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NE-GQ Tour: Darjeeling– An early morning whitewash

An early morning sunrise atop Tiger Hill is a must see in darjeeling and every tour operator will have this in their iternary. Ours was no different. Tiger hill is one of the main view points in darjeeling which offers a panaromic view of the Kanchenjunga range and darjeeling town.

As the sunrise is hyped up people rush to tiger hill as early as 3.30 in the morning to get the best vantage seats to view the sunrise. There is a glass enclosure built which allows people to view the sunrise from the comfort of the seats rather than stand in the freezing cold outside. The building built has 3 levels and tickets are priced from Rs 20 to Rs 40 where u can go to the top and sit comfortably.

A huge crowd was already present by the time we reached the place. I was confident I could get the sunrise as the weather was very clear and we could see the moon and stars shining brightly. Since it was too cold I got the Rs 40 ticket so that my wife could sit comfortably. The chairs was almost filled up, however I managed to get a seat for her. There wthias still an hour to go for the sunrise and more people were gathering down. The place seems to be run by a couple of people and one of them came to the room and gave an overview of darjeeling, how the tiger hill got its name among other things.

The weather which was clear suddenly began to deteriorate. Mist and clouds threatened to spoil the party. Within few minutes the entire place was covered in white mist disappointing everyone there.

Morning Whitewash

The sunset time came and went and the weather remained the same. There was a tourist from kolkata who said that seeing sunrise from tiger hill is very rare and one can see better and more beautiful sunrises from Lolegeon. Disappointed, I went upstairs and found that many people had already left and the remaining were packing up . We too headed back to the car.

We began the local sightseeing with a visit to ghoom monastery first. Located 8 kms from darjeeling, this is one of the first monasteries to be built in 1875 by Lama Sherab Gyatso. This monastery is also called as Sampten Choling Monastery or Yiga Choeling Monastery.

Ghoom Monastery

The monastery contains statutes of Maitreya Buddha and his disciples Chenrezi and Chongapa. The walls of the monastery is covered with paintings.

Maitreya Buddha and his disciples

Paintings

As this is on the way to darjeeling town, all the people who had gone to tiger hill had come here and as expected there was a huge rush.  A quick tour of the monastery and a couple of photos and we were of to batasia loop.

The batasia loop is one of the main attractions in darjeeling. The place contains a war memorial and the railway line for the toy train. Misty weather meant we could only see the war memorial.

War Memorial@ Batasia Loop

One of the other things one can do a Batasia loop is to play dress up by wearing traditional darjeeling dress. There are lots of local merchants who try to entice people by asking them to wear the dress and take photos for a nominal fee.

Since we couldnt see the loop which is considered an engineering marvel, there was nothing much to do there. Taking a few snaps of the war memorial and the mist filled darjeeling town we went back to the hotel to freshen up. The driver told us he would come after couple of hours to pick us up and show us the remaining places.

Couple of hours of rest and we were on the road again. The first place we visited was peace pagoda a Japanese temple. The pagoda contains statues of buddha and various events that have occurred in the life of Gautama Buddha.

Peace Pagoda

One can go round the pagoda and see various buddha statues in various positions such as reclining, standing etc. Below each statue there are is a small carving showing various stories/teachings

Buddha and his various teachings

There is also a Japanese temple very close to the pagoda which we visit after seeing the pagoda.

HMI and the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park  was next to be visited. The zoo contains various animals and birds ranging from leopards to bisons and tigers. There are also a wide variety of birds which are kept within glass enclosures. The zoo is part of HMI(Himalayan Mountaineering Institute) which offers basic/advanced and other specialized mountaineering courses.

We spent some time at the zoo clicking photos and looking at the various animals present in the zoo.

Zoo

The zoo covers quite a big area and it takes atleast a couple of hours to cover everything.

HMI is also part of the zoo complex. There is a museum within HMI where one can see the various equipments used during mountaineering expeditions. The museum also contains photos of famous expedition leaders both from India and from other parts of the world. Scale models of all major himalayan peaks are also present.  The museum is a must visit for all those who are interested in mountaineering as one can gain a lot of information and also look at the equipments used for climbing himalayas and other peaks elsewhere in the world.

Since photography is not permitted inside the museum no photos could be taken. There is also a climbing wall present within the campus. Those interested can practice some wall climbing.

Information on basic and advanced mountaineering courses can be found here

HMI

Spending a couple of hours at the museum and the zoo we went back to the car and to the tea estate while briefly stopping at tenzing rock. The rock is open to public for climbing for a fee of Rs 50.

Tenzing Rock

Apart from being known as Queen of the Hills, darjeeling is also famous for its tea. There are numerous tea estates which produce some of the best tea’s. We stopped at one such estate. We could view the estate from the outside as we didnt have permission. Had a couple of Tea’s from a nearby shop and went to have a look at the estate.

