rate in Sikkim apparently is 0%.

After knowing about this place through online surfing and a couple of people who had been to this heaven, it got added to my priority destinations list. Even though it took me quite a few years to execute the plan,  but it was worth waiting. I did my research work, prepared my itinerary, booked my return tickets and like that the journey was on.

12th to 21st April 2015 

Destinations covered in this trip-

1. Gangtok - East of Sikkim
2. Lachen & Lachung - North of Sikkim 
3. Namchi & Ravangla - South Sikkim
4. Pelling & Yuksom - West Sikkim 

Places for which  permit is required to visit- 

 1) Nathula Pass,  Indo- China  border, altitude 14450 ft. It's located in East Sikkim at around 56 km from Gangtok. It stays  closed on  all  Mondays and Tuesdays and open  only  till 1:30 PM  for other days of the week.                                                                                                                                       

2)  Tsomgo Lake, a glacial lake, 40 km from Gangtok and 16 Km before Nathula pass. It's  located at an elevation of 3753 Mt.                                                                                                                                                                     

3) Baba Mandir/Baba Harbhajan Singh temple, 52 km away from Gangtok and 4 Km before Nathula pass

4)  Gurudongmar Lake,  located at the extreme  corner of  India and at an altitude of 17100 ft. is one of the highest lakes in the  world. It lies in the north Sikkim and at around 45 km  away from the nearest tourist  accommodation, Lachen.                                                                                            

5) Chopta Valley on the way to Gurudongmar Lake is located at an altitude of around 13000 ft. It is famous for its alpine vegetation, rhododendrons and other high altitude vegetation.

Note- It's an another Chopta valley in North Sikkim, don't confuse it with the one in Uttarakhand.

6) The Yumthang valley also called a valley of flowers is located at an elevation of around 11600 ft. in north Sikkim, the closest village is Lachung which is around 25 km away

7) Yumesamdong (Zero point) around 24 km ahead of Yumthang valley is situated at an altitude of 15800 ft. 

8) Khangchendzonga national park, a park of  many glaciers, including the Zemu glacier is situated in the north and west districts of Sikkim. And it's inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage sites list on  17th July 2016 and became the first 'Mixed Heritage' site of India

Note for all- Protected Area Permit (PAP) is required to visit all the places mentioned above.

Note for Foreign nationals- Nathula & Gurudongmar lake, being international border areas, are not allowed for foreign nationals. Though Tsomgo lake also called Changu lake and Baba temple on the way to  Nathula pass & Chopta valley on the way to Gurudongmar lake allowed for the visit with a permit.  In addition to that,  all foreign nationals also require ILP (Inner Line Permit) which is apparently necessary to visit any part of the Sikkim and even to enter Sikkim.

Unfortunately, I couldn't make it for the Kanchenjunga national park because it required at least 4 day trek and a little lack of my research made me miss this opportunity. So this is pending for my next trip to Sikkim as I am not going to let it go. I would also like to point out that there are other national parks and trekking routes which require permits too, but I specially mentioned this one because this is one of the main treks, my favorite and was supposed to be a part of my trip.

But for now, let's enjoy one of my best trips.

  Day 1-April 12th

The train reached the NJP railway station, west Bengal, which is about 120 km away from Gangtok, by 6 in the evening which was supposed to be reached by the afternoon. Well, most of the trains were running late during that month because of regular non- monsoon 
rains in most of the parts in India so was in Sikkim.

Note- One can also opt to travel by flight. The nearest airport is Bagdogra near Siliguri, which is at a distance of 124 km from Gangtok. 
It was not raining in NJP the time I reached. My driver, who was appointed by Mr. D Lama, who arranged my stay and transport for the entire trip, was ready with the Innova cab and already waiting for me,  he was only appointed for dropping me till Sikkim. I don't remember his name as it was an unusual name but he was a kind of a character. He was very communicative, smiling all the time and overwhelmed. I could totally relate with him as I shared all these three qualities of his.

It was late and almost everything got shut on the way, but luckily we found a place open before reaching Siliguri and I tried veg momos, it was served with a specific sauce they made and which  was very yummy and these are the moments when we say 'finger licking is good' tarararara.

