The Sikkim Experience
On a lazy Sunday evening, while Vidur and I were sipping our coffee, going through the pictures we clicked last winter while traveling across Sikkim, I realized how lucky we were to have been there and experience the beauty of this place in peak winter. Wish I could just go back there and re-live those moments. That was our memorable ride to Sikkim!
It seems like yesterday when we packed our bags and took off on a 3-week ride across the northeast states. The plan started on a lazy Sunday evening. We attended a meet up in a coffee shop with a couple of bloggers and trying to find a destination we had never been to. A place which has off-roads, plains, hills and snow and something which is lesser-known to people.
As this confusion continued to grow, Vidur told us about this long-lost dream of his, which he was never able to fulfill – his dream of traveling across the Northeast!! For a long time, he had been watching videos on YouTube and admiring Nat Geo documentaries about the 7 sisters.
Within minutes, the place was decided and there were no second thoughts. We were riding to the Northeast come what may. The plan was to travel across Sikkim and Assam and then head to Arunachal Pradesh with 3 of our friends who we would meet in Guwahati. We had 3 weeks to cover 3 states and with full excitement, we jotted down a route map and a tentative itinerary.
Shipping the bike to Siliguri
Our holidays were limited and riding all the way to the northeast was not an option. Hence we decided to fly down to Siliguri while our bike would be shipped through VRL services. We had heard about VRL services being quite decent hence we decided to take a risk. We chose to pack the bike in a pellet cage as it seemed like a safer option for the KTM.
Sure enough, the service providers had taken good care of the bike by tieing it up properly on the iron walls of the cage and wrapped the handlebars up with lots of bubble wrap.
On 22nd December 2016, we flew to Siliguri on an early morning but long flight ( BLR -CCU- IXB (Bagdogra /Siliguri). Once we landed at Siliguri in the afternoon we took an auto and headed straight to the VRL office to collect our bike. The auto ride was full of excitement and a little bit of anxiety. Vidur was worried if the bike had sustained any damage or not. It now was dark as the auto driver leered onto the highway and took us to the trucking area where VRL had a depot. Thankfully there was not even a scratch on the bike.
VRL had indeed done a good job of transporting the bike safely and we highly recommend using their services to anyone who wishes to transport their vehicles. Except for an inch thick layer of dirt the bike was in good condition.
That night we decided to stay back in Siliguri as it was quite late. Vidur woke up early the next morning and washed the bike. These bikers just love having clean bikes ahead of a ride! It was nice to see the bike, shimmering in the morning sun, all loaded and lubed – ready for its longest ride!
Sikkim is a tiny hill state in North-East known for its lofty mountains, quaint villages, pristine scenery, holy lakes, and vibrant Buddhist Monasteries. Since we were traveling during peak winters and with limited time in hand, we decided to cover the south and west side of Sikkim. Our first destination was Gangtok- the beautiful capital of Sikkim which is also known as the ‘Land of Monasteries’. A beautiful and well-planned state. Mesmerizing views of the soaring peaks of Mt. Kanchenjunga, fresh mountain air, and an amazing shopping destination. A city full of life.
Christmas in Gangtok
Since we reached there on Christmas Eve we decided to celebrate Christmas with the locals in MG Road. The whole city was full of lights. There was music everywhere on the streets, lots of food stalls, and every person walking on the street were dressed in their best clothes. The Xmas gods had planned something special for us as it started to snow a little later in the evening. It was a white Xmas – something that we had only seen on TV!!
The next morning we left for our second destination, Ravangla, a small town in South Sikkim. The roads from Gangtok to Ravangla were completely broken – in fact there were no roads at all. The terrain was rough, full of rock and stones, no network – there was no respite from the bone-crushing ride for several kilometers. To add to our miseries, Google Maps showed us the wrong location and we ended up riding an additional 20 km, having passed our hotel a couple of times!