Tea Estates

I was also interested in seeing the rock garden but the driver told me it wasnt that interesting to see. Evening was spent at the local mall shopping.

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NE-GQ Tour: Sikkim Day 6–Waterfalls, Gardens and the drive to the queen of hills

After a rather tired previous day we decided to take it easy the next day as we just had a couple of waterfalls and a rock garden to visit. We were supposed to drive down to Darjeeling also called queen of the hills after completing our sightseeing in pelling.

Pemayangtse and Sangachoeling Monasteries and Rabdantsey Ruins along with Rimbi and Kachendonza falls are some of the key attractions here. One can also visit Khecheodpalri Lake and Rock garden as part of local sightseeing

I was hoping to see kanchandgonza range early in the morning and hence decided to get up early. The hotel manager told me that the sunrise happens around 6 and I can view the mountain range from outside the room window.Lady luck again played its part as harsh sunlight and cloud cover meant I couldnt view the range. I was a little disappointed as I had missed it for the second time.  The tour co-ordinator had told me the vehicle for today would be coming at 9.

The hotel where I stayed had a nice collection of painting of important buddhist leaders in Tibet through the centuries and the important buddhist sites in Tibet. There were also a nice collection of photos and paintings of Everest , the kanchendzonga range among others.  Spent some time looking at them while taking a few photos.

Buddhism in Tibet through the ages

The monsateries and the Rabdantsey Ruins could not be covered as the driver who had come,said that the places are in the opposite direction and we would be late by the time by the time we reach darjeeling. Though I told the driver I wasnt sure when i’ll be coming back, he was determined to stick to the schedule. Tried to negotiate with the driver, but it was futile. Finally decided to stick with the schedule in the iternary.

The first place we covered was rimbi falls which was a road side falls. The falls in enroute to yuksom. As it was winter I was expecting lot of water, however I was disappointed to see very little water in the falls. A small photo session at the falls and we were of to the rock garden

Rimbi Falls

The rock garden is one of the new attractions in pelling. The place contains some rock carvings and a small garden. The river flowing next to the garden and the distant mountains made for a nice landscape. People can go to the river and spend time playing near the water. Sign boards are put up to prevent people getting into the water. There were quite a few people by the river bank and even we joined them.Spending some time at the river we went back to the parking lot and to the next destination.

Scenary at Rock Garden and river

The next destination we headed was the Khecheodpalri Lake which is one of the sacred lakes in sikkim. Khecheodpalri lake is also known as a wish fulfilling lake. People visiting the lake have been blessed with health and happiness

Khecheodpalri lake

Legend of the Khecheodpalri lake

Legend has it that the Khecheodpalri lake was once a grazing ground abound with singing nettles. One day a Lepcha couple saw a pair of concch shells coming from the sky and entering onto the ground. After that the ground shook violently and immense spring of water engulfed the entire ground which turned into a huge lake. As per Nesol text the lake is considered to be abode of Tshomen Gyalmo or Chief Protective Nymph of Dharma. Native buddhists believe that the shape of the lake is footprint of goddess tara.

Prayer wheels dot the entrance to the lake. As the place is a sacred place one needs to remove their footwear before moving ahead.

Entrance

A few tourists were just leaving the lake when we arrived. Once they we were the only ones present at the lake. The lake is quite big and the one can only see a part of the lake from the ground level.There is a shop at the entrance to the lake and while returning I asked the lady present from where was the photo shown in the ticket was taken. I was told that one has to drive for another 3 hours from the lake to reach the spot where the photo was taken. I knew another visit would be required to get to the location if I was to take the same photo. Small stupas are present close to the lake along with a small buddhist shrine

Stupa

Kanchandzonga falls was the final place we visited before departing to darjeeling. Compared to rimbi falls, there was enough water in this falls. The falls is not visible directly from the road, one has to climb a series of steps to reach the falls. As the falls was in full flow getting close was difficult due to the slippery rocks.

Kanchendzonga Falls

With the local sightseeing done, we took a short lunch break, before starting the drive to darjeeling. The journey was through pristine scenary until we reach darjeeling border. The driver took us through a very narrow road carved between the mountains. It was fun driving on those narrrow roads as there was space for only one vehicle to pass. Passing through some villages we continued onwards.

Reached darjeeling market area by sundown and asked for directions to the hotel and headed off there after a short cuppa break. We reached the hotel and checked in thus concluding another exciting day looking at new places.

NE-GQ Tour: Sikkim-Day 5– Tea Estates and a scary drive to Pelling

The driver who had dropped us half way to kalimpong had come to pick us up the next day as we had a long drive to pelling. I began a small discussion with the driver regarding the route which he would take and any possible places which can be covered on the way.

