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Sikkim Holiday Package
A tiny mountainous state with a small population, Sikkim is fairly close to heaven. The peak of Kangchendzonga, ancient monasteries like Tashiding and Pemayangtse, the Nathu La pass at China border, stunning lakes like Tsomgo and Gurudongmar, some excellent trekking and warm Gangtok are its main charms!
Gangtok on a fresh morning meets you all bathed and combed, ready to go to school, its eyes sparkling and a hint of dimples on its hill-child cheeks. Impeccably dressed women go off to work, monks hurry down to the bazaar, young men in shiny jackets amble along and tourists try out momos! In autumn, the tall mountain goddess peak of Kangchendzonga can be seen from hotel windows, restaurants and roads! The town spreads down the hillside with its prettily painted roofs and up on a hill, at Enchey Monastery, young monks cross paths with the crowds as they rush on a path ablaze with coloured flags! On the ridge, people would be meeting, orchids being nurtured and an archery competition may be held somewhere. Down in the market, sit on the sunny terrace of a restaurant munching cakes and coffee and plan your trip to Nathu La!
The Ridge is a walk up the bazaar with a delightful stretch of flat road lined with trees where everyone comes for a stroll, enclosing the White Hall and a beautifully designed palace gate. Near the White Hall, there is a Flower Exhibition Centre where you can see a beautiful display of a stunning variety of orchids. The Enchey Monastery, meaning the `high strong place’ speaks of enchanting mornings here listening to the hypnotic chants of the monks during morning prayers! The Namgyal Institute of Tibetology would have the heritage lovers overwhelmed by ancient statues and artefacts while the more contemporary-minded would be charmed by the beauty, grace and silence of the building. It has a museum that exhibits a rare collection of ancient manuscripts, statues, ritual objects and thangkas. The exhibition is dominated by a majestic silver image of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of knowledge that was brought from Tibet! The Himalayan Zoological Park or the Gangtok Zoo has a lavish hillside haven of wild flowers and misty views. Near the Ganesh Tok Viewpoint, this open zoo sprawls across the mountainous terrain and is a place for long walks and spotting some rare animals. The enclosures are large spaces harbouring a snow leopard, Tibetan wolves, some adorable red pandas, Himalayan palm civets, leopard cats and different kinds of colourful Himalayan pheasants, which are the main attractions!
Around Gangtok, the large Rumtek Monastery is located on a picturesque road across the Rangeet river and houses a school, an aviary and a special section for monks to meditate. You could also stop by at the orchid centre at Wayside Gardens and Nurseries. A pleasant drive to the mature beauty of a wet temperate forest with slopes laden with oaks, pines and ash is the pathway leading to the serene Tsomgo Lake, though midway you could stop at Kyongnosla for tea, which is a picture postcard alpine village beside the Rongchu stream, where unprepared travellers can buy gloves and woollen socks, due to the presence of the mountains nearby which give way to the glacial frozen streams defining the solid shining white trajectories down these slopes. Once you reach the Lake, it looks like pure glass, capable of reflecting the divine, depicting the gap between this world and another. There are yaks wearing knitted decorations on their horns. As you return from this frozen sight, you could thaw out, gobbling steaming masala Maggi and black tea or hot masala tea! You must take note, that coming up from Tsangpo Lake the road to Nathu La can have blinding snow on both sides, and on your drive back the thick fog requires the headlights to be switched on to make way through the phantasmagoria! Sounds extremely adventurous and tempting……….and not dangerous at all! At Nathu La, tourists express their awe of where they have reached in many ways….. Some giggle, and some climb up the snow embarkments on both sides of the path, and throw snow at each other!
Silk Route is the generic name given to different trade routes that emerged out of China and went on through Central Asia, parts of India and Arabia, to the Mediterranean! Not just traders, but also pilgrims, soldiers, economic migrants, nomadic people, all kept these roads, cultures and cultural exchanges alive! The Sherathang village is the trade hub where customs, security, a post office, and a telecom centre have come up.
