Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Prologue , Sikkim Diaries - 1

A small little dazzling ruby firmly placed in a crown...well the ruby is Sikkim and the crown is the Himalayas.

Sikkim has long been in my to-visit list but because of some reason or other, it kept on delaying. Now finally this time I decided that its now or never. There are so many places and so much to see in India that if I do not religiously fulfill and tick off my bucket list I will never be able to cover all.

So I bought tickets from Bangalore to Kolkata. You must be wondering why not from Bangalore to Bagdogra? Well this time my full family wanted to join us, so we went to Kolkata, stayed there for a day while our family joined us there. I got confirmed train tickets in Darjeeling Mail some four months back from Sealdah(SDAH) to New Jalpaiguri(NJP). I bought 3 -tier confirmed tickets the day train ticket booking opened since I had to be very sure that the entire journey is hassle free. This time its not just me and Ankur, but the full family gang. There are several trains between Sealdah and NJP, but for me Darjeeling Mail timing seems to be perfect . You board the train at night and the next day early morning you are at NJP.

Waiting at airport

All Smiles...too excited to start our trip

Coffee anyone?

Finally wait seems like over!

Get set go ...From bangalore to Kolkata

We took a Ola at 8:30 pm and it came sharp on time. While midway towards the train station suddenly I thought I left my passport at home. Without the photo id, north sikkim permit will not be given, so I got very tensed and started frantically searching my bag. I was about to tell our Ola driver to take a U turn when suddenly my finger touched some smooth edge. It was my passport! < sigh of relief :)  :) >

 While we waited at the station waiting room, we all got bored, so the best thing we did was buy the Puja edition of the Bhraman Travel magazine so that we can dream,plan and think of the next vacation even before starting the current one. Ankur had already swallowed a few cups of lemon tea and coffee and giving him competition was my sister. Both are tea and coffee addicts! My mother had fondly made and packed rotis, aloo dum and dried chicken for this train journey although much against our wishes. So we did not buy any dinner as dinner was already with us.

In Darjeeling Mail

I don't know why but for me train journeys are more awesome than plane journeys. Each train journey is unique and beautiful.Even though it was night train, a lot of vendors got on the train. Each of us took jhalmuri( masala mixed puffed rice), tea, fried peanuts from different was not that we were hungry, the food that my mom packed was super awesome, but we wanted to have some train fun. Soon we were sleeping, me and mom in the lower two berths while the others occupied the higher berths. I just can't explain how the gentle swaying of the berths at night automatically sings a silent lullaby.

Next day we reached NJP at 9 am. train was an hour late, but that is okay, we have no deadlines to meet.It was raining in NJP. At NJP station there are taxis going to Darjeeling, Gangtok and some other places. However we already had a pre-booked car from our hotel that will take us to our hotel in Pelling. But since that was a Sikkim registered car, so that will not be allowed to enter the station by the local taxi association. So we took a cab for 300 bucks from the station till Gurudwara(Siliguri) where our driver with his car will be waiting for us.

Our driver was there with his Bolero when we arrived at Gurudwara. He started the car and soon within an hour we were on Sevoke Road with Teesta by our side. The rains has been good this monsoon and so Teesta was in her full attire and glory. We saw the famous Coronation bridge, Sevoke Kalibari and passed through Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary. Midway our driver stopped his car for a late breakfast/early lunch. We took two thalis, two plate aloo parathas and four plate momos and distributed the food among us. I do not remember the name of the roadside shop,but if I find its picture I will post it here. We had the best chicken momos ever.

Had the best momos ever!

Beautiful Teesta

The scenic way....crossing Teesta

A short tea break at Siliguri

The waiters were simple and very friendly, not like the suited ones that we generally find in fine dining restaurants. They were a little eager about us since we were having some high end camera equipments and was documenting almost everything. They showed some some local chilly which is small and round in shape and told us that the spiciness of one such chilli exceeds that of 20 normal red chillies. To check I took a small nibble from one such chilly and Oh God, my mouth was burned for half a day,such was the height of hotness.

Those deadly hot chillies

The normal route from NJP to Pelling was disrupted because of landslides, the rains has been plentiful this time, so we had to took a slightly longer route.We took the detour before Jorethang, went through Namchi, Ravangla and then Pelling. In between we stopped for tea and maggi breaks.
We reached our hotel Simvo in the evening.Because of the detour it took some 3 hours more, but that is okay. In hills there can be sudden slides for which a road might become unusable for a few days, so then alternative routes needs to be taken.

The hotel rooms are good and cozy and on top of that we got rooms with balcony facing the Himalayas. What more can we ask for. We made sight seeing arrangements from the hotel reception for the next day and requested for an early dinner. Next day is going to be our Pelling exploration day...ah..we all are so happy.

A small stop on the way

pokaras with onion rings

Finally at Pelling

The roads so beautiful

What lovely flowers on the way!

Information Bits:

Kolkata and NJP are very well connected through bus, train and flight.
From Esplanade in Kolkata there are regular buses that go to Siliguri (Tenzing Norgay BS)
There are regular flights between Kolkata and Bagdogra. From Bagdogra one needs to book a can for Pelling or Gangtok
There are several trains that can be booked through irctc that ply between Kolkata and NJP.
From NJP to Pelling its a 6 hour journey.

For train use the following station codes:
Sealdah(SDAH) , New Jalpaiguri (NJP)

In New Jalpaiguri station there are regular shuttles both shared and exclusive that goes to Gangtok.For better deals one can take a auto/shuttle from New Jalpaiguri till Tenzing Norgay Bus Stand. There are buses,shuttles,exclusive cars to Gangtok.

For Pelling, there are very less taxis, its good to pre-book a taxi through your hotel. Insist on a Sikkim registered car because West Bengal registered commercial vehicles will not be allowed till Pelling by the West Sikkim Taxi Unions.West Bengal registered commercial vehicles are allowed only till Jorethang and from there again one need to take another car for Pelling. The cost might be less but the hassle will be more. So if a few thousand bucks is not a very big issue, its better to take a pre-booked car.

Ideally an exclusive SUV from NJP to Pelling will cost between 3500 - 4000 INR

We stayed at hotel Simvo in Pelling booked through goibibo . Location wise the hotel is good,its near to SBI atm. However keep in mind the entrance of the hotel is a few metres below the road, so one has to climb up and down. If there are people who have problem walking its better to avoid the hotel. Their food is good and tastes homely but they charge extra for any extra serving even in thali.

Any hotel in Pelling can arrange for sight seeing tours, so there is no need for any pre-booking.On the spot booking will always save you a few extra bucks.

There is no permit required for Pelling, Ravangla or Namchi, but for most other places permit needs to be done specially for North and East Sikkim. You must carry around 6 copies of passport size photos and a proper photo ID card and its xerox. Any hotel/driver in Sikkim can arrange for the permit provided you give them these documents.

In Pelling there are studios that can give instant photos, but its better to have things ready in place.

Like all other tourist places, there is the season and off season concept also in Sikkim. Top Season is March to May, followed by Bengali season during Oct-Nov and off season is June- mid Sep. Price of hotels, transport will vary greatly between Top season and off season.

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