Gangtok, the capital city of Sikkim, is the starting point for all exploration trails in the state. Most travelers make the mistake of spending less than a day in this mountain town. Although, the average altitude of Gangtok doesn’t rise beyond 1650 m (5,410 ft), it’s advisable to acclimatize for a few days, before proceeding to the higher towns of the region. I wish someone had told us this earlier (in 2009). I guess, that’s how, we learn from our mistakes. Or else, how would a banal trip turn into a memorable travel adventure?
With a packed itinerary of 6 days, we had less than a day to explore Gangtok. Public transport, in these parts, can take some time to figure out and may turn into a nightmarish experience – if you make the wrong decision. So, we decided to go with the same guy who had picked us from the airport on the previous day. On winding roads, the driver is the key to what stays in your stomach. Although, this trip could have turned into a tourist trap, the views more than compensated for the cheery tourist banter.
Although, it will be hard to miss the Buddhist influence in Gangtok, the town has its fair share of Hindu temples. Most of them are located high up – offering vantage views of the town below. I must confess, it’s getting hard for me to remember much from this trip, and I’m solely relying on what I felt. I remember having to climb a bit, before we reached the main shrine, dedicated to Lord Hanuman. There were few people at the viewing point. We sat for a while and listened to bhajjans (prayer songs of devotees) as the cool mountain breeze gently kissed our smiling faces. Sorry, couldn’t resist the cliché.
I’m never good with heights. My knees get wobbly and the world starts to spin. Basil literally pushed me into the cable car. I desperately tried to convince my fickle mind and decided to become a martyr in the name of travel. I had to experience this for the sake of those who couldn’t. Thankfully, after a few minutes of clasping the rod for dear life, I began to enjoy the panoramic views around us.
I’ve always wondered how do monks build monasteries in such lofty environs. On the outside, the monastery seems like a fortress, and when you enter – it would be hard to not be taken by – the vast expanse that lies in front of you.
The stunning views of the mountains and the cool whiffs of fresh air will slowly engulf you. It’s in moments like these, that I feel, the weight of the world being lifted of my shoulders. I forget every worry in the world and toss away any thoughts of my existential woes. Judging by the way the young monks laughed and joked – there seemed to be little on their mind too.
Colour plays an important role in a Buddhist monastery. While hues of green dominated everything on the outside, red seemed to take center stage inside. Intricate murals on the walls depicted scenes from scripture while gigantic, intimidating gongs – made their presence felt – on either side of the entrance. Empty wooden benches, for seating, made me imagine how the room would come alive during the chanting and prayer. A damp, musty odour combined with a hint of incense filled the prayer hall. I felt a sense of calm and enjoyed the tranquility.
Flower Exhibition Centre
The centre had some of the most beautiful specimens of flowers in the region. Most of them were really bright and I’ve rarely seen flowers like these in India. I vaguely remember the lady at the ticket counter. She was wearing a bright shade of lipstick – to match her traditional attire. Earlier on, I had observed women in the market wearing equally bright shades of silk. I wondered, if there could have been a correlation, between the flora of the region and the choice in colour of their clothing.
An Eco Park
Our next stop was a kind of natural theme park. I guess, it was for families traveling with kids. I didn’t mind the stereotype. I enjoyed the gushing water and being surrounded by nature all around. We walked around, crossed the bridge, and climbed the highest point (in hindsight – no so high ) in the park.
Do Drul Chorten Stupa
We had covered all the points for the day. The last point was Do Drul Chorten Stupa. We weren’t tired, but seemed to have covered too many points in a day. So, we chose to stroll around and wander. The main compound wasn’t as big as the monastery and there were fewer monks. After gazing aimlessly at the flickering flames, we decided to call it a day.