Nathula Pass (Day 5)

This is part of a series of posts about our trip to Darjeeling and North Sikkim. You can read about

Day 5 – Nathulla Pass

Nathu La – “La” means, “Pass” in Tibetan language. This pass is at a distance of around 60 km from Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim and is one of the high altitude passes in Himalayas at a whooping 13000+ ft. It is one of the most important passes on Indo-tibetan silk trade routes and a strategic location for Indian Army as well.

Nathu La

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Owing to the road’s bad conditions, despite continuous efforts by the Border Roads Organization (BRO), the 60-odd km journey from Gangtok takes more than 2 – 3 hours one way. These roads are known for their notorious landslides and frequent traffic jams. Certain places we felt little adrenaline rushing when the roads were so eroded. We had obtained permission from Indian Army to visit the pass. The travel agency that you book your car with can arrange permits. Visitors from India are allowed to visit the place on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. The other days, the traffic is open from the China side.

Roads on the way

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Initially, we started seeing green mountains, slopes, small waterfalls on the way and suddenly the mountains started to become bare, rocky and the wind was very cold too. We realized we had climbed a good deal of altitude from Gangtok when we started seeing white patches on far away mountains and on the road. It took a little while for us to realize that we were actually looking at small patches of snow. And then, it was just like Christmas for us. Roads, mountains, army camps, jeeps, anything and everything around us were just covered in white!! :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

Our Christmas 😀 😀

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Ever ready BRO people on work.

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Our jeep reached the parking lot of Nathu La and we climbed a few steps to reach the top of the pass.

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There is a military canteen providing hot tea, coffee (the highlight here being hot), which just tastes awesome in such harsh cold conditions. We took customary photos playing with snow, with military soldiers, thanked them for everything they do to protect us, saw a similar establishment by the Chinese military, waved at Chinese soldiers, amazed by learning that there are actually land mines which are under the snow for security reasons. We also got ourselves certified by getting our names written on a certificate, which states that we visited one of the highest passes (at a small cost ofcourse)

Photos from Nathu La totally covered in snow :D :D

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Note – One has to be properly acclimatized before visiting Nathula or any high altitude place for that matter. Otherwise, we might feel nauseous, short of breath, giddy or even worse hit by AMS. Please take precautions for AMS since we climb a very high altitude within a short frame of time. AMS hit my mother and we had to take her to an army medical camp. She was provided with oxygen supplies and an injection. The army people took great care of my mother at no cost. The service of these people was so humbling.

A few parting shots :)

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On the way back from Nathula, we visited Baba Mandir, had some hot tea and soaked in the serene location at which this mandir was located.
Later we stopped at Tsongmo Lake, again another high altitude lake in the Himalayas. The lake is completely frozen during deep winters. The lake itself is a sight to behold to, frozen or not. While we visited, it had started freezing partially. Yaks are available plenty around the lakes and they charge as minimum as 50 rupees to 150 rupees to take photos by sitting on it or going on a leisure Yak ride around the lake.
A small lake on the way

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Tsogmo Lake

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We also visited the Kyongnolsa Waterfall while returning to Gangtok. This waterfall is right on the road and a nice place to refresh and take a break from the long journey. Traffic jams are frequent on this route and here is a photo of a jam when we were returning. :o

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The best leg of our journey comes later when we visit Gurudongmor Lake and Yumthang Valley (even more snow here). More details on it in my next post here… :D

 

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Day 4 – Gangtok

This is a series of posts covering my trip to Darjeeling and North Sikkim. You can read about my

Day 4 –

Today, we woke up in the guesthouse at Gangtok to a wonderful view of Gangtok city from our balcony. One can just sit in the sofa of the balcony and read a book or sip a cup of tea.

