The last few days of the trip

Now that most of the sightseeing and traveling is over, i would refrain on writing posts after posts about our return journey. Lachen was again unbearably cold the next day and We were anxious to get back to the hot plains. We headed back to Gangtok that day after another 5 hour drive down the mountains. Teesta River kept us company all along and both of us finished our last bits of brownie and muruku to distract ourselves from the ever "rocking" journey. We bid farewell to our heroic driver at Gangtok and took rest in the same hotel and in the same room (Wonder if they kept it empty for us).
Next morning our ride arrived at around 11 am. We visited the Gangtok Handicrafts museum on the way back to pick up some souvenirs for the team back in Chennai. We were allowed to see the folks who actually work there and make this stuff; Very impressive. We finally settled on a bamboo stick base pen holder with golden dragons (for the guys) and orchids (for the gals) painted on it. The new driver was extremely fast and brought us back to New Jalpaiguri 4 hours before the train time!
We as usual started hunting a restaurant at the station and spotted the evergreen IRCTC cafeteria. (Remember him from Kolkata station don't u?). We had few dosas and omelettes (as usual) and I was so thankful they made some decent food. They were atrociously cheap (yes you saw it right, Cheap). Their food quality was not the best in town but decent enough to feed the hungry souls like us. Their quantity was far more than what HSB gives in a complete Rs.70 Meal! Hail IRCTC! Though you are not the best, you are not the worst either!
We bought more books and parked ourselves at the platform until our train arrived. I started writing important pointers for my blog (yes this blog) and made sure I don't forget those small but important facts about the trip. I was also on a reading spree and bought more books to while away my time.
The train dropped us back to Sealdah station and we chose not to go to Victoria Memorial again and headed towards the Airport! We bought more books at the airport and Vishnu caught up on the Current affairs from the local Newspaper. In a few hours we were back to Pavilion and Appa (My father in Law) was eagerly waiting to receive us!

What a Trip! Surely the best so far and I hope I do more of these again! As I say good bye to this post, I would like to thank some people who really made this trip the best!

- My Travel Agent - Savion Travels. Especially Mr. Pankaj and Mr.Anand for arranging everything from NJP and back!
- Mr. Ram - Our very wise driver - Showed us the most beautiful sunrise and took us to some breath taking spots.
- The Hotels - Fortune Resort, Darjeeling. Royal Demazong, Gangtok. Fortuna Lodge, Lachen - They served us unconditionally and made us comfortable in the not-so-comfortable weather conditions.
- Mr. Kumar - Our driver from Gangtok to Guru-Dongmar and back. No matter how slow you were, you were surely courageous enough to drive through those paths for a living!
- IRCTC Cafeteria @ Kolkata and NJP - You fed us well and didn’t charge a fortune!
- The cook @ Lachen - You served us the best food ever!
- The book stalls at every station and airport - You are the source of a lot of time pass.
- Finally, Mother India - You are simply beautiful!

@ 17000 Feet

Well. Looks like my blog is hibernating in Lachen and it's high time we woke up!

We had numerous alarms waking us up from sleep. We didn’t hear most of the alarms, not cos of sleep, but we were drowned in multiple layers of blankets! The lodge didn’t provide us a heater in the room by default and at 4 am we were nearly close to freezing. The room was comparatively small and just about enough for both of us and 2 small boxes of luggage to fit in. Both Vishnu and I caught a cold (Actually allergy from one of the furry bed sheets) and were sneezing most of the time. We somehow managed to wake up and get ready. For the first time in the trip, I took out my thermal wear and wore it with no hesitation. My leather gloves somehow just didn’t generate enough heat and I just felt numb. The cook was very nice to us and woke up much before us to prepare some tea and pack some breakfast. Our skinny driver showed up sharp at 5 and we started our journey to Guru-Dongmar in the dark. You must be thinking why so much hype for this place where we are going. I actually felt the same way! Aisa toh kya hain yaar that we fought with cold and sleep to get there! I would prefer answering this a little later in the post :)

