A travelogue of a nomadic soul who came across his zenith of enlightenment in the hills of Sikkim, the northeast border state of India.
“Not everyone will understand your journey. That’s okay. You’re here to live your life, not to make everyone understand.” –Banksy
On 14th April 2019, the journey started. I was ready with my backpacks and prepared to onboard an uber along with my friends at around 5:43 p.m. in the afternoon. We all were very excited because it was our first time together with all our batchmates for an outstation trip out of Kolkata.
Our train was scheduled to leave from Kolkata Station at around 9:30 p.m. in the evening. As we had reached the station quite early we decided to wait for the others at the VIP sitting area at the station premises. By around 7:40 p.m. everyone arrived and our presence was marked by our teachers who were accompanying us on the trip. Food packets for dinner were served and then at around 9 pm, we queued up at the platform to board our train Garib Rath to New Jalpaiguri station. After some time the train arrived at the platform and we all hurried up to get our things sorted. At around 9:35 p.m. our train started off from Kolkata Station. It took some time for all the students to settle down. Everyone arranged their seats in a manner so that they could sit with their friends and similarly I and Ishani also managed our way to have seats next to each other.
Quite naturally, due to the excitement, none of us was at all sleepy and everybody got busy talking about their plans and thinking about what they would be doing when they finally reach Sikkim. At around 12 o’clock at midnight, we finally decided that we have to sleep because the next day would be a very busy day for all of us and some rest would definitely help us get through with it.
It was around 6:30 am the next day when I woke up and our train was yet to reach New Jalpaiguri, so I got myself into finishing some work for one of our clients as almost no one else had woken up. As a freelance writer, I do not have much pleasure of not working for a single day but I really love what I do and so it keeps me going.
After some time a few of our batchmates started waking up and the others who hadn’t were forced to wake up by their friends. I and Ishani then went towards the compartment gates to witness the beautiful greenery of North Bengal and how mesmerizing the scenery was. As far as our eyesight could reach we could only see lush green trees and bushes with a few farm patches here and there. It was still quite early in the morning and farmers were just getting out of their homes to get on with the day’s work.
Then we heard from the people around and from our friends at the compartment that New Jalpaiguri Station (NJP) wasn’t far and we were about to arrive at the station within a few minutes. So we started arranging our luggage, and meanwhile, our train slowly moved into the NJP station. We got down from the train and together headed towards a restaurant named “MUMPI”. Aloo and puri were ordered for breakfast for all. We filled our stomachs quickly so that we could board the mini-busses headed to Gangtok and start off with the journey as soon as possible.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.– Lao Tzu
At 10 am in the morning four mini-busses were boarded by all the students and teachers and we left the NJP station premises and started the journey towards our destination. After almost one and a half hours of moving within the busy city roads of New Jalpaiguri, suddenly we entered into some uneven plains. The roads around us were not as straight as we were used to in the plains. The road started to bend as it was slowly moving upwards and was beginning to become steeper and steeper.
We all were literally very pleased to witness all the green around us compared to the rustic view of city life at NJP station just a few moments earlier. And in no time our droopy figures got back it’s life and turned into happy faces. But the final show-stopper arrived when we got to see the mighty river Teesta.
” No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” – Heraclitus
I had never seen the river Teesta so closely before. I used to listen to many stories from everyone but the beauty of the river has been beyond any description of the world. Our busses took a little halt at a small roadside restaurant after a few hours of journey and we all got down to gorge on a few snacks. By now we were surrounded by mountains all around us. We could see cars that looked like tiny toys moving on the mountain path on the other side from where we were standing.
The world that we were visualizing there, everyone quietly wished if the time could be stopped and we could just stay there amidst the beauty of the green nature forever. But we had to keep going. We had to get up on our busses again to move towards our destination.
“The mountains are calling and I must go.” – John Muir
As we had come to the district of Kalimpong, we reached a point in Rangpo where two roads separate out at two different destinations. One reaches Gangtok, the capital city of Sikkim and the other heads to Darjeeling. Our vehicles turned towards the road that moved towards Sikkim. If you would like to visit Darjeeling then you would have to take the other road.
At 4:30 pm we had reached our hotel situated at the heart of the hilly city of Gangtok!
We kept our luggage in our respective rooms and quickly freshened up so that we could set out to visit the Malle and return back to the hotel before it got too late. My body was slowly adapting to the pleasant but chilly environment there and it felt wonderful to breathe in the scent of the mountains.
At around 7 in the evening, we went to Malle, a popular place in Gangtok. At first, we thought it would be a common marketplace like every other hilly tourist destination. But it turned out to be a very beautiful place than we had ever imagined. It was full of small to medium scale shops selling various types of itineraries, restaurants, and whatnot. Anyone could easily find various brands over there for shopping.
