The land of Yetis, and Monals, and ….. Beauty

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#1 Oct 29th, 2010, 23:34
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The temple was just beside the road, atop a small hill. Nobody of us bothered what deity was there, we paid a little money to the priest to ensure that he wouldn’t object to what we’d do next. It was also beside the river, and hence provided a good view of the awesome bridge. So the four of us went on clicking our cameras to our hearts’ content. Then we came back hurriedly, as somebody had told us that the military kept a vigil on the temple to prevent taking pics. We boarded a crowded bus – there was no room inside, so the only option was to climb to the roof top. As the bus was maneuvering along the road full of curves, we swerved from left to right to left. And the last one of our group hadn’t yet made it to the roof, he was still standing on the ladder, clinging to his life.

This incident took place 20 years ago and I, a member of that group, was reminiscing during our recent tour. I asked a few people about this temple, but everybody said that it was on the left side of the road, but ours was on the right. When we reached that point, we found that on the left there is a big Kali temple, but that one was still there on the other side. So we went to the right side temple which is now deserted, but couldn’t find those great views as the trees have grown taller and almost blocked the coronation bridge over the Teesta. I was disheartened, but took some good snaps of the bridge and the river later on.

Thus began our tour in October 2010. We had come to NJP by the Uttarbanga Ex on 9th October and started by a car. The condition of the road was not good for a long stretch within the forest before the coronation bridge. We didn’t see Sevokeshwari Kali temple and went ahead, had our breakfast at Lohapool, stopped at many places to take photos and ultimately reached Pedong in 4-1/2 hours via Teestabazar, Chitrey, Kalimpong, Algarah.

Pedong is a small town where there are many schools. We stayed at Damsung guest house. The location of the hotel was not very good, but it was somewhat away from the main market, on the Rishi road. We could see the hills covered in cloud, and it dampened our spirit as we badly needed to have clear sky to watch the much talked about sunrise a couple of days later. In the afternoon we walked a bit towards Rishi, saw the Sikkim hills which would be our next destination, and came back to hotel as night descended.
#2 Oct 30th, 2010, 15:21
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Day 2 : Pedong

We spent the entire day in sight-seeing. First we saw the Cross-hill, very near our hotel. This was the place where a French erected a cross in 1882, facing Tibet, with the hope that some day Christianity will spread there, although he himself was not successful in his mission. Then we went to Pedong Monastery, where the mummy of a Buddhist priest is kept. Our next destination was Rikkisum, on the Algarah-Lava road. But we didn’t go to Algarah, rather there is a shortcut road which is much less traveled, has gone though a jungle and is really scenic. A water reservoir has also been built on this route, which looks pretty. Rikkisum supposedly offers a view of the Pedong town. But it was under thick cloud and we could hardly see anything. However it was a good spot, with tall conical trees. During our brief stay there, we saw the cloud moving through the trees near us, going from one hill to another although there was no bridge there. For us, the tourists from the plains, it was really something to enjoy. Then we went to a view point wherefrom one can get a wide view of the Teesta and the Sikkim hills. Now, something spectacular happened here. On our arrival we found that the valley below was engulfed in cloud. But our driver Binod asked us to wait a little bit. Then the entire column of cloud started rising uphill, caressing us, and the valley suddenly opened before our eyes. Binod then took us to a nearby PWD bunglow, which is nicely located and also provides a good view. On our way back, we saw the Pedong church.

What we missed is Ramitey view point, Damsung fort ruins, Silent valley and Sillery village. We were told that the last three places were either inaccessible then, or full of leeches, as the monsoon had just ended. We had to believe them, but were really very disappointed. The afternoon was spent near the cross-hill, with eager discussion on what would be in store for us next day, at Rishi.
#3 Oct 30th, 2010, 17:16
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#3
Very well written, waiting for more
Its the Journey that matters, not the Destination
#4 Oct 31st, 2010, 00:04
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Day 3 – Rishi

We started for Rishi after breakfast. First we saw the Jelep La resort which lies on this road, further away from Pedong. The location of this hotel is superb, on a mountain ridge. One can have a 180 degree view of the hills from the open terrace – something that undoubtedly makes it the best in the town. The only plus point of the Damsung guest house was that we could see a lot of lovely birds there, but perhaps they can be found at Jelep La also.

The road towards Rishi is in bad shape in certain areas which are landslide-prone. Rishikhola is a small stream at the border between West Bengal and Sikkim. Long before the border, we could hear the roar of the stream as we were descending from Pedong. There are a couple of staying options on the Bengal bank of the river, way down from the main road. Our driver was not willing to take the car near the stream, so we had to start walking. However after some time we found that two cars, full of tourists, were coming up!

We were now on the Sikkim side and would have to cross the river to go the Bengal side. A couple of bamboo bridges are built over the river. The first two would take one to Mr. Sebastian Pradhan’s cottage, but we had booked the Prakriti Eco Resort which was further away. Our driver overtook us carrying the luggage and showed us which way we should move, but we couldn’t see anything. Now we had to walk on the dry bed of the river, as it bifurcated, through a jungle of Kash flowers that reminded us that it was the Durga puja time. Then crossed another bridge, a little bit of walk and we were there.

It appeared that the season had not yet started as we were the only tourists there. The cottages were hurriedly made ready for us. The room was spacious, with a clean attached toilet. It was hot outside and we sat in a shed built near the river, just watching it.

Rishikhola, Rishi the river, is a mountain stream which is not so small – so one can’t ignore it, nor quite big – so one can go easily near it. It’s the playful kid, very energetic, very lively – not the baby who can’t come to your lap on its own, nor the adult who you can’t cuddle. The stream, with its green backdrop, dotted with numerous boulders where the giggling water creates ripples, is really very inviting. It will gleefully participate in every game you want to play with it. Time flows endlessly just by sitting beside it.

Some birds, a couple of fishermen walking upstream in knee deep water with their nets – all having the same objective, a locust – these constitute the riverine life there. As the sun hid himself behind the mountains, the temperature started falling. In the afternoon, we spent some time sitting on the boulders, the cold water roaring incessantly kissing our feet.
Last edited by mousourik; Oct 31st, 2010 at 13:40..
#5 Nov 1st, 2010, 00:41
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#5
Thanks so much for sharing your adventure! I enjoyed reading this, and I almost feel like I was there.
#6 Nov 2nd, 2010, 15:06
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#6

Day 4 : Journey towards Zuluk

This is the day for which we had been waiting for long. Mr. Gopal Pradhan confirmed that he’d himself come to Rishi to pick us up at 9. It was time to leave Rishi the kid, and leap to the lap of mighty Zuluk. We were surprised to be honoured with Khada, a piece of cloth which is wrapped around the neck of a guest as a mark of respect – a Sikkimese tradition – before leaving Prakriti resort.

So our journey began through Rhenock and then Rongli, where the permits are to be obtained. There was a Durga puja pandal at the Rongli market, but it was Panchami and the idols’ faces were covered. While Gopalji was busy shopping for his future tourists – Rongli was the market nearest to Zuluk – we visited a small monastery there. From Rongli, it was a gradual ascent towards Zuluk. Goplaji showed us a bridge over Rongli khola, that the local kids have to cross everyday and walk miles to go to their school. We also saw an old building near a stream where flour is ground even today by ancient means. The first check post was at Lingtam which is a small town but very clean. It had a monastery also. Just before the monastery there is a building which, Goplaji said, has been existing since the days when the old silk route was operational. The only stamp of modern times it had was the presence of a dish antennae in front. Next came the Kuekhola falls, a really big one. We took some snaps there and went ahead towards Padamchen. There are two falls in the distant hills near Padamchen which can be seen from the road, but there is no way to go near them. The road from Padamchen to Zuluk is absolutely beautiful. The cloud was playing hide and seek with us on this road, dotted with conical trees on both sides of it. We, totally speechless, virtually forgot to take photos. Ultimately we reached Zuluk, at 9400 feet.

Zuluk was cloudy when we reached there. We could only feel that there are high mountains all around, but couldn’t really understand how tall they were. We stayed at Green cottage which is a little down from the road. I’d like to say a couple of words about Zuluk accommodation and Gopal Pradhan. The Green Cottage is maintained by a self-help group of the village. There are some women, and a young guy also, who in turn do all the household chore at the cottage. The persons who share this responsibility on a day, take their meals at the cottage itself. They also get a portion of the money paid by the tourists, the rest is deposited in the village fund. These people are also engaged by the army for maintenance of roads. We’ve even seen people who came to the cottage at night to work there, had earlier worked on the roads in the daytime – they are very hardworking, and honest.

There are two more staying options at Zuluk – one is Dilmaya retreat, which is named after Goplaji’s mother and run by his family, the other one is Pasang guest house which had opened recently. We had read that Dilmaya was at a lower elevation and the city people might find it difficult to climb the steps. So we decided to book Green Cottage, not knowing that it was not Goplaji’s property. However we found that there is not much of difference between Dilmaya and Green Cottage – once you reach the latter, it’s easy to go to the former. Pasang guest house is near the road. Gopalji is a large-hearted person – very down to earth. He has wide acceptance among the military in this part of Sikkim – starting from Rishi to Rongli to Zuluk to Tsangu lake. Once you are with him, you’re perhaps in the safest hands. We even saw him to keep his tourists at Pasang guest house, as it had been lying vacant since inauguration, although he wouldn’t get any benefit out of it.

We ended the day on a gloomy note as the sky never became clear. The next day would be the pinnacle of our tour, so we badly, badly, badly needed a clear sky.
#7 Nov 2nd, 2010, 18:12
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#7
Thanks for posting day four's adventure. Sorry to hear that you didn't have clear skies. I can't wait to hear more!
#8 Nov 3rd, 2010, 23:18
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Day 5 : Tryst with His Majesty

Goplaji had told us that if the weather became fine, he’d wake us up so that we could start for the sunrise. We set the alarm clock at 3-30. As soon as it started ringing, I rushed to the window – and I could see the stars ! Everywhere. I called Goplaji who confirmed that we’d have to start at 4-30. When we reached near the car we found that there was a leak in a tyre and they were changing it. Time was running out – why should it happen at that time!

Our driver, Shankar, also sensed that we were getting late. So he started driving fast. He was in such a hurry that he forgot to show our papers at the check-post. Lungthung, the view point, was 18 kms away and I kept a constant eye on the milestones. There were numerous turns, the sky started becoming bright – would we be able to make it? Everybody was praying fervently.

There is another view point, Thambi, which was much nearer. Shankar told us that nobody at first was able to establish any road connection in this mountaneous terrain. It was one Mr. Thambi, a soldier in the Indian army, who could first map the region and based on his ideas, the roads were built later on. So he was promoted and rewarded duly. But his seniors didn’t like this and he died of jealousy. The view point was named after him acknowledging his contribution.

We drove past Thambi, Shankar was driving really fast, another bend, another one, and suddenly…. He was there. It took us some time to understand who he was. Then came the realization, as we had never seen him so close, so clear – didn’t even think that it would be like this. The entire range was visible, there was no cloud at all. At every other place, and in the photos that we had seen, he seemed to be shorter than others – an illusion that can be broken perhaps here only. He was mightily taller than the rest. We could watch his august presence almost everywhere till we reached Lungthung.

And what we saw then was, believe me, absolutely unbelievable. Whatever we had heard and read earlier became true before our eyes. So far the range was fully white. But when the first rays of the sun kissed the peak, it became pink. As the rays started propagating below gradually, it was awash with melting gold. We were literally mesmerized by the Kanchenjunga. It was so spectacular, so majestic – we were blessed to watch this wonder of the nature. This game of splashing colour went on for quite some time and we were the only ones to watch this heavenly show.
#9 Nov 4th, 2010, 04:25
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#9
Great! lovely descriptions.I gather there is more to come...wating
#10 Nov 4th, 2010, 23:32
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We continued our journey further from Lungthung. The landscape here is barren, as it’s much above tree line. We saw the Gnathang valley which was yet to receive direct sunrays. We’d visit the valley on our way back. So we headed towards Baba Mandir. Late Harbhajan singh was a soldier posted in this region. In October 1962 when he was accompanying a mule column, he slipped, fell in a fast-flowing stream and died. Later on a temple was built in his memory as he had instructed somebody in his dream. Even today he’s on the payroll of Indian army. There is a widespread belief that he guards the border area ardently. He was believed to be on two months’ vacation when we visited the area. The temple and his bunker is well maintained. We had tea there, which the army had prepared and kept in containers for visitors.

The sun was up by this time and the sky was deep blue. We took a turn, but had to stop immediately as the Kanchenjunga was again visible. We had no idea how long we’d be able to see him – so we got down to take more snaps. On the far right we saw the Jelep La pass, through which the old silk route to Tibet was open long ago. And on the left were the peaks. Later on everybody at Zuluk said that we were very lucky. Indeed we were. We could perhaps stay there for an infinite period, the view was so amazingly beautiful.

Just before reaching Kupup, there was Elephant lake. Kupup is 34 km away from Zuluk, and 58 km from Gangtok. There is another road which has gone to Jelep La, but tourists are not allowed to visit it. We took breakfast there and moved ahead. Then came another lake called Memen Chho. Chho means water. It looked beautiful from the road, almost hidden between mountains and tall trees. There is an unmetalled road to reach this lake, and some accommodations of the forest department are also available there.

