Monday, 27 June 2011

Sikkim Diaries - 1

How paradoxical to find something so poignant written on a plastic bottle of mineral water!

“I look back on life – It’s funny how things turned out.
You, the creator of beeping sirens & honking cars, yearn for the solitude of the mountains.
You, a connoisseur of fast food, now gaze at water that took years to gather natural minerals, as it trickled down from the Himalayas to within your reach.
And I, some of the purest water in the world, stand here, trapped in a bottle.
Come, enjoy the irony”.

It was the first & last bottled water I bought in Sikkim. The river Teesta gurgled her way around Sikkim, our constant companion for the next two weeks. We enjoyed drinking her crisp, deliciously cool water. We sat by her banks listening to her gurgle, lulled to a sleep at times. We stared at the churning water without any thoughts in our mind; our hands absently playing with the pebbles at her bank, rounded & smoothened by her constant touch. We stared in awe at the majestic mountains & trees bordering her. We drove alongside her & knew that as long as we heard her, we were on the right path. 

The days that I spent at Sikkim still stay with me. It is a trip of which I have the fondest memories. I hope to return, someday! I got back from this trip, to a life that was the exact opposite of my 18 at Sikkim - hurried, noisy, crowded; filled with pollution, work, stress, raised voices; And no more trees, mountains & rivers or smiles from total strangers.  Whenever I see a person from the North-East in my city, I can understand how much they must be missing their home; for, truly, that is the closest it can ever get, to paradise.

Excerpts from my diary, written as I travelled around Sikkim in December:

Day 0:
We reach Bagdogra airport at 1:20 pm. It’s filled with honeymooning couples. The biggest disappointment is that it’s 27 deg….didn’t we come here to experience winter?? A smiling Chamba meets us (our organizer for vehicles & permits). Lunch stop at Siliguri & then, we set off on the highway to Sikkim; we’re supposed to reach Gangtok in 4 hours. Hah…little did we know! An hour later, at 4:15, we have a flat tyre on the single lane highway, in the ghat section! The spare tyre too is flat. Our driver, Manoj, hitches a ride in a lorry to the nearest repair shop – 2 kms away. The sun’s setting & Chamba, Karthik (hubby) & I sit on rocks by the road, indulging in idle chatter. In the dark, Manoj arrives with the fixed tyre. At 5:30, we set off. Manoj drives fast to make up for lost time. 
We’re steadily gaining altitude. We city people with a delicate constitution can’t take it & nausea overcomes both of us. Manoj slows down. We finally reach Gangtok, at 5500 feet, at 9 pm. As we get off the car, it hits us: the cold we wanted! We check in & run down to get dinner; piping hot & nice. We drift into a sound sleep….we’d left Bangalore 20 hours ago!

Day 1:
We wake up a little tired; Karthik, more than me. We leave after a hearty breakfast, at 9:30. Suresh drives us in the Mahindra Maxx jeep, along windy roads, in dense fog & grey weather. It’s unbearably cold! We reach Tsomgo Lake (pronounced ‘Changu’) after 2 hours. Yippee…we’re at 12,300 feet, above the clouds & it’s suddenly bright & blue. Attracted as we are by the lake, we decide to drive ahead & get to Tukla, at 14,500 feet. We race against the advancing clouds (clouds travel higher as the day progresses). If we don’t make it in time, the beautiful view of Mt. Khanchendzonga that we’re promised will be obscured by the cloud cover. 
We get there in time…..Breathtakingly fabulous view! It’s so cold here that we look forward to the ‘warmth’ of Tsomgo Lake. After a while, an army lorry drives by & belches a huge puff of black, diesel-smelling smoke right into Karthik’s face! Soon, he’s feeling sick so we begin descending. We stop for glimpses of 2 lakes on the way. We’ve decided to skip Nathu-La as it seems too touristy anyway. A look at Baba Mandir from the outside & we’re back at Tsomgo Lake. We go to a shack & have hot momos & chowmein for lunch. Karthik’s still shivering badly but the hot food makes him better. We walk to the lake & admire it. It’s great that we have it to ourselves, as all the tourists have gone after a  morning visit. Yaks amble around & prayer flags flutter in the breeze.

