HMI Darjeeling is one of the best mountaineering institutes in India. I got an opportunity to join Basic Mountaineering Course at the Institute where legendary Indian mountaineers have either instructed here or trained themselves. Mountaineers from HMI Darjeeling have challenged the mountains all over the world including the eight-thousanders.
This page is dedicated to the great institute when I got an opportunity to spend some time. I will share my experience at HMI Darjeeling and the latest information about the institute.
Application for Basic Mountaineering Course at HMI Darjeeling
HMI Darjeeling conducts wide variety of courses to suit the needs of different age groups and varying difficulty levels. The courses preferred by beginners, amateurs and professionals alike are:
Basic Mountaineering Course
Advance Mountaineering Course
Methods of Instruction Course.
It is necessary to complete the former to apply for the later.
Other courses like Adventure Course, Course for the Visually Challenged Person and Special Courses are also conducted which are more of an introduction to the world of adventure and mountaineering.
Though every applicant must try to attend the allotted course, in case of unavoidable circumstances or emergency, HMI can be requested to change the allotted course. Due to work pressure at my office, I requested HMI to transfer me into another Basic Mountaineering Course. I am thankful to HMI for considering the request and allotting another course. Though with an instruction to attend the course and such accommodation will not be possible the second time.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
On our return, we stopped at Tsomgo Lake where other tourists were clicking photographs with yaks.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Enchey Monastry, Ganesh Tok and Himalayan Zoological Park, Tashi Viewpoint
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Day – 4 Bangkok (Thailand) – Don Muang International Airport, Krabi, Ban Sainai Resort, Ao Nang
Next day we packed out bags and left for Krabi in Air Asia flight. The problem we encountered at the airport was – not booking our checked-in luggage in advance. We had to pay THB 1800 for two bags but immediately booked the two bags for our return flight in THB 690. We had in advance booked Bangkok – Krabi – Bangkok flight with Nok Air, the booking was made using a friend’s debit card but due to the policy of Nok Air to show the card used to book flights at the time of check-in, I had to rebook the tickets, this time with Air Asia.
At Krabi International Airport, we found counters for transfer to hotels in Krabi area. There was an Airport Shuttle bus service which goes to Ao Nang via Krabi Town. We booked a seat in the bus at THB 150 for Ban Sainai Resort located in Ao Nang. The bus was parked in the left side of the exit gate. This was an hour long, comfortable and inexpensive ride to the resort.
At the resort, we were welcomed with Butterfly Pea Tea (made of Butterfly Tea flower) which was refreshing and tasty. The cottages were decorated quite nice and we enjoyed the surroundings. I felt relaxed after the hustle of the capital city. We spent the evening roaming around the main street in Ao Nang looking for currency exchange and Indian restaurants. There is no dearth of both.
Ao Nang is not a very large town, the locals were soft speaking and we knew that we would enjoy our stay there. Here also, Seven-Eleven stores are aplenty for fulfilling day to day needs.
Day 5 – Krabi Ao Nang (Thailand) – Railay West, Railay East, Viewpoint, Lagoon, Phra Nang
Next day we went to Ao Nang beach. There are plenty of long-tail boats ready to take tourists to Railay and other nearby islands. We went to Ao Nang Longtail Boat Service Club ticket window and purchased returned tickets for both at THB 600. Then, we were asked to sit on benches and wait for sufficient number of passengers for a long tail boat. An engine operated long tail boat can accommodate eight passengers. You realize you are in Krabi when you see limestone karsts jutting out of the sea. The view was breathtaking. It is very much sure that if you sit in the front of the boat you will get wet.
The boat landed us at Railay West beach. The sea is calm, possibly due to formation of a bay and favourable wind direction but the beach was bustling with tourists. We took a pathway going towards Railay East. Railay East has mangrove trees, unclear waters and strong waves. Since it was afternoon, the sea was high and rocking the concrete pavement going towards Phranang Beach.
While going towards Phra Nang beach we saw rock climbers practicing their skills. After come distance, you see a trail leading to the Viewpoint and the Lagoon. I had to drop the plan to climb the trail because of my wife’s insistence. Anyway we moved towards Phra Nang beach.
The first thing you observe here is Phra Nang Cave which houses a shrine dedicated to the Goddess of Love (Phra Nang).
Though the beach was crowded and the waves a bit strong in this part too, it was beautiful with clear blue-green waters. We spent some part of afternoon swimming and later consuming the snacks I brought from India and seven-eleven.
