Sikkim & Darjeeling Trip, April-May 2015

Snow, selfies and savouries. With long drives through mountains, along valleys, rolling in snow and all-night fun, this is by far the most exotic getaway I had in my life.

We were six guys, working in the same company, three each from Bengaluru and Thiruvananthapuram. While Syam, Naveen and Achu are residents of Thiruvananthapuram, Arun aka GS, Rahul and yours truly were in Bengaluru. All but Rahul share the same grad school.

Back in February, employing WhatsApp for cross city communication, we shortlisted places among Tawang, Gangtok, Darjeeling to visit around Guwahati, where there was a wedding occasion on May 2nd. We had a week in hand and the week from April 25th to May 3rd looked comfortable as it came with a long weekend, May 1st being a holiday. With constraints on various modes of transport, we had 5 days to visit the places we could. We stuck down to Darjeeling and Sikkim after long discussions considering feasibility. Both the places were accessible from Siliguri in West Bengal, thus we booked train tickets to there from Guwahati, where to we booked air tickets from Bengaluru.

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

Bengaluru, 9 AM: Residents of Thiruvananthapuram reach Bengaluru by bus and all of us camp at GS’ house. We got news of Nepal earthquakes that afternoon which could hit our trip as the quake had hit Darjeeling too. We kept positive and roamed around city and later watched Avengers: The Age of Ultron in IMAX 3D. Our flight was for early next day.

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

Guwahati, 12 PM: We reached Guwahati around 10:40 AM after the flight from Bengaluru at 7:40 AM. We rather had nothing to do all day but wait for the train to Siliguri at 4:45 PM. We went to Guwahati railway station and roamed around Paltan Bazar and had lunch there. We reached Siliguri (New Jalpaiguri railway station) at 1:15 AM the next day. We met a tour agent who made us an itinerary for Gangtok and then Lachung, Yumthang valley, etc for 3 days and then to Darjeeling for 2 days.

Monday, April 27th, 2015

Gangtok, 7 AM: We checked-in at a hotel in Gangtok, where we were dropped by the agency, after 5 hours’ drive. We gave the itinerary to the hotel who composed the follow-up plan to Lachung. The day was spent visiting tourist attractions in Gangtok including Ganeshtok. We also visited a flower show. I was smitten with the cleanliness and the way whole city is organized.

Mahatma Gandhi Marg, Gangtok
Mahatma Gandhi Marg, Gangtok

The later day we went snacking, shopping, had dinner at a fabulous restaurant and roamed around Mahatma Gandhi Marg. While busy snacking, we missed an aftershock of the Nepal earthquakes that occurred there. Here we met a bunch of guys who were on a getaway like us. Later, we went back to our hotel and retired.

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

Lachung, 6 PM: We started our journey to North Sikkim District at 10 AM from Gangtok. Hands down, this was one hell of a journey. Landslides and rainfall all along, the roads doomed to reminiscent of a horse ride, our driver, who was also our guide, shaving other vehicles on the road, just missing the fall into deep valleys, all while him talking on the phone and employing his elbow to control the steering! Numerous waterfalls on the way, we stopped occasionally for food and snacks and finally reached Lachung where we would retire for the day.

The more I contemplate Lachung, the less it is. The people, the peace, the picturesque, that’s just the beginning. I was amused of the harmony of the people there. Everyday most of them unite, have drinks, dance, sing, be it in a 3 by 3 room out there. They sit by a bonfire, relive out their day and just live.

The temperature was sub-zero when we reached there. To feel the cold, we went out after dinner and stood by what felt in that dark, a river. We talked out our stress in life, wanting to have a fresh start ahead. Midnight, when it was the coldest, -3°C, we walked back to our room.

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

Yumthang, 9 AM: We drove into Yumthang Valley where we had to rent extra wears. Not sure why it was required anyway, we rented a jacket, a pair of gloves and a pair of boots each as suggested by the driver. The drive to Zero Point from here was about an hour long. This drive, I should say, was an orgasmic drive. We put out our heads to see that bright white thing on the roads and elsewhere, that gradually kept increasing along with height and distance, more of it falling from the sky — snow. For the first time in my life and all others with me, we saw actual snowfall. Yes, there.

Zero Point, 10 AM: The drive ended in dense snow and we were on foot for the remainder. The scenic beauty just kept us captivated. I dived into a pool of snow and just lied there. We then frolicked, made snowballs and threw at each other, took photographs, repeat. We made a snowman which became an attraction for other tourists. “Nature, I love you”, I quoted.

Zero Point, Yumthang, Sikkim
Zero Point, Yumthang, Sikkim

Despite not wanting to, we came down to Yumthang Valley, had snacks from a small shop and rushed to the river in the valley. The valley felt like a freezer to us as we shivered in cold. We set to return to our room and went by Daban, an army area.

We were to leave Lachung to Gangtok the same day as per permissions obtained by the driver, but we got this idea of extending our stay in Lachung by another night. We just loved this place, you know. We went to that small shop again, danced, sung and ate. We savoured local noodles thupka and local drink tumpa there.

