Solo Trip to Gangtok Sikkim Nathula Excursion

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Tsomgo Lake - Nathula Pass Excursion - Gangtok Sikkim
Tsomgo Lake – Nathula Pass Excursion – Gangtok Sikkim

Read Solo Trip to Gangtok Sikkim – Part-1

Nathula Pass Excursion

Day before yesterday on return from Zero Point, I walked to SNT (Sikkim Nationalized Transport) Bus Terminal to know about the buses leading to internal Sikkim. I also enquired with a tour operator, Everest Tours and Travels about NathuLa excursion which would be the highlight of my solo trip to Gangtok Sikkim.  I booked a seat in a shared taxi in INR 800 per person. The fare includes excursion to NathuLa, Baba Mandir and Tsomgo Lake and permit for which the tour operator collected a copy of my Government Issued ID and Passport photographs. The visitors have to get the permit to visit the place by applying to the Tourism and Civil Department through a registered and recognized Travel agency. Foreign nationals are not allowed to visit NathuLa (54 kilometers). The taxi will be a Tata Sumo or a Mahindra Bolero with seating capacity of ten persons (excluding driver) and I got a seat in the back of the vehicle.

It was informed that NathuLa pass is closed for tourists on Monday and Tuesday so they booked me for Wednesday. More information on NathuLa pass can be found at http://sikkimtourism.gov.in/Webforms/General/PlacesOfInterest/Nathula.aspx.

I woke up early morning and got ready to leave for NathuLa. I carried warm clothes, trekking boots, First Aid  box, snacks and water. Happy to find out sun in the sky which will continue throughout the day, I left for Changu (Tsomgo) Lake Taxi Stand located in Vajra area. From Deorali I took a taxi to the Hospital and then changed taxi to Changu Taxi Stand. The taxi driver shared his concern of how political parties in Gangtok are trying to influence taxi drivers union which is at present mostly free of such influence.

I reached the taxi stand by 0800 hours and called the agency, they informed the location and taxi registration number. Since the reporting time was 0830 hours, I spent the time taking tea and breakfast at a nearby restaurant.

The taxi started at 0900 hours. A Bengali family of seven, a couple and I were the passengers of my taxi. On the outskirts of the town, at a check-post our common permit was checked. We were asked to pay INR 10 and given receipt for some kind of tax which is used for ecological development of the lake area.

Being in remote area, the road condition was poor. The road is maintained under Project SWASTIK by Border Roads Organization. After covering twenty five kilometers, the vehicle stopped at a Dhaba. It is important that one keeps in mind a possibility of suffering from Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). The best way is to consume plenty of water and liquids. I ate Maggi noodles and filled up my one liter water bottle.

Baba Mandir Nathula Excursion

Baba Mandir Nathula Excursion Gangtok Sikkim
Baba Mandir Nathula Excursion Gangtok Sikkim

We crossed Tsomgo Lake (we will visit this point on return) and reached the junction of roads to Baba Mandir and NathuLa. We were asked by the army person to visit Baba Mandir first (possibly due to crowd at NathuLa. Baba Mandir is a temple dedicated to Major Baba Harbhajan Singh, an Indian soldier.

At this time of the year, there is no snow but shrubs and plants are in full bloom all over the mountains. These shrubs paint the mountains in colors of red, green, yellow, grey and so on. The wind was blowing cold. An about twelve year old kid of the Bengali family was the one and only victim of height I witnessed. As soon as he came back from Baba Temple to the vehicle he fell down and could not get up on his own. He was lifted back into the car and given some fluids. Probably, he exhausted himself in low Oxygen environment. He was provided with gulps of water frequently and was fine by the time we left Nathula.

Nathula Pass

Lake Covered in Clouds Nathula Excursion Gangtok Sikkim
Lake Covered in Clouds Nathula Excursion Gangtok Sikkim

We saw beautiful twin lakes while going back to the Nathula pass from Baba Temple. Nathula pass, an open trading border pass located at Indo-China border, is located at the elevation of 14,420 ft above MSL. Our vehicle parked along the roadside and we walked up to the stairs leading to a pink-yellow building on the Indian side. Like many other tourists I took the opportunity to shake hands with a Chinese soldier across the barbed wire fencing on the roof. From the roof, one can see trucks passing through a large border gate. There is a canteen at 14000 feet where I had bun and tea.