Namchi is a few kilometers away from Siliguri and is engulfed with photogenic mega hills and valleys with the sprinkling of spring-time flora, forests and interesting monasteries. Sky-high is what it means, and though not quite, affords great views of the Kanchendzonga Range. It is also a convenient hub for short hikes in nearby hills. There is a colossal statue of Guru Padmasambhava at Samdruptse, the biggest in the world, the Rock Garden which is a favourite spot for picnickers due to the gorgeous views of the mountains, and the Namchi Monastery with ecstatic sculptures and hike through the woods to the Doling Monastery. Closeby, Sikip is an excellent fishing spot and river campsite. You could go on the Rabangla-Mainom Top Trek among the ancient forests and plenty of birdlife. The scrub forest is home to a number of Himalayan birds, including the verditer flycatcher, blue-fronted redstart, grey bushchat, dark-throated thrush and white-browned fantail. The Shar-chok BePhug is a cavern full of natural formations, and the Damthang-Tendong Hill trek is an area which is a small dormant volcano surrounded by a green forest! The Varsey Rhododendron Sanctuary is home to silver fir, hemlock, magnolia and the rhododendron.
Pelling is just a hamlet in the Western region with an eye-boggling bounty of mountains, and developed into a town and a hill station with a steady influx of tourists. Go to Pelling for beatific mountain walks and tantalizing views of the mountains. Visit the famous Pemayangtse Monastery, the Sanga Choeling, the second oldest gompa in Sikkim and known as the `place of secret spells’ which perched on a ridge above the town. The ruins of the erstwhile capital of Sikkim at Rabdentse recently excavated and restored by the ASI, are a must-visit. En-route to Yuksom, the first capital of Sikkim, you could take in the vertiginous Rimbi Waterfall leaping on to the road in front of you in ecstasy. In Yuksom, there are some important sites such as the Dub-di monastery or the hermit’s cell, the coronation throne of Norbugang, and the tiny Katok Lake nearby. The Khecheopalri Lake is a `wishing lake’ and is situated in a bowl-like declivity. The water is crystal clear and it is believed that the birds around do not even allow a leaf to fall inside the lake. The chief attraction of the Tashiding Monastery is its holy chorten, a monolith shaped like a sarcophagus and the most common religious symbol in the region, called Thong-Wa-Rang-Dol, the very sight of which is supposed to wash away of sins. The Dzongri-Goecha La trek is famed for its superb mountain views, floral spectacle in summer, birds and views of the pristine forest!
In North Sikkim, the remarkably charming region holds attraction for the Yumthang Valley, which is a vibrant vale of flowers enclosing the Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary and the breathtakingly shimmering Gurudongmar Lake, situated in the Lachen valley which is an exquisite photomeniac Lepcha village, the gateway to Chopta Valley, covered with snow in winters but transforming into a bright landscape during spring and summer. Mangan is known for cardamom cultivation and Phodong is an important monastery en route. Chungthang has tree-laden slopes, valleys with paddy fields, and wild flowers and orchids to intoxicate tourists with their fragrance!
Stores are stocked with famous hand-carved wood choktse tables, carpets, blankets, shawls and prayer rugs. A vast variety of thangkas, curios and souvenirs, vividly coloured mugs and teacups embraced by dragons and floral patterns, yak-bone ornaments, statuettes made of metal, stones, bronze, copper, brass and those with a silver and gold-polished finish, and yummy local pickles, are an unavoidable indulgence!
You could find typical Sikkimese meals that include dishes made form stinging nettles and Alpine fiddlehead fern, along with the local speciality of the famed cherry brandy. Most restaurants serve regular Indian and Chinese food from chowmein and momos to dishes such as shakbaley or deep-fried meat bread. There are eateries selling Chinese, South Indian and Bengali food, including a blend of Continental, Italian, Tibetan and a variety of Indian cuisine!
Recommended for a visit throughout the year, as even during heavy snowfall in winters or a thundering downpour during the rains, there is a plethora of opportunities to keep the tourists involved in this wondrous land, gulping hot tea or coffee with piping hot snacks or meals in the blaring cold or sipping some cool beverage during pleasant weather!