So, here we were, having a camel ride in our jeep. The rocks and stones on the road just grew bigger and it hurt us more. Most of the route had steep hair pin bends with no barricades built (Too much to expect). After few hours of climbing we landed in "Thungu" for breakfast. The first breakfast ever at the height of 14,000 ft above sea level! A local family received us and the lady heated up the bread, butter and jam (which the cook packed) and served us tea. We never found the smoky bread, ghee like butter and melted jam so tasty! All we wanted was something to warm us up!! The place had a fire place in the center of the room and all of us sat around it (imagine villagers sitting in front of a campfire). The snow capped mountains were much closer to us. We saw smoke coming out of our noses and mouths...hehe.. There was snowfall in Thungu and the roads were covered with frozen ice. The streams around were all frozen like a refrigerator’s freezer box!
After the quick breakfast we had a 2 hour drive and 3,000 feet more to climb! My back started to hurt and I could no more take to jerks and breaks. We were praying to get to this "God forbidden" Place soon. I had numerous questions running on my mind "Mein kaha hu? mein yaha kya kar rahi hu?..mein kyun yaha hu?" - Only questions with no answers. Vishnu's cold was getting worse and I was afraid he will come back with a non-functional nose! We spotted many military camps and training centers and finally halted at a check post 15,000 feet above sea level. The army personnel insisted us to stand in the open ground for a few minutes as the oxygen level was low and he wanted us to get used to it before we went higher. The check post was pretty small and it was right in the center of a huge ground. The landscape had changed too, No greenery, only brown rocks and white snow! As we approached the Guru-Dongmar Lake, we spotted a temple like construction and some more tourists too. Phew! we were not the only fools to make this trip (I thought). I was already growing disappointed by the approaching temple (Don’t tell me ye dekhne ke liye humne itni tapasya ki!), but wait! As the jeep was nearing, we discovered a BEAUTIFUL Lake! The place was too breezy and hindered us from opening our eyes. The Lake was awesome, glittering in the sunshine and shadows of the snow capped mountains falling on the water; Simply Adorable!! They say that it’s impossible to stay here after 12 in the afternoon as it gets too windy. We stood there for exactly 5 minutes and were ready to head back to Lachen! Trust me, It was worth the effort. The 5 hour drive for a 5 min look at a lake in between the gigantic snow capped mountains is surely worth it!
We had now started to dread our trip back; I am more scared of getting down the steep hair pin bends than climbing! What if the driver loses his balance and leaves the breaks! Went through the 5 hour torture all over again in the reverse order and reached the Lodge by late afternoon! It felt like "To the moon and back".. What a ride! We could smell nice food and couldn’t wait to hog! The lodge manager was nice to us and arranged a room heater (What a savior) and we hogged lunch in peace and warmth! We spent the rest of the day in the lodge doing almost nothing! Just kept drinking teas and eating hot rotis and sabzi and tried to make sure that the room heater worked. (Gosh cold weather made me hungry!)
The day had been extremely hectic and a relaxing evening helped both of us to take care of our “ever-running” noses! Lachen was freaking cold that day and we kept wrapping ourselves in as many layers as possible. (It reminded me of my NJ days where I would be bundled up all day!)

Road to Lachen

It’s so cozy and comfortable. My thick beautiful rose printed blanket covered me completely! I could hear him moving around the room, taking pictures, watching tv and just generally whiling away time as I refused to wake up! I finally felt bad for him and managed to unwind from my blanket. I must say this hotel was the best in the trip - but we spent the least time here! We were instructed to be ready by 10 for our trip to Lachen. I again got lost in the welcoming bathroom and took my own sweet time to get ready, I gave more than "own sweet time" for him as well! By 9 am we were ready and we already had rats playing bhangra in our stomachs a.k.a Hungry!
The restaurant at the hotel had the same name as the one in Darjeeling "The Orchid" - and it also happens to be my favorite flower too - It's just a coincidence damn it! (Sivaji aka Rajni). We hogged numerous omelets and toasted bread. We were the only ones in the restaurant and assumed the entire breakfast buffet as ours! The waiter(s) were very sweet to us while serving :-) and were probably thinking "Complementary breakfast ka fayda uthaving eh" – Never mind!
We spent some time walking around the premises of the hotel and taking some more "idea" photos as we were waiting for our ride to arrive. We could hear every vehicle passing by the main road (which was probably 100 meters from us), our big Mahindra jeep finally arrived and a thin, tiny, skinny driver appeared. I wondered if he could even drive the jeep properly. Trust me I thought wrong (you will discover it as we go on with the trip). Our jeep had the sticker "Praise the Lord" similar to the sticker I had on my previous Maruti - Again a coincidence damn it :)
On the way, we visited the "Seven sisters Waterfalls" - Apparently Seven waterfalls together one above the other. We could actually spot 5 and didn’t know where the other 2 sisters were - May be playing in the garden ;) lol. The water and the sun rays collided beautifully to create a mini rainbow; Lovely indeed.
I would avoid getting into too much of details (I would land up writing a novel otherwise) and would try to stick to the important things only :) The roads started to become non-existent as we proceeded. Every path we drove was either filled with stones/rocks/water. It was initially very exciting and looked very adventurous, but as we climbed higher it became too scary. The path was so narrow that I could not imagine 2 vehicles crossing at the same time. But guess what, a huge Army van and our car would pass each other with a centimeter gap. I was unfortunately sitting at the side where the vehicles would pass by! We had the "Teesta" river accompany us all along the trip. We spotted water from every height, width and angle. So many small streams and waterfalls contributed to Teesta. We crossed almost 15 waterfalls during the ride and we didn’t bother to click any pictures as we were having a camel ride (both in speed and feel) and we wouldn’t have got any stable photos! Our bums started to ache and we were growing impatient. The driver had a little mercy on us and halted for lunch at a nice and small restaurant. The good part about this place was - we didn’t have to pay for what we ate here, we don’t get to order either - Food just appears on the table. We had good lively music to keep us alive and rejuvenate ourselves from the painful ride.
No matter how painful it was, I must say the mountains were very attractive; Mysterious and gigantic. Hats-off to "BRO" (Border roads Organization) for taking the effort to create this route. In fact, they are in the process of laying roads on this route and am hoping it will be built before my kid is old enough to visit Sikkim ;-) BRO also painted messages like "Be gentle on my curves", "Please horn while you turn", "No hurry No worry" etc which kept us entertained during the journey :)
The drive from Gangtok to Lachen took us almost 6 hours. Teesta was enjoying every bit of water and we were far from enjoying as we held ourselves tight to avoid jumping and hitting our heads against the roof! I could already see Vishnu frowning to every bump/rock which approached us! It was 6 in the evening when we saw "Lachen". It was already pitch dark and we had no mood/inclination to go anywhere after that. It was pretty cold and we chose to spend the rest of the evening in the lodge. The lodge was a very basic place with absolutely nobody staying there. Thankfully there was a cook ;) He fed us with some yummy food and we hit the bed very early! But before that, the driver came and told us – “Kal subah 5 baje nikalna hain” and we were like - NO, Not again! The driver insisted on taking us to "Guru Dongmar lake" and finally convinced us to be ready by 4:30 am!
We wished "Good night" to Lachen by 8:00 pm and entered dream world in no time! What a day it was!

