, , , , , , , , , , ,

Hi, A warm welcome to my blog 🙂

I hope that you all have thoroughly enjoyed my two previous posts:

My Adventures in Darjeeling, Sikkim & Kalimpong – Part 1 of 7

My Adventures in Darjeeling, Sikkim & Kalimpong – Part 2 of 7

Here is the continuing story… Happy reading 🙂

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

I wake up at 4:45 AM hoping to see the glorious golden sunrise over the Kangchenjunga. Looking out from my bedside window, I focus my eyes to the place where the holy peak is to be seen. But alas…for the second day in a row Kanchenjunga is hidden by clouds. I’m distraught…this is my last chance to see it!

I spend the next fifteen minutes silently pleading with the Kangchenjunga. Helloooooo!!! Please say hello to me, pleeeease…hello, hi, hola… helllllllllloooo hiiiiiiiiiii holaaaaa Pleeease… Pleeaaseee… pleeease, please… I go on and on with my silent pleadings till my head starts feeling heavy and then…a thin white lining becomes visible just where Kangchenjunga is supposed to be seen and I start thinking…Is it really the Kangchenjunga? Perhaps it is a silver lining to the clouds? I want to think that it is the former but I see plenty of white shades in the dark blue sky. My heart says it is the Kangchenjunga and my mind nods in agreement. Muaahks…thank you sooo much! I guess this is just as much that you can do seeing that the Sun is not co-operating.  

This lovely photograph at 5:06 AM…

Sunrise over Kangchenjunga in Pelling 1

This lovely video at 5:09 AM: A bit of Kangchenjunga from my Pelling hotel room

From Pelling, Kangchenjunga is very close. So I expected a closer view but the great mountain looks so far away. In almost all of its Internet images taken at Pelling, the holy peak looks as though it is in the photographer’s backyard. And the pictures weren’t even taken using advanced cameras. Hmmm…at least I got to see a tiny bit of it.

I start preparing myself for the day. My shoes which have been wet since the previous evening are still wet. Hmm…how I hate walking around in wet shoes! I have a few socks with me but they are going to get wet as well inside the wet shoes. I just have a pair of bathroom slippers with me and wearing them on wet soil would mean mucking my pants. Why can’t things get better? I take a look out of the window before going to the loo. Nothing has changed.  I come out some fifteen minutes later and check the scene again. This time, what I see nearly makes my heart skip a beat. KANGCHENJUNGA!!!!!!! I’m stunned as I take in the awesome sight of this massive mass of snow glowing with a golden tinge in the distance. Overcome with joy, I want to shout and scream. Instead I jump and dance around the room. I try to capture the spectacular, glowing mass of snow on camera but the videos and photographs hardly do my fabulous view justice.

My video at 5:34 AM: Admiring Kangchenjunga from my Pelling hotel room

At 5:35 AM…

Sunrise over Kangchenjunga in Pelling 2

At 5:36 AM…

Sunrise over Kangchenjunga in Pelling 3

It is marvellous to see the dazzling peaks of the Kangchenjunga family…

Watch my video at 5:37 AM: Sunrise over Kangchenjunga in Pelling

At 5:39 AM…

Sunrise over Kangchenjunga in Pelling 4

At 5:43 AM…

Sunrise over Kangchenjunga in Pelling 5

At 5:43 AM…

Sunrise over Kangchenjunga in Pelling 6

At 6:04 AM, before the peaks get enveloped by clouds…

Sunrise over Kangchenjunga in Pelling 7

At 6:10 AM…

Sunrise over Kangchenjunga in Pelling 8

At 6:26 AM, the majestic peaks are completely covered by clouds…

In Pelling

I cannot believe that I have spent almost an hour admiring the Kangchenjunga. And in my excitement, I have completely forgotten to take a photograph of the fabulous view from my bed!

