A Sikkim saga

Here you’ll discover that life can be slow, simple and stress-free

Sikkim is the ultimate summer getaway for those who want to chill in the quiet company of great weather, the mighty Kanchenjunga mountains, hot momos, and the book you promised yourself you’d to finish. Of course, from the moment we landed in Gangtok, the capital, it was all but a quiet holiday.

As the ‘seasoned’ travellers in the gang, everyone looked to my husband and me for travel guidance. With self-assumed smugness, we attempted to gather the group for some order. But we quickly realised it was a pointless exercise. So, we laid to rest our ‘plans’ and let Sikkim take over.

For the next five days, the Northeastern state, with its mountainous terrain, gurgling brooks, quaint cafés, rustic home stays, and endless alpine meadows took over our senses, in every possible way.

Our first halt was Rumtek monastery, the largest in Sikkim, about 24 kilometres from Gangtok. Be prepared for a slightly steep climb, of about half a kilometre, from the base to the main monastery, but it is worth the effort.

Adorned with colourful murals and art work, the monastery is a stunning showcase of traditional Tibetan art and architecture. It houses a golden stupa, containing the relics of the 16th Karmapa, who rebuilt the monastery that was in a shambles when he arrived here from Tibet in 1959. This is a must-see place for those who love history and seek solitude, despite the steady stream of tourists. While here, don’t forget to take in the panoramic view of the valley from the first floor of the monastery. You may also try your hand at throwing coins atop a tall pillar and get your wishes fulfilled!

Then we stopped by at the Saramsa garden, 14 kilometres from the city. It was originally established in 1922 for fruit cultivation for the local royal family and British officers, before it became a public garden. The garden offers you a green lung space, inviting you to spread your picnic basket and bask under the mild sun.

As the next day was going to be a long and tiring one (after all, we were going to see the famous Nathu La), we wrapped up soon, albeit reluctantly, and headed back to our guest house. Unfortunately, we did not get the requisite permit from the Tourism Department to visit Nathu La, the corridor that connects India with the Tibet Autonomous Region.

In the cold

Hugely disappointed, we drove to Tsomgo lake, which is on the way to Nathu La. The two-hour ride was breathtakingly beautiful at every turn, though the traffic snarl was a tad annoying. At the lake, we were welcomed by a draught of biting cold air. Here is where you need all the winter paraphernalia, as the temperature dips really low even in summer (at an altitude of 3,753 metres). After clicking pictures next to colourfully-dressed yaks, against the backdrop of misty mountains flanking the lake, and gobbling piping hot noodles in one of the many kitchens that dot the road, we were over the Nathu La fiasco.

We would have missed seeing the Ban Jhakri (meaning ‘jungle priest’) falls, very close to Gangtok, had it not been for the friendly taxi driver who insisted we visit the place. The 100-foot waterfall, located inside a wooded area with paved pathways, footbridges, gazebos and a shamanistic theme park, was a big hit. A stay in Gangtok is incomplete without the customary visit to the squeaky-clean MG Marg, the main marketplace in the city with souvenir shops and momo stalls. We were here almost every evening to savour the sights and sounds. If you love your books with coffee, do not miss the iconic Rachna Books, on top of Café Fiction, not too far from MG Marg. This place is a cultural hotspot in Gangtok, regularly hosting writers, bakers and musicians.

For the last leg of the trip, we drove all the way from East Sikkim to Rinchenpong, a quiet town in West Sikkim, where we stayed in a rustic farmhouse. We finally managed to catch some leisure time here, eating farm-fresh food, strolling lazily to a nearby school, watching the local kids play football, and realising that life can be simple, slow-paced and uncomplicated.

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