The descent is scarier: zero visibility. Suresh drives with half his body out of the jeep, to try & see what’s ahead. If I had been religious, I would have begun saying my prayers. I just sat there thinking that this might not be one of the worst places to die in, if something happens….it looks like ‘heaven’ anyway! Turns out that my fears are unfounded; Suresh grins & says that this visibility is better than some other days, when he cannot see anything even within the jeep! We get dropped off at the ATM near MG marg (Gangtok’s main road). Karthik’s got a headache so we decide not to stroll around & head back to the hotel. Soon, it’s time for dinner & packing; we leave tomorrow, bag & baggage, for North Sikkim. Somebody switch off the annoyingly loud TV in the room next door……zzzzzzzz!

Day 2:
We’re up early & ready to leave at 8:30. But, our jeep’s not here; they call to say they’re stuck in traffic. Finally we leave & stop on our way out of Gangtok, to check all tyres & equipment. Dorjee, who will drive us & Arjun, our guide, seem friendly enough. We will be spending the next 5 days together, so we get talking to break the ice. We’ve been following the river Teesta ever since we left Gangtok. It’s a foggy day today so we don’t get good views from both Tashi viewpoint in Gangtok & the viewpoint at Singhik, 3 hours later. We’re driving to 8500 feet today & the scale of the mountains is like nothing we’ve seen before. Your head just reels looking down at the valleys.
The road has evidences of landslides & avalanches that occur, some trapping people on the road for days! We drive across valleys & rivers using bridges that look like they’re made of matchsticks; bridges that sway; yet, are incredibly strong. Nobody honks at every turn. Like Dorjee says, if you had to, your horn needs to be permanently on; that’s how winding the roads are! He assures me that the Sikkimese are cautious drivers. Despite all these ‘scares’, the beauty takes your breath away!
We reach our base for the next 2 nights, Lachung, after sunset. We’re staying in a log room. It’s teeny! But, soon, we do manage to find space for our luggage & settle down with biscuits & tea. Dorjee excuses himself to go & meet his family; they live here. After dinner, we’re briefed on tomorrow’s plans. It’s freezing cold. We ask for 2 extra blankets but they have only 1; they give us a sleeping bag instead. Karthik flicks the blanket for himself & is snoring within minutes. I’m stuck inside the cold sleeping bag & want to punch him with every snore I hear. I’m unable to sleep & need to use the bathroom. Luckily, by the time I’m back, the bag’s warmer & I doze off.

Day 3:

I wake up at 5 am only to be greeted by a grey & cloudy view. I rush back under the blanket. By the time we’re up at 6 am, it’s bright & blue. I can’t get myself to have a bath though we have hot water; the cold weather makes it an ordeal to even take your clothes off before the bath. I wonder if it would be too ridiculous to bathe with my clothes on; then, realising it would, I steel myself & get done with it. I actually feel better now & laugh at Karthik, as I hear him shivering in the bathroom….There! That will teach him to hog all the blankets! Today, we’re off to high altitudes & we layer ourselves with all the warm clothes we’ve got. After breakfast, we’re off with Dorjee & Arjun to Zero point, at 15,300 ft. 

Zero point is indescribable! When we step out from the car, it’s so cold we want to run back in. But, we brave ourselves & gingerly tread over the slippery ice. Soon, Karthik & I are busy throwing snowballs at each other as Dorjee & Arjun watch over us like parents:”Don’t run around; there’s very little oxygen. Don’t touch the hard ice with your bare hands; it will cut your skin. Don’t look directly at the sun…it’s deceptively blinding”. After an hour, we don’t want to leave but are forced to as we still have to go to Yumthang Valley. 