The early morning view at 6:29 AM from my room window…

Early morning view from my Pelling hotel window

The sun has suddenly decided to shine with all his might so I put my wet shoes and damp socks out in the balcony.  It is 6:30 AM and I need to hurry because the taxi for Gangtok is going to arrive at 7:00 AM. Within twenty minutes, I take a quick shower and pack up my things. When I check my shoes, I’m thrilled to find them almost dry. The socks are completely dry on one side so I turn them over like barbecued meat. My packed breakfast of aloo paratha and bread and butter sandwiches is getting ready downstairs. Meanwhile, I have black tea in my room. The taxi arrives at 7:15 AM. By that time my shoes have got completely dry as though they have come straight out of the dryer. This has added to my extreme happiness at seeing the Kangchenjunga. It is a pity that I cannot stay back for one more day to enjoy the serene beauty of Pelling and the amazing sunrise on Kangchenjunga one more time. My hotel stay has been excellent, the owners and the staff have been kind and friendly. I silently bid Pelling goodbye.

I can only hope that I don’t suffer from motion sickness on the five hour long journey to Gangtok. At least I have the window seat. The front seats are occupied by a mother-daughter duo with their cute Pomeranian puppy in a small basket. Besides me, there are three other men in the middle and some young fellows in the back.

At 9:15 AM we reach the South Sikkim town of Rabongla (or Ravangla) where the taxi makes a breakfast halt. Having my packed breakfast now would aggravate my problem of motion sickness so I stay behind while the others proceed to the small roadside restaurant. I take a walk around the place. There is nothing much but lovely hillside views. Rabongla is a small town famous for the state’s only tea garden, the Temi Tea Garden. It is one of the two popular tourist towns in South Sikkim. The second is Namchi, which is just an hour away.

A short while after we resume the journey, the driver starts playing some popular Hindi songs. Half an hour later, an English song starts playing but not for long. The female singer croons two or three words and…stop! The next song comes up and I’m stunned…this song is one of my favourites!!! It plays for six seconds and…stop! WHAT??? You don’t like THIS song???  The third song plays for two seconds, so does the fourth one… The driver is searching for Hindi songs but unfortunately for him, the subsequent ones are all English. He gives up and starts again with…the second song! I’m thrilled. It’s been three days since I have listened to English songs. They go on for an hour or so, and then, my favourite comes up again. The youngsters seated behind seem to like it too because they start humming the tune this time.

Music apart, the journey is very tiring. Travelling for nearly 140 kilometres in a cramped space with three other people can be so very irritating. The elbow of the thin man seated next to me keeps poking into my waist. It is not entirely his fault because the other two guys are heavily built and occupy more than half the space. The hot weather adds to my misery. The road gets blocked for almost forty-five minutes. The journey seems to take forever. Nearing Gangtok, the heat and dust makes me want to return to Pelling.  Worse, I’m unable to find my Gangtok hotel list in my sling bag. I seem to have left it inside my trolley bag. When we reach the taxi stand around 1:30 PM, I finally breathe a sigh of relief. It’s been a little over six hours since we started from Pelling.

I ask a nearby local taxi driver for the whereabouts of Hotel Rendezvous. It is the only name which pops up in my head apart from one highly recommended small place called Cherry Guest House.  I remember reading about Hotel Rendezvous being a plush business hotel in the city centre so the locals will most definitely know its whereabouts. Even if it is expensive, I can spend a night there and move to another in the morning. The driver tells me the taxi fare will be 80 rupees, and then adds that the hotel is just a kilometre away on the other side of the main road. After passing the main junction, I’ll have to take a small lane leading to the hotel.

