The mosaic called Sikkim

OFF TRACK

The mosaic called Sikkim


Flirting the Teesta: We left the humdrum of Siliguri in North Bengal. In half an hour on the not-so-smooth NH 31, the memory of the trading town, with all its bustle, faded away.

From behind the woods to the right, thick in sal and teak, a mighty blue river showed up.
“That’s the Teesta,” said Krishna Bahadur, our Nepali driver. “Teesta river is the lifeline of Sikkim,” he added.

Having grown up in Bengal, I have heard many a ballad, mostly of boatmen, intoning their romantic liaison with the Teesta. Most of these songs have their genesis in Bangladesh where the Teesta has rippled into after descending from the mountains of Sikkim and the brief flirting in North Bengal.

The road became mountainous. We drove by the Teesta upstream, smooching its bends, climbing up its gorge and then back to its level. Happy adventurers strapped in life-jackets were daring the rapids in inflatable boats. We waved at them. They waved back.
At Malli, we entered Sikkim. And we switched our loyalty, left the Teesta which was now gorging, and followed the gentle Rangeet instead. We now headed west. Our road climbed up the northern bank of Rangeet. This blue-green river would take us closer to the presiding deity of Sikkim — the majestic Mt Kanchanzongha.

Pelling

At 28,168 feet, Mt Kanchanzongha is the third highest peak of the world and the highest in India. And Pelling is like a child with a few hotels and fewer dwelling houses, staring endlessly at the giant Kanchanzongha in awe.

The good thing about Pelling is that there is precious nothing. Nothing but its formidable nearness to the Kanchanzongha. From here, you see the first rays of the sun put the peak into flame. You wait breathlessly as the mountain drinks the pink-red rays of the sun and takes on the colour. You behold the kaleidoscope as the Kanchanzongha changes its hue as the dawn matures to a day, leans towards the afternoon. As the sun descends behind the mountain, it’s now the turn of the sky to flush, while the Kanchanzongha plays the bemused silhouette.

Is this the everyday show? Ask the ancient Pemayangtse Monastery less than a mile away from Pelling, which has been beholding the theater of the sun, the sky and the mountain since the 1705. And it will confide that, well, sometimes the clouds play their own mischief, drawing their grey curtain in a jiffy and when you are about to lose all hope, lifts it up.

On the High Road

The road climbs up from Gangtok, the capital, and winds through sheer cliffs, heart-stopping hair-pins and blind bends. And as if that is not enough, in the shiver of December, at places, the snow on the road got pressed into thin film of solid ice by passing vehicles. Our 4WD skidded on one such surface drawing a collective Ohhhh among the occupants. But soon, we forgot the momentary trauma. For the landscape we were driving through was getting from breathtaking to awesome. Snow, snow, and more snow all around.

At 13,000 feet, we drove into and out of clouds. The alpine forest was veiled here and shone bright just beside. Occasionally the road progressed through army barracks reminding we were grazing the border with Tibetan China. The army trucks had their wheels wrapped in iron chains to prevent skidding on ice. And when they drove on the black tar road, they sounded like having ghungroos tied to their feet. Chan-chan-chan-chan…

We reached Tsomgo Lake. A thin crust of ice had covered part of the lake. A small mass of cloud drifted only feet above the lake, kissing and caressing the still water now and then, trying to find a way to lure its lover past the sentinel of snow clad mountains all around protecting the serenity of the lake.

It was cold. The chill was penetrating through my guards of woolens and fleece. It was time for a steaming cup of tea and momos. And the Bhutia shop by the lake offered just that.

The what and where

*Treks and Rafting: The whole of Sikkim is one big playground for treks and rafting. Popular are:

Kanchanzongha Trek (Mid March - Mid June, Oct - Dec)

Rhododendron Trek (March - May)

Coronation Trek (Oct - Dec)

Monastic Trek (March - May, Oct - Dec)

Whitewater Rafting on Teesta and Rangeet (Oct - Dec)

*Getting There: North Bengal is the gateway to Sikkim, both by air and by rail. Thereafter, the NH 31.

Bagdogra airport is124 km from Gangtok.

Rail heads: Siliguri (114 km), New Jalpaiguri (125 km) - from Gangtok

No permit is needed for Indian nationals. Permits, however, are required and can be arranged by the local tour operators for visiting Nathula Pass.

*Accommodations of all budgets are available in Gangtok. Popular are Hotel Tashi Dhelek, Hotel Tibet, Norbu Ghang etc. Useful website:  www.sikkiminfo.net/hotels.htm

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