Vacation is one of the rare phenomenon in a so-called busy lifeline. And the same is more prevailing in an entrepreneurial life. Life has become more stressful, complicated. We hardly have any time for self, family and children due to “always connected” life style. The medicine to have de-stressed is definitely a break from the daily routine. The Entrepreneurs like us always look forward to that break through vacation with family.
We have opted for exploring Silk Route and linked places in East Sikkim this year during summer. Last year also we took summer time for Vacation in Dooars, north Bengal.
The selection criteria of places was always little offbeat, Virgin places where people footfalls are little less. The life in crowded city like Kolkata has always been pissed off in daily routine and in effect the intention was to avoid places like hill stations like Gangtok and Darjeeling.
We had finalized to cover places like below route:
Kolkata – New Jalpaiguri – Silery Gaon – Aritar – Yakten – Rolep – Padam Chen – Nathang Valley – Juluk – New Jalpaiguri – Kolkata.
Due to work natures of the Entrepreneurial life, pre-planning is always difficult and in effect the finalization always happens at the last moment. Hence as usual train tickets were found to be unavailable. Premier trains like Darjeeling Mail, Padatik Express, Kanchankanya, Kanchanjangha etc were long wait listing and finally Shatabdi Express could be booked for the to and fro journey to New Jalpaiguri.
Our good old friend Mr.Narayan Pradhan from Pakyoung, Sikkim constructed the whole itinerary for the car, lodging/boarding (homestay) for us with all minute cares.
We had earlier visited Gangtok, Latchung (youmthang), Pelling, Ravangla etc and we all were excited to explore a different sector of Sikkim.
This is the time of Summer Vacation in schools for the kids and they were super excited with almost daily count down.
Packing, shopping, arrangements, verification of tour checklist were few ingredients of excitement.
Day 01 – 26-05-2016 (Kolkata to NJP)
Finally the day had arrived. We reached Howrah station by Uber by 12.30pm. The train was scheduled at 2.30pm.
Everything was on time. Shatabdi reminds me old Rajdhani chair car. Lunch was served hot immediately the train kicked off. It was a compact and heavy lunch with Rice, Roti, Dal, Chicken, Card and Ice crème. Snacks with tea were ready by 5pm. Evening teasers were soup and munching sticks. Finally dinner at 8pm with the repetition of lunch menu. By this time all passengers including us got irritated by the overflow of food and repetition of same lunch menu in dinner did not please anyone. Eight hours sitting journey sometimes very uncomfortable for kids and aged persons. Due course of the journey, we got introduced with different families and yes almost all are going for Vacation. And off-course everyone was Bengali. Arrival at New Jalpaiguri was spot on at 10.30pm. Our hotel was pre-booked near the station. We took two rickshaws and arrived at Hotel Holydon at a 10minutes distance. All of us were extremely tired and in effect deep sleep was spontaneous.
Day 02: 28-05-2016 (NJP to Sillery Gaon)
We were out of bed very early with the mobile alarm and all of us were ready by 8am by completion of showers and dressing. Mahindra bolero car was assigned for our ride to Sillery Gaon, our first destination in the trip. We started at around 8.30pm and took a break in Gautam Hotel for Breakfast. This hotel is very well known to me and every time I travelled Sikkim, stoppage here was quite obvious. Last year during Dooars tour, we had breakfast here as well and chosen menu was same -Aloo Paratha, Curd and Tea, Lassi for kids. Only missing elements were my father-in-law and mother-in-law. Last year we travelled together for Dooars and taken breakfast break in this restaurant itself. Unfortunately father-in-law left us heavenly last December and mother-in-law went to brother-in-law’s place in Hyderabad for a change. In effect our team in vacation is lesser and we will keep them missing throughout. My father will be missed out as well in every vacation since my inclination for travel is inherited from him (he left us in 2012).
Sillery Gaon, a small village at a height of about 6000ft in the Darjeeling district, West Bengal and surrounded by tall pine trees. Sometimes it is being lovingly called by the locals as “New Darjeeling”. The name “Sillery” is derived from the name of a plant that grows in abundance in the village. The place is located at a distance of around 6-8 km from Pedong. But this 6km is a nightmare by car. The road is not yet constructed and it is full of unstructured Stones, mostly it can be a trekking route by walk.