The driver told me that we have to pass through south sikkim and there is a tea estate, a large statue of Guru Padmasambhava, Char Dham which is a collection of all major hindu pilgrimage sites and sai baba temple which could be covered. As I had come all the way to see the place, I didnt want to miss out on covering these places, as I didnt know when I would be returning back. Hence I stuck a deal with the driver to include these places also for extra fee apart from covering the local sightseeing places in gangtok.

We started of by visiting Enchey Monsatery which is abode of Guru Padmasambhava.

Enchey Monastery

I couldnt take any photos inside as photography is prohibited inside all monasteries in Gangtok.

One can see the statue of Padmasambhava at the center with his disciples towards his left and right. As usual, the paintings adorn the walls of the monastery. Spending some time there and clicking a few snaps of the stupa we headed to the car and to the next destination.

The next destination we headed was a flower show, which contains various flowers being exhibited there.

Flower Show

With nothing much to do there, we left to Dro-Drul Chorten which is a big stupa. This is one of the biggest stupa’s in gangtok.

Dro-Drul Chorten Stupa

The stupa is situated right below the Institute of Tibetology which houses the Maitrey Buddha and contains various scrolls and the life history of buddha. The institute also contains various Buddhist figures taken from Tibet.

Unfortunately photography is not allowed inside the complex.  One can learn a lot about buddhism in Tibet before the chinese invasion. The institute has artifacts uncovered in tibet in the late 1200’s and ancient scrolls.

Institute of Tibetology

With the sightseeing places covered in gangtok, it was time to head to south sikkim and see the places there.

We could see no of army trucks on our way. The driver told me ever since the earthquake army presence has increased here.  Many of them had been posted here to help in the relief efforts. Passing the convoy of army trucks we were on our way to namchi.

There were fewer and fewer vehicles  on the road and as per the driver it can get pretty lonely at times. A couple of hours of driving and we stopped for lunch at a hotel. The roads were pretty smooth and we were cruising along. Soon we reached the tea estates where the twisty roads began

Twisty roads

A short stop for a a few snaps and we were back in the car and of to the next place

Tea Estates

The driver however couldnt tell me who owned the tea estates in the area. The winding roads were fun to drive on and soon we reached namchi where we had a small break for cuppa before proceeding. The next place on the list was the statute of Guru Padmasambhava. The weather was chilling as mist had engulfed the place.

The statue is one of the largest statues in sikkim and the foundation stone for the statue was laid by His Holiness The Dalai Lama in 1997. There were quite a few ppl who were already present.

The statue is huge looks very life like. I clicked a few photos and proceeded to go to the top. The entrance is located from inside the base of the statue

Guru Padmasambhava

There were a couple of idols placed at a corner and a monk who was praying. Offering prayers we went to the top. The scale of the statue can be seen one we make our way to the top.

Idols

There were a less people on top and this gave me ample space to compose my shots the way I want.

Guru Padmasambhava as seen from top

The local people believe that if u pray to the guru and offer some “gurudakshina” it will be returned to you tenfold. One person told me if you offer Rs 100, u get back Rs 10000. Not sure if this is true. Spending some more time in the cold, we returned to the car and headed to Char Dham

Char dham in sikkim is a collection of major pilgrimage sites in India. Miniature temples are constructed which allow people to worship their preferred gods at one place without having to tour the  entire country.

This place was opened recently and as expected there was tight security. Passing through the metal detectors we made our way to the temple complex.

The entrance t o the char dham temple complex is dominated by a statue of parashuramaThe statue of Lord shiva and nandi is the other prominent attraction of the place

Parashurama and Lord Shiva

The char dham complex comprises of

1)Rameshwaram, 2)Dwarka, 3)Puri and 4)Badrinath.

These are the 4 most revered places which are visited by piligrims. If you are in sikkim then make sure to visit this place as all religious places can be seen at one place.

Char Dam Temple Complex

Rameshwaram

Dwarka

Badrinath

Puri

The main attraction apart from the temples is the huge shiva statue which towers above the rest of the temples. While my wife was visiting all the temples I did a small photoshoot.

Lord Shiva

The driver had asked us to not to spend too much time at the complex as we still had quite a distance to cover, hence asked my wife to cover all the temples soon, so that we could go to pelling soon.

The final place which we visited was the Sai Baba Temple which was very close to char dham.

Sai Baba Mandir

A huge idol of sai baba is present along with paintings showing the miracles performed by him. A couple of minutes there and we were of to pelling.

It was almost 7 by the time we left south sikkim. The roads which were smooth went from bad to worse and it was a slow progress. It was pitch black everywhere and visibility was a little low.  We crossed a huge reservoir on the way and the driver told lot of work has been goin on recently to build reservoirs. The bad roads and heavy vehicles made progress even more difficult. A couple of stops and finally we reached pelling at 10 and checked into the hotel, thus concluding a long day.

Contact details of the driver is given below for those interested in visiting sikkim either for tourism or for treks, he can arrange for both.

Driver Contact Details

Name: Arjun

Contact No:+917407184196

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