Updated: Dec 21, 2019
By Sparkian Sulekha Chandra
Contributing Author for Spark Igniting Minds
Sikkim, the wonderland! I used to dream of visiting the northeastern states of India. Lo! I got the opportunity in March 2018 after the exams of my son got over. The trip was not planned, except that a desire to visit Assam was in our hearts. As the flight took off to Bhubaneswar where we had to attend a family function - the thread ceremony of the son of my very close friend Ritu - my husband asked me, “How about visiting Assam and coming back after a week’s time?”
My eyes lit up in anticipation. Soon thoughts of Cheerapunji took over my mind but it seemingly felt that the workload that we both have may not allow us to have an extended holiday and I replied, “Let’s first have a tour of Bhubaneswar and then decide. Soon the discussion caught speed and we started discussing the routes and plan. At such short notice, the flight tickets seemed expensive so we decided to take Tatkal train to Siliguri and further thought of visiting Darjeeling. Thoughts of tea gardens swept my mind of all other worries and workload.
We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Bhubaneswar and took the train to Siliguri on 29th March and dropped at JNP station on 30th March. I found JNP station as one of the cleanest stations. It felt pleasant as we came out of the train and walked over the bridge to reach the other side of the city. One can see lots of travel agents who provide tour plans and packages. We discussed with Sikkim Travels and then took a cab to Gangtok. There we directly went to the Sikkim Tourism office which is completely made of wood with has a wonderful ambiance, located amidst the sophisticated M G Road.
The staff provided us complete guidance about the trusted hotels and agents registered with them. We stayed at hotel Utpal. The same day we enjoyed at MG Road. It is very special as one side of the road is meant only for the public. The road is adorned with fancy light polls, seating arrangements, fountains, glamorously lit shops and flowers all around.
My son clicked very good pictures for us. He had to as I am very critical of photography skills. The next day we went to enjoy 12 viewpoints of Gangtok which included a Gandola ride wherein one can have an amazing view of the city. We went to the Ganesha Temple where we clicked pictures wearing a fancy local dress called Jainsem. We visited the Biological garden, Flower show to mention a few. We had a great time visiting these viewpoints and enjoying nature. It gave us an opportunity to keep reminding our son of significant details.
On 31st March, we chose to visit Yumthang Valley, the north-most part of Sikkim. We were advised to buy jackets and warm clothes as we had no warm clothes with us. Gangtok is fairly warm during the day. So, we went shopping in Lal Bazar. The next day, we went to the local sumo stand which accommodates up to 9 people and transports people to Yumthang on a sharing basis. My husband was disappointed as we were not allowed to hire a private cab. The local drivers are experts as far as the perilous mountain route is concerned. Moreover, all passengers were supposed to submit their individual close-up photographs with ID details and each car driver carried a stamped document which he produced to the defense personnel each time we crossed a check post. Taking pictures of check post areas is prohibited. We gladly started the journey by 11:30 am and reached the base of Yumthang called Lachung, by evening 6:30 pm. It is a six hours journey and in between, one gets to have lunch or snacks with designated hotels only as mentioned in the package and the driver is aware of all the details.
It was spine chilling cold when we got down and walked towards the Guesthouse. We got a luxurious room on the 3rd floor.
No sooner did we see the quilt than the three of us jumped in, to warm our feet even though each of us was wearing a double layer of socks. Our dinner was arranged in a nearby hotel called Starlit for which we had to face cold feet again. The cold water gave me pain in my fingers while I washed hands for dinner. The moon looked so close from there that one could take clear pictures with visible colors. By 9:30 pm, we were deep asleep. Before sleep, we discussed with fellow passengers who were staying in the same guest house, about the next day’s plan. They suggested that we should visit Kataw peak, instead of Zero Point, which borders Tibet to the north of Sikkim. We woke up at 4:30 am and laughed as we never ever followed such a schedule in Mumbai and wished if lifestyle everywhere could be so. The sun sets at around 5:45 pm and one can witness an awesome sunrise by morning 4:30 am. As we started by 5:30 am, all freshened up and ready to face the chill, I thanked God in my every breath to have given me eyes to witness the golden shine of snow-clad peaks. The lofty mountains grew more and more golden as we were moving up and crossing many others towards Kataw.
We interacted with Indian Jawans and saluted them. They were educating everyone about the dos and don’ts. There we saw a small temple in which a marble stone was installed bearing the name of a Jawan who lost his life while battling in defense of the border. We offered our prayers there and bowed down our heads with a feeling no less than what we feel in a temple. When we witnessed the kind of climate and other conditions that our soldiers bear with, our hearts are bound to get filled with deep respect and reverence for our nation and such heroes as it is not a cup of tea for any other common man to put up under such adverse weather conditions.
“The higher we go, the cooler it is.” My father used to repeat this each time he would take up science to teach us. While standing at Kataw, I realized that this aspect of nature is true for human life as well. The tranquility of mountains teaches us that as we progress and practice silence, we become lofty within and feel the peace which is as golden as the shining snowy mountains in the morning sun.
While my husband and I stood in silence, watching and appreciating the beauty, our son was having fun with a little puppy. We had a lot of fun playing with snowballs, lying down on the snow and clicking pictures, breaking stunning icicles and playing around and posing for more pictures.
After Kataw, we visited Glacier falls in our way towards Yumthang.
It took us 2 hours from there to reach Yumthang Valley. One can enjoy magnificent views of the snow-covered mountains while we drive and witness huge landmasses, amazing rocks, and lakes. No doubt, one tends to appreciate the driving expertise of the local drivers who drive without seat belts and without penalties. When asked about the leniency, the reason they offer is that their body moves a lot while driving on snake-like roads which gives them better control over the steering.