Sillery Gaon offers a magnificent view of the shimmering silver peak of Kanchanjangha, the third utmost peak in the world and the tranquility around entice.
Our booking was with Rajen Thapa Homestay. It was little downward from the road and we got placed at the 1st floor of the homestay with a charming balcony. Lunch was ready by the time we reached there. Rice, Dal, Sabji (Vegetable), Salad, Papa and Anda Curry (Egg curry) were served hot and made our lunch delicious as all of us were extremely hungry.
I met Gautam Chakraborty in Nirmala (The Homestay of Dilip Tamang). I got connected with him through a Bengali creative writing group “RoseBoshe” and discovered himself as a specialist Silk Route Tour Operator. He is my fellow neighbor in Bengal, but so passionate and dedicated to his customers / guests. He himself got stationed in Sillery Gaon to operate tours for the guests during season. My tour was pre-defined through someone else already. However would love to have his service in future.
Post lunch, we kept on roaming in and around of the village. It was drizzling by time. Tea and Pakoda were evening companions. As per process, dinner happened to be early by 9pm. Dinner was roti, Sabji, Chicken Curry. The evening and night had an extremely different ambience where the entire hill was flooded with small lights like firefly.
Day 03: 29-05-2016 (Silery Gaon to Aritar)
It was rainy night and our assumption was for a cloudy and foggy morning. In effect there was no plan for early wake-up and even mobile alarm clocks were nor set as well. But since very early morning, our sleeps were disturbed as we heard lot of people were chatting, moving around etc. Finally we woke up once we anticipated some whispering excitement in the people voice. It was 5.30am. We came out of the room and look forward from the balcony. It was clear sky and the entire range of hills were flashing as sunlight was reflecting on snow. It was amazing experience. As the day progressed, the cloud covered the entire range and by 7.30am almost nothing was visible.
Puri, Sabji and Tea were in breakfast. We were ready by taking early bath, packing etc and our car had arrived by that time. We started by 9.30am. Our destination is Aritar today. We visited a lonely monastery in Pedong on the way. It was drizzling almost throughout the journey. Aritar was around 3 hours journey.
We planned to complete the site seeing before checking in to the designated Homestay. We met Rishi Khola in between while entering Sikkim from Kalimpang.
Aritar is a small offbeat village in east Sikkim and it is famous for the lake. Aritar hosts the Lampokhari Lake, one of the oldest natural lakes in Sikkim located at an altitude of 4600 feet. A 1120 feet long and 240 feet wide boot-shaped Lampokhri Lake is also known as Aritar Lake and is surrounded by charming emerald green pine forests.
We directly went to the Mankhim View Point” at the hilltop. The lake was beautiful from the top in the midst of green, mountain and surely clouds. There was a small temple. Once we finished the temple visit and came back to see Aritar Lake once again, it was completely vanished behind the cloud. It was seemed like other than the temple on hilltop nothing else was surrounded ever. This is the magic by nature. We stepped down and approached for Aritar Lake to see from close proximity.
Finally around 3pm we reached at “Bokhim Village Resort”, our designated homestay 1.5km away from Aritar Lake. The resort was in the midst of hills, jungle. Entire range of mountain could be visible sitting in the balcony, or even from the window of the room. Madan Rai, the owner of the homestay is very friendly person. He likes to talk to his guests and aspire to delight them with value added services. He had appointed a Bengali Cook even to extend a better experience to his guests (most of people comes here are Bengali). He holds Orchid garden down in the slope of the mountain. All rooms in the three stored homestay are fully furnished with all modern amenities like television, attached toilet, Gezer, English style commode etc. There are arrangements for Campfire, Barbeque, Disk Jockey(DJ), Swings for kids and so on. Lunch, Evening Snacs, Dinner were almost in the same tune and routine of Sillery Gaon.
Day 03 : 30-05-2016 (Aritar to Yakten)
Today’s destination is Yakaten. It is three hours drive from Aritar. The destinations were chosen in such a way sothat longer travel through hilly roads could be avoided in order to make it more relaxed especially for old and young people (my mother and kids).
