I think it was in December when Chandradeep, Subhodip and Saurav came to my place on the occasion of Eid that we toyed with the idea, over parathas and kababs, of going on a tour. The time would be after Chandradeep and I were finished with our Prof exams and Subhodip was back from his Mumbai trip and the destination somewhere in the north, it was decided. Nass opted out as his exams would still continue then. Keeping in mind the trouble brewing in Darjeeling, we chose to visit Sikkim and I booked the train tickets to NJP.
Prior to the date of our departure, we met at Hongkong Express for a pre-Gangtok dinner, mainly on the insistence of Chadu as he felt the finer details of the tour needed more discussion. Nice excuse, fatso! Following day, I got a cab and picked up Didi and Chadu from their doors and headed to Sealdah. It was a smooth ride aboard Kanchankanya Express and we reached NJP right on time the next morning. We managed to get a shared jeep (Tata Sumo) from Siliguri Junction for 120. Only after thwarting the attempts of a certain travel agent there to brainwash us into one of their tour packages.. phew!
Day 1 – Gangtok
The journey to Gangtok proved to be an uphill task and took a heavy toll on all of us. As we jostled for space and felt nauseating, Avomine came to the rescue. Once at Gangtok, we booked a taxi and moved towards M.G. Marg – the heart of the city. Tired and famished, we set out on a hotel hunt as we din’t have anything pre-arranged. After we had checked in and had lunch outside, it was pretty late in the afternoon and we stayed put in Gangtok that day. The hotel we settled in is one I wouldn’t recommend to anyone. The non-functioning geyser there left us with a bad taste in the mouth and changing the hotel was the first thing we had on our mind. Gangtok – we were really impressed by the place and the people. Very hip! We spent the time trying out different eateries along MG Marg, window shopping and most importantly having a dekko at all the tour packages from different travel agents. Zambhala Travels sounded very convincing and we booked a trip to Yumthang Valley with them at Rs. 800/- per head. The 1 night 2 days package included food, lodging and transport. The tourist permit needed was also to be arranged by the travel agent. Among the various eateries we tried, ‘Best Rolls’ deserve a special mention. The cheese rolls they serve were awesome and just melted in my mouth – yes I could not stop myself and went on having 2 of those you see!
Day 2 – Towards Lachung
We checked out of the hotel early in the morning. Had a crash breakfast on momos and went to the office of Zambhala Travels where our driver Sudeep daju was waiting. A very considerate man as he is, Mr. Zambhala had agreed the earlier day to take custody of our luggage since we were checking out of our hotel and there was no point in carrying all of our luggage to a height of 8000 feet and beyond! Soon the other 7 passengers of our jeep joined in and we set out towards North Sikkim. Our co-passengers were a Punjabi extended family from Kolkata and we bonded rather easily. There was uncle and aunty with their little kid Laksh. 4 guys of about our age and Rohitda nearing 30 completed their team – all of them are professional DJs. It was due to a personal loss of one them that they came here for a change. Little Laksh – whom we first mistook as a girl due to his big hair – was an extremely adorable kid. Maggi hair, great style & poise and beaming with energy make this 4.5 year old a real rockstar! A professional model for leading brands, he moonlights as an actor too having delivered a brilliant performance as child ‘Deb’ in Poran Jolia Jay!
On the way we stopped by at 2 locations – Tashi View Point and Seven Sisters Waterfall. We were really impressed by the hotel at Phudong where we stopped for lunch. Run by a family, Hotel Norbuling boasted of a homely feel and served food that left us smacking our lips! Slurp slurp!
Once again we were speeding through the mountain roads. Sudeep daju was really deft at driving! The roads were really good and we were gradually gaining height. The bountiful greenery of North Sikkim and the occasional rivulets were a treat to the eyes but we soon got used to them. The journey seemed really monotonous and Chandradeep dozed off while Subhodip and I kept chewing gums and lozenges to ward off any motion sickness. It started getting dark by the time we crossed a little town called Mangan. Soon it became pitch dark except for the patch of headlight on the asphalt. There was no other car in sight, forget about humans. Our driver got a bit drunk too but it din’t really count for it was really really cold. He kept blabbering with us constantly expressing his genuine concern that we might report against him to the authorities for running late. Sudeep daju is this free-spirited soul with the innocence of a child. We were quick to assure him. But late we were for sure. It was past 8 when we finally reached Lachung.
Glad weren’t we to be greeted by a warm welcome and hot tea at Hotel Hillpark! At a height of 8000 feet, this hotel was way better than the one we had checked in at Gangtok on day one and the geyser was working too. The only operator working in this part of the world had to be BSNL.
(to be continued… more stories n photos coming soon)