Sikkim Episode (S01E02): Reaching Sikkim

From Delhi, we had a flight to Bagdogara airport on 18th May. We decided to reach Delhi couple of days earlier and roam around some nearby places (which can be accommodated in different post). So let us fast-forward to the Delhi airport.

There we were, one hour early, sitting idle. You can’t be creative on Indian airports, even a chips could cost you 300 INR, so I thought of suppressing my shopping steak and sit somewhere quietly with a cup of coffee (which also did cost 60 INR, but when you are at airport its good to flaunt – parsimoniously). Finally, it was the time. We were very excited. Well, the itinerary was: New Delhi – Gangtok –  Lachung – Gangtok – Darjeeling – New Delhi.

The flight was of GoAir and fortunately it was on time, so we reached Bagdogra on time – at around 2:45 PM. In-flight services were decent enough, with GoAir girls walking through aisle. One can see Himalayan Ranges, with snow covered peaks visible from your windows. Himalayas have always excited me (I even plan to settle there after my retirement). After reaching Bagdogra, which is the nearest airport to Sikkim, we went towards exit trying to call our tour manager. But to our surprise, I saw my name board, and we approached him.

“Good Afternoon, sir. We will wait for your fellow passengers and then we will leave for Gangtok via Siliguri”, he told us.

In another 10 minutes, there were five more people standing near MakeMyTrip board. Two couples and a single soul. As soon as they were settled with all their after flight nature’s call, all of us went to the parking area. There were three cars, so we were given our personal car – it was Mahindra Xylo (Aha, one of my favorite SUVs). Bagdogara airport has its gate as a bottleneck to the process, which creates traffic in and around the airport. The exit gate is very narrow, that only one car can pass at a time and they take toll from each and every car at the gate, so it was a hell of a traffic and we got stuck into the airport for one hour.

Once we passed this gate, we speeded towards our restaurant which was in Siliguri. Road was good with scenic views of distant mountains and plain woods surrounding the roads. Restaurant was nice; after completing our lunch, we all gathered in a hall area where our tour guide Sunny came in and gave an introductory speech.

“So first of all, welcome everybody. There are two separate teams for hereon, as one is of Lachen and other is of Lachung. Let us start with some paperwork which is required to enter these two places”

We went forward one-by-one and gave our Id proofs (Lachung has Army check post at Nathu La Pass as well as for Baba Mandir, where we need to have permit for entering these places). After this brief discussion, we were assigned our respective cars (I had the same Mahindra Xylo, thank god).

Before leaving Siliguri, its better idea to buy bananas and litchi. Litchis are awesome here. Time to reach Gangtok from Siliguri is around four to five hours (sunny day scenario), so its always better to have some snacks with you.

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Mountains guarding you all the way

Best part of any voyage is always the path we follow, not the destination. Road consists of dozens of hairpin bends, and steep roads with lot of traffic as a topping. Gaining the height gradually, the road runs along Teesta river. Crossing a bridge on the river Teesta, we enter Sikkim with Kalimpong is the first city. Mountains guard you on one side and Teesta watches for you on the other. It feels like you are going in the lap of mother nature. Cold breeze adds the diamond on the golden ring, as if welcoming you to its land with both the hands open. God, I can still feel that scene; till the time I was already in love with Sikkim.

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Bridge Crossing Near Siliguri

We stopped at Rangpo village. There was a small bazaar where we had a tea and attended nature’s call. It was still one and half hour journey from there. Finally, we were at the foothills of Gangtok and what’s that – A casino (that will be a spot to visit – Indians always search for casino even in the country, whether it is Sikkim or Goa). I had learnt and practiced Blackjack, Roulette wheel and poker during my MBA classes (everything happens for a good reason, I thought). By the time these thoughts flew, we were into the city – Gangtok.

Sikkim Episode (S01E01): Pre-Sikkim Drama

                              “Family that travels together, stays together”. Travelling is an integrated part of any family, especially when you are born in a Gujarati family (and I am not telling just because I am affiliated to one, but it is universal fact that in whichever corner of the world you travel, you will find some Gujarati family shouting. Actually that’s their regular tone of talking, so don’t worry).

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               When I was a child, we used to travel around India during most of the vacations. Finally, as I had completed my MBA and there was a quiet a long vacation between joining date, we decided to go somewhere. It was a month of April; so we decided on going to some hill stations. After a long streak of searches we finally shortlisted three places: Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim (priorities in descending order). Yes, Nepal was at the number one priority. One of the reason for Nepal was the natural beauty of the places it offers and the other reason was that I wanted to travel outside of India because I didn’t get that chance till now. Nepal – Done.

                  After selecting the destination, I went forward and started searching for the best available travel company (given one fact, I don’t like tour packages on my solo travels, but if family is concerned it’s better to have predictable and hazardless journey). There were many tour operators which were providing Nepal tour of 7 days: Yatra, Kesari, Travelguru, MakeMyTrip etc. I finally ended up selecting MakeMyTrip based on the reviews and also it had its office near to our home.

                   We selected Nepal package, starting ex-Delhi on 27th April, 2015 (recalled something? That big disastrous earthquake which shook entire country on 25th April, 2015). Tour was starting from Delhi, so we left our home town – Rajkot – to go for Ahmedabad from where we had our flight to Delhi on 25th April.  We were at my cousin’s place when we got to know about the earthquake, some four hours before our scheduled flight to Delhi. Initially no one knew that the intensity was that great, so we called MakeMyTrip and asked if the tour is cancelled. They initially told that everything is normal and the tour will start on schedule. But after one hour we got a call from Delhi MakeMyTrip office that unfortunately all the packages of Nepal was cancelled due to closure of Kathmandu airport and collapse of many historical structures in Nepal. It was our breathtaking escape (We initially thought of selecting a package of 23rd April, but it was clashing with my convocation date, which was on 24th, and so we selected 27th April).

                    We were sad; we wanted to see Nepal. But we were sadder for the people of Nepal, it was such a horrible incident nature had played. We went back to Rajkot the same day. The main thing is – you get calls from your relatives and neighbors asking questions and making you more depressed. And moreover your friends teasing you ‘how was Nepal?’ We coordinated with MakeMyTrip office of Rajkot. They are nice guys. They returned all our money to wallet, without even cutting the airplane fare. They asked us to select any alternate package.

                    There we were; again left with two options: Bhutan or Sikkim. Being enthusiastic of religions, I always had a penchant towards Buddhism. And Bhutan is the home to it, so I insisted for Bhutan. Unfortunately, tickets to Bhutan were skyrocketing. Bhutan has only one airport in Paro, and most of the travelers were shifted for Bhutan from Nepal in-between this time. So we were left with only one option – Sikkim (and no one knew at the time that this will be blessings in disguise)

                      Finally, it was Sikkim starting from 18th May, 2015. We prayed to god that we don’t want any surprises now, let this trip be hassle-free. But god always have plan B, life is so unpredictable (we will prove this as we go further). All bags packed and we were ready to start a voyage.