Darjeeling se Gangtok tak

We left Darjeeling and were heading towards Sikkim, on the way we spotted the very famous Teesta River. Entering Sikkim is a totally hyped process - you need a dozen permits and there are lots of check posts where the driver is required to go sign registers. The funny part is, those check posts sometimes would be deserted and our driver would just go and honestly sign the book. I must say the driver was pretty honest, according to him, people in the locality are honest and "No thefts" usually. Impressive! We stopped by to the beautiful view point called "Triveni view point". It offers a panoramic view of the ’sangam’. This is the point where the rivers Rangeet and Teesta meet. This junction divides the land in to Sikkim, West Bengal and the earstwhile portions of Bhutan. We spotted a couple of rafts from the top and were tempted to go for river rafting.

The guy who offered the rafts was atrociously priced, but u know what, he was the only one who provided this service and every tourist who passed by would not mind paying that amount because its "a onetime experience". We had a huge discussion whether to go for it or not. Random thoughts like "should we even bother to this?", "May be we should, because we may not come again to this place", "What the heck, just don’t bother about money", "Its freaking expensive and our overall expenses will shoot up", "No other better gift to give him on this day" blah blah blah. I wanted to make sure that Vishnu had a fabulous birthday, besides me not organizing a cake or bouquet of flowers! So, after all that brain storming, we decided to go rafting! Luckily, We found a friendly couple - Smitha & Rohit - to accompany us in this adventure and to share the burden of the cost!
The river was calm for the most part of the rafting except for some rapids which made us active and scream our lungs out when the water would rise as if its ready to gulp us all down! Vishnu took the brave work of rowing and I conveniently sat in the center to enjoy the ride. Whenever a rapid was nearing, the guide who came along with us would say "On your knees" - Smitha and I would obediently kneel down and throw ourselves in front of the raft. It was as if the waters were waiting for us to bow and it would immediately attack us! It was a once in a lifetime experience for sure and we enjoyed every bit of it! :)

Our driver, was impatient to take us to Gangtok and drove as fast as he could. (we were running 2 hours late). Vishnu and I were just too tired to even bother about the view outside! In fact we were hungry. We took out our Mothers love - Brownies and Pakodas - and filled our stomach to survive the ride. As we entered Gangtok we saw a prominent pedestrian built on both sides of the road. Found that unique as we don't really bother to build one for our city! Sikkim is beautiful (no wonder it attracts tourists and terrorists) and we seemed to like it so far. Gangtok was a total buzzing city. A fully fledged market with almost all brands available: Nike, Adidas, Louis Phillipe, Raymonds etc. We bid adieu to Ram bhaiya at the Gangtok taxi stand and a new car and driver took the responsibility of taking us around the city for the rest of the day.
We were actually not interested to do anymore sightseeing and were dying to eat and sleep! But the OH-SO-HONEST driver took us to "Bhanjakri Falls Energy Park" - It looked like a miniature of the Darjeeling rock garden, except that it had an entry fee and a restaurant to feed us! We spent more time eating than actually seeing the place and instructed the driver to take us to the hotel.
The day just seemed to long for us to handle, our hotel was 15 KMs away from the falls and we were again back to hurting our bums in the car! The road was worse than before and it was already dark by the time we saw the face of the hotel. Though the ride was extremely painful, the hotel was equally cozy! We reached "Royal Demazong" just in time for dinner! Our room was beautiful - Tea maker (Yes, I needed it badly), TV (I guess Vishnu needed it badly), huge bath tub, lovely curtains and bright cushions! (Some very pointless things to make it a cozy room, but the only things we cared about at that time!) A nice hot water bath, Strong tea, Tasty food and "So you think you can dance" on TV made it a nice evening. We hit the bed pretty soon (Too much of traveling for the day we thought). We were just unaware of the amount of traveling we would go through the next day! I felt as if I was back from a hard day’s work and was drowsy. I don’t remember saying "Good Night" to him either - I just slept!