Faridoon Shahryar's Blog

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Tsomgo Lake: Sikkim's Paradise

Day 7: May 8, 2014 

A guide at Tashi View Point told us yesterday that two cars had met with a serious accident while going to Tsomgo Lake some time back. He also said that the road is extremely dangerous. We had read a lot about Tsomgo Lake online. While almost everyone unanimously spoke about this Holy Lake in glowing terms, almost everyone commented on the dangerous terrain too. For three days in this month, the road to Tsomgo had been closed because of the adverse weather conditions. It rained last night and I wasn't sure if we would be able to make it today. To be honest we were very nervous before starting off on the 35 km journey.

Our driver stopped over for getting our Permit (you need a Permit from Indian Army for visiting this lake since it falls in the Army area and is very close to China border). I was still sceptical as we set out after getting the Permit. One urge told me that maybe we should cancel our trip. But then, the best way to overcome fear is to do things that you're afraid of. The journey is tough, the roads are totally torn at places but somehow I don't think it was as treacherous as it was made out to be. Actually I never looked in the valleys whenever we were faced with a sharp turn or a landslide prone area posed a bumpy path. I just looked at the road ahead and somehow it made me feel stronger.

Tsomgo Lake is at an altitude of 12400 feet. As our car snaked its way to higher regions, the temperature dropped, an influx of picturesque sceneries appeared at regular intervals and too many energetic waterfalls dotted our journey. All the wonderful locations that we've visited in the last six days was completely overshadowed by today's journey followed by the showstopper Tsomgo. The fresh snowfall on a mountain slightly ahead of Tsomgo was a brilliant sight. I' had never experienced snow. My daughter Insha came up close and personal with snow for the very first time too. We had fun playing in the snow, clicking pictures and absorbing the white magic all round us.

As we reached the spectacular Tsomgo Lake, it was engulfed in fog and we were really disappointed. As Insha went on a Yak ride, the fog started dissipating and within no time the magnificent lake unfolded its divine beauty in front of us. Serene, calm, straight out of a picture post card with big snow-sprinkled-mountains behind it. We went on a trek and explored the lake from a few of its notable points. The view changed dramatically as we moved forward after every small distance.

The journey back to Gangtok was a swift one. It took lesser time too. Somehow the images that stamped their indelible impression on our minds today will remain with us forever. Tsomgo Lake is difficult to reach but if you have an adventurous streak, you shouldn't miss it.

Gateway-To-Paradise:Incredible View From Tsomgo Lake, Sikkim

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Rare Flowers, Buddha's Insight, Magnificent Landscape In A No Smoking Gangtok

Diary of Day 6: Gangtok, May 7, 2014

I'm not good with identifying the various varieties of flowers but when you come across wonderful beauties, the image settles down in the mind forever. The rare Orchids, Lilies and several other varieties at the Flower Show in Gangtok brought a wide smile to our faces and it was a great way to start the day.

Namgyal Institute of Tibetology has sponsored and promoted research on the religion, history, language, art and culture of the people of the Tibetan cultural area which includes Sikkim. The NIT library holds one of the largest collections of Tibetan works in the world outside Tibet and a museum of Tibetan iconography and religious art. I came to know some very interesting details about the path chosen by Gautam Buddha and how he showed the path to a wide spectrum of people all across the world. He urged everyone to strike a balance between Self Indulgence and Self Mortification.

The curio shop outside Institute Of Tobetology had some fascinating mementoes. What caught my attention was badges and stickers with 'Free Tibet' and 'Save Tibet' written on them. In fact 'Free Tibet' is written at many places in Gangtok, the most conspicuous being a mannequin at a clothes store. The picture of Dalai Lama is omnipresent all across.

Tashi Viewpoint and Hanuman Tok held a window to outstanding scenery though the clouds played a spoilsport and the reclusive Kanchenjunga continued to elude us.

Smoking has been banned at all the public places in Gangtok. I didn't see anyone smoking anywhere during the course of the entire day today. A fine of Rs 5000/ is imposed on anyone found littering. In spite of the fine the littering was evident (though it wasn't that rampant) and sadly it seemed that the tourists are the cause of the same.

Evening was spent idling away time at the MG Road. It's a really fascinating market. The lamp posts, the benches, it's an image right out of a Charles Dickens novel in a modern context.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Exploring Gangtok After Being Treated To Picture Perfect Landscapes

It rained heavily in Pelling last night. The sound of heavy rainfall sounds rather ominous in an area that is surrounded by thick forests and the rain falling on the hilly roofs makes a louder sound than usual. In the morning I coaxed Aarefa into coming along with me for a walk in the woods. The tall and sturdy pine trees, the thick foliage around us and loads of silence made it an experience that we shall treasure in solitude once we get embroiled in the busy life of Mumbai soon.

The journey from Pelling to Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim was a fascinating one. The landscape dotting the path was simply breathtaking and the nature had many surprises for us. Somehow when you enter a hilly region, the novelty value wears off after the initial charm since all the views start looking the same. But this journey was different. The influx of several breathtaking valleys and hills kept us surprised for most parts. Our cab driver played some Nepali songs. The music was very engaging and occupied my mind space long after I came out of the taxi. Thankfully the roads are in a reasonably good condition. It took around 5 hours to reach Gangtok.

Gangtok (5400 Feet) is the capital of Sikkim and the main tourist and business hub. The MG Road area is India's first litter free and spit free area. It is a wonderful arena to chill and have a good time. It is a road with shops on both the sides and benches for people to sit and relax. Vehicles are not allowed and smoking is prohibited too. Right below MG Road athere's another shopping market called Lal Bazaar. In a total contrast to MG Road, this market is dirty and unkempt. We had our dinner at Khan Chacha's Biryani House. It was a sumptuous feast of tandoori chicken, chicken korma and chicken biryani. Very tasty and quick service.

Picture Perfect Landscape: On The Way To Gangtok (Sikkim)

Gorgeous View From My Hotel Terrace In Pelling, Sikkim

Monday, May 5, 2014

Rabdentse Ruins, Kanchenjunga Waterfall, Wish Fulfilling Lake....Wowed By Pelling

Rabdantse was the second capital of the former Kingdom of Sikkim from 1670 to 1814. It's ruins are near Pelling and they've been declared of national importance by the Archaelogical Survey of India. The trek from the entrance gate of Rabdentse Ruins to the actual location is dotted with trees and the bird songs are pleasant music to the ears. As we reached the top, the well kept ruins surrounded by gardens with a breathtaking scenery all round simply stunned us. My wife Aarefa considers it the best point that we had visited during the course of the day.

Kanchenjunga waterfall is an unforgettable experience that we shall treasure for ever. The water flows directly from Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain peak in the world. The flow is thick and fast and the accumulated water pools into an enclosure. Around 28 Kms from Pelling, Kanchenjunga waterfall is a major tourist attraction. We had aromatic ginger tea and tasty boiled chana at a small shop at the foot of the waterfall.

Khecheopalri Lake is a holy lake 34 Kms from Pelling. It is also called the wish fulfilling lake. It is sacred to both Buddhists as well as Hindus. The lake is an important part of the widely respected valley of Demazong meaning valley of rice. A bunch of fishes nibble at the corner of the lake that's facing the visiting tourists. The tourists are refrained from feeding the fishes. The silence and the peaceful ambience has a calming influence.

The young Buddhist Monks at the Pemayangtse Monastery were chanting as we entered their prayer room. One of them was playing a traditional rhythm instrument while another one played a peculiar string instrument that created an unusual sound. It was a highly spiritual experience. Aarefa said that we should move away from the jungle of our day to day city life and settle down in the peace pervading out here.

The last stop was the new Halipad ground. The helicopter flights are made available to tourists who fly in a group from Sikkim's capital Gangtok with a prior intimation.