Nathula Pass -- Sikkim
Nathula Pass — Sikkim

The Indian Army personnel took extreme efforts to sensitize tourists of the criticality of high elevation and suggested not to exert too much, walk at slow pace and rest a lot, cover ears, nose and head properly, apply sunscreen to exposed skin and use sunglasses to protect eyes. A notice board at Baba Temple stressed that vehicles should leave before 1330 hours considering the possibility of unfavorable weather in the afternoon.

Tsomgo Lake – Nathula Excursion

Tsomgo Lake Nathula Excursion Gangtok Sikkim
Tsomgo Lake Nathula Excursion Gangtok Sikkim

On our return, we stopped at Tsomgo Lake where other tourists were clicking photographs with yaks.

Tsomgo Lake Nathula Excursion Sikkim Gangtok
Tsomgo Lake Nathula Excursion Sikkim Gangtok

Midway, we had our lunch with options of momos, Maggi noodles and fried rice. We reached Gangtok by 1700 hours. Since my return train back to workplace was just after midnight from New Jalpaiguri, I had to ruch to my hotel. I immediately packed my luggage and thanked the manager of the hotel to help me packing and left for the Mainline Taxi stand. I boarded a shared taxi which left at 1830 hours and reached Siliguri (130 kilometers) at 2200 hours. I made friends with a co-passenger who was also to catch the same train. We had some difficulty finding cheap transport to New Jalpaiguri Railway Station due to extreme rush during Durga Puja festival, we both hired an Auto rickshaw and shared the cost. Fortunately, we were able to reach there by time.

This experience of a solo trip to Gangtok Sikkim was an opportunity which allowed me to travel according to my comfort, testing my limits, trusting strangers and controlling emotions. I learned more about my habits and limits which gave me confidence to undertake such adventures.

Solo Trip to Gangtok Sikkim – Gangtok Town

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Gangtok Sikkim Landscape View -- By proxygeek - Flickr Gangtok landscape, CC BY-SA 2.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=29896326
Gangtok Sikkim Landscape View — By proxygeek – Flickr Gangtok landscape, CC BY-SA 2.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=29896326

I always thought about how I would fare on a solo trip. The opportunity knocked on my return to Jaigaon from Bhutan when all the doors closed except to return home when I decided to undertake a solo trip to Gangtok Sikkim. Since I had approved office leave balance, going to home will amount to a sacrilegious act in the religion of travel. Prabhu, my travelling companion since last week had to return to his home and I was left with no option but to travel on my own. I was excited and nervous at the same time.

Jaigaon to Gangtok

We woke up at five in the morning as we had to reach bus/taxi stop at the earliest to book tickets for our individual travels. September was about to end and it was drizzling. We both got ready and checked out from Eden Lodge Hotel. There was no one present at the reception and we had already paid one night rent in advance, so we lifted the shutter and walked to the taxi stand.

Breakfast shops were not open yet but for our tea vendor alongside the footpath. We walked to Hotel Siddharth where West Bengal State Transport Bus to Darjeeling is parked. It was to leave at 0700 hours. I left Prabhu to book his ticket there and left for taxi-stand. All shared taxis to Gangtok were already booked so they booked me in a Kalimpong bound taxi till Chitrey (INR 200) from where I will find another vehicle to Gangtok. The conductor of taxi was about twelve year old good-natured, hyperactive smart kind.  My seat number seven was third row left window seat in a Tata Sumo. After booking I went to say goodbye to Prabhu. I had a nostalgic feeling about him as we had spent good time exploring Bhutan together.

Jaigaon Taxi Reservation Stand -- By Christopher J. Fynn - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=39733199
Jaigaon Taxi Reservation Stand — By Christopher J. Fynn – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=39733199

The taxi started at 0730 hours and reached Chitrey at 1130 hours. The route was lush green with muddy Teesta river flowing along since crossing the Coronation Bridge. The impressive bridge tells a history of British era.

