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2011 — THE SEASON REVIEW

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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.

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

NE-GQ Tour: Day 3– Rafting at Teesta and the drive to kalimpong

Day 3 of our tour started with a drive to kalimpong. The driver who had come to pick us up told us that rafting was being conducted on the Teesta river and we were free to do it if we were interested. I didnt want to miss this chance of doing rafting at a new place, though I had done it back in karnataka. This also gave me an oppurtunity to introduce my wife to a little bit of adventure. I asked her if she was interested in rafting for which she agreed. Told the driver to stop at the rafting place which he did.

The guy was quoting 4.5k for a 12kms which I felt was a little costly. However we were told there was another couple who were interested in joining, we decided to split the cost evenly. After paying the required amount, we were taken to the place where the rafts were being kept. Training was given to new people who were interested in conducted rafting. We had a talk with the other couple while waiting for the rafts to arrive. The instructor gave us the life jackets and asked us to get into the rafts. It was the first time my wife was doing this and she was excited and a bit scared as well.

Instructions were given and we were began rowing, while the girls were sitting at the back. We came across the place where the rivers theesta and rangit join together (sangam), and we saw rafting lessons being held in the current. We bid farewell to the people and continued on our way.

The instructor asked the girls to come forward when we approached the rapids, so that they could enjoy the raft going against the rapids. The fun continued for another hour or so and we reached the end of the rafting route. With the water being too cold, everyone was soaking wet. We were ferried back to the place where our vechiles were parked. After settling the amount, we went our separate ways after saying adieu to our new friends.

A short break for a late lunch and we were in kalimpong by sundown. Evening was spent shopping for some souvenirs for friends and family at the local market.

A couple of snaps of the moon as it was lunar eclipse that night and it was nap time.

Moon as seen from the hotel

NE-GQ Tour: Day 4 — Day out in kalimpong

Day 4 of our trip was meant to be leisure outing covering a local sightseeing places in kalimpong and we were supposed to drive back to the gangtok the same day. A delayed start saw us first head to the cactus and orchid nursery which was located close to the hotel.

The nursery has thousands of varieties of cactus’s and roses from all over the world. The caretaker at the nursery told us the roses come as far from Austraila, Germany and South America. The cactuses which are grown internally are designed in various shapes and sizes which are put on display. We couldnt get the names of the roses as the caretaker told us about the biological names of the roses. After spending some time at the nursery we headed back to the car.

Roses and Cactuses at nursery

Our next stop was the  durbin dara monastery which was built by His Holiness The Dalai Lama. The monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in kalimpong.

Durbin Dara Monastery

As with all monsateries in sikkim the walls of the monastery  contain the paintings of teachings of Buddha and various stories depicting good over evil. A statute of buddha in a different avatar along with his followers is present at the center.

Paintings inside the monastery

Buddha and his disciples

The monks at the monastery were preparing for prayer and I wanted to see how they would do it.

The prayer ritual

The monks take their respective seats and tea is poured to all monks before they start their prayers. The prayers are started by the head monk after having the Tea which is being served. Daily offering of bread are being served to the monks before they being their chants

Monks being served Tea

The monks start with their prayers while the devotees and the general public are allowed to come and offer their prayers while the prayer is in progress

Monks chanting prayers

Devotees offering their prayers to Buddha

The devotees then offer their prayers to the head monk and bow to all the monks asking for blessings. The head monk blesses each person and whispers into their ears. They bow to him and continue to the other monks seated. Once they seek blessings from all the monks, they leave the monastery.

The head monk

Devotees seeking blessings

We too left the prayer area, and went around the monastery. The upper level of the monastery has prayer wheels and another idol present in the buddhism

Prayer Wheels and Idols

    

A couple of rounds of the monastery and we headed back to the car and to deolo hill which contains a park and a couple of view points.  Our stomach’s were rumbling by the time we reached the places. A couple of momos and noodles and we headed to the park .A couple of snaps in the park and we were of to the science museum which was open recently.

Deolo hill park

The view Point

The science museum which had opened only recently contains many scientific instruments. The museum also has large hoardings containing the evolution of all technologies that we use everyday. From the hoardings one can really see how the various revolutions began which has shaped our everyday lives. The place is a must visit for all geeks and for those who are interested in science.

Kalimpong Science Museum

The entrance contains figures of some of the pre-emiment scientists from india and around the world

Scientists from around the world

Scientific Instruments

Cutouts of key technologies

There was a mini park, which contained some scientific games and a map of the kanchendonza range. We roamed around the park before heading back to the car

The park


A couple of hours of driving and we reached the gangtok by sundown. Resting for some time in our room, we headed to the restaurant. The resort had organized a Celebration Sikkim for the week, where the local artists were given an oppurtunity to showcase their skills.