 All the way, he was just praising Sikkim that showed his love with his state well, who wouldn't love Sikkim. He also mentioned to me that I wouldn't need to ask him if we reached Sikkim as I would get to know by itself as soon as we would enter the Sikkim zone.

 From Sevoke road, Siliguri we took NH31A which connects Siliguri and Gangtok. The roads were smooth all the way till  Sikkim, the views were amazing according to my driver and he also mentioned about a beautiful river Teesta flowing alongside but since it was dark I could only enjoy it through his words.
 We crossed Rangpo check post, and as soon as we reached Deorali it started raining.

Note- Rangpo check post is a gateway of east Sikkim where one needs to take permit. And Gangtok is around 25 km further.
 West Bengal registered vehicles are only allowed till Deorali taxi stand near Gangtok and from Deorali one needs to take a local Sikkim transport to reach Gangtok.

It was around 10:30 pm when we stopped outside my hotel in MG Marg, the main market area and the mall road of Gangtok. Everything was shut, it was dark & cold and it felt so peaceful in spite of the rains. 

Mr Lama was already waiting outside the hotel to welcome me, it was so sweet of him to manage to come that late and that too when it was raining cats and dogs. He appeared to be a gentleman, marvelous person and a very nice human being in the first interaction I had with him in person.
After greeting, we had a short conversation about how the climate was all fine till a day before I reached, also that a visit to Nathula seemed to be dicey as the roads were closed due to the rains which instantly took my smile away but he suggested not to loose hope. 
He left after we decided morning's time for the local sightseeing.

Day 2- April 13th

It continued to rain the next day and I had no option to waste my day, but I had improved in  packing and got my umbrella this time.
 After getting ready and having breakfast I got down from the hotel at the decided time, 8 AM. Saju, my driver for the day and Mr. Lama were already waiting for me. After we all greeted each other, I and Saju, who was very shy and non talkative started for the day trip.

The points covered in this day trip- 

1) Flower Exhibition Center  
It is situated next to White memorial house and just below Ridge Park. It's very close  and at a walkable distance from MG Marg. Different species of Orchid, lilies, Anthurium,Chrysanthemum etc. can be found here. Best time to visit is April- May (spring season).
posing with Dendrobium orchids
It's all floral

2) Tashi View Point 
It is located at around 8 Km away from Gangtok. It is called a viewpoint for a reason, because it offers spectacular views of the Kanchenjunga mountain range, Phodong & Labrang Monasteries and the distant villages of North Sikkim. One should enjoy sunrise from here, it's miraculous. There is a resting shed, a park and a cafeteria constructed by Tourism department.
 I could not enjoy the views exactly as it is mentioned because of the rain and cloudy weather, but I captured a different side of nature while enjoying a hot cup of coffee in the cafeteria.

This is how it looked when I was there.
Tashi view point, clicked from the cafeteria
The view from Tashi View Point

I personally like hills and sceneries partly covered with clouds as it adds a unique beauty to it and gives a different feel of nature, but definitely the views on the clear days would be much more scenic.

3)Bakthang waterfall
 Situated at around 20 minutes drive from Gangtok and very close to the Tashi view point. Although the height of this waterfall is not much, but both the width and the greenery around add beauty to it.

Bakthang Waterfall

4) Ganesh Tok
It is a famous God Ganesha temple in Gangtok located at an altitude of 6500 ft. and it is close to the Tashi view point. This temple also offers splendid views of the magnificent    Kanchenjunga mountain.
It started raining heavily by the time I reached Ganesh tok so it couldn't be possible to take pictures of the views from the temple. Instead, I took pictures after the rains slowed down from a small restaurant in the parking area where I had Wai-Wai noodles and tea.

5) Himalayan Zoo
This zoo is not like any other zoo in India. The animals here are kept in their natural habitats. It is situated at the distance of 3 km from Gangtok at an altitude of about 6000 ft. It requires a lot of walking inside the park, which is also the right way to enjoy it. It somewhat gives a feel of a semi-national park where one can actually walk and encounter the animals.

