Listening to the latest news, we had been speculating that the monsoons would have already hit the North East.From the beginning of May, our plans of traveling kept getting pushed till the end of May and finally to the first week of June. I kept checking the weather updates from Bangalore, until before boarding the flight and each time it ended up dampening my spirits, as the Weather Channel app on my phone, showed heavy rainfall. I kept imagining running around places with a thick raincoat and an umbrella in my hand.
What did we see when we got there? We were welcomed by the gentle sun, the light breeze and the warmth after the drizzles seemed to have wet the earth beneath us. We caught a local taxi and got to our Resort which was booked at Kurseong. The place we had opted to stay for the night was a heritage hotel, which is a restored & renovated stately British colonial home. The rooms had antique furniture and the beautiful paintings that hung on the walls dated back to the 18th century. They had a beautiful and a very well maintained garden below, showcasing a variety of flowers specific to the region.
Next morning, we were awoken by the melodious chirping of the birds and bright sunshine pouring through the windows. We jumped and sat up on our beds assuming its must be way past 8 am, just to be overly shocked on looking at our watches which showed 4.30 am. Sunrise happens early here,is what we chose to believe. The view from our room was breathtakingly beautiful. Small houses with thatched roofs built on the slopes of the rolling hills,the droplets of water on the leaves of the plants glistening in the morning sun,soaring mountains and the the clouds rising higher up with every passing minute covering a part of the peaks behind them. I stood in the balcony soaking in all the beauty that surrounded me, filling my lungs with the fresh unpolluted air.
Our first day was a short journey from Kurseong to Gangtok and we decided to cover the places falling on the way. The roads were narrow and curving along the sides of the mountains. There were many occasions where we were made to wait for a few minutes as the roads were being tarred. Road repairs, sinking roads and waterfalls in every nook and cranny, were a common sight here. We were surprised to see tiny train tracks running across the roads. We considered ourselves lucky- as we suddenly saw a train chugging along, between the villages and up until it drove besides us . We kept looking until it disappeared into the thicket of trees and numerous peaks.
On our way we stopped at the Lamahatta park. The park had wooden benches, where one could relax and immerse themselves in the loveliness of the garden. There were a few wooden & bamboo watchtowers to get a better view of the area around. A row of colorful prayer flags were fluttering on one side of the garden and we were told by locals that the breeze that passes through the prayer flags, purifies the surroundings and the minds of the people. As we explored the landscaped garden and walked a little ahead amidst the dense pine trees, we discovered a small lake at the top.
In a few kilometers, we reached the Peshoke view point (also known locally as ‘Lovers Meet’). The road to this place passed through dense forests and lovely tea gardens on the open hill slopes. From here, the view of the confluence of the rivers Teesta and the Rangeet was simply beautiful. Water rafting at the Teesta river is a very popular tourist attraction.
Our place of stay was in the middle of the city. Having reached early afternoon we decided to wander around the place we were staying in. The Gangtok market (MG Marg market) was a few minutes walk via a shortcut which consisted of sloping roads and a few hundred steps through an alley. There were many stores which sold tea, clothes, accessories, buddha figurines and other such articles.
Tsomgo lake and Baba Mandir were our planned locations for the next day. The Tsomgo lake located at an altitude of 12,310 ft is one of the few high altitude lakes in India. The drive, till up there ,was alluring and took us around 2 hours, being about 15 kms from Gangtok. We spent some time here, soaking in the serene beauty of the lake and the tranquility floating around.
We were being offered rides on the colorfully adorned yaks, and I happened to take one. At a short distance from the lake there were a few stalls selling hot beverages and snacks.
We drove to the Baba Mandir after a while, which is located at 13,123 ft and about 52 kms from Gangtok. It is said that it was a samadhi of sorts initially, and a temple was built a few years after. It was built in the memory of a sentry named Harbhajan Singh who was a part of the border patrol force, who was assumed to have fallen into a stream and drowned while carrying out his duties. Over the years the temple has become a place of pilgrimage. There was a large photo of his, inside the temple, which was being worshiped. People who come here, leave a bottle of water here and collect it in a while. It is believed that one can fulfill one’s wishes by drinking that water. Close to this temple ,there was a souvenir shop and a cafe. The cafe served hot momo’s, samosas and tea which can be welcome change to battle the chilled weather at that altitude. This area was surrounded by peaks on all the sides and the views all around was stunning.
A small trek of about 500 meters up the rocky steps, took us to a huge statue of Lord Shiva, placed beside a waterfall drizzling onto the rocks below. At the widest point , it was surging and plunging down the mountain, and it was a lovely sight .The flowers next to it were nodding gently. Just then, the sun peeped out of its hiding from behind the cottony clouds. Its rays caught the watery slide, giving it a trance-like quality. It turned it into glitter, like shreds of silky silver. It was a very relaxing place to be in and eventually my mind wandered into a peaceful reverie.
Seating myself on a small chair outside the cafe, I sipped a hot cup of tea, staring into the hazy mountain slopes. The warmth of the woolens I was wearing protected me from the chilled breeze as it blew through the rustling leaves of the trees. The bright hued north eastern flowers, the clouds sailing across the sky and the mist covered peaks of the high mountains in the distance filled my heart with joy.
- The local Thukpa is a must try, near the Lamhatta park. There are many food stalls in the vicinity of the park offering momos, chowmein, tea, coffee and many such refreshments.
- The yak rides start at a price of Rs 100 per ride, onwards.
- It is ideal to take a bigger vehicle such as a jeep, as the condition of the roads are pretty bad with lots of potholes. A vehicle of such sort may cost somewhere around Rs 3500-4500 per day.
- Due to the high altitudes , one will require heavy woolens. There are stalls close to the Tsomgo lake, where one can buy gloves, caps, shawls and sweaters if necessary.
- Its ideal to start by 7.30- 8am, as one can be back by 2-3pm. Both Tsomgo and Baba Mandir can be covered as part of a day trip from Gangtok. One can also additionally combine Nathula pass which is at 14,140 ft and see the Indo Chinese border.
Read the second part here : Exploring the mountains of the North East – Part 2