The narrow and busy pedestrian path is stepped most of the way so I end up carrying my bag. Ufff! I should have taken the taxi. Tired and hungry, I stop for a minute to take a bite into one of the dark chocolate bars that I have carried with me for the North Sikkim trip. I pass the junction and stop to ask for directions. I don’t remember if it is the first road or the second road to the right. I ask three people including a traffic cop but nobody knows the place. The road barrier doesn’t seem to end for me to cross so I keep walking looking for an open gap. I stop opposite the lane which I think is the one the taxi driver had told me to take. But it is an uphill road in a terrible condition, with water streaming across it from God-knows-where. Just to be sure that it’s the same lane, I ask a passer-by for directions. The man doesn’t have a clue. I walk a few steps and then on a sudden impulse I turn around and my glance falls on an unkempt, scruffy looking man standing twenty feet away. He waves his hand in the direction of the uphill road.  I think he means that the hotel is that way. Just to be sure that his sign language is directed towards me, I point a finger towards the uphill road and he nods his head. Oh Goodie! But how do I cross this road? I turn to look in his direction but he has disappeared. Strange, I just saw him standing there hardly five seconds ago! I keep walking till I finally find an opening a few metres away. Crossing a busy main road with a trolley bag is  something that I have never done before. Luckily, there are a few people waiting to cross the road so I join their pack and finally reach the other side. The uphill climb on the bumpy, potholed road leaves me huffing and puffing.  Ten minutes later, I reach the hotel. It is impressive but I’m already put off by its surroundings. The manager is ready to offer me a 25% discount on the standard room tariff which comes down to 1800 rupees. I tell him to add free breakfast in it and he agrees. Unfortunately, the credit card reader is out of order so I will have to make payment by cash. All the more than 30 rooms on the floor shown to me are vacant. The road facing rooms are charged higher while the rest face the next door building. I take one  of the latter ones. It is a large room and looks good. The bed linen looks clean. The room boy brings me fresh towels. I open one of the windows to let in fresh air. The TV is not working. Worse, I notice the potty seat has not been sanitised. I call up Housekeeping to get the bathroom cleaned. Within a short while, two girls are at my door with their cleaning tools. When they are gone, I have my packed breakfast. The paratha and sandwiches have gone damp but I’m so hungry I gobble them anyway. After some time I plonk myself down on the bed. That is when I see that the bedsheet underneath is not spotless clean. I call up Housekeeping for a change in bed linen. The two girls return. A few minutes later the Housekeeping manager arrives. She tells me that their laundryman has not done a good job. I call up the reception to complain about the TV reception. I’m told that the cable connection has been removed and it will be restored by evening.

At 4:00 PM, I set out in search of a tour agent for local sightseeeing as well as for travelling to Nathu La pass and North Sikkim. Walking around, I end up in a narrow road. I see the signboard of two travel agencies and enter one which has an STD booth inside. First I call up my home and then enquire about tourist cars for local sightseeing from the youngster looking after the place. He checks up with someone on the phone. The fixed cost for a ten-point tour is 1800 rupees. I know I should check with other travel agencies for a better price but something tells me there won’t be much difference in cost. Instead, I negogiate for a lower price for for the full day trip to Nathu La and the 3N/4D trip to North Sikkim which he says will be 5000 rupees and 16000 rupees respectively. I tell him to make it 4000 rupees and 15000 rupees. He talks on the phone again and returns with a positive reply. Good. Before embarking on my journey, I had looked up the tour prices on the internet. The hire cost for an exclusive Scorpio covering Nathu La pass, Baba Mandir and Tsomgo Lake (or Changu Lake) was said to be about 4800-5000 rupees whereas an all-included (vehicle, food,and accomodation) tour was from 20000 to 28000 rupees or more depending on hotel class. I know I can get a better deal at hotels personally so I prefer booking only the vehicle. I think I have got a good deal if not the best deal.

For both Nathu La and North Sikkim, tourists require a special permit. Travel agencies arrange it, free of cost. Only Indian nationals can visit the high-altitude Nathu La pass which was an important corridor between India and Tibet before it was closed in 1962. Except for Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays, the pass is open for visitors to see both Indian and Chinese soldiers guarding the fenced Indo-Tibet border. For North Sikkim, only Indian tourists are allowed to visit the high-altitude Gurudongmar Lake which is very close to the Tibetan border. Foreign tourists can travel only to Yumthang Valley and Chopta Valley.

I have carried with me two photographs for the two permits  which I give to the tour guy. He tells me the tour payment has to be made in cash. I tell him how difficult it is for me to pay each time in cash. On a sudden impulse, I ask him whether there are any good hotels which accept credit cards and he points out to the nice-looking hotel with a traditional Tibetan look, just opposite the road. Hotel Tibet. I pay for the local sightseeing and leave.

Hotel Tibet is as lovely inside as it looks outside. The staff is warm and welcoming. Above all, they accept credit cards! The standard room is 1450 rupees excluding taxes but they are ready to offer it for 1000 rupees including taxes…a whopping discount of 35%! I’m delighted. The room boy shows me two rooms, one with a view of the hills and other without. The former is a deluxe room while the latter is a standard room. I tell the nice guy at the reception that I will take the standard room for two nights. The next thing to do is look for a Vodafone gallery for my mobile phone which has lost connectivity. I’m sure to find one on M.G. Road which is the central shopping area and the main attraction for tourists. It is within ten minutes walking distance from my hotel.