Coronation Bridge, West Bengal, India -- By QuasimHussain - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=28366359
Coronation Bridge, West Bengal, India — By QuasimHussain – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=28366359

From Chitrey, I boarded another Tata Sumo taxi from Chitrey which reached Rangpo at 1300 hours (INR 50). The road into Sikkim is too busy mostly with military vehicles. At Rangpo, foreigners have to show their entry permits before entering Sikkim. Foreigners must obtain Inner Line Permit (ILP) to enter Sikkim. More details can be found at http://sikkim.nic.in/homedept/ilpfaqs.htm.

I waited by the side of a petrol pump and waited for a bus going to Gangtok. During the hour long bus ride (INR 50), I witnessed the harmful effects of unsustainable infrastructure development on the mountains and Teesta river flowing alongside the road. As we get close to Gangtok, temperature starts dropping. The bus reached Mainline Taxi Stand at 1445 hours.

Gangtok – Finding a Hotel in Deorali Street

Prabhu had informed me of Tibetan Street where I can find cheap rooms but nor I could not find it on Google Maps neither the locals at the Mainline Bus Stand had any clue. They advised me to look for hotels on nearby Deorali Street which was at a walking distance. There are many decent hotels in this area which had rooms available for INR 500 and above. I found the manager of Hotel Quality Lodge amicable and accommodating and booked a room for INR 500. I felt happy and safe when, for now, I had a decent place to stay. It is so much comfort.

View of Deorali Street from Cable Car Gangtok Sikkim
View of Deorali Street from Cable Car Gangtok Sikkim

My plan was to stay in Gangtok for three nights and four days. I searched through Internet and Google Maps for places to visit. One of the interesting thing to note about Sikkim is it became a part of the Republic of India in 1974.

M G Road – Gangtok

On the first day I spent the evening exploring the neighborhood and visiting Mahatma Gandhi Road. On the advice of a local, I took a shared taxi (INR 10) to drop me at a point on the road from where a flight of stairs lead to MG Road. MG Road is a pedestrian only wide road with shops on both sides. It is a good place to spend the evening with family and friends shopping and eating and spending time together. Since I was alone I looked how other people were enjoying. It seemed almost all tourists to Gangtok visit MG Road.

Sikkim_Tourism_Office_in_MG_Road,_Gangtok By Sujay25 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=40240449
Sikkim Tourism Office in MG Road, Gangtok — By Sujay25 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=40240449

A Sikkim Tourism Department office is a must visit for collecting travel information about Sikkim. I collected a map of Gangtok and Sikkim from the office before having dinner at Marwari Bhojanalaya. The entrepreneurial spirit of Marwaris (a community from the western part of Rajasthan) is truly incorporated in the saying, ‘Jaha na pahuche rail-gaadi, waha jaaye Marwari’. I would be coming here for dinner throughout my stay in Gangtok.

By the time I finished dinner, it started drizzling and then raining. I came to the hotel and before sleeping talked to my family, read some pages of Jamie Zeppa’s ‘Beyond the Sky and Earth’ which I had bought in a bookshop in Paro (Bhutan).

A Solo Day Walking Tour of Gangtok

Dro Dul Chorten, Namgyal Institure of Tibetology Museum – Gangtok

I had breakfast of Roti-sabji and Samosa-sabji at Subba-Lakshmi Restaurant on the Deorali Street before heading to Dro Dul Chorten (a stupa) and Namgyal Institute of Tibetology Museum which are at walking distance from my Hotel. I found Deorali Street well connected to all the tourist points in the city even with a ropeway.

Namgyal Institute of Tibetology Gangtok Sikkim
Namgyal Institute of Tibetology Gangtok Sikkim

While going to the Chorten, I had a chat with a young student of Namgyal Institute of Tibetology. I came to know that most of the Buddhists in India and Bhutan follow Tibetan philosophy. These students in monk-like dresses may chose to become monks at a later stage in their lives.  After visiting the Chorten, I waited outside Namgyal Institute of Tibetology Museum as its opening time is 1000 hours. Though the museum contains many artifacts, I found twelve thangkas (tapestries) depicting the life of Buddha from beginning to end interesting.