On the way we passed the proposed place of Pakyoung Airport. It will be an amazing destination surrounded by hills. The same is expected to be go live by 2017.
Gradually we approached towards Pakyoung Bazar and had a break. Agenda was to meet Mr.Narayan Pradhan in his ancient house and have a cup of tea. He is the conductor/narrator for our tour. Very nice, humble, gentle young gentleman with awesome hospitality. His house is one of amazing spot for tourists with huge antic stocks. The house is around 210 years old and he is the eighth generation residing in this house. The downstairs of the house was used to host a Jail in ancient days. However, presently the same area is rented for shops. We had carefully seen old telephone sets, radio, coins, lamps, horn of yak, stones, stamps, furniture and so on. We were greeted by fruit juice, tea, biscuits.
Afterwards we started for Yakten and reached by next one hour.
Yakten is a small village at altitude of approx 5000ft with the unbound beauty of pristine nature surrounded by tall pine trees and spectacular view of Mount Kanchenjunga. The place is also famous for orchid and cardamom cultivation almost everywhere at this hamlet. It is still virgin and not yet crowded like Gangtok. The location being near to the proposed airport, the site is going to be extremely important in terms of tourism. Government has already pointed it and started developing as a cluster. Yakten has its own natural charm and cultural significance. It is a perfect destination for those who want to explore the natural forest trail with Colour of rare species of butterfly and music of chirping birds by sitting in the lap of nature. 7 Kms nature walk to Jhandidara view point will surely make you feel a bit of adventure.
We were greeted in a very special tribal way in the Homstay Cluster (having eight home stay). Our stay was at Kothebari, run by Mr.VK Subbha. Again an awesome location. Without visiting any places, sitting in the balcony, lazy days can be passed by a true nature lover. In front entire range of mountains, surrounded by full of greeneries are visible. The land was owned by local tribes, but government had prepared the Staying arrangements, organic farming for fruits, vegetables, flowers. The owners are now operating it.
We again became mad by the continuous flow of foods. Lunch was finished at 3pm. Tea and Snacks (pakoda) were served at 5Pm and it was followed by Chicken Kababs. Dinner was served at 8pm. Gangtok and other hill stations were visible at the slope of the mountain and it was like millions of fireflies roaming around the hills. It was amazing with the pin drop silence. Little awkward was late evening Disk Jockey and dance with loud music and it was complete mismatch with the location. But people from city (Bengali only) still prefers to carry their colonial luggage of habits which keeps them busy with the external excitements and off course these delays to listen their souls to get peace / delight.
Day 04 : 31-05-2016 (Stay in Yakten)
We will stay today also to Yakten. Our driver Phurba Tamang joins us today. He will continue to stay with us till NJP return. He is very nice, simple, helpful young person like all other people from hills as usual. We have plans for local site seeing today. Firstly we visited “Saramsa Garden”. The Garden is fully flooded with flowers, fruits in the mid of beautiful nature. But this is a created beauty, not the natural ones like hills, trees, rivers.
Next spot was Rumtek Monastery. This is a repeat visit for us (except the kids) as we had visited from Gangtok during earlier travels to Sikkim. Surprisingly we found the entrance to the monastery was not permitted without valid identity cards. This was not known to us and we did not experience similar pattern during last visits as well. However, we managed it somehow and entered inside.
Rumtek Monastery is located at a distance of nearly 24 kilometers from Gangtok,as well as from Yaakten. Rumtek Monastery, also known as Dharmachakra Centre, is the largest monastery in Sikkim, and is the seat of the Karmapa Lama, who is the third highest monk in Tibetan Buddhism. The Monastery is an absolute feast to the eyes and creates an inner peace in the hearts of visitors.
Different sculptures, painting were there apart from the statue of Gautam Budhdha. Bouddha Lamas were performing Buddhist rituals towards the god. We came back to Yakten by 4pm. Hot lunch was felt extremely delicious as we all us were damn hungry. There was arrangement for Tribal Dance by local tribal youths. Local tribal songs, Nepali songs were performed along with dance by local youth.
Yakten festival is on the card in coming February (26th to 28th February). People here requested us to comeback during that time. Let’s see.
