I never imagined that I would be back in the beautiful land of Sikkim so soon. Ok, let me tell you at the outset, no birds pix in this trip. This was a family trip with my wife and kid along with 3 other families.
It all began when my friends Naresh, Aravinda and Sandeep contacted me and asked if I was interested in joining them for a trip to West Bengal and Sikkim. There was no second thought for the answer. I contacted Asit of Help Tourism to get the bookings done. I had had a great trip to the same place last year through Asit and I knew I could bank on him for this trip. All the bookings and itinerary were ready by that evening and we were set for the trip.
Help Tourism was there to pick us up from New Jalpaiguri and take us to Darjeeling. It was a scenic route all the way to Darjeeling. We wanted to travel by the toy train but could not because of the timing. Our route was parallel to the train track, so we were not that disappointed but the pleasure of the toy train would have been something else. We reached by 4 pm, freshened up and had lunch. We spent the evening shopping around.
The next morning after breakfast we visited the Rock Gardens. It has a beautiful water falls with a well maintained garden. We spent about an hour at this place before driving to Mirik. It was a misty drive to Mirik. In between we had a brief stop and literally stepped into Nepal. There is this particular cliff beside the road; part of it in India and other part in Nepal. By afternoon we were at Mirik. Its more of a picnic spot with a Mela going on. By evening we were back in Darjeeling.
We were up by 3:30am and had to drive down to Tiger hill for the Sunrise. All the tourist vehicles were headed in that direction. No wonder we had to leave by 4am to beat the rush hour. I counted more than 100 vehicles parked at the top. By 5:50am the Sun was up, with its golden rays kissing the mountain top across the valley. We enjoyed the marvelous view and headed back towards the town for the Batasia Loop. From there we were able to have a glimpse of Mt.Khangchendzonga at a distance. After breakfast we left for Gangtok.
By afternoon we were at Gangtok and checked in to Hotel Sonam Palgey. We took some rest after lunch and went around MG Marg for some shopping. The next morning, we visited the Museum , Enchey Monastery, Cottage Industry and later headed for the Hanuman Tok in the afternoon. Its a beautiful view from atop Hanuman Tok. Because of the clouds, we missed Mt.Khangchendzonga view. On the way back, we went to the Zoo which has the Red Panda, Snow Leopard, Common Leopard, Himalayan Wolf, the Leopard cat and other mammals. The habitat of the zoo, built among the hills is a must see for visitors. We spent more time than planned at the zoo enjoying the beauty of the hills. By evening we were back at the hotel and celebrated the festival of lights - Diwali. The kids enjoyed the flowerpots and the rockets which was lit by the hotel staff.
The next morning was the journey we all had been waiting for - The Nathu La pass, border between India and China. Help Tourism had taken all the necessary permissions for us to go there. The journey was picturesque among the mountains with the Indian army camps all along the way. We were high up among the clouds and the beauty has to be experienced, cannot be written in words. We passed the picturesque Tsomgo lake and proceeded towards Nathu La. At 14,000 ft and a temperature of -4 Deg C with very cold breeze, it was a quite a challenge for me to carry my son and climb the steps all the way to the border. We were face to face with the Chinese troops and shook hands with them. We spent some time bearing the cold before heading back to the Tsomgo lake. This was the high point of our trip - both literally and figuratively.
This serene lake is situated at an altitude of 12,000 ft on the Gangtok Nathu La highway. The lake is about 1km long, oval in shape, 15 meters deep and is considered sacred by the local people. It is also a home for the brahminy ducks. It’s cool, placid water harmonizes with scenic beauty around. This placid lake remains frozen during the winter months up to mid May.
By evening we were back in the hotel and celebrated Diwali with our families. I was a bit excited for the next day’s trip as I was heading to Pelling, a birder’s paradise. By afternoon we were in Pelling, a bit ahead of schedule. And there was the magnificent Mt.Khangchendzonga showing off her beauty. Since there was no scheduled plan for the afternoon, I took Aravinda and his wife Hema, along with their kid to Sanga Choling Monastery. We wanted to see the sunset from there. I was so thrilled to be back in that place in less than a year. It brought back fond memories of our previous trip. I captured the wonderful scene of the golden rays falling on the peaks of the mountain.
The next morning we visited Khangchendzonga falls and from there went to Khechiperi Lake. Twenty kilometers beyond Pemayangtse at an altitude of 1,951 meters, this small and tranquil lake is a pilgrimage spot sacred to the Sikkimese Buddhists. Strangely, not a single leaf is seen floating on its waters. Legend has it that all day long, the birds of the forest dutifully pick them up. The whole area is also an excellent site for bird watching.
Later in the afternoon we were back at the hotel and after lunch headed off to Mt.Pandim hotel beside Pemayangtse Monastery. I wanted to visit this place to see the Sunset as this is where we had stayed during our previous visit. Located in the dense forest, this is an excellent place for bird watching/photography.
We spent some time capturing the beautiful sunset and visited Pemayangtse Monastery. Back at the hotel in the evening, we started packing as we had to head back to the busy life in Bangalore. Though I could not capture any birds, I was quite happy to have re-visited Sikkim.