Celebrating Sikkim

The show started of with a traditional nepali song and dance by one of the male artist. The dance was a tribute to the firegod, as explained by the artist who was using a couple of fireplates to perform the dance

Artist performing nepali dance

The audience enjoyed the dance and soon it was time for the second artist to perform was a female who peformed another traditional tibetian dance. This was followed by a lively song and dance routine by another guy.

The show continues

The final act for the evening was a war dance which was the most liked by everyone. Dinner was served after the show. It was time to hit the couch as we had a long drive to pelling the next day

War Dance

NE-GQ Tour: Sikkim – Day2 : Icy Tongso Lake

It was an early morning start as we had to drive to Tongso lake. Tongso Lake in west sikkim is a sacred lake set admist icy mountains. The lake remains frozen during winter season. The lake is considered to be sacred to the local people.  This can be done as a day trip along with Nathula Pass and Baba Harbhajan Singh memorial. Before leaving bangalore I had inquired about visiting nathula pass however I was told the pass would be closed at this time of the year. When I inquired with the driver about nathula, he told us it was open, however since its china’s border, one cant go without permits and cant stay there for too long.

I had checked with the receptionist about the possibility of viewing an early sunrise and I was told, one can view it just outside our rooms. Woke up early to catch the sunrise, however cloud cover meant there was little chance of seeing the sunrise

Early morning in Gangtok

I was told that the sun would come up, between 6.30 and 7, however I wasnt lucky as the peaks in front of the balcony and the cloud cover meant there was no sunrise

Early morning view from the resort

Soon it as time to get ready as the driver had told us he would be picking us up at 8 and drive to  Tongso lake and Baba Harbhajan memorial.

Facts about Tsongo Lake

Name of the Lake: Tongso Lake

Location: West Sikkim

Altitude at which it is located: 3780 mts

Importance of lake: This ia a holy lake for the local people. Boating and other activities are not allowed in the lake

Time taken to reach the lake: 3 Hrs

We set out for the lake at 8.30 and reached the gangtok bazaar after a few minutes. Since there is a huge army presence in the area, permits are required to visit the lake. One needs to be submit a photo and personal details, which is used for making the permit. The driver went to make the permit while me and my wife waited in the car.

Permit

Once the permit was received we continued towards the lake. One needs to show the permit at the checkpost and purchase tickets before proceeding further. With the sun shining brightly the distant mountains provided a good landscape which I took a few snaps. The driver in the meantime had completed the formalities in the meantime.

Sun kissed mountains

BRO was doing some road widening work here also, and the roads were muddy and minor traffic jams were encountered here also.

Road widening work

Negotiating the treacherous roads we continued on our way. We could see lot of army personnel stationed in the area, as the area borders china. Photography is not allowed where army personnel are present. We continued for another hour and we could see icy mountains. The lake was just round the corner n we could see it from the huge no of people present there. I asked the driver to stop so that I can take a few photos. He told me we would get a better view from the top and also  we had to get to the baba harbhajan singh memorial soon and if delayed would not be allowed inside.

We climbed a little higher and the driver stopped at a place from where we could see the lake and mountains more clearly. I got busy with a small photoshoot, as I was planning to take more photos when coming back

Icy mountains and Tsongso Lake

It was time to get back in the car and the next stop was baba harbhajan memorial.There was a huge amount of cars parked by the time we reached. Wife went to see the shrine while I headed to the nearby coffee shop for a cup of cofee

Baba harbhajan Shrine

We spent some time at the shrine before going back to the lake. On the way back we saw another small water body which the driver said is an artificial lake. The mountains surrounding the lake made for a good landscape. The clear weather meant it was time for another photoshoot. Took a few snaps and then headed straight for the lake

Artificial Lake amongst mountains

Mist had began to engulf the place by the time I reached the lake. This meant I had to miss an opportunity to take photos of the lake from a close range.

Whiteout at Tongso Lake

There were a few yaks around and my wife wanted a photo sitting on of them. The yak owner told us he could take us for a walk in the snow and make the yak slide around for a small fee. This was the first time my wife was seeing snow and ice and she was enjoying it. The yak excursion took an hour or so. We asked the guy to drop us back to car. There are signboards put up asking tourists to vacate the lake and shrine by 2.30. By the time we left the lake after having Tea it was close to 2. We reached the checkpost in couple of hours where the driver submitted the permit. With the sun behind the clouds the place looked amazing and I couldnt resist taking a few snaps before we headed back to the resort thus concluding an amazing day

Evening

Evening was spent relaxing at the resort. We had an early dinner and it was time to hit the bed as we had a drive to kalimpong the next day

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