Roadtrip #3: Sikkim

Presentation1After last year’s road trips to Kochi and Goa I was really looking forward to a more relaxed and luxurious vacation this year. However, T had different plans for us. We had discussed Bhutan as a destination but without proper permission on his end it didn’t seem possible this time so the next best thing was Sikkim, according to him. I actually thought a getaway at the nearest Novotel Hotel would be great too but that, I guess, was so ‘normal’!

As days progressed, I found T hunched up on his various electronic gadgets (the phone, tab, laptop, mapmyindia) and even paper maps at some of time. I went on with my daily stuff blissful in my utter ignorance in what was to come. When T presented me with the excel sheet of our ‘Journey’ details, I finally knew there was no turning back and I would just have to suck it up and do what I do the best – organize!

It took me a whole day to detail out and pack up all that we would require on the trip – from heavy woolens to the water heater and cup noodles. We packed up the car and on 8th of June before Mr. Sun made his appearance on our horizon, we were up and ready to roll. Pickle, thankfully, is a very morning person like us (he literally turns cranky beyond his bedtime) and was super excited for whatever was to come. As we took off on our epic journey, my only preparation was to empty my bladder and pray like hell that we find proper toilets on the way.

We stopped at Kolkata after 14 hours, T will say it was 13 hours and 15 minutes (like it’s some kinda achievement) and spent a day there meeting relatives. The next day’s trip, from Kolkata to Siliguri, was by far the worst we have ever been on (the return journey on that road was the same). After spending the night at the Skyview Lodge in Siliguri and eating a weird breakfast (we hoped for a continental spread and got puri sabji) we headed towards Darjeeling.

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Sikkim RoadTrip Jume 2016 @Sinetheta

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As the hills approached, the weather became pleasant and we started driving with our windows down. The climb was scary. T being an experienced hill driver managed fine and at one point proudly declared that you need just need to do two things to climb the hill, put the car in first gear and manage the clutch. Personally I felt the two things were, close your eyes and pray to all the gods in the universe.

We stopped at a roadside restaurant just short of Darjeeling to eat an amazing lunch that consisted of steamed momos and Chicken Chowmein. That’s when our vacation really began.

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The next part was again a little dicey and not because of the roads. T was confident that we would reach our hotel in another half an hour or so. Believing his calculation, I happily drank all the water in the world and then went through a tortuous time as Pickle made my bladder his private trampoline. We probably drove around the whole Darjeeling with no luck in finding our hotel just ‘cause T thought asking for directions, when you have so many gadgets, was pedestrian!

After I fumed and gave him like 30 million dirty looks in the rearview mirror, he finally started asking for directions. We reached the hotel just in time for Pickle’s dinner and didn’t have much time for anything else. Our stay in Darjeeling was really great as we ate (of course), drank (was there a doubt) and made merry amidst the hills in a beautiful weather.

From Darjeeling we headed towards Gangtok. The drive was beautiful the first half of it was literally on the banks of the River Teesta. A slight drizzle, the gurgling noises from the river and hot cups of Chai made it perfect. Though I am not a tea drinker, I figured when in Rome and all that. However, the chai from the roadside tapris were so much better than the ones poured out in our hotels.

Anyway, we managed to reached our hotel in Gangtok sometime after lunch and had enough time to unwind. We spent the remaining day/evening sorting out the paperwork for our Journey to Nathula and then hogged brilliant bacon-chicken burgers and bacon platters at a café on the MG Marg. The next day was spend in the Nathula trip which surely was the trip of a lifetime. Evening was hogging time again, along with some souvenir shopping. The last day in Gangtok was a bonus since we had planned to go up to Lachung but had to cancel at the last moment due to bad weather and landslides. So we shifted hotels ( to a much more luxurious one – T’s compromise for dragging me on the trip) and spent the day like regular tourists, doing touristy thing.

