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Monthly Archives: September 2016

In conclusion one can write paeans on Sikkim. This beautiful Himalayan state impressed me so much that I am coming back for more. Pelling and  North of Sikkim really merits another visit.

IMG_0407.JPGSikkim was like a window to North East India casting up avenues to explore deeper to other states like Arunachal, Meghalaya, the 7 sister states got to be on the wish list.

IMG_2908.JPGSikkim made me realize that the initial inertia of reaching Gangtok can be overlooked, the friendly people, heavenly weather, squeaky clean streets, flora and fauna makes Sikkim the most preferred destination in North East India.

IMG_2716.JPGSoon to launch- Pakyong Airport is underway in South Gangtok. Under aegis of Airport Authority of India, the airport is located in Pakyong village and will be the first for the state of Sikkim.

IMG_2750.JPGMy neighbor working for AAI and stationed in Pakyong for several years, was saying that if it wasn’t for locals objecting to the project and other natural calamities delayed the maiden project due in December 2016. It will now be launched latter half of 2017.

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The airport will be a much-needed impetus for the already booming tourism that is present in Sikkim. It will bring other Northeastern states closer to explore, it will improve trade ties with other states, and the impact on tourism will be immense. Presently the nearest airport is Bagdogra, located in West Bengal and Paro airport in Bhutan.

 

Text / Photos Jyoti Shetty.

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It was a pleasant day, very befitting to explore last minute popular landmarks. I must reiterate that East Sikkim has plenty to see and few days are not enough to sightsee.

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The Tibetology Museum is quite unique, inaugurated by Pandit Nehru in 1958, this Museum is a treasure trove of Tibetan art, Lama Masks, artifacts, colorful Tibetan Tapestry and has over 200 statues of the Buddha.

IMG_0451.JPGWalking distance away is another Tibetan landmark. Major part of Sikkim is teeming with Buddhism from Tibet, and it has become an integral part of the landscape, culture and art. It is but natural that apart from Monasteries, the Museum, Do Drul Chorten Stupa also stands out as a prominent Tibetan location.

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Chorten Stupa built by Sage Rimpoche representing an order of Tibetan Buddhism, is a major pilgrim centre. The Stupa or Chorten in Deorali is venerated for the holy book and other relics of the Lord.

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I met a family from Bhutan who proclaimed that they come here annually to hold family prayer gatherings and visit Monasteries to donate offerings as per the tenets of Buddhism. IMG_0477.JPGAll around Chorten one can hear the constant hum of “Oum Mani Padme hum” as the devout circle around turning the Spinning Wheels.

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On my last day in Gangtok the next two places are more of Hindu pilgrim round and well known for its scenic locations.

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At a height of around 7000 ft, Ganesh and Hanuman Tok commands a superb viewpoint of Gangtok city and the mist shrouded Kanchengjunga view.

IMG_2764.JPGI had pulled out my zoom lens to capture the magnificent view of the snowcapped Himalayan range but alas, to no avail!

IMG_2763.JPGBy evening the Toks get heavily shrouded and all I got to see were ghostly outlines of the distant mountains. September apparently is the best time to get clear blue skies and the beauty of snow capped Kanchenjunga remains etched in memory. The surrounding forest cover complements the grandeur of the Himalayan range. Ganesh Tok has an observatory to capture the mind-blowing view.

IMG_2758.JPG Legend has it that, Lord Hanuman on his way to Sri Lanka carrying the mythical life saving herb Sanjeevani to save Lakshman, rested here for a while.

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The point where he had lodged, an orange statue of the monkey God is installed, people throng here to pray and make a wish!

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Located within Defense land the army maintains Hanuman Tok (also known as wish fulfilling temple). Both the Toks, apart from the scenic panorama are amazingly clean and well maintained.

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Nathula Pass/ Lake Tsomgo- The exciting Excursions Of Sikkim.

IMG_0783.JPGMy last few days in Sikkim, and many locales pending to cover in East Sikkim that I gave West and North Sikkim a complete miss. My usual evening tryst to MG Road was marred by heavy rains, and that portends my next most popular excursion to Nathula Pass might be abandoned.

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A clear 24 hours serene weather (with no signs of cloud cover) is an ideal condition to set out to Nathula Pass. Situated at a low oxygen level of 14,000 ft, this area bordering China is extremely sensitive. Prior notice has to be served by the tour operator to get permission entry pass. For Indians this seems easier said than done, with limited numbers authorized, there are several cases of tourists who have returned disappointed.

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The trip costs approximately Rs 7000/- on a shared basis, and…

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Nathula Pass/ Lake Tsomgo- The exciting Excursions Of Sikkim.

IMG_0783.JPGMy last few days in Sikkim, and many locales pending to cover in East Sikkim that I gave West and North Sikkim a complete miss. My usual evening tryst to MG Road was marred by heavy rains, and that portends my next most popular excursion to Nathula Pass might be abandoned.

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A clear 24 hours serene weather (with no signs of cloud cover) is an ideal condition to set out to Nathula Pass. Situated at a low oxygen level of 14,000 ft, this area bordering China is extremely sensitive. Prior notice has to be served by the tour operator to get permission entry pass. For Indians this seems easier said than done, with limited numbers authorized, there are several cases of tourists who have returned disappointed.

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The trip costs approximately Rs 7000/- on a shared basis, and one must ensure proper documentations prior setting out. I have received mixed reports on venturing to Nathula Pass, wasn’t so disenchanted when the next day I could not make it. Predictive stormy weather the previous day and the famous Silk Trade Route between India and Tibet was inaccessible next day.