Winter will be more charming to cover Yakten. The mountains will be full of frost, entire valley will be flooded with flower and off course it will be immense cold.
Day 05 : 01-06-2016 (Yakten to Rolep)
We left Yakten by 10am today and started towards Rolep. It is again around 3 hours journey. Initially we visited “Naya Basti”, near to Yakten. This is the village of our Driver. This place is being prepared for site seeing (like picnic spots, park, view point etc) as a part of the cluster where Yakten will be lodging/boarding and this place for local site seeing. Our next stoppage was “Kartan Monastery”. It is very quiet and silent place in the heart of Hills and nature. Then as usual we drove through the hills and gradually reached upper Rolep. We had to stop as the road was ended there. Hilly River was accompanying us during the last lap of the ride. We were searching our Homestay as nothing was visible there apart from a closed government bungalow and unfortunately none of the mobile phones had signals to call up. Then suddenly a stony staircase downward at the edge of the road caught our attention. We followed the route and after few minutes of walk besides the river and through the hills, our Homestay was discovered. “Stoya Homstay” was placed just besides the river and surrounded by mountains and jungle. Very lonely place with the noise of river flow only. There is only one running homestay so far with three rooms for the tourists. But the location is amazing with most attractive part of “No Signal” (disconnected from the outer world). Post lunch we spent our leisure besides the river only and did a small trek to visit a hanging bridge which connects walking people between the hills on top of the river. Like all other Homstays, the hospitability was awesome as well. The food had invariably constructed through small tasty potatoes which were being produced in the slopes of hills.
The river is called “Lumphu Khola” or “Rolep Khola”. It is originated from Tshangue Lake and diminished at Teesta.
Day 06 : 02-06-2016 (Rolep to Padam Chen)
The river at Rolep is not a place for swimming, rafting etc as it flows through the hills and having huge amount of current inside. The beauty resides in the surrounding atmosphere and positioning of the Homestay.
We spent few more hours today morning in the bank of river before starting for Padam Chen.
We stopped at Rangoli for getting passes for “Silk Route”. Padam Chen will be the first place under silk route area. The places we visited so far are ancillaries to Silk Route.
Silk Route connects East Sikkim and Lasa at Tibet through Jelep La and Nathula passes. The historical significance of the Silk Route is of Eastern and Western civilization exchange – especially the Chinese, Indian, Persian, Arab, ancient Greek and Roman cultural exchange.
After Rangoli, we started driving upward through the circular path through the hills. Now onwards our journey will be upwards in high altitude.
Next break was at “Que Khola” in Nima Chen. It was a waterfall in the hills in the midst of nature. We had hot coffee in charming roadside and met Prema Sherpa. Prema runs a travels company and drive himself in his own car through hills to accompany his customers. Very passionate and big hearted young gentleman with extremely charming personality.
Our lodging, boarding today was booked at “Silver Wood Retreat” Homestay few crossing before Padam Chen Police Station. This Homestay is run by Penzo Lama and is situated in the slope of the hills. The location is superb and the mountains were visible sitting in the room itself. But the people like me, who had already spent time in Sillery Gaon and Yakten, will not have more excitement here. We met here two more gentlemen here who came as managers for two of the tour operators in Kolkata. One had diverted their route towards silk route since Lachung (Youmthang) and Lachen (Gurudongmar) routes were closed due to landslides for severe rainfalls. Other had destined for Silk Route only. 24 people in total in two groups (6 in one group and 18 in the other) were all Bengalies. I have discovered once again how Bengalis are passionate towards travels.
I visited a small monastery in the rainy afternoon by 30 minutes trek. Monasteries are as mysterious like mountains. I always wonder why monasteries are found only in hills and Buddhists are mostly discovered in hilly people.
Padam Chen is more of a halting station to cut short the long drives in Silk Route.
Day 07 : 03-06-2016 (Padam Chen to Nathang Valley)
Our destination today is Nathang Valley. Initially it was planned to stay in Juluk for two days and travel places from there. But afterwards Narayan Pradhan recommended to stay in Nathang Valley for one night and next day visit places and comeback to stay at Juluk. Juluk is only 9 kilometers away from Padam Chen.