View from our balcony 🙂

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Our budget constraint didn’t allow us the luxury of sitting idle for a long time. So, it was time to begin our day trip around Gangtok. We covered the below places

  • Enchey Monastery
  • Ganesh Tok
  • Sikkim Himalayan National Park
  • Tashi viewpoint
  • Bakthang Falls
  • Rumtek Monastery

Below Google maps will give an overall view of the places and location

Gangtok-Daytrip-Map

First stop was at the Enchey monastery. It was the first time we ever saw a monastery and it was quite captivating. The bells that people rotate while walking to and from the monastery, the prayer bells, prayer flags and chanting of the monks – it was very different to us. This is relatively small in size when compared to Rumtek. Still, I would suggest visiting it.

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Ganesh Tok – further up the hill is this temple dedicated to Lord Ganesha. More than diety itself (forgive me), I found the views from this temple amazing and worth definitely a visit. If there are no mists, we can get a bird’s eye view of major part of the city.

Ganesh Tok

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View from Ganesh Tok

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Sikkim Himalayan Zoological Park – We stumbled upon this place while leaving Ganesh tok. We saw a signboard for the park and we got curious since it didn’t look like a zoo or national park. It was like a forest. This is the second best place among the places we see today.

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This is basically a zoo. But animals are kept in natural environments. No cages, just deep trenches are created and animals are kept there. It requires long walks and climbs in a few places to see certain animals. We saw red panda, Tibetan wolf, Himalayan black bear, leopards, civets, yak and deer.

Tibetan Wolf

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Red Panda

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The atmosphere was so cool, the previous day’s rain had wet the entire floor, trees were lush green and the air was so crisp, clean and pristine. We spent close to two hours at this place walking inside the national park. I would definitely recommend it. (Maybe in summers, this might become a little hot to walk)

Note – Closed on Thursdays. Visiting hours – 9 am to 4 pm. Entry fee 25 INR (adult), 10 INR (child). Camera is free.

Misty walk in the forest 😛

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Tashi viewpoint – is a few km after the zoological park. It gives marvelous views of the city, provided the sky is clear and there is no mist. On a clear day, Kanchenjunga is said to be visible from here. There is a souvenir shop and a canteen.

Bakthang Waterfalls – on the way to viewpoint, this waterfall is on the road. As I mentioned before, there are many such waterfalls throughout Sikkim from the mountains trickling and eroding the roads. It is a welcome break from the car journey and not more than that.

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Rumtek Monastery – The highlight of today’s trip is this monastery and we proceeded towards Rumtek around 2 pm. It takes a while to reach there. Around 1 – 1.5 hours and takes us through the hills. As we got higher and higher, the views got prettier and prettier.

Views enroute Rumtek ❤ 

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Rumtek is a very beautiful monastery set on a wide expanse of space. A few photos from the outer and inner side of the monastery.

Rumtek – Outer

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Rumtek – Inner

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The views from the monastery are “killer views”. There is also a stupa in the center of monastery were people throw coin.

View from the monastery

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The stupa

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Young monks were reading, older monks were chanting, the whole atmosphere was electric with good vibrations. The paintings on the walls of this monastery are very beautiful. But the interiors are too dark and without flash in camera, practically nothing can be captured in a camera

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We had a light snack at the monastery’s canteen and proceeded towards Gangtok. As usual, we had our dinner from Agarwals in M.G. Road (I terribly regret this now for not having tried the local food). We had a big day ahead – Nathula Pass. The indo-chinese border at an altitude of 13000+ feet along with a possibility of seeing snow. 😀 😀 (Yeah, we had never seen snow before in our life). Inspite of the excitement for the next day, we slept peacefully with lots of expectations for the days that come.

You can read the story of our Day 5 trip here.

Darjeeling (Day 3)

This is a series of posts covering my trip to Darjeeling and North Sikkim. You can read about my

Day 3 –

We were supposed to getup at 3 AM in the morning and view tiger hills in its pink glory when the first rays of sun hit it. Alas, it was raining even at 3 AM and our driver said nothing would be visible from the observation tower. So, we decided to see it later during the day and slept.