MGRoad in Gangtok

I love this place. I haven’t seen anything like it in any other Indian city till now. Shops, restaurants, pubs, discos, commercial and business establishments, good hotels, travel agencies, etc…you will find all of it and more on this pedestrian-only mall road! I take a leisurely walk checking out a few places.

At the Vodafone gallery, the young guy removes the SIM card and puts it back….and the network connection returns. The first thing I do is call up my folks. Being an old model, my phone had lost network coverage after passing by the Indo-Nepal border. The guy tells me I should get myself a smartphone. No way! My good old T-Mobile phone serves my purpose and I don’t ask for more.

It is almost 6:00 PM. I see a small café called Cacao and walk inside. They have a few pastries and savouries. I buy a pack of biscuits instead. Further down the road, I see a nice-looking Chinese restaurant on the first floor, Golden Dragon.  Suddenly I feel like having sweet corn chicken soup and chicken Hakka noodles. My cough has still not gone so the soup might help. It is a lovely place. I take a table in the balcony where I get to see this nice view…

MGRoad in Gangtok

Mid-way through my meal, I realize that the restaurant has Karaoke. A guy is singing a romantic Hindi song. I wonder if they have Spanish songs. Anyway, I would probably end up coughing in the midst of the song. It is 7:30 PM by the time I finish my meal and return to my hotel. I get a call from Room Service asking me what I would like to have for dinner. I tell the guy that I have already dined outside. He sounds a bit disappointed so I tell him I’m going to have the hotel breakfast the next morning.

The TV cable connection has still not been restored. With nothing else to do, I go off to bed at 9:00 PM.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

I’m up at 6:30 AM. An hour later my breakfast arrives : hot and delicious aloo parathas, toast and butter, and black tea. It is almost 9:15 AM, when I leave the room. The tour guy is already waiting downstairs with the driver of the hired Wagon R car.  I settle my hotel bill and we are off to Hotel Tibet, a short distance away.

At the hotel, in addition to the previous day’s  friendly faces, there is a nice lady manager too. I don’t remember the room number so I just follow the room boy carrying my bag till we enter the room which I thought was a deluxe room, the room with a view.  So sweet! She has given me this lovely room at the standard room rate.  I knew I was going to love this place right from the first time I saw it. There are two windows: one facing the hillside and another facing the road. The bathroom is looks good, the bed linen and towels spotless clean.

It is nearly 10:00 AM when we start off on the sightseeing tour. To my pleasant surprise, Pasan, the 20-something driver, speaks English. And when he turns on the music, I’m in for a big surprise. A Spanish song starts playing…and then I hear Pitbull’s voice. It turns out that Pasan is a big fan of Pitbull. So for the next thirty minutes,  I’m treated to some of my favourite Pitbull songs.

Our first destination is the Rumtek Monastery, about 24 km away. A few minutes later after we start, I notice that almost all the vehicles on the road are colourfully bedecked with balloons and decorations. Pasan tells me that it is Biswakarma (or Vishwakarma) Pooja day, celebrated in honour of Lord Vishwakarma, the Hindu god of machines. He is the patron god of  workers, craftsmen, artists, weavers, architects and engineers. The day holds special value to all the people handling machines like drivers and mechanics. Devotees pray for success, safe working conditions and smooth functioning of various machines. Factories, workshops and manufacturing units are in festive mood. The pooja (worship ceremony) is followed by the distribution of prasad (blessed offering from the Lord). The yearly feast is cooked, where the workmen and the owners lunch together.

Pandals (temporary sheds) are erected at many points of Gangtok and across Sikkim to host the statue of the Lord and for his pooja. The festival is also celebrated in the neighbouring state of West Bengal and a few other eastern and northeastern states. I remember on the way to Darjeeling a few guys had asked the taxi driver for donation for their Pooja pandal.