We reach Yumthang by 1 pm & are ravenous to the point of fainting; boy, you do burn your food pretty quickly in cold weather!  All the food stalls are closed as it is past ‘tourist time’. Dorjee’s friend Sonam’s just locking up when he forces her to re-open & make Maggi for all of us. Karthik & I trundle off to sit in the valley…It must be so pretty in spring, covered with a carpet of Rhododendrons! We don’t last more than 15 min; it’s bitterly cold with a howling wind to boot. We run back to have our Maggi & sit by the cozy fire Sonam’s lit. We help her lock up & give her a ride back to Lachung.

After a yummy lunch at 3:30 in our hotel, we sit around the heater in our room; warming our innards that seem to have frozen. Arjun remembers that we’d wanted to try Tongba / Chi / Chaang (local beer made from fermented Millet) & gets us a bamboo jar. Karthik & I sit by the heater, sipping this, till dinner time. We feel a little woozy & nice now…suddenly; it’s not so cold :)

Day 4:
Tension fills the morning….Dorjee asks us if we’ve seen our Inner-line permits (which are required to travel to North Sikkim). We haven’t. Neither has Arjun. They’ve last seen it yesterday, when they showed it at the checkpost at Yumthang. Dorjee’s supposed to keep this safely till we get back to Gangtok. We’re all tense as we can’t go to Gurudongmar Lake tomorrow without this permit and there’s no time to get a new one made from Gangtok! Four glum faces eat breakfast & set off for the viewpoint & the gompa (monastery) at Lachung. Dorjee has a sudden brainwave: He’ll go to the check-post at Lachung and xerox the xerox of our permit that we submitted there yesterday. And, attested by an officer, it should be just as valid as the original. All of us visibly cheer up.


The gompa is abuzz with activity, in anticipation of Losoong (Tibetan & Sikkimese New Year), a week from now. Monks bustle around, polishing all the brass, dusting the walls, repairing masks & costumes and creating ornate sculptures out of dough. After sometime here, we go & sit by the Teesta river (known here as Lachung-chu). We drive back to our hotel for lunch, say our good-byes & leave. We’re wondering if we can kidnap the cook….the food’s been awesome! We’re off to Lachen today. On the way, we sit by the banks of Lachen-Chu for a bit.

Lachen, at 9500 ft, turns out to be a very small settlement. The main road, about 1 km long, has mostly lodges on either side, presumably catering to the crowds visiting Gurudongmar Lake in summer. Now, it’s deserted & we seem to be the only ‘tourists’ around. Our room in the Siniolchu Lodge is very worn out. The geyser too isn’t working. We walk around to see if any other is open, but, they’re all shut. The only other lodge that’s open has no water. So, we settle down at Siniolchu Lodge & pop into the kitchen for some warmth. I drink a little salt-butter tea: it’s different; like bland, buttery soup. I quite enjoy it after a while. Karthik & I then walk up & down the main road, to acclimatise. An early dinner later, we’re off to bed. We have to leave at 4 am tomorrow, on a journey that will test our strength.

Day 5 (drive to Gurudongmar Lake):
Gurudongmar Lake day; the day we’ve been both dreading & eagerly awaiting. It could be the highlight of our trip or our worst nightmare! We’re up at 3 am & get dressed in all our layers. We’re going to 17,500 ft & that’s no laughing matter (to give you an idea, that’s more than half the height of Mt. Everest, which is at 29,000 ft). Though we’re not trekking, just being at this altitude can make you very sick, especially so in winter. Gurudongmar Lake is revered by the Sikkimese & many undertake the arduous journey here to pray & have their wishes granted…but, in summer. 