Ropeway, Flower Exhibition Center and Ridge Park – Gangtok

A ropeway from Deorali Street to Secretariat used to operate which now operates till Legislative Assembly only. The return ticket is INR 80. Following the map I collected from Tourist Office, I took the ropeway and got down at Legislative Assembly. From their crossing a park, I reached Secretariat. From here I walked to Flower Exhibition Center which according to its name houses variety of flowers. A short climb and I reached Ridge Park. Gangtok is situated over a ridge and on the ridge there is this beautiful park where I took some rest. The southern end of the road over the ridge leads to Palace Gate and the northern end leads towards the Enchey Monastry.

Flower Exhibition Center Gangtok Sikkim
Flower Exhibition Center Gangtok Sikkim
Flower Exhibition Center Gangtok Sikkim
Flower Exhibition Center Gangtok Sikkim
Flower Exhibition Center Gangtok Sikkim
Flower Exhibition Center Gangtok Sikkim

Enchey Monastry, Ganesh Tok and Himalayan Zoological Park, Tashi Viewpoint

Enchey Monastry Gangtok Sikkim
Enchey Monastry Gangtok Sikkim

From the Ridge road, I walked to Enchey Monastry. This beautiful monastery which is an important center of Buddhism in Gangtok, allows a breath taking view of the city and surrounding peaks. I asked locals for a shortcut to Ganesh Tok from Enchey Monsatry. Based on their advice I could save three kilometers of walking. I took Chandmari Road and when it ended, I connected JLN Road after crossing through houses and foliage. Ganesh Tok also provides a beautiful view of city.

Ganesh Tok Gangtok Sikkim
Ganesh Tok Gangtok Sikkim

From Ganesh Tok, I walked to Himalayan Zoological Park. The ticket was INR 25. The two ladies at the ticket counter were surprised to see me alone and without any vehicle. After assuring it was safe but the park is spread out in a large area, it might be a tough walk. But, I was adamant. The park was very interesting and I enjoyed roaming around. I got an opportunity to see Black Bear, Red Panda (they are really cute, just like in the animated version of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book), Goral, Blue Sheep, Clouded Leopard, Snow Leopard, Civets and many kinds of Birds.

Himalayan Zoological Park Gangtok Sikkim
Himalayan Zoological Park Gangtok Sikkim
Leopard at Himalayan Zoological Park Gangtok Sikkim
Leopard at Himalayan Zoological Park Gangtok Sikkim

I ate my lunch of snacks and biscuits which I brought with me at a view point in the park under cement umbrellas as it was drizzling. It spent two hours in the park and came out by 1530 hours.

View from Tashi Viewpoint Gangtok Sikkim
View from Tashi Viewpoint Gangtok Sikkim

Tashi Viewpoint is about five kilometers from Ganesh Tok. I walked this distance between luch green forest and cool weather. This is a bypass road connecting JLN Road to North Sikkim Highway. The view encompassed mountain ranges and there is a possibility of seeing Mount Kanchenjunga from the viewpoint in clear weather. From Tashi viewpoint I got into a taxi which dropped me to Zero Point in the city. On return to hotel, I booked Nathula excursion for day after tomorrow.

Birthday, Lal Bazaar and Denzong Cinema

The next day I woke up at 0900 hours finding myself a year older. Yes, it was my birthday. After getting ready, I spent some time watching television. Our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi was on a tour to the United States of America and last night he had mesmerized the Indian audience with his speech.

Lal Bazaar Vegetable market in Gangtok -- By Rudolph.A.furtado - Own work, CC0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=32235894.
Lal Bazaar Vegetable market in Gangtok — By Rudolph.A.furtado – Own work, CC0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=32235894.

I came out of the hotel and walked towards MG Road for lunch at 1300 hours when Lal Bazaar caught my attention. It is mostly a vegetable market where I spent the time tasting street food. Then, I bought front row tickets (INR60) of an English movie Hercules at Denzong Cinema. I did not like the movie but the cinema hall interior architecture impressed me. When I came out, it was drizzling so I walked to hotel and watched television. After a sumptuous dinner at Marwari Hotel, I came to hotel and slept early to wake up on time for Nathula excursion.

Read Solo Trip to Gangtok Sikkim Nathula Excursion (Part-2 of this Post)