6) Hanuman Tok
 It's a temple of Lord Hanuman, located at an altitude of around 7100 ft and about 11 km away from Gangtok. The ambiance here is wonderful and the views it offers is one of  the best in the whole Gangtok. This temple was handed over to the Indian army in 1968 and since then it has been maintained by 17 mountain divisions of the army.

Hanuman Tok

View from the Hanuman Tok
Another one
And one more

I returned by noon and had veg thupka for lunch, which is a noodle 
soup with vegetables and a local dish and which was by the way mouth watering. Later in the evening I strolled in Mg Marg and near by which was my routine for every evening till I was in Gangtok. By strolling I explored a small place in the corner where they made amazing chicken rolls not just chicken, but that's what I tried and it was so yum- yum. 

By night, Mr. Lama called and suggested to keep 14th for the rest of the local sightseeing which earlier was kept for Nathula pass, but since the roads were still closed, we had to postpone it for 15th which was also not a sure thing because it was all depending on the weather and the roads. Since 15th was my last option to visit Nathula because on 16th I had to leave for north Sikkim, it made me feel disheartened and I prayed hard for the clear sky and open roads.

Day 3 -April 14th

Luckily, today it stopped raining and the day got clear.  A different driver called Neil came to pick me, who was very down to earth, a little interactive and respectful, in that regard, all the drivers accompanied me were very decent and respectful. 

The points covered in this day trip-

1) Do Drul Chorten
It's a stupa located on a hillock and it was built in 1945 by Trulshik Rinpoche, head of the Nyingma  order of Tibetan Buddhism. The stupa is girdled with 108 prayer wheels which have a holy inscription engraved on all, Om Mani Padma Hum. It is said that while spinning these prayer wheels clockwise, the person has to chant the mantras engraved on them.

Do Drul Chorten

2)  Rumtek Monastery  
It was originally built in the mid 1700s, under the direction of Changchub Dorje, 12th  Karmapa Lama and rebuilt in the 1960s by the 16th Karmapa as his main seat in exile. It's also called 'The Dharmachakra Center". At present it is the largest monastery in Gangtok. It is located  around 25 km away from Gangtok at an altitude of about 4900 ft. Rumtek offers amazing views. 
Rumtek Monastery

With Monk Kids

Feeding Pigeons

View from Rumtek
Another One
Later, I had chicken momos for lunch in one of the few restaurants below Rumtek near the parking area. I don't disrespect food usually, but it was a disaster and the only bad food experience during the whole trip. 

3) Banjhakri falls & Energy Park
At around 10 km from Gangtok on the way to Ranka lies this almost 40 ft. beautiful waterfall in this theme park of ethnic sculptures and figurines depicting jhakri culture. As local people's believe Banjhakri resides in the forest and live in the rock caves worshiping spirits where 'ban' means forest and 'jhakri' means traditional healer. 

Banjhakri waterfall

Meet Mr. Banjhakri

Dragon on rock

4) Ranka Monastery 
It is also known as Lingdum Monastery, located at around 20 km away from Gangtok. You will find a collection of colorful Tibetan paintings here called Thangkas. A huge gold plated Buddha statue sits in the lotus position inside the sanctum.  Spinning the prayer wheels here is considered for good luck. As a cherry on a cake, the sunset view you get from here is splendid.

Ranka Monastery

It was the last of Gangtok local sights. By evening I got a good news. God had heard my prayer and granted it. The roads were open and next morning I had to leave for Nathula pass including Tsogmo lake and Baba temple. I was so excited and happy because I could not afford to miss it.
For that matter of fact, there was nothing in this trip which I could think of missing. Though in spite of that I had to miss Kanchenjunga National Park.

Day 4- April 15th

I got down from the hotel, all excited and enthusiastic, sharp at 7AM and this time no one was waiting for me. In fact, I was told to wait near a Xylo car numbered (SK****8) at a little distance. Well, it's not as it sounds, there was a reason behind this.
Because of the last moment plan the permit could not be arranged and was needed to be arranged by the same morning itself, which was taking time as it was crowed cause definitely everyone who was waiting for the opportunity wanted to avail it on the same day.
I am waiting and waiting and waiting all set and ready to go

Finally, at around 8 AM, I saw Mr lama walking towards me along with a new face I assumed him to be the driver and it appeared that I was right when Mr lama introduced me to Suren. I didn't know by then that soon we were going to create a bond by sharing a strong connection and he was going to be my brother not by blood but by the bond.