We have biscuits with tea & pop our motion sickness tablets. We load the car with emergency spare parts, energy rich food like chocolates & some hot water. Finally, at 4:30 am, we’re off. In summer, there would be at least 20-30 cars going together, keeping each other company in the challenging journey. But, today, it’s just us & a car driven by Dorjee’s friend, with 6 boys in it. We reach Thangu (14,000 ft), our breakfast stop, at 6:30 am. We knock at a house to wake a girl up. She lights a fire & makes us some Maggi & tea. The 6 boys join us. We also eat popcorn (said to help combat altitude sickness). We purchase prayer flags to tie at the lake & are back on the road. 
Trees have disappeared. There’s ice on the roads & the other vehicle skids uncontrollably. An Army Innova too drives past & skids. It has to be towed. Our Mahindra Maxx jeep turns out to be as stable as vouched for & we drive without skidding. We reach the army check-post & wait with bated breath to see if they accept our xeroxed permits. They do! We drive beyond; into the vast, barren & treacherous Tibetan Plateau.

Day 5 (At Gurudongmar Lake):
The scenery dramatically changes: Ice-capped peaks, tons of dust flying, herds of yak, yak men & their rarely seen huts, army bunkers, frozen streams & scary boards saying “This road is being watched by China. Do not stray”. By the time we slowly drive on the non-existent roads & reach the lake, it is 09:45 & the sun is out. 
Warily, we step out, fully expecting to faint from the lack of Oxygen. Miraculously, we don’t. Our first view of the lake is spectacular…slightly grey & 2/3rd frozen. We stare unbelievably for a few minutes & then I’m interrupted by a more trivial yet important thought…I need to pee. The army officers at the outpost don’t let me use the toilet as they’re expecting a visit by an important army officer. They’ve just cleaned the toilets & don’t want it to get ‘dirty’. It doesn’t matter if the officer is a man & will not use the ladies’ toilet. I’m told to do my thing behind a rock. Oh, the agony of pulling down your pants in the freezing cold & wind! As I turn a little blue in the -15 Deg.C cold, I silently curse the men who don’t have to go through this! 

Karthik & I very slowly climb down the 60 odd steps leading to the Lake. We’re told that we should leave as soon as possible to avoid falling sick. The boys who came in the other jeep are already violently sick & leave immediately. We have the lake to ourselves!! We sit by; listening to the howl of the wind & the sound of the frozen lake (the ice makes a cracking sound). I can’t describe what all this feels like so I’ll leave it for you to go & experience it yourself! 

An hour later, we come up & the lake now looks bright & blue. We’re told to go into the tiny ‘Sarva dharma mandir’ & get some prasad; we do that. Then, the army officers come to us & say that they’ve been feeling very bad for “making a woman go to the bathroom in the open” (sic). To make up for it, they give us each a large Dairy Milk bar & advise us to eat it quickly. They’re all worried & surprised that we’ve lasted this long.

We write our names on a prayer flag each, tie them together & then, tie them to the other flags already there. We’re told to make a wish. We have to leave now, if we have to make it back to the army check-post before 12 pm (the deadline for visitors). We begin our descent. I have a weird churning feeling in my stomach but soon get okay. Karthik develops a pounding headache & nausea. We reach the house at Thangu with just a 2 minute halt at Chopta Valley. We eat Maggi. Karthik takes some medicine. A local man applies some strong balm on his forehead & he falls asleep in the kitchen. When he wakes up after a nap, he’s a bit better & we leave immediately. Descending to lower altitudes is the only sure-fire way to feel better. We reach Lachen by 4:30 pm, 12 hours after we left. A quick lunch later, we go to sleep. We awaken at 7:30 to have dinner. We’re tired & covered in dust from head to toe, but, we’ve made it! We go back to sleep, exhausted, not even caring to have a bath.

