Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Sikkim-Darjeeling family tour (Mar2017)



After a long span of almost ten months we planned for a family holiday and this time the destination was Sikkim and Darjeeling.
We boarded 12809 Mumbai-Howrah mail (via Nagpur) from Bilaspur station and set off for our tour to Sikkim and Darjeeling.The train was late and we reached Howrah station at around 11.00am. After a light lunch at Howrah railway station, we boarded a taxi to Kolkata's Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose  air-port.We boarded the 13.30 flight to Bagdogra. We landed the Bagdogra air-port at around 14.45 Hrs and contacted our tour operator UDAAN. After the payment formalities and a brief introduction we started our road journey from Bagdogra to Gangtok. Our tour operator had provided us a Estilo car for complete Sikkim tour and our driver was Dewarsh, a young Sikkimese man from Pelling area.The driver quickly crossed the bustling town of Siliguri and soon we were on the picturesque highway to Gangtok.The road condition was fine but from Sevoke , it was a hilly road and sharp road-curves with uphill profile were quite frequent.From the car we could get a fascinating view of the mighty Teesta river.
Teesta River on the way from Bagdora to Gangtok

Most of the area was a thick forest with tall Sal trees.After crossing Melli, we halted at Rangpo for a short tea-break.As we departed Rangpo it was already dark and temperature had dipped to about 15 deg C ( in Mar last week).We continued our journey through Singtam and by the time we reached Ranipool, it was raining.Lower temperatures accompanied with rains made us uncomfortable.Gangtok city begins from Ranipool and we were surprised and delighted to find out that Gangtok was quite a populous city bustling with modern shops,restaurants,Hotels , educational institutes and residential buildings.However the roads were quite narrow and overloaded with very high number of vehicles.Gangtok city is nestled on the hill slopes and the city roads have sharp uphills and downhills.Driving in Gangtok/Sikkim may be difficult for non-Sikkimese drivers.

We finally reached our hotel, Keepsa Residency at around 19.30 Hrs.It was a nice cosy hotel , very clean and well-maintained.Our third floor room was quite spacious , furnished with double bed,sofas,dressing table,toilet with bathtub and separate glass-cabin for shower, and the much needed room heater.


Hotel Keepsa Residency, Gangtok
Third floor lobby at Hotel Keepsa Residency
     




The temperature was quite low and we had to resort to warm clothing.After a short supper we quickly went to bed.It was a cold night and we would have loved to stay in the bed, till late in the morning.But our driver was supposed to come by 9 am and we had to get ready.The early morning view of the Kanchendzonga mountains from our  glass window was fabulous.


A view of Gangtok city from our room window


We quickly finished the buffet-breakfast at the in-house restaurant on the ground floor.Our driver was waiting for us .
Our pre-planned destination was Baba Mandir and Tsomogo lake.However due to rains on the previous day, the roads were blocked due to snow and we could not get the tourist-pass required for the visit.We decided to go for a local sight seeing of Gangtok city.We headed to the flower show complex displaying a wide variety of exotic flowers.The collection of orchids was awesome.We spent about 45 min. at this place.


Flower show complex ,Gangtok



Flower show complex ,Gangtok


Flower show complex ,Gangtok

Flower show complex ,Gangtok

Flower show complex ,Gangtok

Our next destination was Directorate of Hand-looms and Handicrafts.This was a complex of multiple rooms each with a exhibition of hand-looms and handicrafts from various Indian state.After spending about 40 minutes , we headed to the Ban Jhakari waterfalls.


Ban Jhakri waterfalls, Near Gangtok




It is a beautiful waterfall with garden developed on the hill slopes.The garden is decorated with statues of local styles and small tableaux depicting life of local people in Sikkim.It is a nice family place to relax.


Tableaux depicting ancient Sikkimese culture
Tableaux depicting ancient Sikkimese culture


Tableaux depicting ancient Sikkimese culture , Ban Jhakari waterfalls

Ban Jhakri waterfalls
Ban Jhakri waterfalls

Ban Jhakri waterfalls
Ban Jhakri waterfalls





We next headed to the Rumtek monastery which was around 18 Km from Gangtok.Roads in Sikkim are quite narrow with sharp turns and ups and downs.As such our 18 Km journey to Rumtek monastery took almost one hour.

Rumtek monastery , Near Gangtok
Roadside flowers on way to Rumtek monastery
 The monastery is a serene place situated on a hill-top and with strong security by BSF (Border Security Force) personnel's. The beautifully decorated central temple is surrounded by hostels of the resident bhikshoo (students). Boys as young as 5 years and as old as 50 years were the students of this monastery.The monastery had a in house restaurant serving tea,coffee,Thupka,Noodles etc to the tourist.Outside the monastery campus, local restaurants served fresh and delicious momo's. 
After having a heavy brunch of local Sikkimese food, we returned to Gangtok and  visited the Do-Drul Chorten monastery.