One thing we observed about the people residing in the hills is that they are quite fashionable! Moreover, they have more fashion sense compared to people living in the plains. One more quality that attracted us to these people was their cordial and humble nature. Their effort to stay happy in life no matter what happens made the place even more livelier than it already was because of its beauty. These people respect each and every aspect of their lives and know the worth of what they have. They believe that human beings should not be judged by the work they do because every little contribution to the economy is very important. But yet apart from that their lifestyle is not so easy. They regularly face problems too, such as water and if you closely look at their homes, you would understand how they have tried to arrange everything in a proper manner within a very limited space that they could afford. If you look at the old people, women walk long distances on foot along the bumpy roads of hills to fulfil their daily needs. Still, they smile at each other. They maintain a good relationship with everybody. And they are happy with whatever they have.
The lesson of being happy with whatever life has to offer was well received! Trust me these people are living examples of this simple fact.
At the Malle we visited some antique shops, stores selling various souvenirs and many other places selling different kinds of things. I don’t really like hopping around shops, rather I love to sit somewhere and observe a beautiful place and weave stories around what I see. But Ishani was like hey, we have come here to visit the place, and she thought it’d be better if we could taste every inch of the place at first. So she literally dragged me to every nook and corner of the Malle market.
After we were done with roaming around like two nomads, finally we felt really hungry. So at first, we decided to taste the chicken momos of Gangtok. The restaurant we went up to was called The Eataway Hub. The interior of this small restaurant was decorated with beautiful lights all around. They had put up framed photographs of all famous celebrities and singers from the ‘80s and ’90s, such as Marilyn Monroe and Bob Marley in a wall. We ordered a plateful of chicken momos and it tasted nothing less than what people call “exotic”.
Probably you have tried out this dish wherever you are but there is no other place where momos taste as delicious and natural as you would find here at Gangtok.
After having momos, we again set out for another food trail and landed ourselves at the doors of a small hallway shaped food outlet where we found them selling local dishes at the local price. If you are a true traveller, you are probably aware of how important it is to try out the local dishes of the place you are at, without which the experience remains incomplete. So we went inside the food shop and ordered ourselves two bowls of hot steaming chicken thukpa.
“I love you like a fat kid loves cake!” ―
I guess it was one of the best decisions ever made by us to have this particular dish at this restaurant. The hot soupy noodles along with chicken and vegetables filled not just our stomachs but our souls equally. We felt like two travellers who had walked miles and miles and were now quenching their thirst and regaining their vigour by having this wholesome dish. It brought back life to our tongues and to our whole body.
After filling ourselves up to the brim with the food we decided to head back to the hotel as it was getting late. Though there was transport available we decided to walk back to our hotel from Malle as the view while coming from the hotel had been spectacular from the vehicle and we wanted to witness it a little longer by standing here and there for looking at the labyrinth of lights coming from the houses from the hilly land far down below.
It was truly a walk to remember. The path had this beautiful view on one side and the mountain wall on the other. We also spotted a few cafes, a church and many houses along the way. It was a glimpse of the normal daily life up in the mountains. Finally, after walking for around half an hour we reached our hotel and joined everybody for dinner.
Our third day was quite packed with our industry visit plans. Out of the entire batch of students, half were assigned to go to Sikkim Supreme Fruit Juice Plant and the other half went up to Zydus Healthcare Ltd. Though both of them are medium-scale manufacturing plants, the former one produces various types of juices from fruit pulps and the second one is a pharmaceutical plant.
The day went by understanding the operations of the plants, interacting with the workers and getting the first-hand experience about the working of a factory. I felt this experience to be quite interesting in a sense because, first of all, the locations of the plants are quite extravagant, situated in the lap of Sikkim valley covered with lush greeneries all around and secondly, all the officials of both the industries were quite cordial to welcome us and make us understand all the nitty-gritty of how their products were manufactured at the plants and patiently answered all our queries. We noted every point down as fast as we could so that our assigned project based on this visit would be complete with all the details after we get back to the University.
“moonlight disappears down the hills
mountains vanish into fog
and I vanish into poetry.”
After this unique learning experience, we engaged in a small photoshoot session so that all the memories could be locked into the photos and would remind us of this beautiful day years after when we look back.
The next day we headed towards Changu lake also known as Tsomgo lake which is around a 40 kilometres drive from Gangtok. The lake is surrounded by mountains covered in snow which is the reason behind the sight’s alluring beauty. We started quite early that day at around 8 am and it took around 2-3 hours to reach Changu lake. The temperature was quite pleasant that morning but as we started to ascend the temperature started dropping to a good level. After reaching a certain point beyond which no cars are allowed, we had to buy jackets, boots, and gloves to keep ourselves warm as the weather became freezing cold. When our body temperature was sorted we started walking towards the actual viewpoint and were quite happy to bump into yaks here and there. Tourists who visit Changu lake can also enjoy a yak ride around the lake if they don’t feel like walking.
After about 10 minutes of walking, we witnessed the beautiful Changu Lake in front of our eyes and then we simply couldn’t resist standing and began to grasp the beauty for several minutes.
“There’s just something beautiful about walking in snow that nobody else has walked on. It makes you believe you’re special.” – Carol Rifka Brunt
The water so clear, surrounded by glaciers in all its sides, does surely make it feel like a heavenly place. As a group of quite young people, we absolutely couldn’t think about not indulging in making snowballs and smashing it on one another.
