30 June, 2015

The Himalayan odyssey

Incredible India has a million hidden surprises, waiting to be discovered. It was our turn to discover one such in the northeast of India ... we were treated to a sublime exposition of nature, in all it’s glory. Sikkim, the land of peace and tranquility, had us transfixed with it’s Himalayan charms!

It was thanks to my wife Yamini’s efforts & planning that this trip happened. She had done the entire trip planning down to the last detail. A Planner to the financial planner! My sister-in-law’s family too, were with us. That ensured that we had good company & a great time.

Our first stop was to be Darjeeling. We were to fly to Bagdogra and then head for Darjeeling. The flight was from T2 – Mumbai International Terminal. The terminal is exquisite and simply world-class. It’s a better terminal compared toT3 in Delhi, though T3 is expansive.

T2 has a full-fledged museum housed between check-in and baggage claim
area. It has 7000 artifacts along a 3 km long wall ! The highlight for me was the representation of the cosmos on the wall facing the lounge area. It had a beautiful representation of the various constellations in the sky – all aesthetically done and tastefully executed.

We flew Vistara this time, with it’s spanking new planes. The staff were nice. Their uniform designer had pulled a fast one on them, though – their uniform looked dowdy and in need for an uplift! The first touchdown was at Delhi. From Delhi, it was a hopping flight to Bagdogra via Guwahati.

Bagdogra is a defence airport open to commercial operations. From there we had arranged for a vehicle to Darjeeling, which was our first port of call. We had momos and chai on the way.

Darjeeling was an amazing place with the clouds floating about and serenading us in it’s cool embrace. Walking among the clouds was magical – we felt like devas in Indralok!

In this Indralok, we were housed in RJ Resorts – a good joint with comfy rooms and decent food. After dinner, myself, Yamini and her sister ( Ramya ) went for a walk, as others chose the comfort of the warm room. It was niceand soothingly cool. There were eerie stretches with the wind bringing in the mist and clouds, making it look like the scene from Madhumati. I could almost hear Ghadi Ghadi mera dil dhadke !
Darjeeling sightseeing included Ghoom monastery, where we saw some boys to be ordained as monks, kicking a ball around and having fun. Batashia Loop was another location which houses a war memorial and also had a toy train that is one of the highlights of Darjeeling.

We went to Padmaja Naidu Zoo which was compact, clean & inviting. The weather was nice and it started to rain, adding to the allure. The zoo housed snow leopard, red panda, clouded leopard, Tibetan Wolf, Asiatic Bear etc. & many birds too. It had climate controlled chambers to house snakes. Overall a nice, well maintained place.

We went to a couple of more places before embarking on the long ride to Gangtok. The place we were to stay was Juniper Tree, which evoked visions of a resort set inside a wooded park. The reality was decidedly harsh, with the place bang in the midst of the concrete uglies, in the centre of Gangtok! The rooms were OK. But it had lodge feel to it and we felt completely let down.

Gangtok is set on the mountainous terrain and one needs to constantly keep climbing up and down here. We were taken to Ban Jhakri waterfall, a place developed into a paradise! There are thousands of such waterfalls across the country, but none so beautifully & aesthetically developed. I would say this is one of the most memorable places we visited in Sikkim.

Ban Jhakri, as the legend goes, is a shamanic deity of the Nepal Tawang people. Ban Jhakri is a short, wild simian who is a descendent of the Sun. Ban Jhakri abducts children who have potential to be good shamans and gives them training, in his cave. His consort Lemlemme, however has evil designs and devours the children, which the Ban Jhakri will need to protect. If they survive, the children become great Shamans, as legends go!

We went to Chortan Stupa, which had 108 prayer wheels around it. One is supposed to rotate each prayer wheel as one goes around the Stupa, thereby completing one’s prayer. Not much to see, but a very serene place. We visited the Institute of Tibetology, where we saw a museum of Tibetan iconography & religious art, the largest collection of Tibetan works outside Tibet. I found it very interesting, though our children panned it ( and were out in 30 seconds !). We must have gone to another half a dozen buddhist monasteries/ stupas... all serene placeswhere the stillness of the place was magical & peace almost palpable.

