Tuesday, October 30, 2007

SIKKIM: Mountain fever

Yak rides, white water rafting and the Teesta’s lullaby

Susil Dungarwal, 40, retail head (west and south) for Emaar MGF, travelled with wife Sangeetha and sons Shreyans, 18, and Shashank, 11, and family friends to Sikkim for a fortnight in May. After many holidays abroad, this one opened their eyes to the wonders that still remain to be discovered in India.
Why did you want to go to Sikkim?
A friend visited Sikkim a couple of years ago and had good things to say about it. Sikkim had been on our minds since then, but my kids always wanted holidays abroad. This year, when we made up our minds it would be an Indian destination, it had to be Sikkim. With us were our friends, the Thakkars.
How did you decide on your itinerary?
My son Shreyans spoke at length to our friend who had been there, trawled the Net and drafted a tentative itinerary over 12 to 15 days. Then we got in touch with Capt. Sekhar Datta, a former army officer who served in Sikkim and now uses his knowledge of the land in his travel consultancy. Based on our inputs, he suggested a new itinerary. Basically, we wanted a combination of adventure, nature, leisure and tranquillity.
Did you use Bagdogra as your starting point?
That’s right. We flew to Bagdogra via Kolkata from Mumbai and were picked up in two Scorpios. We used SUVs throughout, though we had to change vehicles in West, East and North Sikkim as local laws restrain inter-region movement of taxis. After two days in Darjeeling, we headed for Pelling. Nearby are the historic Rabdanse ruins, supposedly the first capital of the region, and the Pemayangtse monastery.
Yangtze, close by, is extremely beautiful. We spent three nights at a resort called Tashigang, which is on a table-like ridge with a 360-degree view of the valley and a wide swathe of the Himalayas, including the Kanchenjunga. We all fell in love with Yangtze—in the mornings, we could see the snow-capped mountains change colours as the sun rose.
From Yangtze, we drove to Yuksom, the Khechepalri Lake—one of the most sacred lakes for Buddhists—and the Rimbi waterfalls.
You also went into North Sikkim, where few tourists go.
Yet it’s one of the most beautiful parts of the state.
At Lachung, a small, serene town, we stayed at an eco-friendly place called Le Cozy—wooden houses with very basic amenities, no television, no mobile, no newspapers—and we loved it. The Teesta flowed just outside our rooms. For two nights, we slept to the lullaby of the river.
Beyond Lachung, we went to Yamthang, a scenic valley of the Teesta surrounded by high mountains and Yumesomdong, at a height of 15,000ft. The road to Yumesomdong is really narrow and prone to landslides but all of us enjoyed the thrill—and the cold, too.
After all this natural beauty, was Gangtok a bit boring?
The high point of Gangtok was a helicopter ride. For about 25 minutes, we flew over the Himalayas, with the co-pilot pointing out peaks and other landmarks. Since the copter is very noisy, they had to use a microphone.
Was that the highlight of the trip for you?
No, white water rafting on the Teesta was. Though some of us were unsure about taking on the challenge, nobody wanted to miss the thrill. The local guides gave us a very clear briefing on safety measures and then joined us on the ride. We were in the river for 45 minutes, with the river flowing very fast at many places. The boat tilts to almost 40 degrees—the whole experience is so much more thrilling than a bungee jump.
We also had a yak ride near the famous Tsangu Lake, on the way to Nathu La. The five kids even had a race—that was great fun. At the pass itself, we were lucky enough to experience snowfall, with the temperature dipping to minus 7 degrees. It was a first for us and so very memorable.
What about food and drink?
Food was not an issue as Capt. Datta managed to organize vegetarian food for us all along. Though we did try momos and bamboo shoots, we really enjoyed chhang, the local brew made of fermented rice and barley. It is served in a length of hollow bamboo with a fine bamboo straw. It gives a kick and keeps you warm