FMLM – Gangtok Calling – By Sriram Sankaran

For someone from Tamil Nadu who hadn’t ventured further north but for a visit to Mumbai, Sikkim seemed really far away. With a toddler at home, we were skeptical about her adjusting to the altitude and cold weather. We waited till she turned three, and decided that it was to be destination Gangtok that year.

A first flight ride for my daughter, my wife and me seemed to be more excited than she was! Each time we said, “You are going to go in a plane”, she was all thrilled though we wondered if she really understood!

We were to fly from Chennai to Bagdogra airport, a main airport when you plan a trip to the Northeast. We thought checking in would be the easiest part, but not when your 3-year old sees her bag which contained her favourite teddy go off in the check-in luggage belt. It took a while to convince her that her teddy would join us when we landed! And, yes, there was a joyous “Teddy reunion” at Bagdogra airport.

Day 1 - Reaching Gangtok

Gangtok was a 5-hour drive from the airport. We had an early morning flight from Chennai, so it was 2 pm when we got started in our Wagon-R. The drive until Siliguri was extremely hot. 

We were hoping for cooler weather, having come from Chennai to escape the heat there. I guess we needed to be a little patient. Further from Siliguri, suddenly the landscape changed. The road was dotted with huge trees on both sides. The weather got cooler. It was a welcome change.

We took a break at a bridge across the River Teesta. The mountains in the backdrop, the setting sun, its rays reflecting on the river water, it was all simply magical. We drove for two hours with the river accompanying us before we crossed a check post. 

By the time we reached Gangtok, it was night. We headed straight to our hotel for some hot dinner before crashing for the day.

Day 2 - Tsongmo Lake

At 7 a.m. sharp, our driver was ready to pick us up for our visit to Nathula. With a breakfast of bread and jam in hand, we started off. Enroute, we stopped at a beautiful spot to have our refreshments. I was simply thrilled at the thought of being at 12ooo ft above sea level.

We drove on to Tsongmo Lake. It was much colder now than when we started off. Tsongmo Lake was beautiful. The crystal clear water tempted me to dip my hand in. I reached out, only to find it freezing! But I must add that it felt very refreshing.

My daughter was thrilled to see the yaks around the lake, where kids were taking rides on these huge animals. The yaks even had brightly knitted covers for their horns! At first, she was really apprehensive and the thought of riding one did not appeal to her. Gradually, her fear gave way to curiosity, willingness, and eagerness and she was soon, ready to be seated on one. An absolutely thrilling experience!

From there we drove to Baba Mandir, short for Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir, which was at about 13,000 ft. Though, Baba Harbhajan Singh, a sentry of the Punjab Regiment stationed along the border area, passed away many years back; it is believed that he is there in spirit and guards that area. The temple we visited was the New Baba Mandir, constructed in 1982, for the convenience of tourists. The original temple is further up near Nathang Valley where the terrain is not very friendly.

We had to change vehicles on the way to Nathula. Only authorized vehicles are allowed. When we reached there, the temperature had dropped to 2 deg. A mild drizzle made it seem even colder. We could see snowcapped mountains all around. We reached the border between India and China. Both country army personnel were stationed on either side. It was overwhelming to see the Indian army jawans, brazing the conditions that these high altitudes are subject to, working ceaselessly to protect our nation and keep us safe. 

We spent a memorable one hour there before heading back to Gangtok. There were no shops or eateries on the way except for a few small huts where you could buy noodles, biscuits and the much needed garam chai!

It was a journey of much needed digital detox, which was well enforced. No mobile signals, no networks, no wifi! We could completely enjoy our family holiday together.

Day 3 - Exploring Local Attractions

This was the day we decided to explore the local places. The city roads and streets were very clean, which was really nice to see. We were more east, so it was bright outside by 5 am. We set off after an early breakfast.

Dressing like the locals

Our first stop was the Ropeway ride. The bird’s eye view of the city and its surroundings sprawled below made for an enjoyable ride. My daughter didn’t want to get off and we wished it were longer.

Next we visited the peaceful Enchey Monastery and the museum there. 

From there it was off to Bakthang Waterfalls, where, in addition to enjoying the picturesque views and playing in the pools created by the waterfalls, we tried the traditional local attire.

We spent the evening in the city shopping mall, picking up some souvenirs for friends and family. We were pleasantly surprised to find a place there serving south Indian food and we feasted on idi-dosa and sambhar!

Enchay Monastery

We noticed that the locals were extremely warm and friendly. They were so ready to help. An enjoyable and memorable trip, we felt it had got over too soon, just like all vacations seem to do!

Some Travel Tips

  • Pack warm clothing
  • Get your permits in advance for Nathula
  • If traveling with kids, it is advisable to carry some food on the way to Nathula
  • Though we had our doubts before going, we were all totally comfortable throughout the travel and did not have any trouble adjusting to the altitude

Itinerary

You could plan to visit Gangktok and Darjeeling together, in a 5 night itinerary like below

DAY / TIME Morning Evening
DAY 1
Reach Bagdogra
Bagdogra to Gangtok via Siliguri
DAY 2
Tsongmo Lake, Baba Mandir
Nathula and return to Gangtok
DAY 3
Enchay Monastery, Ropeway, Ganesh Tok
Waterfalls, City Mall Road
DAY 4
Gangtok to Darjeeling, stop at Lopchu. Enjoy confluence of the Rivers Teesta and Rangit enroute
DAY 5
Tiger Hill, Mt. Kanchenjunga, Ghoom Monastry, Batasia Loop
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park

Chowrasta and Mall Road
DAY 6
Check out.
Head back home

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