There is a story involving Bidhan Chho – aka Elephant lake – and Memen Chho. They were a couple actually. However Bidhan suspected Memen, the girl, of infidelity and chased her with a weapon. She got scared and hid behind the jungle in the valley. Bidhan threw the kukri thrice towards her and it hit the mountain. They say that three marks on the hill can be seen even today.

Then came the second Baba Mandir, but we decided to stop there on our way back and moved ahead towards Tsangu lake. Tsangu is a very big natural lake at 12400 feet above MSL. It’s also called the Green lake because of the colour of its water. During the winter it gets frozen. Although it’s very touristy, one minister from the centre was visiting the region that day – so we were the only tourists there as none was allowed to come from Gangtok side. There is a very small shrine beside the lake where a single woman was performing puja. It was somewhat idyllic – smoke coming out of the temple in a green backdrop of the lake – very tranquil.

We had earlier come there thirteen years ago and found that a lot had changed after that. The road between Gangtok and Nathu La has gained significance because of border trade that takes place at Sherathang. Army bases have been set up at Tsangu. The road is also being widened.

We started our return journey towards Zuluk. Although Nathu La was only four kms from this road, we couldn’t go there as the permit is issued only from Gangtok. We stopped at the second Baba Mandir at 13200 feet, which was built mainly for the tourists from Gangtok as they are not allowed to go to the first one. We bought some mementos from a gift shop run by the army. The world’s highest golf course at 13025 feet is here, at Kupup.

We proceeded towards Gnathang Valley, which we had skipped in the morning. There is actually a medium sized village there. Although there was an effort from Gopalji to start a homestay, people in the valley backtracked and nothing has come up yet. There is an unusual beauty about the road beyond Gnathang. There are shrubs of various colour on both sides of the road – some were red, some yellow, some brown, some dark green – as if somebody painted the hills with every possible colour. The sky was still blue, with white cotton ball like clouds, and above all – Kanchenjunga could be seen clearly. It’s an amazing landscape – full of nature’s bounty.

We stopped at Lungthung to take some more snaps of the Kanchenjunga. Generally its peak is visible during early morning and as day grows older, it gets hidden behind the clouds. But here, even at 11-30, it stood firm above the clouds. The adjacent hills were full of small rhododendron plants. We were told that the best time to visit this region is March-April when the rhododendrons will be in full bloom, and there will be snow also.

Our travel basket was not yet full – we were to see another wonder of Zuluk – the famous loops. Shankar stopped the car after some time and the meandering loops unfolded below. It was difficult to understand whether the roads were going down or up. We could even see the Green cottage far below. And don’t forget the Kanchenjunga – he could be seen overwhelmingly on the right.

Back in the cottage there was no power, although hot water was always available as a solar panel was installed here by WWF. It was a really long journey and we badly needed some rest. In the afternoon, there was a strong light in the window panes. I was a bit surprised, as there was still no power. So I went outside to find out that light came from the setting sun. We didn’t know that Zuluk is famous for sunsets also. The sky was full of colours. This memorable day couldn’t have ended on a better note. The bukhari was lit inside the room. It was now time for contemplation.

A note of caution here. We experienced altitude sickness at Kupup, even at Tsangu lake. My wife had headache, she was walking very slowly at Tsangu. I felt a little out of breath at Kupup while taking photos of the Memen Chho lake. Zuluk was at a much lower altitude, so nothing happened here. Nowhere we had read that this might occur here – so we didn’t take any precaution. But when we were discussing it with the people in the cottage, they at once identified the cause.

We didn’t see any Yeti here, although the local people believe that they are present there. Red pandas can be found deep inside the jungles – WWF has confirmed it. We didn’t see monals either, but some tourists had spotted them a day ago. But we were not disappointed. We saw beauty everywhere – more than what we had actually expected. The entire region is the creation of a perfectionist – it’s a masterpiece. We are so blessed that the beauty was unveiled before us.
#11 Nov 7th, 2010, 13:04
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Day 6 : Aritar

Visibility was good at night and Goplaji showed us the illuminated Darjeeling hills and other parts of Sikkim. However the sky was overcast in the morning and it was raining little bit, which continued for the next couple of days. It was time to bid adieu to heavenly Zuluk and start for earthly Aritar. In the previous night, Goplaji went looking for some tourists who had gone to Memen Chho lake but didn’t return. So our journey began in Shankar’s car, along the same route through which we came. There is a diversion after Rongli that has gone to Aritar. The condition of the road is not good in some places, but it made the journey somewhat thrilling.