We travelled through the famous Zigzag road and stopped first at Thambi View Point. Zigzag road was neither visible nor we could take any snaps due to heavy clouds. Same was at Thambi view point. It was 11200 feet altitude from the sea level. This is the place for sunrise over Mount Kanchenjungha and its allied peaks.
We stopped at several unknown places in between to cherish nature and take snaps in due course. Flowers, Yak and military were visible in almost every places. There were number of military training camps, bunkers on the way. We personally interrogated few of bunkers due to over enthusiasm.
Finally Nathang Valley found visible from the road. The location is like a flipped bowl (concave side of it). A valley with full of greens, surrounded by hills and in between some small homes (looked like toys from such a distance).
We proceeded further and reached Old Baba Mandir. The secular temple was prepared in memory of Harbhajan Singh (with signs of Hinduism, Shikh, Muslim and Christian).
Baba “Harbhajan Singh” was in the Indian Army during 1962 China-India War. The rumours are available among localites that he still spends his time and energy in the border to prevent the country from the enemies even after he was missing. He still reserves all the government facilities like salary, leaves, gradations, increment etc. One more Baba Mandir had been established later near Tsangu Lake for the convenience of the travellers coming through Gangtok.
On completion of site seeing we came down to the Nathang Valley and checked in to our designated “Sonam Homestay”. This is the best Homestay in terms of service and attitude. We were only boarder in that day and in effect they offered us two rooms out of three available rooms even if we had booking for only one room. Due to high altitude my wife and kids had some difficulties and the owner Lakpa Sherpa jumped into resolution for the same like some local medicines, specific foods to control the situation.
It was extremely cold in the night. Two blankets were also not sufficient to protect apart from normal winter wares.
Day 08 : 04-06-2016 (Nathang Valley to Juluk)
Today’s schedule was little hectic. After breakfast we went for Kupup Lake, Tsangu Lake and New Baba Mandir. Morning breakfast was masala noodles. First stop in the site seining was Kupup Lake. It was 7-8 Kilometers away from Nathang Valley. Kupup Lake was to be viewed from the roadside on top of hills. Going near to it was not permitted being the same is in military area. Kupup Lake looks like elephant trunk and in effect it is also termed as “Elephant Lake”.
Interestingly Snow was visible at the hill top on the surroundings. Gradually we approached, the snow summits were clearly visible as well. Few unknown lakes, viewpoints got passed before we faced one more surprise. It was Sherthang and we found gathering due to latest snow accumulated roadside mountain wall. We were bound to stop. Kids were super excited. We enjoyed, played, took snaps.
We proceeded further and next halt was new baba Mandir. After baba mandir, final stop was Tsangu Lake. This is one of most spectacular landscapes of Sikkim. We visited this place twice earlier in 2002 and 2005. The beauty was more natural those times as it is converted into more commercial.
Tsomgo Lake or Changu Lake is perched within mountains at an altitude of 12,400 ft. This is located at Gangtok – Nathula Highway, 37 kms away from Gangtok. With a depth of around 48 feet and spreading over 1 kilometre, the magnificent Changu Lake romances with its picturesque surrounding. The water of the lake comes from the melting of the snow of its surrounding mountains. This azure blue lake remains completely frozen during winter along with its surrounding hills. In late spring, the lake gets surrounded with rhododendrons, blue and yellow poppies with a breathtaking effect.
We spent time near the lake and the market. Kids had photo sessions with Yaks (dressed with fashion wares)
Nathula pass is one more attractive destination through a diversion road in between Tsomgo Lake and New baba Mandir. We did not visit this time as different passes needed and it is at higher altitude. The border checkpost at Nathula Pass is marked by the Border Gates of India and China, a war memorial and an Exhibition Centre of India Army. Nathula Pass is a mountain pass in Eastern Sikkim, on the Indo-Chinese border that serves as the trade link between India and China. Nathula Pass nestled at an elevation of 14,140 feet and ranks amongst one of the highest passes accessible by tourists through motorable road.
Return path from Changu Lake towards Zuluk was re-visiting the places we already covered as we had to cover the same route which we had already travelled (Changu – Baba Mandir – Kupup – Nathang – Zuluk).