Day 6:
I wake up at 6 am with a headache. We’re supposed to leave after breakfast to see the Lachen monastery but I don’t feel up to it, so we stay back to relax. Dorjee’s washing his beloved jeep below the lodge, un-recognizable with a thick coating of the Tibetan Plateau dust on it. Soon, I feel better & we leave Lachen to head back towards south Sikkim, to our next stop – Dzongu. Dorjee gives us each a Churpi (dried yak-milk cheese) to be rolled about in the mouth till it dissolves. He says it’ll help my headache. It’s very milky & hard….mine takes 2 hrs to finish! We pass by an Angora (wool) rabbit farm & also see some Zho (cross breed of a yak & a cow; used as porters). We stop at Dorjee’s sister’s store for some tea & chowmein. Dorjee returns a CD that he stole from her on our way up (of Tibetan songs, which we loved!); we have half a mind to steal the CD now. It’s warm & off come our jackets (the first time in a week!). 

We reach Mangan, where we must bid adieu to Arjun & Dorjee, as our host in Dzongu picks us up. Both of them say they’ve never had so much fun on a 4-night trip…usually; they get bored as visitors don’t talk to them and are always sleeping in the jeep. Dorjee gifts us lots of Churpi, despite our protests. We eat lunch at Tamarind Restaurant, the only veg restaurant (and a posh one at that!) in Mangan (where people apparently eat only non-veg). In the background, the TV blares that Darjeeling has strikes due to the Gorkhaland agitation….oh-oh. Our host, Dupden’s son turns up to say that the service taxi will be ready at 2:15. We’re worried…in Sikkim, service taxis pack in 10-12 people + luggage in a 6-8 seater van & drive rashly. I worry about my motion sickness. Arjun & Dorjee are more upset than us. They talk to the taxi driver & ask him to ply it as a private taxi. It costs Rs.50 per seat & we’re willing to pay Rs.600. The driver demands Rs.1000. They negotiate & buy us the front 2 seats (yup, 2 people sit near the driver) and the middle 4 seats. I sit in the front. Karthik & Dupden’s sister Lhakit sit in the middle seat, with our luggage. The last row is filled by 2 people & crates of booze. Our motley group begins the 2 hour journey to Dzongu. 

We’re going to be staying with Dupden Lepcha’s family in Tingvong village, in Dzongu district. Lepchas are a protected, indigenous tribe & we show our special permits at the check-post to be allowed into Dzongu (else, non-Lepchas aren’t allowed). The road’s bumpy but the driver drives carefully…maybe Dorjee & Arjun have warned him or maybe he can’t afford to break any of the beer bottles that he’s carrying :). We start to relax. 

We reach Tingvong shortly before sunset & I nearly stumble in surprise when I’m greeted by a fabulous view of Mt. Khangchendzonga (sometimes spelt Kanchanjunga), the world’s 3 highest peak. It’s right there, in front of me! We’re greeted with tea & snacks and shown our room. Another surprise….the bathroom is not attached; but, far away & shared by all the 5 guest-rooms & the family too! Well, we wanted to experience their typical village life & looks like we got it :)

The fire’s lit at 5:30. As we sit by the fire with Lhakit, her sister joins us & we’re served Tongba (beer), bhujia & hot onion pakoras. We chat away till dinnertime. It’s a large joint family & all the kids are home for the holidays (they study in Mangan). There’s a lama (priest) chanting prayers in the prayer room, before Losoong approaches (Tibetan & Sikkimese New Year). The kids sleep by 8 pm, after which we all gather in the kitchen for dinner: unpolished rice (husked at home) & veggies. The Dolay (fiery red Sikkimese chilly….one of the spiciest in the world) in the cooking leaves us panting. It may look tiny & tempting like a cherry, but, do not be fooled. The locals eat it raw & whole! In the days to come, we would attempt to eat our food only after ensuring that we were surrounded by our 'fire extinguishers' - cold water, sugar, cheese, ghee & chocolates. Our Lepcha family is thoroughly amused & everybody watches us eat, like a movie show! They vow to make it more bland from tomorrow (they’d already cut down the spice level as we would be eating). We call Arjun to inform him that we’re fine…he’s happy to know that. We sleep early, comfortable & warm.