Buddha Park Ravangla
Finally, by the afternoon, we reached our hotel. Soon after grabbing a quick lunch, we decided to visit the Ravangla Monastery- a place so beautiful that words cannot do justice. The road from Ravangla to the monastery winds through several bends and combined with the enchanting views of the valley, is a biker’s heaven. There was something magical about the monastery we don’t know what!! Vidur and I spent almost 3 hours in this monastery just admiring the huge Buddha statue and the mighty Kanchenjunga behind it.
This was one of the most mesmerizing views we had ever witnessed. Apart from the monastery, its snow-clad mountains, gushing waterfalls, quaint villages, and fresh mountain air, is what makes Ravangla so special.
There was a slight drizzle in the air and the time was for us to head back to our hotel. I think Buddha wanted us to experience more and from behind his statue, we saw the Kanchenjunga emerge from behind the clouds and a rainbow on the right! Absolutely stunning view and unable for us to reproduce with words or pictures! The beauty was so ethereal that we were spell-bound for at least 10 mins!
During one of the nights, instead of opting for in-room dining, we decided to go out for dinner as we wanted to try the local food out there. Next to our hotel was a guest house run by an elderly lady and her family. The property was all dark and it looked like there was no one there. However, we saw some movement in a tiny little room and decided to try this place! The family living inside that small room was kind enough to entertain us and cook us some dinner!
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Eating with the locals
That night we tasted some of the most authentic local Tibetan food we have ever had. She even sat with us in her kitchen while we had our dinner and shared with us her lifestyle and told us stories about the place. Talking to the lady literally reminded me of my days in Shillong where everyone was so warm and welcoming. I remember how we would burn the charcoal stove to keep ourselves warm during the night. Even here there was a small heater which was kept by our side so that we felt warm and comfortable. The conversation was so interesting that we did not realize how time flew and soon it was 12 am before we called it a night.
Early the next morning we went there for our breakfast once again and this time we were treated with some yummy “Phale”( Tibetan traditional bread) and Churpi (yak milk). Yes, we paid for the food but at a fraction of the cost of what a restaurant would have charged us! It was now time to bid adieu to Ravangla and head to our last destination in Sikkim which was Pelling in the West of Sikkim. Pelling lies at a distance of around 115 km. from Gangtok.
Riding to Pelling
This city has a lot to offer such as the snow-covered peaks of the Kanchenjunga range which is best viewed from this tiny hamlet. The tranquil environment and picturesque settings of this town attract thousands of tourists from all across the country. This place also introduced us to their locally made millet beer Jaand which is prepared by cooking and fermenting whole grain millet which is then kept inside a Tongba, the vessel which holds the fermented alcoholic beverage. It is consumed in a unique way as the fermented millet is put inside the Tongba, and boiled water is poured into it to the brim. It is then left undisturbed for about five minutes after which it is ready to drink. A fine bamboo straw with a blind end, but perforated on the side to act as a filter, is inserted into the container to suck out the warm water and alcohol from the millet grains.
More hot water is added as the tongba becomes dry, and the process is repeated until the alcohol is exhausted. Surprisingly the drink is cold even though hot water is added to it. This again reminded me of the local beer in Shillong made of rice. I remember my mother making rice beer during the festive seasons and one glass of that beer would be enough to give your head a spin.
It had been quite an exciting experience and now it was time to head to Guwahati for a rendezvous with our friends. Our next plan was to cover south Arunachal for the next 10 days! More details about that in our next blog.
The beautiful state of Sikkim offers breathtaking views at every turn and a plethora of experiences for every traveler. Sikkim is also a state for Spirit lovers. It’s a tax-free state so prices are very low. Branded Beers are available for 55/- and local beer is available for 50/ literally! This state is a paradise for adventure freaks, bikers, trekkers, and mountaineers. Whether you are looking for a laid-back vacation, taking in the extravaganza of nature’s beauty, or seeking a fun-filled adventurous holiday, Sikkim will not leave you disappointed.
Today as we scroll through the pics and live those moments again, we look at each other and say “ It’s time to visit Sikkim once again. It’s not over yet”