I later learn on the internet that in Hindu mythology, Lord Vishwakarma is the divine architect  who constructed the holy city Dwarka where Lord Krishna ruled and the Maya Sabha in the royal palace of the Pandavas of Mahabharata. He was the creator of many fabulous weapons for the gods in the mythological era. He is also called the divine carpenter mentioned in the Rig Veda and is credited with the science of mechanics and architecture. Is he the same person that I know as Mayan? Wow, what luck to be in the city where the festival is celebrated with pomp!

Pasan, who is Buddhist, has also worshipped his car. Being a football fan (like everyone else in Sikkim), he has put a few country flags of his favourite teams, along with a teddy bear and a few decorations on the dashboard.

Decorated car in Gangtok

Cars decorated with colourful balloons is such a cute sight, especially the yellow and purple balloons. Unfortunately, each time I remove my camera for a picture, they are gone. It is a state holiday and the enthusiastic city residents from all communities are very active in their celebrations. As we drive past homes, I see family members dressed in in festive clothes looking on with devotion as a priest performs the “car pooja”. Besides being the state capital, Gangtok is also a major centre of education in North-East India. Most of the towns in Sikkim have educational facities only till the 10th or 12th grade after which they have to come to Gangtok for further studies. The Sikkim Manipal University is one of the best in the country, attractimg students from the neighbouring states too.

The Rumtek Monastery  is located on the opposite mountain so there are many vantage points from where the whole of Gangtok city can be seen. Like this one…

View of Gangtok

We reach the monastery at 10:45 AM. From the entrance gate, I need to walk half a kilometre uphill to reach the main monastery.  It is very hot. I feel the scorching sun burning the top of my head with hardly any protection afforded by my fine hair. Fortunately, the road is lined by stalls selling all sorts of gift and souvenir items, hats, woollen wear, etc. I get a nice black hat for 100 rupees.

The Rumtek monastery, also known as the Dharmachakra center, is the largest monastery in Sikkim and houses a college for higher Buddhist studies. It is the seat of the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism which originated in the 12th century in Tibet. One of the most important gompas (Buddhist temple) for Tibetan Buddhism, it is a near-replica of the Kagyu headquarters in Tibet. The main monastery was built in 1966 by the 16th Karmapa who came from Tibet and settled here when the Chinese invaded Tibet. An old 16th century monastery stands in the premises.

The monastery is well-guarded by BSF jawans right from the entrance gate and all over. I provide my ID proof, which I have already shown before at the entrance gate. After a quick search of my handbag, I’m allowed to pass in. I see this large courtyard…

Rumtek Monastery in Gangtok

Right in front is the main monastery building, surrounded by a few other buildings where the monks live. The prayer hall is on the ground floor of the main monastery building. The first floor is where the 16th Karmapa lived.

There is a guide service but I prefer to go alone. After spending some time inside the prayer hall, I cross the courtyard and ask one of the BSF jawans if there is anything else to see around. He tells me I have missed the beautiful Golden Stupa which contains the relics of the 16th Karmapa. Oops! The way is through the narrow stairs along side the main building. I return back.  I ask a monk seated nearby for the way to the golden stupa. He tells me  to follow him. He is very nice and chatty and shows me around the place. Beautiful regional flowers like this greet my eye…

Flower in Rumtek

The golden stupa is lovely but its photography is not allowed. The monastery also houses some of the rarest Tibetan-Buddhist artifacts and religious artwork like wall murals and thangkas (Buddhist hand paintings or embroidery work, traditionally mounted in a brocade fabric), etc.

Tight security measures are seen everywhere…

Labrador police dog

I return to the car and we move on to the next stop… the Jawaharlal Nehru Botanical Garden. There is an orchid nursery and many botanical species of plants. But since it is not the flowering season, there is not much to see.

We stop at Shanti View Point which is on the way back. This is the view of Gangtok…

Shanti View Point in Gangtok

I see this pandal erected to host the statue of Lord Vishwakarma. The pooja is still going on…

Vishwakarma Pooja in Gangtok

A few decorated vehicles are parked nearby…

Decorated cars in Gangtok

At around 1:00 PM, we reach the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, a leading institute and a research center of Tibetan culture and religion. Established in 1958, this institute is built in a traditional Tibetan style and has one of the biggest collections of Tibetan artefacts outside Tibet.

