Every traveler starts somewhere. Early trips begin with visits to familiar places. And then, you get a little adventurous. You think you can beat the odds and step out of your comfort zone. Back in 2009, we decided to step out of ours. And, we’ve never looked back since. We credit this trip – to be the one – that changed everything. I’m not sure why Basil chose Sikkim.We didn’t have family or friends there, so we’d be pretty much on our own. I guess that’s what worked for us. We discovered, it doesn’t matter who you know, when you’re privy to some of the most haunting views of the Kangchenjunga, soul stirring monasteries, and people – you’d find hard to forget.
I must confess, before our trip, I knew very little of this erstwhile Himalayan Kingdom, sandwiched between Bhutan and Nepal. Sikkim became a part of India – after a referendum in 1975. Due to it’s proximity to the Chinese border and delicate Indo-Sino relations; the state has a strong army presence. Permits are mandatory for most areas and security is, in general, more stringent than other parts of India. With no railroads or an airport, Sikkim is practically disconnected from the rest of the country. The nearest airport is in Bagdogra (West Bengal), from there on, you can make a four hour (felt like six) long trip to Gangtok – the capital of Sikkim.
Bagdogra serves as a base camp for the Indian Army. Besides that, there’s very little to see or do in this sleepy town. Our cab (pre-booked through the hotel) waited at the airport for us. Our driver, a reticent local from Gangtok, was in his mid-fifties. As with most road trips (we’ve faced this across India), we had a flat within the first hour of the journey. To our luck, there was a small stupa (Buddhist commemorative monument) nearby. We wandered around, watched child Buddhist monks walk by, and ogled the evening sky.
Here’s what I hate about mountain roads. They make you pay a price for those breathtaking views. As our driver, deftly maneuvered his way through the winding roads, I felt nausea taking over. Somewhere, before reaching Gangtok, our driver made a wise decision to stop. A plate of steaming chicken momos (dumplings) was good enough to get me going for the rest of the journey. There’s a point en route – somewhere in between the dense foliage and mountains – where you can see the confluence of the Teesta River (source Cholamu lake) and Rangeet River (source Himalayan mountains). This is a popular spot for rafting. We simply sighed and carried on.
We finally reached our modest (8oo INR per night) hotel at 9 pm. MG Road (main tourist road) wore a deserted look. And slowly, the lights descended on the valley below.