While going back to Railay East beach, I could not resist the temptation to climb the trail to the Viewpoint. I successfully convinced my wife to climb with me. The climb was easy and we both enjoyed the view of both Railay East and West from the Viewpoint.
On our return, the adventurer in me could not resist climbing down to the lagoon as well. The climb was not easy and had some dangerous points. My wife waited for me at the top. The calm lagoon was surrounded by the greenery of towering trees. I made a short swim in the water and immediately came back to my wife. This must have took about forty minutes.
We had our lunch (pizza) at a local restaurant located on Railay East and moved back to our hotel in Ao Nang. We spent the remaining day at our resort swimming pool and relaxing. We also booked our next day’s tour to Hot Stream Waterfall, Emerald Pool and Kayaking at Ao Thalane in THB 2000 each at a discount of THB 200 per person. Thanks to our hotel.
Day 6 – Krabi Ao Nang (Thailand) – Hot Stream Waterfall, Emerald Pool and Kayaking at Ao Thalane
We got a call from the reception when we were having breakfast that our tour vehicle has arrived. We were late by ten minutes, then I came to know it is not appreciated to be late in Thailand. While going towards Hot Stream Waterfall we saw a giant Buddha image at Tiger Cave Temple in Krabi. We had dropped the plan to visit there in favour of kayaking.
Hot Stream Waterfall — About forty degree Celsius temperature, flows in a hot stream which the locals consider good for health if one soaks in for 15-20 minutes. The place was quite crowded and we enjoyed the water just by dipping our feet in the warm water. Not a very interesting place in my opinion.
Then the van took us to Emerald Pool which is a circular pool with uniform depth of around five feet. The pool is good to try swimming and we saw many Thai people there. There is Blue Pool about eight hundred meters from the Emerald Pool which I have read is more clear and less crowded. Since, we had to leave for Kayaking we did not walk till there.
We met another honeymoon couple from India at the pool. They had booked their trip with a tour operator from India and this was their first day in Thailand. We were content that we had the freedom to travel the country on our own.
We had Thai vegetarian lunch at a resort where we were shifted to another van for Ao Thalane kayaking. Ao Thalane pier is located north of Ao Nang. After wearing life jacket, collecting waterproof bag and paddles we went to the pier. The kayaks were two-seater and our group had eight kayaks.
This would be the first time kayaking for both of us. As soon as we boarded the kayak, we were struggling to control it. The guide was throwing instructions like left-backward, right-foreword etc which seemed random to us. The kayak was having its own mind of colliding with other long-tail boats parked on the pier. The guide took pity on us and toed our kayak to his.
After getting closer to the lagoons, he asked if we would like to try on our own. If not, we will have to pay THB 1000. We agreed to try on our own and succeeded. We enjoyed the adventure and clicked a lot of photographs of mangrove forests and lagoons. It was tiring but fun.
We were back in town by 1800 hours and spent the evening in the resort itself. We had fixed Bombay Palace Indian Restaurant for dinner which was also favorably reviewed by TripAdvisor. The food was delicious and the prices were not more that other similar restaurants in the town.
In our whole trip to Thailand, though for only ten minutes, today it rained.
Day 7 – Krabi Ao Nang (Thailand) – Poda Island
After a long discussion to plan this last day of our trip in Thailand, we decided that we will relax and enjoy the time on a calm beach. I favoured James Bond Island and Phi Phi Island Sightseeing trips but my wife insisted on more relaxed and closely located Poda Island. Being tired of yesterday’s Kayaking session, we decided on Poda Island.
Poda Island is only half an hour away from Ao Nang in a long tail boat. There are boat services to Poda, Chicken and Tup Islands which also form the part of Four Island tour. We booked return tickets for THB 300 plus THB 200 (National Park fees) per person. The island was less crowded and the boatman asked us to be back by 1500 hours. We had full four hours at the beach. We enjoyed the scenery, took a swim, slept under the shade of trees, had our lunch and recollected our memories of Thailand trip. It was a long time to spend on a beach and we enjoyed the free time.
After booking seats in a minivan for Airport transfer in THB 150 with a tour agency, we were back to our resort by 1630 hours. There were many such tour agencies providing Airport transfers including the Airport Shuttle Bus we took earlier.
We spent the last day in Bangkok shopping gifts for relatives and close friends. We had our flight back to India in the very early morning so we reached Suvarnabhumi Airport in the night itself. The trip was amazing. We enjoyed and learned from each and every moment in this beautiful country. Even before leaving Thailand, me and my wife were making plans for our next foreign trip who knows Thailand again and this time we may be able to Ayutthaya, North East Thailand and Chiang Mai.