The next stop was a flower show which had a good collection of orchids, though the exhibition centre itself was pretty small. Presented good photo ops though!

The other memorable trip was to Nathula. The ride up was fairly long –probably three hours, with a stop between. In that stop in the wilderness, they sold tea, samosa, Maggi etc. ( we went in the precontroversy period! ) They also had gloves, shawls etc. They warned that we may require something really warm, which we put down to sales talk. But then, we were soon to be proved wrong! After about another 45 minutes of ascent, we reached Nathula. Boy, was it cold?
You bet!
We went up to see the Indo China border. There were buildings on our side and some more on their side, with a barbed wire to separate the two countries. The barbed wire was just two strands... not like what we see on TV, as exists between India & Pakistan. Ofcourse, there are soldiers on either side and hence the flimsy fence was more symbolic than an actual instrument of protection.

When we saw the soldiers there, we felt a lump in our throats. They were there throughout the year in a place which was bitingly cold & hostile – it was about 2 degrees Centigrade at 1 PM! And there was a steady wind blowing, which made the ambience a lot colder than it was. Many actually saluted them, which included yours truly. The patriotic feelings were stirred in our breasts!

After this we drove to Babaji ki mandir. Legend has it that this soldier, Harbhajan singh, was posted near Nathula and had fallen into a Nullah due to inclement weather & perished, while accompanying a mule column. He came in the dream of a fellow soldier & appraised him of what had happened and had wanted a Samadhi erected. A Samadhi was erected as per his wishes. A temple was later constructed which is Babaji Mandir. Legend has it that he still patrols the border ( various people have seen a man on a steed, in border areas ) and he is said to protectthose in the border. In his mandir, there are three rooms. In the first is his photo, along with Sikh Gurus & Hindu deities. There is another personal room and an office room. It is believed that water kept in his shrine has the power to cure diseases. The legend lives on...

We passed by the Tsomgo Lake. This lake freezes over in winter, we heard. Nothing spectacular here, except for a photo-op on the back of a Yak!

The next day we went to Kalimpong. We drove along the Teesta river most of the way, which was in full flow. The approach to our hotel was through highly crowded bylanes. The drivers here & in Sikkim were very skilled at navigating through such narrow lanes & bylanes. They have very good understanding among themselves. No frantic honking, no road rage... not even a whisper! That was a surprise for a Mumbaikar!

In Kalimpong we visited a Botanical Garden, which was reasonably well maintained. We could have done para- gliding here, but there was no time. The next stop was the famed Cactus Garden. Here there different types of Cacti in special enclosures, which trapped the heat! There were spherical cactiwhich were 20 inches in diameter! We visited a couple of other places in Kalimpong before we headed for the airport the next day.

The drive to the airport was an edge of the seat affair, as the vehicle came late and there was lot of traffic along the way. We reached in the nick of the time. We heaved a sigh of relief when all formalities were done, including security check. We were sitting down for a snack when I discovered that my boarding pass was missing! Frantic searches on my person yielded, everything else – but the elusive boarding pass!

I had to go back to the security check counter and request them to check if my pass has fallen down by mistake. Itwasn’t there. I just again checked the bag I was carrying. They had asked me to remove water bottles which we were carrying. It was there! Whew!!!

The flight back to Mumbai was uneventful and we landed this time at the Domestic Terminal. It was a wonderfulexperience. We had seen the serene, sublime & the enchanting sights, in Sikkim & Darjeeling. We had experienced the mighty Himalayas. It’s always awe inspiring, those mountains. We have left them behind, but we carry a thousand memories to treasure for a lifetime!

Experience captured for posterity by - Suresh Sadagopan!

Also Read: Baroda Trip Diary

No comments: