The most memorable vacation that we have gone on, as a family, was the trip we took to Sikkim in the summer of 2010. It is a rare occasion that we are all together, it is rarer that we plan a trip, it is even more rare that said trip happens. In spite of various small obstacles – altercations with the travel agent, the almost-one-day-long flight delay, the confusion over the accommodations; it is still the trip I fondly look back on.
From Chennai, we flew to Delhi, and took a connecting flight to Darjeeling; hired a taxi and went up to Gangtok. The drive involved a few stops to allow me to throw up (hairpin bends don’t make me sick usually, that was a first – and I attribute it to the toilet I had to endure during a tea break). Looking out the window, I could feel the brisk wind blowing through my hair. I watched the Teesta river scurrying along the mountain – caressing the pebbles in its path. We reached our hotel late into the night, and fell asleep as soon as we fell on the bed.
This charming (two-star?) hotel was the kind where the owners wander about amicably and their daughter handles the reception desk. They made Maggi noodles for us on demand, and also served us hot stuffed mooli, gobi, and aloo parathas for breakfast. Even today, I can recall the taste of these parathas, there have been few since, which were able to match up to it!
There is an unassuming beauty about Sikkim – the Himalayan ranges where it is nestled, the people of the mountains whose everyday life involves arduous treks up and down the slopes but who always have a smile for you, the breathtaking views every time you step out.
Things we did:
Walking aimlessly in MG Marg (market street) and shopping for trinkets and souvenirs to bring back home (I still have the woollen scarf I got myself – it has served me well in the harsh winter of Chicago, as well as the freezing air-conditioning in Sathyam theatre in Chennai).
Cable car ride (my mother and brother are both afraid of heights, they did not want to look down).
View from the cable car
More aimless walking and a visit to a nearby temple.
HELICOPTER RIDE! (This was my first time in a helicopter. I had goosebumps when I saw the towering peaks below us. The guide pointed out Kanchenjunga and a few other peaks whose names escape me now.) Of course, the success of this ride depends on the weather, we had to postpone ours by a day owing to incessant rains.
The helicopter that took us above the Himalayan peaks
I do not have any pictures of the view from high above; I do not think I would be able to do it justice.
Rumtek monastery (a long walk from the gate at the entrance) and the adjoining museum – I am a big fan of museums, I am always feeling bad for not remembering all the things I read about the displays. Irrelevant note – I think the ticket to the museum also doubles as a picture postcard. It did feel a little disrespectful though, to walk amidst the monks sitting in deep meditation and silent prayer. There were a number of young boys too, running about in their trademark red robes, and peeking at the tourists shyly from behind pillars.
Tsongmo or Changu lake, Nathula pass which is the Indo-China border, and Baba Mandir (a shrine dedicated to a soldier of the Indian Army who was posted at Nathula, and who is said to guard the soldiers on duty here). I did see a patch of snow (another first) while driving to Changu lake! I made sure to get a picture taken, standing next to this melting puddle of snow. There are people living at such high altitudes too, I had somehow not imagined them carrying on with their lives this high up as well. They may not have plumbing, but they definitely had Tata Sky from the looks of the hundreds of dish antennas dotting the slopes!
Early morning drive through the misty mountains – Changu Lake seen in picture
The legend of Baba Mandir
Waterfalls (don’t know the name) – took us a long drive to get there; and some fun with traditional costumes (opportunity for a photo-op)!
Waterfalls (we got our feet wet)
Since I went with family, I did not get to sample the cuisine of the region; for they prefer to eat familiar food in far away places. Another time, maybe. We did shift to a four-star hotel during the later part of our vacation, I must confess I enjoyed our stay at the previous hotel more.
View from the car while driving back to Darjeeling (end of the trip) – River Teesta seen in picture
I kept feeling immense wonder and awe every time I realised I was still in India! The terrain was so different from what I had seen until then, the people look very different, I did not understand any of the languages being spoken. It goes to show how little I know my own country, and how often we take into account only the mainland when we think of India.