To Be Continued.....

What happens next will be found out in the next part of this post. To describe Sikkim, just one part is not sufficient, it will be required at least 3 parts or maybe 4, we'll find out soon.

Stay tuned.



Thursday, 7 July 2016

Something Less Explored

Let's start with a place which is hardly known and not expensive

Being an explorer, I  have always desired to find a place which is untouched, unspoiled and unexplored and to quench my craving I started browsing for such kind of places, though I soon realized during my other trips that it's a never ending thirst. Well, while searching I came across this place called '' CHOPTA" in Uttarakhand, India, totally unheard to me. It is located at an elevation of 2680 meters above sea level. Around 230 Kms away from Dehradun, Uttarakhand. The first look of this small village made me pack my bags and my journey started for my very first solo trip.

From the beginning:

May 2013

I reached Delhi and took a Volvo for  Dehradun and spent a night there at my cousin's. I booked a taxi in advance for the return trip from Dehradun to Chopta to Dehradun via Rishikesh in 6000 INR. Next morning we (the driver and I) started at 6 am.

Let me stop here and share a  little about my driver Vikas. He  was a very decent and responsible person who took good care of me, always protected me and not forget to mention, was fun to be with.  He never said no to any of my stupid demands and in fact, he  helped me to live almost all of them. So, I am very thankful to him, if it was not him, my trip might not have been  this amazing.

The  beginning of the journey  was so smooth and I was all energized. Music was loud and all the way, I was crazily singing and hopping in and out for pictures or snacking or fun things etc. I am sure Vikas at one point must have thought that I was a psycho which I am in a way ;).

Sitting on the stone in the middle of the river, not exactly the middle and since I didn't have beer, I cheered with Limca

  On the way, there are dhabas(small restaurants) and the roadside stalls for Maggi, cucumber, and sweet/salty lemonade soda, all my favorites.

   After a few hours drive, car speed went so low because of the condition of the roads. The roads were very rough and tricky for a very long run, it literally got foggy cause of blowing dust. And the dry weather slowly started taking my energy away.

After a little more drive, we got to this place where two rivers meet and greet.
On the way to Chopta
the confluence of 2 rivers Alaknanda (Muddy) & Bhagirathi (green) in Devprayag
After few more kilometers, the roads got fine and the view got beautiful, but by then I had lost my energy so I quietly looked out and was mesmerized by the beauty of nature.

  By the time we  reached it was already 6 pm so clearly it was a 12 long hour tiring trip. We stopped close to a small hotel which Vikas recommended to me as it was decent and close to the trekking start point.

 Here to mention, Chopta is a very small place, it's basically a place for camping, trekking, and nature lovers so you cannot expect luxury here,  the staying options here are very less in fact. Mostly people prefer to stay in tents (less availability if not carried one),  but you will get simple still clean rooms.


Chota As soon as I stepped out of the cab, the whole exertion flew away, time stopped, I was charged
and at that  moment  I felt like life touched me and I said to myself 'I am alive'. We know about a few mini-Switzerland in India. Well, this is the one which is not so known yet.

  It was a chilly May evening and wow, I didn't carry any warm clothes except a jacket and a stole since I didn't expect it to be that cold in the month of May. So basically, carry woolens, light or heavy according to the month you choose to go  as it's always cold there.

 The freezing breeze took me out of my immersion and I simply ran in search of a hot ginger tea.
 While sitting in the small restaurant and having sips of a hot tea, I interacted with the local people and I found out that there was no electricity in Chopta. In fact, they use solar system which sounded interesting to me. While interacting with them I also noticed that the phone in my shivering hands didn't have network so that's another point to note that there's no proper mobile network here.

I chose to stay in a tent as it's not a very regular thing to do and it sounded exciting.It was my first experience in the tent.

 After getting freshened up, I went to have my supper, (another hobby of mine is to try local food and beverages and for Chopta there was no specific, but the regular food  which was simple and yummy and you won't get non veg food here).