Day 7:
We have our morning tea with Khapche (a fried snack served with tea all the time….reminded me of tea & khakras served in Gujarat), staring at Mt. Khangchendzonga. The entire family is running around, doing chores. Lhakit’s other sisters are leaving for school, where they teach. After a yummy breakfast of ‘tea momos’ with ‘iskus subzi’, Lhakit, Karthik & me set off for Changa falls, 7 kms away. Karthik quips that it would have been nice to walk, had it been closer. As the driver reverses the car out, I notice the green coolant dripping. A quick look at the car tells us that the radiator’s conked & the driver begins repairing it. We decide to start walking & ask the driver to pick us midway when he’s done.

There’re no signs of the car after 30 min, so we decide to walk all the way… Karthik’s wish has been fulfilled! We take steep, down-hill short-cuts through villages. Karthik slips at a few places. En route, we meet an ex-Bonthing (priest) with a deformed leg, who now does labour work. We’re told that he was punished by supernatural forces for stealing the revered tusk from the village temple’s altar. Lhakit also points out the jhadoo or broom tree. I roll with laughter until I realise she’s not joking….brooms are made from the dried plant & not manufactured in factories like I thought!
I reach the falls with my jeans caked in mud, thanks to having slipped a few times myself. And, for the first time since we came to Sikkim, we’re sweating! We wash our face & drink some cool water from a village pipe. We enjoy the waterfall for some time, listening to Lhakit tell us the story of the handsome, tired young man who was bathing here one day. He found a strand of golden hair & looked up to see a bewitchingly beautiful girl. He climbed up the falls to reach the girl,whose parents were snakes. They both fell in love & married, with the blessings of the snakes. 
It’s taken us 2-1/2 hrs to trek down…we better get going if we want to make it back by afternoon. The ascent is terribly steep. We manage to climb just 2-3 kms before we give up. We call Dupden and ask him to pick us up. We reach home at 3 pm & wolf down some lunch.
At 4:30, the sun’s about to set & the fire’s been lit. I sit with the matriarch (called amma by everybody). She complains about her arthritis in sign language; we don’t speak any common language. We’re served a glass of strong, local red wine silo, followed by the much-loved chaang. Nobody joins us by the fire today…the family is busy preparing for a feast. Tomorrow, Dupden will supervise a dhalai (slab casting) at the local school. The feast is for the workers at site. Earlier, I had watched Dupden skin a large, freshly killed pig for pork, till I could watch no more.
Visitors troop in, to help the family. There’s laughter & banter till midnight & then it all falls silent. I sleep, dreaming of all the stories we were told today.

Day 8:

By the time we’re up at 6:30 am, most of the family has left for the school. Lhakit’s stayed behind to take care of us. Her sisters expertly fold momos for our breakfast. Both of us join the fun….my momos turn out better than Karthik’s. We steam them separately & eat filmi-style “apne haath se banaye hue momos”. Karthik, Lhakit & me huff & puff our way up the hill to the school. It’s like a fun-n-fair, with the entire family cooking and serving food & drinks continuously. Workers are served chaang…I wonder how they work! Sounds of ‘chai….garam chai…’ fill the air. We sit on the moist grass in the school playground & have hot salted-tea, served by the sisters. Dupden is up on the slab, shouting out instructions. I reminisce about my site visits as an architect, but they’re never as scenic & fun! 

After some time, the three of us climb up again, to go to the Tingvong monastery. It’s small, simple & serene. Lhakit shows us elaborate tomb-stones dedicated to her father & uncle. Their family also has a small hut here in which they perform yearly rituals. As we sit to admire the setting, Karthik makes both of us giggle by attempting stunts a-la Jackie Chan, with a large bamboo stick. We head home for lunch & relax in the backyard afterwards, eating fresh oranges. The oranges are very small & like I’ve never seen before. I also see an orange tree for the first time in my life…I always thought oranges grew on shrubs! Back at the school by 4pm, we settle down on the grass & watch the work, even as the setting sun casts long shadows across us & the tall peaks that surround the playground….surely; this is the most picturesque school playground ever!