Meanwhile we contacted one of the guy, who was from Darjeeling, whom we met in Gangtok. Him, being a driver by profession, promised to pick us from Gangtok, take us to Darjeeling and drop us at Siliguri, where the trip would partly end. Sigh.

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

Darjeeling, 7 PM: We started from Lachung at around 8 AM and given the conditions of the road we reached Gangtok at 2 PM where the new driver was already waiting for us. We bid goodbye to the old driver and continued our drive to Darjeeling. Lovely the drive was, between pine valleys and narrow roads, sun almost getting set and the tea gardens that took our breath away. We checked in to a hotel and later roamed around town in Chowrastha and did shop loads of tea leaves. We had dinner and walked by Darjeeling toy train station and later returned to hotel.

Friday, May 1st, 2015

Tiger Hills, 5 AM: The early morning ride to see Kanchenjunga and Everest mountain belt reflect sunlight during sunrise, the biggest tourist attraction in Darjeeling, broke us as the sky was clouded and misty. So misty that the visibility was limited to hardly a hundred meters. Detested, we went to see Ghoom Monastery and Batasia Loop, two of the tourist attractions.

We returned to our room and checked out of the hotel. We were to more sightseeing and then return to Siliguri directly.

Tea Gardens, Darjeeling
Tea Gardens, Darjeeling

We visited places such as Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoo, Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and tea gardens. We also did a small rock climbing somewhere there. Passenger rope-way was closed owing to then recent Nepal earthquakes. We also visited a Japanese temple, Peace Pagoda, on the way back.

Siliguri, 5 PM: Accomplished, we started our drive to Siliguri. En route, I am sure everyone with me will agree, we relived every moment we spent at the fantastic places. We reached Siliguri earlier than expected and rather had time for a lengthy lunch and shopping. We shopped for sweets and set towards New Jalpaiguri railway station for the train at 9:45 PM.

Saturday, May 2nd, 2015

Guwahati, 6 AM: We reached Guwahati for the second time during the trip and set towards the friend’s house where was the wedding occasion. Our trip was by far ended as we dropped the plan to visit Kaziranga National Park due to lack of time. We rested there, had breakfast and lunch and while time set to airport where we had flight to Bengaluru at 4:35 PM. We bought more sweets from here.

Bengaluru, 8 PM: The flight to Bengaluru was hit by bad weather and thus heavy turbulence occurred during most of the flight. Nevertheless, we relived every moment of the trip and took home a lot of memories and souvenirs. Six of us took two cabs as Thiruvananthapuram guys directly went to take their bus to their home. We split at the airport making sure we meet again for the next trips.

While in cab, I relived that 8 days of awesomeness I had with my friends. The night at Mahatma Gandhi Marg in Gangtok, the late night fun in Lachung, the snow roll in Zero Point, the food, selfies, drives, valleys. The life remains to travel.

The Western Ghats Road Trip, August 2014

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

Bangalore, 9:15 AM: I was at my office desk staring at my computer monitor when a message from Aaquib popped up asking if I have any plans for the upcoming weekend. It was about to be a long weekend for Friday was a holiday owing to Ganesh Chathurthi. He had a road trip plan to Western Ghats in Karnataka. Head over heels, I blocked my seat for the trip. Super excited that I was to drive through Kudremukh forest range, trek Kodachadri hills and enthral in Jog Falls that my mind unconsciously cancelled all plans I had had and pledged it to this trip. The trip was set for 3 days — Friday through Sunday. I was later informed that Deepak, Abhilash and Srikant are there in the pool and our ship would be Abhilash’s Ford Figo.

The five members of the trip share various roots. While Deepak, Aaquib and I had been batch-mates in training, Deepak and Srikant were college-mates and now are room-mates. Also, Aaquib and Abhilash are colleagues and Deepak was an ex-colleague to them. Of the members, I personally knew Deepak and Aaquib only.

Friday, August 29th, 2014

Bangalore, 12 AM: The journey was to embark at midnight from Abhilash’s place where Deepak, Srikant and I had to reach. Aaquib would be picked up later as his place falls en route. I had to reach Deepak and Srikant’s place first from where we would ride to Abhilash’s place. We three reached Abhilash’s place by 12:30 AM and journey finally began at 1 AM, an hour late. Aaquib was picked around 1:30 AM and believe it or not, the trip was on.

Belur, 5:30 AM: After driving for 4 straight hours and 250 kms, we took a break in Belur. We had tea and rejuvenated we were for the rest of our journey. We reached at our first stop, Horanadu, at around 8 AM.

Horanadu, 8 AM: We visited Sri Annapoorneshwari Temple, famous for its edibles. The meal time (7:30 AM to 8:30 AM) beat us by half-an-hour as we got engaged in prayer. Nevertheless, we had breakfast in a nearby restaurant and set forth for our next destination, Kedremukh forest range. We stopped by a small waterfall at around 10:30 AM en route and had a natural shower there.

