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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.

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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: 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

NE-GQ Tour: Sikkim – Day1 : Traffic Jams and the drive to Gangtok

Sikkim was a place which was long overdue for a visit. With my marriage getting over in Nov, I was thinking of a nice place to visit for my honeymoon. Various places within India and abroad were considered. As my wife didnt have a passport, going out of the country was ruled out. I zeroed in on sikkim, as this was in the pipeline for a long time. With the place finialized, I booked a tour through ‘FLY AIR Travels’. Since I had enough time with me, I also decided to cover darjeeling along with the golden quadrilateral.

With the trip finalized, the tickets were booked, and with last minute shopping complete, it was time to head to Bagdogra. The flight from Bangalore to Bagdogra took around 4 hrs with a stopover in kolkata. We were greeted at the airport by the travel representative and we headed off to gangtok. After negotiating the traffic in siliguri we headed towards the hills of gangtok. It was a pleasant drive till we met with our first block, a small traffic jam, which took some time to clear. The drive continued until a we saw a huge convoy of vehicles standing. Upon inquiry I came to know the BRO (Border Roads Organization) which is responsible for maintenance of roads were doing some road widening work, due to which there was a huge jam.

Traffic Jam in the mountains

The driver told us this was quite common here as road widening work was going on in various places in sikkim and delays are to be expected. He also told it would take another couple of hours for the traffic to move. With nothing much to do for the next couple of hours, I clicked a few snaps of the distant mountains just to while away the time and got chatting with a few drivers.The recent earthquake in sikkim and surrounding places had caused some serious landslides and many places especially in north sikkim are still under repair. I was told things are slowly getting back to normal, which is a good thing for the people.

The traffic jams reminded me of the jams we have back home, and nothing could be done except wait. Slowly after an hour or so we could see some movement and vechiles from one side were being allowed to pass.

Vehicles being let from other side

Soon it was our turn to go and it was slow crawl through the heavy machinery as we inched our way through the oncoming traffic.

Heavy Machinery used for road widening

With no more interruptions we proceeded towards gangtok with a stopover for lunch and a cuppa. It was evening by the time we reached the resort. Checking into the resort, we bid adeiu to the driver. Soon it was time to hit the sack as we had a early morning start to Tongso lake the next day.

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