Do-Drul Chorten monastery, Gangtok
Do-Drul Chorten monastery , Gangtok
 By the time we reached the monastery , it was raining and we quickly visited the monastery. The dusk had set by 5 pm.Sikkim being on the eastern part of India the local time is always ahead of the IST (Indian Standard Time) and we experienced that darkness sets by around 5 pm.We called it a day and retired to our hotel.
The city was drenched by the evening rains and we decided to take a stroll along the city's mall road, the famous MG road(Mahatma Gandhi road).The road is full of shops for local souvenirs , branded showrooms, restaurants and local eateries etc.The street is crowded with tourists and  the shops do a brisk business.MG road has restaurants serving South Indian,North Indian, Chinese and Bengali dishes.It was a chilled evening and warm clothes were very much required.We had our dinner at MG road and walked lazily to  our hotel.The night was cold , but the room-heater at our hotel made it a cosy place.
The next morning we woke up with a fresh cool breeze over the hill city and a bright sunny view of the Kanchendzonga mountains.We were ready by 9.00pm and after a quick breakfast , as we approached our driver, we were disappointed to know that even today our tourist pass to Baba Mandir and Tsomgo lake was not issued due to snowfall on the previous day.Our tour operator arranged for an alternative visit to Naamchi.

A roadside hotel, on way to Naamchi

On way to Naamchi
On way to Naamchi







Naamchi is a small town in Sikkim situated about 80 Km from Gangtok.The roads winded through the ups and downs of the hilly terrain and we passed through green dense forests, small Sikkimese villages practicing organic farming, and breathtaking roadside view-points.We reached the Samdruptse monastery by around 1.30pm.


Entrance to Samdruptse , Naamchi
Guru Padmasambhave , Naamchi
 The place has huge 45m tall statue of Guru Padmasambhave (Guru Rinpoche) a saint from Sikkim.It is situated on a hill top from where one can get a beautiful panorama of the surrounding mountains and forests.It has  accommodation facilities for the tourists at reasonable rates and has a restaurant complex at its entrance.



Inside Guru Padmasambhave temple


Guru Padmasambhave temple , Naamchi


A ropeway from this place descends down to the Rock garden where one can relax for a while.


Ropeway , Naamchi
Rock garden , Naamchi




Rock garden , Naamchi
We moved ahead , crossed the picturesque Naamchi town and reached the Chaardhaam Mandir complex.It is a huge tourist complex situated atop a hill with a sprawling garden with marble floors, numerous temples , tourist accommodation facilities,restaurants and shops.We relaxed here for about one hour and started our return journey.


Chaardham mandir complex , Naamchi



 



  











Chaardham mandir complex , Naamchi

Due to omnipresent mountain roads , my 4-yearsold younger son was feeling giddy and we stopped at a chemist shop at Naamchi to get some medicines. Naamchi is a nice little tourist place , less crowded than Gangtok and highly recommended for tourists searching for off-beat tracks.
We returned to our hotel by 8 pm .

The next morning we packed our bags and after a heavy breakfast we headed for our next destination to Pelling. On the way we halted at a local hotel at Sangmo for a delicious lunch of Thupka and momo's.


A roadside restaurant at Sangmo, on way to Pelling
We reached Pelling at about 4.00 pm. Our tour operator had booked Hotel Himalayan Retreat at Pelling. We relaxed at our hotel room for the rest of the day. 


Hotel Himalayan Retreat , Pelling

Pelling was colder with a  day temperature of about 12 degC and the night was 5 deg C or less.
The next day we went for Pelling sight seeing and our first destination was the Kanchendzonga waterfalls which was about 30 Km from Pelling. Being a majestic waterfall amid lush green valley it is a very popular tourist destination.Here we enjoyed the adventure sport of valley crossing and brunched on local snacks like bhutta(corn) , momo's and chowmein served at the roadside hotels. 


Kanchendzonga waterfalls , Pelling
Such beautiful flowers are seen everywhere in Sikkim


Kanchendzonga waterfalls , Pelling
Valley crossing at Kanchendzonga waterfalls

After spending about 1.5 hours at this place we headed next to the Khechuperi lake which was about 16 Km from the Kanchendzonga falls.It is a lake surrounded by mountains and forests and the water is crystal clear . It is considered as a holy lake by the local residents and a Buddhist temple is nearby.


Near Khechuperi lake



The walkway to Khechuperi lake






Khechuperi lake is considered as a holy-lake by the local people


The mesmerising atmosphere at Khechuperi lake





Local houses near Khechuperi lake



Khechuperi lake viewed from nearby hilltop
 A narrow pathway along the woody slopes , lead to the top of a hill from where one can get a fascinating view of the of the Khechupuri lake.The mountain mist, the cool atmosphere,the thick woods , the fluttering of the numerous mantra-flags on long strings and high poles, all leads to an entire new world of ecstasy. It was hard to leave the place but we moved ahead to see the Pemayangtse monastery and finally headed to Darjeeling.


Pemayangtse monastery , Pelling



Pemayangtse monastery , Pelling

The road journey from Pelling to Darjeeling was a long and exhaustive one.The hilly road with its twists and turns and ups and downs was dangerous as well as scenic.After Legship town the road was only a mud patch.which ran almost parallel to the Rangeet river till Jorethang. On the way we halted at a restaurant at Mabong for a belated lunch.
The Rangeet river parallel to Pelling Darjeeling road
Traffic jam on Pelling Darjeeling road

 



A roadside restaurant at Mabong , Pelling-Darjeeling road

At Jorethang we crossed the Sikkim-West Bengal border and entered West Bengal.From here the road was worst . It was only a muddy road with loose stones lying on the road at many places.We reached Darjeeling late in the evening by 7 pm. Just like Sikkim, Darjeeling was cold in the evenings.Our tour operator had booked Hotel Chas Sanderling at Darjeeling.We reached the hotel at about 7.30 pm and after a quick supper, we called it a day.

Hotel Chas Sanderling , Darjeeling
Here we left our Sikkim driver, Dewarsh who accompanied us for the last three days.The next day a new driver was Kundan , from Darjeeling and his Travera vehicle was allotted to us.The next day tour was to start at 4.00 am and the driver was supposed to take us to sun-rise point and the Ghoom monastery.But alas ! the next day early morning witnessed heavy rains and we could not visit the sun-rise point and the Ghoom monastery.We advised the driver to be ready by 9 am and after a sumptous breakfast at our hotel restaurant we started our sight seeing tour of Darjeeling.Our first destination was Padmaja Naidu zoological park and Himalayan mountaineering institute, both in the same campus.
Zoological park & Himalayan mountaineering institute , Darjeeling

 

Sherpa Tenzing Norgay , Himalayan Mountaineering institute


Himalayan mountaineering institute , Darjeeling




Himalayan mountaineering institute , Darjeeling



Asiatic bear , Zoological park , Darjeeling


Red Panda , Zoological park , Darjeeling
The zoo  had animals like the Royal Bengal tiger, Asiatic black bear, snow leaopards, Red panda and many other Himalayan forest mammals.The zoo also had a collection of exotic Himalayan birds.It was very entertaining for children.

The Himalayan mountaineering institute and its museum was highly informative on various trekking expeditions to the Himalayas and especially the mount Everest.A wide variety of vintage trekking gears were kept for display.After  spending about three hours in this campus we relished the bhutta's (corn ) and waited for our driver.Darjeeling is very crowded with tourists and its narrow roads are insufficient to cater the massive vehicular traffic and heavy tourist population.We next headed to Tenzing rock followed by Tea-gardens.
Tenzing rock , Darjeeling


Tea gardens , Darjeeling
Tea gardens , Darjeeling
Our next destination was Japanese temple and Peace-pagoda which was at a diagonally opposite corner of Darjeeling.We crossed the main town and its bustling bazars and local traffic along the narrow roads and bylanes was quite interesting for a first time tourist in Darjeeling.The Japanese temple and the the Peace pagoda are nearby and worth a visit.
Japanese temple ,  Darjeeling
Japanese temple ,  Darjeeling

 

Peace pagoda , Darjeeling
 

 






Japanese temple
Peace pagoda
We took a drop in the main market area and left our vehicle for the day.We strolled through the markets which was quite developed and offered the most modern goods at very competitive prices.The market is especially good for winter wear and travelling gears, also a wide variety of high end  souvenirs and snack restaurants were available.After some shopping we had  dinner at a restaurant and returned to our hotel.
Darjeeling railway station

 

Darjeeling railway station
The next morning we rolled in our beds till late in the morning and after the breakfast we packed our bags and started our return journey to Bagdogra airport.

The road from Darjeeling to Bagdogra
By 12.30pm we reached Siliguri town and had a sumptuous lunch at a highway restaurant.We  reached Bagdogra airport by 1.30pm . Our 2.40pm flight to Kolkata was delayed due to heavy traffic congestion at the airport.
Finally we reached Kolkata air port at 4.30pm. We relaxed for a while at the airport and hired a taxi to Howrah railway station.It was a Sunday evening and the MG road market with its fancy showrooms and the bustling street markets made us shopping sick.But we had to catch the 8.40 pm Howrah Mumbai mail and we rushed to Howrah railway station.We had a quick dinner at the railway restaurant and boarded our train.