Kudremukh, 12 PM: We entered the forest range of Kudremukh around noon and went on driving for an hour. Hand on my heart, this one hour drive was god’s drive. I was in nirvana for the mesmerising beauty of this place. The greenery, the valleys, the mountains, the fog, the drizzle. Ah, I can just keep going on and on. Though we were not permitted to come out of the vehicle, for a tiger could save a meal for us, we stole wild guava from its tree and rejoiced it for rest of the drive there.

Agumbe, 3 PM: We set forth to our next stop, Kudlu Theertha trekking towards Seetha Falls after having lunch in Karkal. The drive through hair-pin curves in Agumbe was adrenaline rushing. We then set forth for trekking which was of about 4 kms one side and where I encountered my first ever leech bite. We had to cross a river to complete the trekking which unfortunately we couldn’t. The river turned to be a torrent and we had to back off. Detested, we retired for the day in Thirthahalli.

Thirthahalli, 7:30 PM: We had dinner at around 8 PM and were set to retire for the day. Our drivers — Aaquib and Abhilash — retired early as they were awake driving all night. Deepak, Srikant and I roamed around the town for a while long and set shopping umbrellas and raincoats for our big trekking, Kodachadri, the next day.

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

Kodachadri, 1 PM: Drive to Kodachadri from Thirthahalli was for about 2 hours and owing that we lost the way a couple of times and delay in breakfast among others, we reached Kodachadri around 1 PM after starting at around 9:30 AM. We had packed our energy supplies and lunch meal for the trek.

We started our trek at 1:15 PM. 9 kms long it is, a trek of ups and downs, in drizzle and deluge, in forest and grasslands, in fog and haze. Abhilash, who had trekked this a while ago was to be our guide. The first part of our trek was in a human habitat forest. Leeches to the disgust, we had to rush through this place. We came to a break in a small shop at the end of human habitat, after about 3 kms, where we energized ourselves with snacks and drinks. We also got salt packed in pouches as an anti-leech tool.

The real trek was to begin now. We went on trekking for about a km more where we reached Hidlu Mane waterfalls. Crossing the river, and climbing to the start of the fall, I accidentally deviated from the route and escaped a near fatal experience. I went along the falls and reached a point where there was a dead end. The steep, slippery rock abandoned me a revert. The rock under me started trembling and I had to jump towards waterfall to get stability. Moments later I saw that I was still alive and continued towards correct path.

The trek continued into dense forest and thankfully leeches were absent at this path. We continued trekking for another 3 kms where we reached grasslands. We still had a long way to go. Drizzle and deluge were along all the way and all of us were drenched and exhausted. We pulled ourselves together and continued trekking through forests and grasslands on for about 2 kms.

I reached at a point where Aaquib, Abhilash and Srikant were ahead of me and Deepak was behind me in the trek. I was looking down most of the time to see the path and then came a time where I raised my head to see what’s ahead, but was astounded not to see anything beyond 50 meters. I was in a cloud. Ecstatic that I was, I continued walking on what I thought as a path and after a while saw shadows of people that were supposed to be the ones ahead of me. I walked towards it and we were at a point that met trekking path with a jeep route towards the peak of the hill. Deepak joined us after a while and we continued on the jeep route that took us toward a small house that provided accommodation to trekkers hilltop in which we were to retire for the day.

We reached hill peak at about 5:45 PM after trekking for 4.5 hours. We met a group of people who trekked and reached before us. Accomplished, we took a shower in a small but heavy waterfall near the house and spent time chatting and reliving the experience of the trek. We had a late lunch then and retired for the day after dinner cooked by the godsend man who also runs the accommodation there.

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

We woke up at 6 AM and embarked down trek at 7 AM. Deepak and Srikant preferred they come in jeep organized by the other group as Srikant caught influenza meanwhile. Aaquib, Abhilash and I down trekked the jeep route and reached down at around 9:30 AM. We had breakfast at a small restaurant and set forth to our final stop, Jog Falls.

Jog Falls, 12 PM: Jog Falls was at 2 hours drive from Kodachadri but we saved ourselves some half-an-hour and 50 kms by taking a shortcut through the lake by transporting our car in a launch. Upon reaching Jog Falls and seeing that sky is pretty clear, we took out our cameras and started clicking pictures. Selfies, portraits, landscapes with group, solo, and tried out various panorama modes. Though the torrent of water was not quite much, it was luxuriating to watch it pour down. The clear sky suddenly turned cloudy and there came drizzle out of nowhere. We took shelter and as rain stopped, we drove to the other side of the falls. We had snacks, took more snaps, and set to finish our journey and drive back home.

It was about 2:30 PM when we finished our trip and started driving back home. We stopped at Sagar for lunch and continued our drive to Bangalore. We passed Tumkur and reached Aaquib’s place at around 11 PM and Abhilash’s place, where the drive ended, at around 11:30 PM. Abhilash’s place brought end to the 70 hours and 1120 kms car drive. Now, Deepak, Srikant and I had to continue our journey to our respective homes. While riding my bike back to my place, a roll of that 70 hours replayed in my mind. I reached my place at 12 AM where the trip came to a closure.

In a nutshell, I will safeguard this trip in my memory lane forever. Thanks to everyone who were with me in the trip. Peace.