On our journey back we went to Lava which is a Forest resort in West Bengal and spent two whole days decompressing and relaxing in total isolation before our trip back home. It took us two more days to finally get home and though I had started the trip with a truck load of apprehensions and even subjected T to a full blown tantrum in the very beginning of it, I was so very happy that he actually decided to do the trip by road.

We spent the next whole week unpacking, retelling incidents, reminiscing and gloating over our loot of Sikkim Rum and Musk Brandy. Though it was hectic, it was definitely the trip of a lifetime and the mother of all road trips… yet!

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By the river Teesta…. I sat down and peed!!!

Well of course NOT REALLY. Though I could probably write a whole book about the places and the manner in which one could pee while on a road trip, the banks of the river Teesta didn’t make the cut. The title was just too awesome to let go.

From Darjeeling we took off around 8 towards Gangtok. The drive was beautiful with the Teesta keeping us company most of the way. We bypassed Kalimpong since there wasn’t much to do and we really wanted to reach Gangtok by lunch. Once we entered Sikkim, except for the winding roads and high altitude, it was like any other city, bustling with energy.

This time around, to save himself from the wrath of my fury, T asked around and we managed to find our Hotel in time. We stayed at the Sikkim Delight- by Mango and weren’t that impressed. Though a very good budget hotel with good basic amenities, the food was plain horrible and after that one lunch we decided not to eat in ever. After a light snooze we headed towards the MG Marg, the most happening place in town and weren’t disappointed. The first order of business was to figure out our passage to Nathula and the folks at the Tourist Information Office were very helpful. Under their direction we headed towards the Army Cantt to figure out passes for us and our vehicle. Though we had to wait for a while, it was worth it.

Armed with passes and giddy about the fact that we could travel to Nathula on a Tuesday without the civilian crowd, we hunted for a nice place for our meal. Guides online suggested The Baker’s café and we were thoroughly impressed. Pickle enjoyed a veggie pasta in white sauce while T dived into the mouth watering pork platter. Though I had to wait a while for my big chicken and bacon burger, it was worth it. What was surprising that they took their last order at 7:15, we were literally the last people to enter. In fact, T had gone ahead to check out the place and while I was still climbing the stairs, the staff was putting the ‘Closed’ sign on the door.

The next day we started around 6:45 am and had to wait a while for our vehicle pass. Then we started towards Nathula. The journey took us around 4 hours and was as breathtaking as it was scary. The roads, contrary to popular belief, were perfectly maintained, thanks to the Army folks stationed there. We had absolutely no trouble reaching the Pass by 10 am. It was a surreal experience up there. With our Defence background, we did get a few privileges not offered to the general public.

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My very first snow

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At Nathula Pass

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The steaming glass of tea, the slight drizzle, Pickle exclaiming “Too cold mumma too cold” and the warmth of the soldiers there made that one visit the most memorable one. On our way back we stopped for the customary roadside chowmein and cuppa tea. Also visited the Baba mandir and the Tsomgo Lake.

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The rain did dampen our clothes and shoes but not our spirits. We made it back to our hotel in good time and went gallivanting once more on the MG Marg.

After a lot… and I mean a LOT of souvenir shopping (during which I sifted through 100s of fridge magnets and selected one, only to discover that it was one of “Bhutan” instead of Sikkim), we went to The Square for Dinner and loved it. They made a killer Cuba Libre and the little sausages wrapped in bacon were simply blissful.

The next day we visited the Rumtek Monastery and shifted to another hotel nearby, The Suhim Portico. This hotel definitely made up for all the crappy ones on the way, not that there were any but you know what I mean.

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That night we managed to buy our hoard of Sikkim Rum and musk brandy. We also dined at this little place called “The Taste of Tibet” courtesy TripAdvisor.

The next day we started off towards Lava. Though short, our stay in Gangtok has definitely left us wanting for more. If you guys ever plan on visiting Sikkim, please do not miss Nathula Pass. We didn’t manage to go to Lachung due to bad weather but it wasn’t all that bad. The fact that Pickle got to say Hello… and Salute… to the Chinese Guard at the border totally made up for it.