After some activity, our hunger pangs started to gnaw on our attention-seeking brain cells and we decided to give in to some hot tasty Maggi along with the mandatory tea in order to fill up our tummies.
We had all this food while sitting right beside a window with the view of the lake at a small restaurant named “Tashi Delek”.
Next, we set forth to climb up the mountain to a certain height to get the best view of the lake and also for being surrounded by lots of snow to play with. Many students from our own batch were even sliding down in the snow after climbing up to a higher point than where some us were standing. There were smiles, laughter, and enjoyment everywhere. Nature truly brings out the gentle playful soul sitting inside waiting for these kinds of moments.
It was around noon when we decided to head back to Gangtok because it was getting cloudy and would be difficult to drive if we stayed any further.
But before leaving we got ourselves some momos and a glass of hot Horlicks drink from a small dim lighted shop. We also came across a nearby waterfall, which although was not regarded as a significant sight to see but was definitely beautiful enough to stop by for a brief glance.
As that day was our last day at Gangtok, we decided to visit the Malle once again after reaching the hotel from our trip to the Changu lake. We were walking along with our friends and it was also raining a little when we spotted a shop and decided to get hold of a souvenir as a memory for this trip. We looked at the things inside the shop and suddenly among all the statues, we were quite amazed by a unique green colored Buddha statue. We both are very much attracted to the Zen philosophy of Buddhism. And in a place like Gangtok, you will find many beautiful Buddha statues of all sizes, shapes, and colors. So we were quite determined to get two small Buddha statues for ourselves. Finally, we closed our deal with the shopkeeper and got two amazingly beautiful Buddha statues worth Rs 150/- each.
When we first saw the statue, its simplicity caught our eyes and it portrayed all that we were looking for. A simple and meaningful yet beautiful souvenir we had found. We think this would be the most beautiful gift we have given to our lives.
Our friends also bought a couple of things and then we again began exploring Malle. After a few paces, we came across a small cake shop named “Oven in the Mountains”.
How amazingly apt the name was. This shop had a huge variety of cakes, pastries, and bread to have. We ordered a blueberry cheesecake, a pineapple cheesecake, and an apple pie. The food had our hearts and our popping taste buds.
How big of a foodie we become when we are travelling. We couldn’t resist taking our friends to taste the amazing momos we had the other day at The Eataway Hub and therefore again landed up to taste their food. This time I and Ishani ordered a different dish called Phaley which is a bigger version of momo but tastes slightly different. With this, we ended our food trail at Gangtok and left the remaining whatever we couldn’t find the time to gobble on for another visit. After stepping out of the restaurant we walked for some more time at the Malle, stood and looked back at the place while we were about to leave as it was quite disheartening to remind ourselves of the fact that we would be heading back to Siliguri the next day.
That night a small party was arranged at our hotel with some mild music and lots of fine food in order to cherish the final night at Gangtok to the fullest. We all came together and celebrated this night with all our energy while the regret of going back the next day along with the happiness of this night together at this beautiful city reflected in the eyes of every individual.
The next morning we checked out of our hotel and boarded the vehicles that would take us to Rumtek monastery, our last & final stop before we reached the plains. It is around 24 kilometres from Gangtok. All the roads in Gangtok are full of beautiful trees with flowers and it serves the eyes with enchanting scenery all throughout the drive.
We reached Rumtek monastery quite late in the morning, close to noontime.
It was a short walk up to the point in the hill where the monastery was located. Rumtek monastery is one of the most important monasteries in Sikkim and was originally called the Dharma Chakra Centre. It is a shrine temple and a monastery for Buddhist monks.
As we were entering through the gates of the monastery we heard drums beating and the sound of ongoing prayers, so we rushed to the shrine temple to get a glimpse of what was happening. We witnessed all the Buddhist monks delving into their auspicious prayers and chanting the scriptures. We couldn’t help but stand there in one place and watch what was happening.
The whole environment had an air of positivity, spirituality, and optimism. Soon after some time, the prayers ended and also came out of the shrine still absorbed into that peaceful environment.
We then walked around the monastery and watched the view of the entire Gangtok city up from the hill. On our way down from the monastery, we found two monks also walking the same path. Suddenly and randomly we thought about going up to them and starting a conversation to know a little about their way of life. During our conversation, we were quite enlightened by many facts about life, for example, what life actually holds for everyone and how human beings often forget the basic purpose and meaning of life while surrounded by hundreds of other things to achieve and to become.
Out trip to Sikkim has not only filled our hearts with joy, happiness & learning experiences but also enlightened ourselves with wisdom, a much greater lesson in life. The simplicity of the hill people, their indomitable spirit and the warm hearts of the Buddhist monks, made us feel really special.
Sadly, it was then time to bid adieu to this beautiful and peaceful city and head back to our daily lives full of hustle and bustle. The only thing we were left with was the memories of this trip and the last few miles of scenery on your way to Siliguri!
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Arkaprabha Das is the Founder & Editorial Chief at The Strong Traveller. He has always been a man of many caps. Apart from being an MBA professional, he is a full-time freelance writer and possesses the mind & heart of a true entrepreneur! You can always reach out to him at email@example.com.