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The Indian Army clears heavy snow that blankets on a regular basis ensuring safety for tourists, the adventure of seeing the Chinese army across the border, and Baba Mandir seemed a pipe dream. I received my refund, but all hope was not lost, Tsomgo Lake was the next alternative attraction and the sun came out in all its glory!

IMG_0695.JPGTsomgo or Changu is a glacial Lake at a height of nearly 12,000ft just 40 Km away from Gangtok. The 2 hours drive to Changu is perpetually jammed (make a head start), to Nathula its worse! Tourists who return from Nathula throng the lake, and when there is no entry to Nathula the Lake is inevitably crowded.

IMG_0663.JPGChangu Lake is a must visit itinerary on every tourist’s wish list, and with snow almost 6-7 months of the year round its really a fun place to walk around the glacier and admire the breathtaking view. From Jan to April there is guaranteed snow, April to May the surrounding valleys are carpeted with flowers, Rhododendrons and Orchids bloom profusely, October to December the weather is just right and clear, Nathula Pass is then devoid of snow storms.

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What I didn’t like about the Lake area was unruly almost hyper crowd and lack of infrastructure. The entire stretch is lined with Taxis and ongoing traffic, and the not so placid Yaks resplendent in their fineries. Tourists can rent out snow boots, but the milling excited crowd was a deterrent. My feet were soaking wet under the melting snow, I had leather boots on but that didn’t help.

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Both sides of the road it was either the taxis or the Yaks butting me out of the way. Finally I clambered on a Yak for an astronomical amount of Rs 1000, and trudged along the partially frozen lake. Barely had we reached the midway, the Yak owner turns around and tugs the Yak to follow back to the stands much to my dismay.

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It was just 15 min that included posing for a picture, placating the butting Yak, and avoiding the crowd on narrow snow laden passageways. It’s daylight robbery, recommend not doing the Yak ride, one of them Yak owners even agreed to do the next ride for Rs 500 !

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It’s total chaos on the small stretch surrounding lake Changu. I met a Jawan from Karnataka guarding the entrance to the Lake, he spoke with great pride of Nathula Pass and  Baba Mandir.

East Sikkim- Rumtek– having covered two directions, the capital (except the Toks) and South Sikkim quite extensively, I now trained my directions to the Himalayan nestled East.

IMG_2816.JPGIMG_2810.JPGActually much of North, South and the Eastern regions of Sikkim are landlocked by the mighty Himalayan ranges. East has major army presence bordering China, and much of it is covered in snow.

The drive though hilly was picturesque, passing valleys, a tributary snaking through, and then briefly changes to flat meadows, drive up again to sharp slopes. With change of weather, the afternoon sun beat down quite mildly, I simply loved the cool mountain air.

IMG_2747.JPGWhen in East Sikkim you can’t miss Rumtek village and the world famous Monastery here Dharmachakra Centre or popularly known as Rumtek Monastery.

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Built in 1960, The Dharma Chakra was actually a Centre built when His Holiness the 16th Karmapa of the Kagyu sect (a form of Mahayana Buddhism) from Tibet was sent here in exile. The Rumtek Monastery was remodeled on the lines of traditional Tibetan art, architecture and design.

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Sikkim has many monasteries by this sect and the quintessential color splash, geometrical patterns on every inch of the wall, from ceiling to floor is what make Dharmachakra Centre grandiose.

IMG_0426.JPGThe Rumtek monastery is a replica of the one in Tibet, and every effort to authenticate the famous art and history of Tibet has been reconstructed right from the entrance, to the expansive courtyard, the main central building, temple and meditation Centre, the Institute /School where Buddhist philosophy is imparted, and not to forget the building skirting both sides, the monastery for monks and students.

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An Instagrammer friend gave me great insight on the laborious procedure of drawing and layers of colour paint made from natural ingredients spanned out on the walls of Rumtek. He was witness and lucky guest of the then royals The Chogyals who gave great patronage, the Monastery took 4 years to build.

IMG_0428.JPGMaster artists, artisans, worked round the clock to make the ubiquitous art look vibrant and bright.

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The temple entrance had heavy security, on enquiry, a monk replied that the temple houses many artifacts and precious jewelry encrusted around the statue of the lord, mainly donated.

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Don’t miss shopping here for incense sticks, music CDs of famous Tibetan chants, and the prayer flags blessed by monks at the shrine.

South Sikkim-Only a few hours away, covering a bit of South Sikkim is a good idea and drivable distance from Gangtok. Sikkim’s obsession with gigantic statues apart, it’s the Tea Gardens that interested me. Heading towards Namchi is panoramic. IMG_0511.JPGThe one thing that excites me is to explore locations away from base camp hotel. The scenic route that appears along is so calming for the soul. My driver a religious man seemed overtly keen to take me on a pilgrimage, and Sikkim can well be taken as a pilgrim center, but I put my foot down, insisted Tea first!

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Temi Tea in South Sikkim is famous for its sprawling landscaped Tea gardens, and many tourists stop here for a tea break after visiting Sandruptse. Temi Tea Namchi is a great competitor to their Darjeeling counter parts, and the Tea parlor ensconced in the estate was such a delight. I was completely satiated with 3 cups of mild bodied tea and complementary cookies. The counter also offers tea sampling and arrays of packaged tea to take back home.

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Installation of colossal statues seems to be a district run phenomena, and for me it was just another photo opp. But for the devout it does seem to attract quite a lingering crowd. I could have collated all the massive statues under one list. In the South the 135 ft of patron saint Guru Padmasambhava at Samdruptse is the highest statue.

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There are buggy rides offered for those who wish to avoid the steep climb, colorful fluttering flags of all shapes welcome the faithful. I too participated in the ritual lighting of the lamp in one of the rooms, and similar to all the locations of tall statues atop hilltops, the view is magnificent.

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