Later, I joined a group of people for the campfire which was quite a fun, but since I had to get up early in the  morning to start the trek, I preferred not to stay for long and  went for a sound sleep in my cozy yellow color tent. Now again, It's a dense forest area so it's neither advised nor preferable to wander around in the night

I set an alarm for 4 AM next day but the cold morning froze me and I couldn't wake up on time. I finally woke up at 6 AM out of my laziness but by 6:30AM I was already at the trekking start point. I was ready with my small backpack containing water bottle and some snacks, my iPhone, my only stole and a trekking pole. Note that without network my iPhone was just a camera to capture the moments.
 I was so damn excited as it was going to be my first ever trekking experience, but definitely not the last one. I always had it in mind and finally got a chance to execute.

 I started trekking for Tungnath followed by Chandrashila (Moonstone). There is a paved path combined with stairs to walk, but after a while I started finding it boring, so to spice it up I changed my route a bit and chose to trek through hilly part, well, I was not the only one to do so. I enjoyed it more and my regular breaks let me see the more of Chopta

A little off the track:


There are small shops at a regular interval where you can have tea and snacks. I like to interact and connect with people and know the local side of the place I travel to. And I must say I loved the people in Chopta, they are really sweet, very simple and down to earth

The higher I went, the lovelier the views were getting

1st Point- Tungnath Temple (highest shiva temple in the world and one of the panch kedar temples)

Tungnath temple is at the height of about 3680 meters.It is believed to be 1000 years old.
 It was 1:00 pm when I reached the Tungnath temple and was really panting, but as I entered the temple, it worked as miracle and I got all charged and refreshed, what a spiritual place, peaceful and very positive.

It should not take you this long to reach, I took this much time because of my regular and long halts.

      The weather was pleasant when I started and It already got windy, cold and cloudy before I reached Tungnath so views got disappeared 
 Without wasting any longer, I moved for Chandrashila as the weather was changing fast and I wanted to make it to the peak.

Total distance from the starting point till Chandrashila is around 5-6 kms, and  it is around 1-1.5 Kms from Tungnath to Chandrashila. Chandrashila is located at the height of about 4000 meters. It offers 360 degrees panoramic views of the Himalayas and if the weather is clear, one can have spectacular views from here. It is believed that lord Rama meditated here after defeating Ravana also that moon god spent time here in reparation.

2nd/Peak Point -Chandrashila(Moonrock), a summit of tungnath

 It's a very steep trek for Chandrashila and I reached there at around 2:30 pm when started at around 1:15 pm.

It started heavily breezing followed by rain and got colder when I was already at the peak which  enforced me for immediate return. Well, for me it was a moment of fun as I like getting drenched.  I had no other option anyway since I didn't carry an umbrella just like I didn't carry proper warm clothes, but still I enjoyed even though it made me shiver.

But it's an advise to carry an umbrella or a raincoat along with you cause weather here is unpredictable.

I was happy I made it to the top even though I could not stay or take pictures or enjoy the view.

Getting down was faster and without halts and the rain also stopped after a while. I got  back by around 4 - 4:30PM.

I was supposed to leave for Rishikesh by no later than 6:00 Pm, but I decided to extend one more night to stay far away from the daily chaos and for the love of this place with peaceful environment, pollution free air, sweet people, greenery & meadows all around, dense forest, the climate and above all, the feel of this place was just WOW.

The next morning I had to say bye to this lovely place which let me live an enchanting experience. 



Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Solo Trip- An oppurtunity to meet yourself

People often wonder about solo traveling and mainly when that traveler is a female. Well, I am a female and a solo traveler and this is the best part of my life or better to say, this is my life.
  Having a father with a wandering job gave me many opportunities to travel as a kid, so  my love for traveling and a dream to see the world started at quite  an early age and as I grew up and started my modeling career, that again made me travel a lot. But, the dream remained  a dream until my first solo trip in 2013 cause never before  I saw the world with my own eyes. 
 I always believe that all solo travelers are traveling to find something or someone, getting it or not depends on the destiny or may be how one tries, but one thing which I can assure you would find is 'you'.  I travel to meet myself and I always get a good result. :)
  As now I only think about what to write and where to go next, both in combination gave me an option of blogging where I can write as well as share my traveling experiences