We got down in front of hotel Aditya, wherefrom we had to take another car to reach Mankhim top as our hotel, Kanchenjunga Mirror, was located there. Now this stretch was really bad, full of large craters. When we reached the hotel, we were welcomed with khada. There are four rooms and three common toilets. Another floor is being constructed where rooms will have attached baths. It’s managed by a family, who are very friendly but lack in professionalism. We opted for chicken curry in lunch, but it was rotten. At night also, we had to be content with something different from what we had ordered for dinner.

There is a view point just above the hotel, which happens to be the highest point at Aritar. It offers a good panoramic view, all the peaks are visible if the sky is clear. After lunch, we visited Lampokhri, the manmade lake for which Aritar is famous. The lake has lot of fish and ducks who will rush as soon as some tourists go near the water. Packets of puffed rice are sold in the shops for feeding them. Although boating is possible, we walked around the lake instead. On one side, there are large trees which gives it an eerie feeling. Then we visited the old PWD bungalow on Rhenock road. Aritar monastery was on the road towards our hotel, however we decided to give it a miss.

After coming back to hotel we found that the group who had been lost at Memen Chho lake, had already checked in there. On reaching the lake, they had found that basic accommodation was available and hence decided to spend the night there.

While sipping afternoon tea in the hotel’s lawn, we were looking at the Zuluk hills where we had been just the previous day. A beautiful rainbow over Darjeeling hills added colours to this somewhat pale day.
#12 Nov 7th, 2010, 20:51
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mousourik - Thanks for the continuing story of your adventure. I enjoy reading about the things you've done. I can only imagine the beautiful scenery you've seen! Thanks for including so many interesting details.
#13 Nov 8th, 2010, 21:56
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Day 7 : Rendezvous with the Queen of the Hills

I got up early – quite nonchalantly – to check whether any peak can be seen. The sky was cloudy and we had to imagine where the peaks might have been present. The sun rose, but the cloud cover didn’t lift. So we came down from the view point and got ready for onward journey. We took the Rhenock road and then moved towards Rongpo via Rorathang. There is a bridge over the Rongli khola at Rorathang. We took some snaps as it was very picturesque. On the way we saw the confluence of Rishi khola and Rongli khola. In fact, one can come to Rishi via Rongpo-Rorathang also, instead of Kalimpong-Pedong.

Just after Rongpo, the Teesta started accompanying us on the right. And then came the much talked-about view point on this road – Lovers’ point – where the Rangit from the west Sikkim has met the Teesta, which is coming all the way from north Sikkim. The two distinct colours of the rivers are easily identifiable, the Rangit having a darker shade. A hotel is being built by DGHC at this prime location on the bank of the Rangit. We then crossed the Teesta and started moving up where another view point has been built for watching the confluence. As it’s much higher up, it provides a really long view of the rivers. However we had to leave these two lovers as the queen was waiting for us – Darjeeling.

We had the afternoon free and so at first decided to walk leisurely along the mall road. Then we came to know that the tickets for the famous toy train have to be booked in advance and there was hardly any time left. Rakesh, the manager at our hotel, showed me a short-cut road that led directly to the Darjeeling station. So I started running literally, down the hill, and reached the booking counter just in time. However all the rides next day were fully booked, but three tickets were available for the only ride left in that very afternoon – and we needed only three! Once again, it was ensured that we could enjoy our tour to the fullest.

Thus started our ride in the Darjeeling Himalayan railway which is on the UNESCO world heritage list. It really gave us a feeling of traveling in a time machine, back to the old days. We stopped briefly at the Batasia loop where a war memorial has been built. It’s really very nice, landscaped with beautiful flower gardens, and offers a good view of the Darjeeling town. Then we were taken to Ghum where a rail museum has been opened. The hill station got dressed in beautiful lights as evening descended when we reached Darjeeling station.
#14 Nov 9th, 2010, 11:08
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#14
Thanks mousourik, I enjoyed reading your latest post. I think the pictures you took of the bridge would be very beautiful. And how lucky to get the last three tickets! Wow, I'm glad that you didn't miss out on the toy train.
#15 Nov 9th, 2010, 13:57
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Great trip report! I have bookmarked it to enjoy at leisure.
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