Namygal Institute of Tibetology  in Gangtok

Just after entering the place, beneath a canopy, there is a bronze statue of the last king of Sikkim, Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal. The museum, located on the ground floor, is the main attraction for visitors and researchers. It houses rare collections of Tibetan art work & objects like tapestries, shrines, thangkas, statues, coins and gorgeous antique paintings as well as ancient manuscripts in Sanskrit, Tibetan, Chinese and Lepcha. The library is located on the first floor of the building and holds one of the largest collections of Tibetan documents and literatures in the world.

Buddhist festival at Namygal Institute of Tibetology in Gangtok

Next to the building, a Buddhist Festival with folk music and dance presentation from Sikkim and its neighbouring northeastern states is in progress.  I’m just in time to see the Tibetan dance : Buddhist Festival in Gangtok – I

And this Tibetan piece…

Buddhist Festival at Namygal Institute of Tibetology in Gangtok

And this dance from another northeastern state : Buddhist Festival in Gangtok – II

A few minutes further from this place is the Dodrul Chorten,  a huge stupa with a golden dome, built on a hillock.

Dodrul Chorten in Gangtok

It is a good climb. Like the Tibetology institute, this seems to be a popular tourist place too. I see plenty of uniformed girls from two or three schools climb up to the place to offer their prayers. The chorten has 108 prayer wheels engraved with holy inscriptions. Prayers are chanted while spinning the wheels in the clockwise direction. The surrounding buildings house the learning centre and living quarters of the monks.

I climb down to where Pasan has managed to find a parking space along the narrow road. When Pasan starts the car he finds the rear wheels stuck in loose soil but he finds someone to help push the car. Next, we drive towards the Flower Exhibition Centre, which is near the city centre. Reaching this place, Pasan tells me that he is going to park the car a few metres above the road leading to the city’s Ridge Park. I’m glad. Tired of sitting in the car, I was looking forward to stretch my legs for some time.

There is an entrance fee of ten rupees to this tropical greenhouse,  the venue of the famous Sikkim Flower Show held in the month of March, when the orchids around the region are in full bloom.  Presently, there are a few colourful botanical species including roses.

Watch my video: Flower exhibition center in Gangtok

Roses at the Flower Exhibition Centre in Gangtok

25 Flowers at the Flower Exhibition in Gangtok

Flowers at the Flower Show  in Gangtok

It is a small exhibition and doesn’t take much time to look around. I leave the place and climb up the road to reach the Ridge park. The park gets its name from the ridge it stands on. It is a 15 minutes walk from the mall road market. A beautiful and peaceful place to relax…

Gazebo at Ridge Park  in Gangtok

The Whitehall complex located at one end of the park houses the residence of the Chief Minister and the Governor of Sikkim while a beautifully designed palace gate with a Pagoda rooftop adorns the other end.

The ridge is lined with lovely flower plants and trees…

Ridge Park in Gangtok

Our next stop is about 3 kms uphill drive from the town ….the Enchey Monastery.

Enchey Monastery  in Gangtok

More than 200  years ago, a monastery once stood here which was later rebuilt in 1908 by the 10th King of Sikkim. This monastery is important because according to local belief the protecting deities of Kangchenjunga and Yabdean reside in this monastery. It follows the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

Unfortunately, the prayer hall is closed. Perched on a hill top, this place offers picturesque views of Gangtok and the Kanchenjunga. But right now, it is very foggy. It starts to rain so I run back to the car.

Gangtok is dotted with innumerable viewpoints, which offer spectacular vistas of the surrounding hills, especially the Kanchenjunga. We go to one such place, the best of the lot.…Ganesh Tok.

Watch my video: Ganesh Tok in Gangtok

Located  at an altitude of 6,500 feet, seven kilometres northeast of Gangtok, Ganesh Tok offers a bird’s-eye view of the entire city and the surrounding mountains…and on a clear day, the Kangchenjunga.

Climbing a staircase, I reach the Ganesh temple. It is a lovely small temple. Next to it is an enclosed viewing lounge with glass panels. Passing through, I reach the circular balcony to be greeted by beautiful views…

View from Ganesh Tok  in Gangtok

From Ganesh Tok  in Gangtok

It is around 3:00 PM. There is a café around the place but I’m not hungry. So we proceed to the next vantage point about 15 minutes away…Tashi View Point.