We woke up, refreshed, had breakfast and were ready to cover these places

  • Rock Garden
  • Batasia Loop
  • Tiger Hills observatory tower

Rock Garden – to reach this we need to travel downhill through some beautiful tea estates. In the early morning weather, the route looked pristine and as if from a painted canvas. Rock garden has no entry fee. It is basically a garden with multiple levels. One has to climb a bit and keep on climbing. There are waterfalls, wild colored flowers, plants and trees everywhere. It is an ideal picnic spot for families.

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Batasia Loop – here, the toy train goes through a spiral loop. It is also a War Memorial to brave souls from Darjeeling who died during various wars. It was misty and we were lucky enough to see the toy train pass the loop. 🙂

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Tiger Hills observatory tower – is near Chowrasta or The Mall. It took us through some wonderful alpine trees. Upon the observatory deck, we were once again disappointed by the presence of clouds, mists and a downcast sky. We couldn’t get a view of any peak let alone Kangchenjunga. 😦

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Note – One can travel to Tiger hills in a jeep, which is around 11 km from Darjeeling or by foot from Chowrasta (around 2 hours). On a clear day, Mt Everest is said to be visible from Tiger Hills. One can also visit Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary in Tiger Hills.

We returned to our hotel room, had a wonderful lunch and proceeded towards Gangtok. We had already made reservations at Cherry Guest House in Gangtok and also arranged for vehicle pick up from Darjeeling. From the moment we left Darjeeling, luck was upon us and we had the best leg of journey from here. 🙂 🙂

Heading Towards Gangtok

Our journey from Darjeeling to Gangtok was a very scenic one, with our cheerful driver. River Teesta was running all along with us and we saw the confluence of two rivers from a viewpoint. (Forgot its name)

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The sky was clear, it had just stopped raining – so the roads were wet, cool and neat. One thing I noticed was, streams of water just starts to come out of nowhere from the mountains, often eroding the roads. We saw one such stream in every corner we turned en-route Gangtok. The Darjeeling – Gangtok route and Darjeeling – NJP route is much scenic than Gangtok – NJP route. We reached Gangtok after a little more than 3 hours travel from Darjeeling.

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Our guesthouse was at the bottom of a downhill road very close to M.G. Road. Climbing up from our guesthouse was bit of an ordeal for the elders. We went for shopping in M.G. Road and Lal Bazaar. We had to buy jackets, gloves etc for our next leg of journey to the snow J I personally found Lal Bazaar to be much cheaper and one can bargain for price also. M.G Road was just too costly. So armed with all jackets, head caps, gloves and a tummy full of dinner from Agarwal’s (we had all our meals here only, being pure vegetarian) we slept through the night peacefully.

A few snaps of MG Road

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Read about our Day 4 Gangtok here.

Darjeeling (Day 2)

Day 2 – continued….

You can read about How we reached Darjeeling here.

The entire route till Darjeeling was full of greenery, wild colours, mountains, small houses that looked like match boxes perched on the hilltops, cheerful children, narrow roads, turning points in roads with amazing views of the valley below – you get what I am trying to say right? It was simply pure joy letting ourselves unwind with nothing to care for (atleast for the next few days :P) Let pictures do the talking 🙂

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We reached our hotel (Hotel Dekeling) before noon and arranged a taxi for local sightseeing at the hotel itself. Our plan was to visit

  • Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park
  • Himalayan Mountaineering Institute
  • Tenzing’s Rock
  • Pagoda temple and
  • Rock gardens

The Zoological Park and mountaineering institute are housed in the same complex (Entry fee 40 INR). Well, the zoo was like any other zoo – except it had the animals in a better health condition. But the beautiful environment in which they were kept compensated what the zoo lacked in terms of animals. One can simply walk around the zoo, inhale that fresh air without any pollution or even eat an ice cream like us. 😛

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The mountaineering institute has a museum that has many photos, mountaineering gears used by Tenzing Norgay and others and a range of information. People who are into trekking/mountaineering would find this museum interesting. There is also a photo booth were we dress up in native clothes and the photographer takes photos of us for a nominal fee.

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Next we moved on to Tenzing’s rock, which is literally a rock perched on one of the sides of a narrow road next to the zoological park. There are ropes up the rock for rapelling. We decided to just take photos of it and move on.