We had our lunch at a restaurant called Melting Point where we experimented with a local Sikkimese soup which was very tasty. The prices are generally on the lower side, be it hotel, food or shopping for mementos from local curio shops. There's no market in Pelling. Argument for that is that for a population of 500 people, it is not advisable to have a market. With around 100 hotels and a busy tourist season (July and August are off season because of heavy rainfall), Pelling, a hill station discovered in mid 1990s, is gaining currency because of it's several notable sight seeing points.

The people out here are simple, warm and to the point. No tricksters here. Pelling doesn't have the advanced logistical solutions that many big tourist destinations boast of but if gorgeous scenic points, big mountains (serenaded by foggy clouds), loads of tranquility and beautiful flowers fascinate you, then you'd love Pelling.

Inside Pemayangtse Monastery In Pelling (Sikkim)

Awe Inspiring Kanchenjunga Waterfall, Pelling (Sikkim)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

From Darjeeling City To Countryside Pelling In Sikkim

Day 3: May 4: Darjeeling (West Bengal) to Pelling (Sikkim)

We woke up to a steady drizzle. It spoiled my plans for an early morning run. After breakfast we started off for our next destination, a quaint hill station in Sikkim called Pelling (6250 feet). We braved our way through a thick cloud of fog, the wide expanse of tea gardens on the outskirts of Darjeeling was a spellbinding sight. The four hour journey was an unpleasant one because of extremely bad roads right till Pelling. I later read online that this area is prone to regular landslides and hence it is tough to maintain the roads. Somehow I don't buy this argument. If tourism has to be boosted in Sikkim then the condition of the roads has to be improved as there's no other mode of travel (train or air) that connects this gorgeous region with the rest of the world.

Jorethang river accompanied us for most parts of the journey. As we entered the outskirts of Pelling, the thick foliage and a tingling chill welcomed us. After checking in at the hotel we went out for our first excursion. The Dantum Valley has a nice peaceful brooding feel to it while the scenery from the humumgous Suspension Bridge was breathtaking but it was Teesta river that occupied most of our attention. The water was chilly and gurgled along hurriedly. As we headed back to the hotel, the evening descended on us much more quickly than what we had anticipated. By 6 pm it was pitch dark and foggy with no familiar sight of street lamps. Pelling hasn't been subjected to commercial exploitation yet. On one side, you can cherish its uninhibited naturalness but then basic development of roads and civic administration can do a world of good to this upcoming hill station in India. And yes, the flowers dotting this small hill station are simply beautiful.

Majestic Teesta River, Pelling (Sikkim)

Magnetic Dantum Valley, Pelling (Sikkim)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Darjeeling: Magnificent Mountains, Toy Train Stations, Tea Gardens And A Cry For Freedom

Day 2: Darjeeling: May 3, 2014

It was a rainy, foggy day. The most stunning part of the day came in the evening when a guy pointed out Kanchenjunga faraway at a distance. It seemed like a marble stairway to the sky since it was way taller than the other mountains. The first comparison that came in my mind was with Taj Mahal. Kanchenjunga (Third highest mountain peak in the world, 29500 feet) like Taj, has a majestic pull that's indescribable. You can't do anything except watching it amidst silence.

The joyride in the toy train from Darjeeling to Ghoom (highest toy train station in the world) was a mixed bag. The rain played spoilsport to some extent but once the rain stopped and the cloudy fog gave way to delightfully serene clear sky, it was a treat. Darjeeling Himalyan Railway was established by Britishers in 1881. It must have been an arduous task then to build such a railway line in a dense hilly terrain. It was awarded World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999. The British Steam Engine still powers the toy train that runs from Darjeeling to Ghoom twice everyday.

I woke up early. I thought it must be 7 am since the sunlight had seeped in through the windows but I was shocked to realise it was merely 4:30 am. Sun rises early in the East. I went back to sleep. It was exhilarating to run on the hilly road. I was pumped up for the day.

Himalayan Mountaineering Institute was launched by the first Prime Minister of India, Mr Jawaharlal Nehru in 1954, an year after New Zealand's Edmund Hillary and India's Tenzing Norgay conquered Mount Everest (29800 feet), the highest mountain peak in the world. Mount Everest was named after the first Surveyor General of India Mr George Everest in 1856. Mount Everest is also known as Chomolungma (Tibetans) and Sagarmatha (Nepalese).