Zuluk is a hilltop and a transit point within the Silk Route. Zuluk or Dzuluk is a small village located at a height of around 10,100 feet on the rugged terrain of the lower Himalayas in East Sikkim. It is relatively an emerging and offbeat destination in East Sikkim. The road through Zuluk makes almost 32 hairpin turns. Zuluk has got diversity of Himalayan fauna. Zuluk hosts an Indian Army base as a transit camp for the army movement to the Chinese border.
Day 09: 05-06-2016 (Juluk to NJP)
Mukhiya Home Stay,run by Sukbahadur Mukhia was our den in Zuluk. The positioning of the homestay was again in the midst of hills and lush greeneries. But Sillery Gaon and Yakten wins the race in terms of the positioning and sipping nature from the lap of Rooms/Balcony. The hospitality is again superb. The kids of sukbahadur jelled well with our kids.
Our journey in hills is going to end today. We will get down and reach Silligury. The journey is around 5 hours and we started around 10am.
After certain time Teesta started accompanying us through the hills downward.
We took a lunch break at Malli and purchased Lollypop (special lollypop made from Milk), Achar (Made from Bamboo Shoot) as a special locally manufactured items.
We have reached our relative’s place by 4pm at Silligury. Last year also we came here at the end of Dooars trip. But two people are no more from last year gathering – Jethi (Anti) and my father-in-law. Jethi (Aunty) was very unwell last year. She was surviving with external support as her own lungs was not functioning. This time the house looked like very empty. The big three storied house was only having three persons – Rana Da, Boudi and their little cute kid. My grandfather was the elder brother of Ranada’s Grand Mother. Spending time with near and dear ones are always refreshing and food arrangements by boudi was awesome as usual.
Day 10 : 06-06-2016 (NJP to Kolkata)
We had to start very early today (4pm). Rana da personally taken us to the station with his car.
Anyway the train started as per schedule at 5.35am. We did not have any glitches like last year since all our seats were confirmed.
Food was awesome as well. We reached howrah at 2.30am (one hour late). And on reaching, same propblem of getting Taxi got repeated. I still wonder why gateway location like howrah is not planned properly for transportation.
We are back in our home town and daily routing will follow now onwards.
And finally my vacation ended with lot of energy and refreshments. As per my personal rating Sillery Gaon, Yakten, Rolep and Nathang Valley are four places chronologically in terms of natural beauties in my eyes. I aspire to go back to these places in winter in sometimes of my life to cherish more magic of hills. Like Paren (as mentioned in my last year Dooars blog) I dreamt of having entrepreneur’s outbound meet / Bootcamp of 3 days in Rolep. Yes costing will be high and as I know assembling all people (atleast 10) is always difficult. The disconnected world of Rolep will enforce the entrepreneurs to exchange thoughts / ideas/ strategies and outcome is bound be great. North Bengal and Sikkim hills are awesome destination with extreme varieties and natural beauties.
Anyone feels to visit the same route (as per my flow), the total coting will be around INR 10000 to 12000 (USD 150 to USD 225) per person per day (here it was 8 night 9days tour in American Plan – all food inclusive with Dedicted CAR). All remote/offbeat places are typical village places and most of the accommodation facilities are traditional homestays, but rooms will come with modern/western attached bathroom with neat/clean facilities. All places may not have geyser facility but if you are in need of hot water you can ask your concerned homestay operator for the same and they would make it available in buckets. All homestays serve 1 time veg meal and 1 time non-veg meal. Veg meal generally comprises of egg curry rice with dal, achar, salad, papad and few vegetable items. Non-veg item includes mainly chicken curry with rice or chapatis since fish are not available in many places. In the breakfast general option is between either chapatti with vegetable item or Puri with sabji item etc. The charges includes every expenses (early morning tea, breakfast, lunch, evening tea/snacks and dinner), lodging (homestay accommodation with attached western style bathroom), transport charges , all applicable permits, taxes, service charge) in all the places along with Car (NJP to NJP). Kolkata to New Jalpaiguri and return charges by train/air will be extra on actual as per individual choice.
My sincere thanks to the readers for patience to read this Photo-Essay on Silk Route Tour. Look forward towards your valuable feedback.
Detailed photo album and videos will be published soon.