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Our next spot was Peace Pagoda built by a Japanese Buddhist monk. It has a similar structure like Shanti Stupa in Leh. By the time we reached there, mists started coming in and the entire place looked like one of the gardens in heaven. We visited the temple inside and the stupa outside.

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We had to rush at each of these places since we had rock garden in our list for today. It is quite a long downhill drive to the rock gardens and by the time we were half-way, the mists were little too much for even normal visibility, it turned suddenly dark and rains started pouring in. So, we decided to call it a day and returned to our room.

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Note – One can alternately travel in the UNESCO heritage tiny mountain train that goes till Darjeeling from NJP. Though enjoyable, it takes much longer time. I would suggest hopping on it in Darjeeling, getting down at Kurseong or somewhere and catching a taxi back to Darjeeling.

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You can read about Day 3 of our trip here.

Darjeeling & North Sikkim Trip

This is a long overdue travelogue. Inspired by reading a textbook lesson on Darjeeling in Class X, I decided to plan a trip, two years after working for an IT firm (yeah, the trip was also long overdue). My initial Google searches took me to this wonderful website indiamike.com where like-minded travellers were helping each other plan trips. I read every thread on Darjeeling. The more I read, the more I was inclined to visit North Sikkim and Ladakh (which I did in 2012) than Darjeeling. So, the trip shifted to focus on North Sikkim with 2 days in Darjeeling. Let me begin my travelogue. Please do share your thoughts 🙂

Living in Chennai, which almost roasts me daily with its hot sun, I decided to travel during winter to see snow J and hence the trip was planned during November 2010 –

Day 1 – Chennai to Calcutta (By flight) – Howrah junction to New Jalpaiguri (NJP) junction by train

Day 2 – NJP to Darjeeling – Darjeeling Sight seeing

Day 3 – Darjeeling – Local sight seeing. Leave to Gangtok.

Day 4 – Gangtok – Local sight seeing

Day 5 – Gangtok – Nathulla Pass – Tsongmo Lake – Gangtok

Day 6 – Gangtok – Lachen

Day 7 – Lachen – Gurudongmor Lake – Lachung

Day 8 – Lachung – Zero point – Yumthang – Lachung – Gangtok

Day 9 – Gangtok – NJP junction – Howrah

Day 10 – Calcutta – Local sight seeing

Day 11 – Calcutta – Chennai (By flight)

 Day 1 –

First day of the journey was uneventful, except for these – it was our first flight travel, my first time to Calcutta, seeing trams there, boarding the train (which itself was a huge feat considering there was some pretty tense war of words by few people inside who locked the compartment to do so :X). A few photos clicked on the way till New Jalpaiguri railway station (NJP)

View from our plane

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Trams in Calcutta

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Note – Booking a flight to Kolkatta might be cheaper than Bagdogara airport. Numerous taxis are available from NJP/Siliguri towards Darjeeling. AC buses are available from Kolkatta airport to Howrah junction from where we can board overnight train to NJP (40 INR per person)

 Day 2 –

The train was on time (!!) and morning weather was pleasant enough at NJP junction. We refreshed ourselves and started to look for a taxi when all drama began to unwind. We were initially offered a taxi for certain amount and were asked to wait in a hotel while they bring a taxi. Even after an hour there was no sign of taxi. When we enquired, all we got was some indirect answers. Suddenly they said no taxis would run from NJP since a taxi driver was killed (not sure if this was true, but the taxi union there is pretty strong). So we took a shared auto to Siliguri (150 INR for entire auto). From Siliguri we hired a jeep to Darjeeling (1000 INR) – and there started our wonderful journey where I fell deeply in love with The Himalayas.

We had a simple breakfast at a roadside home-cum-inn in Kurseong (4864 ft). It roughly takes around 3 hours to reach Darjeeling (6710 ft) depending on number of breaks you take in-between. I have given a map of the route below (not drawn to scale)

NJP-Darjeeling

Read the rest of the story here. (Day 2 continued)