Watch my video: Tashi View Point in Gangtok

It is a lovely quiet place for sunrise and sunset views. And, a great place to view the mighty Kangchenjunga and Sinioulchu, one of the tallest mountains in Sikkim. There is a shed at the point where visitors can rest for a while and get refreshments from the cafeteria.

 View from Tashi Point in Gangtok

From Tashi Point in Gangtok

By now, I’m tired of all the touristy sightseeing. Pasan tells me about another nearby view point,  Hanuman Tok which is close to the city zoo. Perhaps I can visit it some other time because the sightseeing tour doesn’t cover the zoo which anyway is closed today.

The Bakthang waterfall is on our way along the road…

Bakthang Falls in Gangtok

Watch my video: Bakthang Falls in Gangtok

A group of tourists are having a fun time in the colourful Sikkimese clothes they have worn for a photograph. The photographer has regional dresses for all – women, men and children. A small board displays some photographs of his past customers in colourful attire. The small kids look so very cute!

Just opposite is another way to view the city’s city beauty while on a thrilling ride…the Gangtok Ropeway. It is a double-cable zig back ropeway which is now closed due to off-season.

Gangtok Ropeway

The last place on tour is the Directorate of Handicraft & Handloom in the city centre is a major attraction for tourists. It offers a wide variety of traditional arts and crafts of the state for sale like carpets, wooden wall hangings, leather goods, gift items, etc. But it is closed when we reach. Well, I wasn’t going to buy anything  but I would have loved appreciating the fine work of the local artists and weavers.

It is 4:30 PM when we reach the hotel. From the fire station just opposite the hotel, loudspeakers are blaring out a regional song. That is when I notice the pandal of Lord Vishwakarma where devotees have gathered to offer their prayers.

I retire to my room, tired and hungry. I turn on the TV but there are no English music channels. It’s alright. At least they have Star World and a few English news channels. I call up Room Service for hot snacks. Half an hour later, I’m happily enjoying vegetable pakoras and black tea at the small table beside the hillside facing window.

Some time later, I start for the nearest ATM to withdraw cash to make an advance payment for the next day’s Nathu La tour. I make the 50% payment at the tour agency office and proceed towards M.G. Road. Just before its start, I see this well-illuminated pandal…

Vishwakarma Pooja Pandal in Gangtok

Lord Vishvakarma in Gangtok

This pandal has been set up by the Gangtok taxi drivers association. A box of prasad is given to all the devotees. I get one too. Being a festive holiday, there are plenty of people out on the road, visiting the various city pandals. That is when I realize that Gangtok has a sizeable population of migrant resident communities like Bengalis (from West Bengal), and Biharis (From Bihar). Vishwakarma Pooja is celebrated in a big way in these two states too. And I was thinking there were just the Nepalis, Lepchas, Bhutias and Tibetans in the city. Even the business community of Marwaris (from Rajasthan) has a strong base in the population.  Today the M.G. Road is very crowded, and thus, very messy. Luckily, I manage to find some space on one of the occupied benches. I open the prasad box. The prasad is a mix of rice flakes and  a few sweets. There is plenty of it so I spend half an hour finishing it off.

I return to my hotel at around 8:00 PM. The rain starts shortly thereafter. I’m excited to try out the Tibetan food offered by the hotel restaurant. So I ask for Chicken Thenthuk (hand pulled flat noodles with chicken, radish and black mushrooms). I tell the attendant to add some green veggies too. When I taste the soup, I feel content. It is just right for my health…without any spices but with a nice flavour of greens and black mushrooms. Perhaps I could have done without the chicken too.

After the light meal, I return to my room. The next morning I have to start for the Nathu La tour at 8:00 AM so as to return before 4:00 PM. The tour guy has told me that in the evenings the weather becomes bad in that region and it leads to landslides on the road. I hope for a beautiful weather.

At 10:00 PM, I go off to bed…….

Coming next: My Adventures in Darjeeling, Sikkim & Kalimpong – Part 4 of 7