Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Travelling to the Land of the Lepchas!


Over the last few days, we have been at Sikkim, the Northern eastern Himalayan state nestled in between Nepal and Bhutan. Known for its pristine beauty of glacial lakes, breathtaking valleys, gushing waterfalls at every corner of the mountain drive, panoramic view of the snow-capped Himalayas, and the precarious mountain passes. Mind you… exploring Sikkim is not for the faint hearted or one with a sensitive stomach - it involves fortifying yourself for  freezing temperatures, being prepared for anytime down pour, and enduring through winding and meandering drives through changing landscapes, bracing yourself  for breathlessness at high altitude points and of course grappling with motion sickness even when you  have never ever got sick during travel!  

But all such discomfort dissolves into delight with one look at the mist covered calm waters of Tsomgo lake, or the chance to snowball each other even in summertime at the “Zero point”, or the awe-inspiring views of the majestic Himalayas on the way to Yumthang valley, or experiencing the roar of the “Amitabh Bacchan” waterfalls on the way to Lachung, or taking in some cool refreshing  mountain air while on the pine forest trail to Rabtanse ruins at Pelling, or waking up after quick shut-eye during a long drive  to a spectacular sunset coloured sky over the silhouetted valleys… truly …travelling around Sikkim is all about enjoying the journey as much as the destination … more like life itself…isn’t it!! 


It’s after almost two and half years that we’ve donned on our travelling pants (even literally!) and our trip was wedged in between Abhay finishing his class 10 board exams and the reopening of courts in Bangalore after summer vacation and amidst incessant rains, and peak-season rush through out Sikkim and Darjeeling, Aadya’s terrible motion sickness (we had polythene bags tucked in at every compartment of the vehicle only to find them missing when we most needed them!) and Abhay’s annoying obsession with uploading stories on his instagram handle (now that his exams are over we had to keep our promise of letting him resume his social media activity!) …. we did manage to make it one of the most memorable trips ever! 


Our last stop was the West Bengal’s queen of hill stations - misty Darjeeling which was more of a reality check and reminder of the traffic jams back home in Bangalore!  Since we were nursing a minor stomach upset and were also exhausted from our Sikkim adventures, we avoided the usual touristy spots and chose to take it slow and indulged in some retail therapy on the Mall road, while enjoying some live jazz at one of its famous eateries - Glenary’s and stopping by Oxford Bookstore. 


One of the sure ways of avoiding  the crowds is to either travel during off-season or visit off-beat places within popular destinations. While it’s nearly impossible  to travel  during off season with school going-exam-writing kids, and  it’s not always possible to have the entire trip comprise of off-beat places, but it’s always possible to be a discerning traveller and look out for not-so-oft visited places like museums, quaint cafeterias and bookstores that are storehouses of local history and culture. For instance, while there were serpentine queues at the ropeway ride,  there was not a single soul at Gangtok’s Black cat museum - which we pleasantly discovered to be a wonderful state-of the art museum showcasing Sikkim’s history and the trajectory of the Army's Black Cat Regiment stationed in Gangtok. While none of the localities were even aware of this museum, the administrator of the museum himself appeared to be  curious about how we discovered this place. So much so, that even the taxi driver whom we hailed to go to our next destination was even more inquisitive about our visit and wondered  what interesting things possibly lay therein! 



 ….which leads me to our next destination….bookstores. As always in all our travels, one of the mini highlights of our trip is to visit a local bookstore and by now our entire family looks forward to it and given a chance Aadya would have spent an entire day at two of Gangtok’s famous bookstores - Good Books centrally located at Gangtok’s MG Marg and Cafe Fiction or Rachna Books (as it’s listed on Google) located opposite Gangtok’s Secretariat Office. 


Just off one of the busiest parts of MG market and near Baker’s cafe (a famous cafeteria with charming and eclectic decor, offering delectable variety of baked goodies and eateries ), Good books houses a wonderful collection of mainstream books and many works by local authors  where we ended up buying a few regular Usborn Early Readers for Aadya and an interesting compilation of tales of the land of Lepchas (Sikkim’s aboriginals), aided by amiable and helpful  bookstore owner. Good Books is indeed a lovely place for book lovers to make a pit stop amidst their MG market shopping! 


We also dropped into Cafe Fiction, an award winning bookstore cum cafeteria that has a beautiful display of a wide variety of mainstream and independent publications that one can pull out from the aesthetically placed bookshelves and curl into their super-comfy chairs reading them…while sipping a hot cuppa coffee, by the giant windows offering beautiful views of the street below. I wish “Namma Bengaluru” too had our very own Cafe Fiction! 


Anyways.. thanks to Make-my-trip, we now return to Bangalore glad that our Sikkim trip was by and large uneventful (though there were scares of landslides at certain places owing to heavy rains) refreshed and rejuvenated for our routine grind back home, our social media accounts full of stories and posts to put up and our minds full of happy memories and  four bags full of laundry! :-) 


Well… as my colleague was intrigued to notice books even in my travel DPs .. I must say that a travel without books is no travel at all! Despite long road trips during the day.. reading to Aadya was never given a miss (not that she would herself or let us go to bed without a book) and thanks to “Good Books” and “Cafe Fiction”, we were never short of interesting reads.  But to commemorate our Sikkim trip, we read from “The Legends of the Land of Lepchas Folk Tales from Sikkim” by Yishey Doma and Pankaj Thapa. 

A beautiful collection of folklores on various aspects Sikkim’s environment, history and culture. We were delighted to make some connections of what we saw, felt and experienced from some of the stories. From story of “ The Race between Teesta and Rangeet” that gives a mythical side to the confluence of the rivers of Rangeet and Teesta river that we came across on our way from Bagdogra to Gangtok to “A tale of two trees” being the story of Lali Guras, Sikkim’s Rhododendron that we saw aplenty at the Yumthang valley, or the “The Cave of Occult Fairies”, the story of Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Rimpoche who subjugated the demons and saved his devotees from evil, that reminded us of giant statues of Guru Padmasambhava  at Sandrupse hill and at Pelling skywalk, and the fact that Mount Khangchendzonga is a constant presence in all the stories just as the view of the mountain  Khangchendzonga  was our constant quest throughout our trip! While we are set to get back to pavilion from now on, this book serves as a wonderful parting shot for our minds and hearts still hung over the land of Lepchas! 

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