Sikkim – Darjeeling : May-2022
When I started writing this blog, I started with comparison of self-planned tour v/s organized tour as Ladakh (self-planned) is still fresh in mind. Then I decided to keep that chapter at the end.
It is interesting to know that Sikkim was an independent State / Nation protected by India till 1975. After internal political turmoil, a referendum was held and by overwhelming majority, people of Sikkim decided to become a part of India. Sikkim became 22nd
state of India in 1975. Local population of Sikkim is mainly Buddhist (Bhutia and Lepcha) and some Nepali. Sikkim has population of just over 7 lacs.
We booked through a travel company – ‘Ajay Modi’ of Ahmedabad. It is shown as a 7-nights 8-days tour, whereas in reality it is 7-nights and 6-days. Day-1 is travel to Gangtok and Day-8 is travel from Gangtok. Day-1: Gandhinagar to Gangtok via Bagdogra.
Our tour was ex-Bagdogra, the nearest airport for Sikkim. Bagdogra is 15 km from Siliguri (in West Bengal).
Bagdogra to Gangtok is ~130 km, but in Sikkim (and for that matter in any hilly region) it is more relevant to mention the distance
in time rather than Km. Our pick-up was from the airport at 2 pm.
As per the tour condition, we had a shared taxi (Innova / Xylo) for six travelers. We were told that smaller vehicle are not allowed in Sikkim (which we found not to be true – pl refer to the last chapter). As we were only two of us, full taxi would have been costly (this we had experienced in Ladakh).
We all assembled at the airport and started for Gangtok. Sharing a taxi with unknown people is always risky and difficult proposition, but the good part was that all of us were from Gujarat. Of the remaining four, one couple were a few years younger to us (gentleman was anesthetist), and remaining two were much senior to us (70- and 75-years gentlemen). It takes a while to develop understanding in managing luggage (in a single vehicle), rotating the sitting arrangement and to maintain time schedule (the worst part!).
Beyond Siliguri (it took 1 h to cross 15 km distance), Sikkim starts with its beautiful lush green mountains. Your tour starts there itself. This was in pleasant contrast to our previous tour to Ladakh,
where we had seen a totally contrasting face of the Himalayas – Ladakh was barren – a Himalayan desert.
We reached Gangtok after 8 pm. Location of the Hotel – Royal Orchid and Spa –was not impressive, but the room and facilities were good. (Peak season rate Rs 3500/-).
Throughout the tour, Gujju breakfast and dinner were arranged by the operator. This is a major plus point – but somewhat monotonous also. Tour operator maintains a local manager at Gangtok, Pelling and Darjeeling to look after the food and transport arrangements.
Dinner was very good.
End of “Day-1”! Day-2: Gangtok to Nathu La, Tsongmo (Chhangu) Lake and Baba Harbhajan Temple.
Breakfast time: 8-9 am. Too good. Too many items.
We started at 8.30 and reached Nathu La by 11.00.
Tour operators’ brochure state this clearly, but you realize its significance only after you get there. Only Chhangu (Tsongmo – in local language) Lake and Baba Harbhajan temple were mentioned for sightseeing on Day-2.
Nathu La pass was to be at extra cost. (Same story will repeat every day).
We agreed to pay extra Rs.
4000/- (for six persons) to drive from Chhangu Lake to Nathu La (approx. 20 Km).
Nathu La (La = mountain pass) is situated at 14,140 ft. The route was once used for trade between India and Tibet. Now it is Indo-China border. At this height, naturally it was very cold, very windy, ;ow oxygen and there was light snowfall. After climbing about 150 steps, you can see a couple of buildings on the Chinese (Tibetian) side.
There is nothing funny or to be proud of in looking at the enemy territory and buildings, but yes, just being there at 14,000+ feet height for people from burning hot plains of Gujarat, and shivering in cold in the month of May, was definitely an experience worth taking. At the beginning of the steps, there is a restaurant that provides hot tea / coffee and snacks at half the rate of any Gujarati tourist place.
We didn’t climb all 150 odd steps due to cold winds, poor visibility (due to heavy fog), high altitude (people do develop breathlessness) – and of course, the extreme ‘bhid
’ – crowd. Nathu La closes for tourists at 1 pm and also remains closed on
Nobody had warned about low oxygen related problems. One, it is not a part of official itinerary and taxi drivers are interested in making fast buck. It is not advisable to go to 14,000+ ft for elderly and small children. We could see many suffering from AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) without knowing what is happening to them. This is criminal negligence on part of tour operator/s. They can at least issue an advisory.
One must take precaution – if not by taking preventive medication, but by at least keeping camphor wrapped in handkerchief. We had to use it and many people were inquiring – where is it available. Tour operators MUST advise properly.
After about an hour at Nathu La, on way back, our first stop was Baba Harbhajan Temple (13,100 ft).
Baba Harbhajan Singh was a major in Indian army. He laid his life in 1967 at the age of 26 while protecting Nathu La and a shrine was built in his memory. The army believes that his spirit still protects the Indian border at Nathu La.
Next was the Chhangu Lake (12,300 ft). There are many such lakes in Himalayas. This is
just one of them. Nothing khaas
. One can admire the scene from the banks (boating is not allowed) or from rope-way. The banks of the lake were very dirty due to Yaks waiting to be ridden and getting photographed with humans. Rope-way could have been some fun, but our driver avoided it.
This is yet another problem with Sikkim drivers. They stop only where they get free-food. We had experienced this in Ladakh also. Of course, there are no decent restaurants in this area and the best you can hope to get is absolutely tasteless momos (we had vowed not to eat them after the Ladakh experience) - or famous maggy. Better to carry your own food.
So, the morning had three places to see. Two not-so-khaas
which were included in the itinerary and the third - Nathu La for which we paid extra (worth going).
Special permit is required to visit all three places and they were arranged by the tour operator (cost included).
We returned to Gangtok by about 4 pm. The evening was free. We spent time on the famous MG Road of Gangtok. It was a good time-pass sitting on the benches
among pleasantly green plantations in the middle of the road. Easy to spend two hours.
Gangtok is the capital of Sikkim situated at 5,500 ft. Population of Gangtok is 1 lac – although it appears much bigger due to its layout.
Back to hotel. Dinner – not so good.
There are many other places to visit in Gangtok: Banjhakhri water falls, Hanuman Tok, Himalayan Zoological Park, Ranka Monastery (and a few others), Tashi view point, Gangtok rope-way, Ganesh-tok view point to name a few. None were included in the itinerary. Neither the local manager advised nor was there enough time. Gangtok remained incomplete.
Tot: 0.076s; Tpl: 0.018s; cc: 7; qc: 44; dbt: 0.0125s; 1; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb