Monday, June 12, 2017

On The Road – from Kolkata to Gangtok and beyond

To get out of the impossible complexities of Gangtok traffic, we took an early start from the city for West Sikkim. It was a sunny, beautiful morning, had a good night sleep with good dinner in the night, so we were fresh in our mind and body. My friend drove more than 1000 km, and seemed okay with the driving under pressure. It was my first trip on four wheels, initially quite excited but later on felt in the car that I had to maintain a full awareness even sitting in the shotgun position. A few times I felt, I applied break, involuntarily my feet felt a tension and whole body straightened up when a vehicle or someone very sneakily passed by. Also traveling in a car is different from motorcycle. In a car there is a frame and you always feel you are in an enclosed space; in a motorcycle frame is gone and you actively observe the surroundings. In a car the observation is more passive.

Gangtok was incredibly touristy with unbelievable number of vehicles; hotels were expensive, more than any other hill stations I had visited, and practically no real room to walk comfortably in the evening. We reached comfortably in the evening but our ordeal started when we entered in the city. For an hour or more we couldn’t find appropriate place to stay, parking space and even some good place to sit and think. Finally, we had decided to stay at a room that would cost maximum Rs. 600-800 in Shimla or Manali, but we paid Rs. 2000 for overnight stay.

Kolkata to Raiganj – road kills!

We had started from Kolkata late morning, and for more than an hour; it was an ordinary car ride with traffic and hot sun, and office-goers getting on their daily routine with usual chaotic way like in any other Indian city, till we got on the smooth tarmac road of NH2 and straight across the road till Panagarh crossing. After 3 hours of driving, we reached Vasudha, somewhere in between Rampurhaat and Panagarh, a surprisingly nice roadside restaurant with considerably good condition. We had our lunch and a good break.

West Bengal State Highway
I thought of all my friends who were in the middle of the traffic, going to office, and we were also stuck in the middle with a completely different purpose. Sitting at Paramita Hotel, I was jotting down some points in the diary – road was long and dusty, and above all cacophony of all sorts of vehicles. State highways in West Bengal are bad, very difficult to drive because vehicles, small or big, do not maintain simple traffic decency.

Our plan was to reach Siliguri in one day but when we reached Malda, already darkness shrouded in that part of the world. I have a personal policy of long distance riding that I never ride in the night. It was a difficult decision to stay overnight in Raiganj but we both decided to stopover because from Raiganj to Siliguri was still 160 km distance. There were couple of decent hotels there, so we asked locals and they suggested staying at Imperial Hotel. We got a decent room in Rs. 500, and spent our night just sleeping tight.

Gangtok and Sunil Lama

Night fell on the hills and the hills became first time real. The usual dissonance was gone, less cars, people were walking comfortably on the roads, and we were searching for a decent restaurant for our drink and food. We didn’t have to search more and found a small yet decent pub.  A stout man, distinguishably Nepali was sitting along on a sofa at the corner of the bar. We were confused about the North Sikkim permits and other details, so I went to him and asked him whether he could throw some light on the permit stuff. To my surprise, he was extremely polite and warm, answering my queries with enthusiasm. He asked me to sit and told a waiter to bring a pen and paper. He was occurred to me the owner of that bar. He told me he could have managed the permit if I gave him one more day. I was not interested in North Sikkim but West Sikkim always excited me, so I asked him about the direction and some places to stay.

He wrote it down a complete road map with staying places, but I had to ask him again because his handwriting was incomprehensible. 

Forest Colony (our hotel) à After 1 hour drive Sintham à Sandupche via Temi Tea Garden-à 2-3 km drive to Namchià From Namchi to Rabang 20 kmàBuddha ParkàTashiding Monasteryàfrom Tashiding to Yuksam 2 hrs drive.

YuksamàKhechiperi Lakeà Dentham/Peling via Sombaria, DhardinàJorthangàSiliguri

He suggested to stay in Dentham at hotel Red Mud Shelle

Sunil Lama was great help, and I thanked him twice for his clear road map. 

Sunil Lama's Road map 

Gangtok to Yuksam – Treacherous at its best

If you look at Sikkim in a certain light – and light is the pristine natural element, glinting off the cloud of the valley and turning green hills into panes of misty beauty. My new found happiness inside the four wheels was suddenly vanished in a puff when couple of hours the car moved in 30km/hr on one of the worst roads I had ever seen. It was a beautiful sunny morning with prayer flags lined up both sides of the road and just fluttering in a strange setting. I thought of my previous Himalayan travels, those were different, those were extraordinary when I though back to all the moments that had most inspiring, simply overwhelming. 

The road till Tashiding was like working the car off the dirt road – the jerks were consistent, no respite for even a few minutes. Sometimes, from the window of the car, I saw small houses, very beautiful ones, people sat in the sun, on benches, the leaves turning gold, and felt a foreigner’s sense of wonder. Sikkim was quite strange to me. 

Yuksam Finally!

First time I heard the name when I was working with organization where I had to write on various Indian travel destinations. It was 2007. I was thrilled to write on Yuksam and always planned to go there. It took 13 years to reach my desired destination and the feeling was mixed. This small town in West Sikkim is quaint, laid-back and a bit strange. There were a few food joints, couple of hotels but good ones. 

Yuksam has a great historical importance to Sikkimise because it was the first capital of the state and home to the oldest monastery in the state. Dubdi Monastery is perched in the hill, 2 km uphill from the town. Yuksam is also a base camp to various fascinating treks in Sikkim Mountains. It is also the gateway to the Khachendzonga Biosphere Reserve.

Road Trip Video - Gangtok to Tashiding


I walked slowly, the people all around me on this cloudy summer evening, refulgent and shiny – though the atmosphere was strangely blurred. The very old and the very young live on the edge of things in this corner of India – and were closer to the woods; they don’t have to go and check in on the daylight world. They worked, they made stories, they worshiped Buddha; I heard a distinct bell over and over, my eyes remained close long after the bell stopped ringing.

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