The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute has a minefield of information on how several brave hearts attempted to climb Mount Everest before Hillary and his guide Norgay finally achieved what was considered impossible. One newspaper clipping caught my attention which stated that a Britisher George Mallory had actually climbed Mount Everest in 1924 but he never reached back. Seventy five years later in 1999 his body was found on top of Mount Everest.

Japanese Peace Pagoda is a Buddhist Temple nestled amidst thick trees and greenery. The structure is magnificent and the peaceful ambience makes you gape in silence. I saw this written on one of the walls: "No Nuclear Weapons In Our Beautiful World." Considering that Japanese have had a bitter experience of being inflicted with two nuclear bombs at the end of Second World War, they are the best ambassadors to dissuade other nations from even contemplating the use of Nuclear weapons ever again.

The visit to a Tea Garden was a wonderful experience. Scenic and pacifying. We were treated to some freshly brewed green tea and masala tea. Watching the foggy clouds flirting with the curvy rows of tea plantations as you drink the world famous Darjeeling Tea makes you at peace with yourself.

The evening was spent at Chowrasta that could be called as the Mall Road of Darjeeling. Horse rides, tea and curio shops, restaurants, it was simply buzzing with people. No vehicles are allowed in this area.

I noticed that Gorkhaland has been written on top of most of the shops in Darjeeling. The local population out here is comprised of Nepalis, Bhutias and Lepchas. Somehow they don't identify themselves with the Bengali culture. Locals generally feel that they are given a step brotherly treatment by the West Bengal government since nothing much has been done in the name of development in this region despite being such a major tourist hub and premium tea destination. I noticed that the toilets at the tea garden and the Darjeeling railway station were in a very bad shape. Garbage is clearly visible at several places and the general traffic management is below par. The demand for a separate Gorkhaland has been on for quite some time as the locals feel that they need an administration that identifies with their immediate cultural and economic requirements.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Getting Charmed By Darjeeling...The Uninhibited Nature's Treat!

I had always wanted to visit Darjeeling and the North East. There have been too many wonderful stories about nature springing up delightful surprises in this part of India. The fact that North East isn't connected too well with rest of the country dissuades tourists from distant parts within the country to explore it. In the past we made several plans to visit Darjeeling but somehow it didn't materialise. For the summer vacation of 2014 we did a thorough research and after many discussions with several tour operators, we finally zeroed in on a plan to combine a North East holiday with our stopovers in Darjeeling (West Bengal), Pelling and Gangtok (Both in Sikkim).

We boarded an early morning flight to Kolkata and then a connecting flight to Bagdogra which is the closest airport to Darjeeling, Gangtok or Kalimpong, the hill stations people frequent. Taxi from Bagdogra took around 3 hours (90 Kms) to reach Darjeeling (6700 Feet). As the plains of Bagdogra snaked its way to the winding hilly terrain, the temperature dropped and the monstrously beautiful hills enveloped the scenery. Beautiful flowers dotted the road and then the toy train railway tracks swamped the view till we finally reached our hotel in Darjeeling. The toy train runs from Siliguri till Darjeeling and has been anointed the World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The weather is cold in Darjeeling and it's such a welcome departure from the heat and humidity of Mumbai. We were told that it rained here yesterday. We start our excursions from tomorrow. Hope it doesn't rain and we get to explore Darjeeling to the fullest including a joyride in the Toy Train (we paid extra for getting confirmed booking since it's the peak season out here).

Several movies have been shot in Darjeeling, the most recent and the big one being Barrfi! Our cab driver gave an interesting piece of information as to how Barrfi! Director Anurag Basu got into a scuffle with the locals during the shooting of his film in Darjeeling as he was upset with some locals  in the crowd. This piece of information never reached the Mumbai gossip tables and there's no way to establish if such an incident really happened.

Sent from my iPad

On The Way To Darjeeling For Summer Vacation