We’re by the fire at home, at 5:30 sharp; hot cup of tea in our hands….it’s a ritual I’m going to miss terribly! The family comes down by 7 pm. Dupden apologises for not spending enough time with us but we reassure him that we’ve been well taken care of. And, we’ve had a lot of fun with Lhakit! Soon, relatives & friends pour in to celebrate the slab casting. Talk & alcohol flows freely. We’re made a part of all the merriment, with people talking to us & coaxing us to drink some more & enjoy our last night here. I soak it all in….I admire how feted life is, here; where even mundane events like a slab-casting are enjoyed & celebrated. 

Somewhere in our rat-race, we’ve lost the art of seeking pleasure from life’s simpler things. I try to banish a floating thought from my mind….how much longer before they too fall into a rut like us? I can’t sleep with this negative thought & try to think of the things I enjoyed today….I instantly think of the hens in the backyard. While drinking tea each morning, I watched as they climbed up a wooden ramp one by one, to a ledge & obediently laid their eggs in a basket kept there by amma. It’s hilarious to see them all queued up on the ramp, patiently awaiting their turn. Tomorrow morning, I will watch them once more, for the last time.

Day 9:


There’s no electricity today. We’re given half a bucket of water for both of us, heated using firewood….It’s a day for a sponge bath. It’s result day at school & all the sisters are dressed in their finest Bakhu (a traditional Sikkimese dress). We bid them goodbye & wait for Dupden, who will drive us to Gangtok. We were supposed to leave by 9 but he’s nowhere to be seen. He rushes in at 10:30, apologizing. Apparently, his nephew has eloped with a girl he loves, from a lower Dzongu village. As per Lepcha custom, the mamas (uncles) have to sort the issue. He’s just convinced the girl’s parents to let them marry & everybody’s happy now. We click photos with amma & leave, armed with a huge bag of guavas & oranges from their trees that Lhakit insists we take & enjoy. Dupden’s eldest son joins us…he will be dropped off at Mangan, where he schools. 

En-route, at lower Dzongu, we stop to meet Dupden’s daughter. She’s really pretty….Dupden glows with pride when we tell him that. She serves us tea & khapche. We’ve quite come to enjoy it & ask Dupden where we can purchase it. Soon, another large bag joins our guavas & oranges….one filled with khapche. I’m very ashamed & apologetic….I hadn’t realised that it’s made only at homes; shops don’t sell it. I feel really bad that the family gave away so much of the snack to us; but Dupden doesn’t take no for an answer….that’s how hospitable people here are! He says he’s happy if we enjoy eating it…And enjoy we do; for days after we get back to Bangalore; having tea & khapche on Sunday afternoons, reminiscing about Sikkim. 

We cross the bridge across the river Rangit & we’ve left Dzongu behind. I am saddened at the thought that probably the next time I’m here, I won’t be able to see the river! (Read more about the upcoming Hydel Power project, here). We stop at a fairground where preparations are on in full swing, for the Losoong celebrations to be held in a couple of days; with music, dancing, food & drinks and a football tournament amongst village teams. We will miss all this but we’ve planned to catch the Chaam (monastic ritual dance) at Gangtok. 
Dupden drops us at the hotel by evening. It’s our first ‘proper’ room & bathroom in days! Our luggage is coated with a thick, stubborn layer of white dust, accumulated over the past week…I set about wiping it off. Some hot tea, paneer and onion pakoras later, we walk to MG Marg to stroll & relax. I really enjoy this pedestrianised road, with shops & fountains lining it….wish we had something like this back home! That night, as I snuggle under my blanket with a hot-water bag thoughtfully provided by the staff; a sense of contentment sweeps over me. From tomorrow begins the second half of our journey, in Gangtok & West Sikkim. 

Curious to know more about Sikkim, our trip & our itinerary? Read on:

About Sikkim & Our experience:

Itinerary, useful information & tips:

Sikkim Diaries – 2 (Gangtok, again & West Sikkim): Coming soon