From Kolkata, flight to Bagdogra followed a 6 hour journey to Gangtok
The excited soft tone and mountain like eyes welcomed me with momos and noodles on the way and radiated homeliness. As I started my almost six-hour journey to reach my resting abode for the night before starting my actual chronicle, I trundled along the narrow hilly paths sheltered specks of merry blues of the sky. My Ali Zaffar look-alike driver asked me whether I followed organic living. I was snapped out of my heady sleep that question. ‘Organic?’ I repeated to confirm if I heard him right. “Yes, are people in Bengal opting for organic products?” He handed me a big fat coffee-table book which had a foreword from the Chief Minister. But before I could begin flipping through, Zaffar said “In 2003, Sikkim was declared an organic state and 2016 the process will be 100% complete. There is a strict ban on chemicals being used in this state. Even our chicken is only from here, it cannot come from anywhere else. “What about the local vegetables and fruits, it must be so expensive for the locals.” “Ya it is, basically living is not that cheap, initially there was a lot of resistance and politics but now we all are used to the organic life, and a lot of us who are part-time drivers or in other seasonal services, we are given jobs at the organic department.” ”But is everything certified?” “Ya, if you can’t afford to get the certificate, the government will help you.” On the way to Gangtok we also saw the beer factory that belongs to actor Danny Denzongpa, who owns up to three breweries. We crossed the river that divides West Bengal and Sikkim and after that I just felt we were driving through clouds.
Exploring North Sikkim
On the way there were many monasteries to explore but I was drawn to the blistering forest trees, something about the branches formed sound waves From Gangtok I drove to Lachen and stayed in the most visually delighting lodge. Imagine a tree house built in no specific order, up the broken and moss layered steps and bells chiming from no visible source; the wooden house with floor length windows instead of walls with a balcony that opens into blinding fog. 4:30 next morning I woke up to drive to Gurudomgar Lake. I had only seen pictures of it and heard the picturesque narrations of the utopian sight, but it was only once I reached there, after four hours, I realised nothing I had heard or imagined till now justified what I was feeling then. It’s easy to describe what you see, it’s easy to capture what’s in front of you, but the feeling cannot be captured or spoken. In the midst of wide empty valleys, when your car becomes a boat at times or a camel, the adrenaline doubts reality and questions your existence.
Travelling alone also opens many stories destined for you to be a part of. I met the most memorable happy people who made me happy just respecting and blessing my life journey. Travelling during off-season has its own pros and cons, more cons for an absent minded writer like me. It was unexpected to end up having rajma chawal and thepla with a photographer from Ahemdabad. A journalist and a photographer have a universal connection anyway, but this encounter with the man beind ‘Apostrography’ was an exciting twist to finding solitude. A shared ride to Gurudongmar Lake helped me capture unreal memories and taught me his way of travelling. On his motorbike, riding India since a month, this camera master enjoys a panoramic view which cannot be felt in a car and witnesses every place like his new home.
From Gurudongmar to Chopta Valley and back to lachen and then to lachung
Back at my lodge Apple Orchards, I took time to venture around. Curiosity opened my mind to old tales written European authors and I lost my ability to feel in the stillness of the untouched rugged beauty. I touched the barks that came my way and kept me gripped with Then began my new chapter and marked my favourite day of the trip. The drive to Lachung would have been cut short of an hour had not the military car in front of me broken down. As the tyres got repaired, I stepped out to click the destined moment and got chatting with stuck drivers and military guards. We recalled the moments of the recent earthquake but much worse the 2011 earthquake. My new driver Mr Janga added his own horror detailing as how he had to walk down from Chopta Valley to lachen that takes four hours to drive. The helicopters were sent but only to take the tourists. Their lives seemed to alienate them from ours and at that time humility was at its best. We discussed the complete absence of bread, soft drinks, non-veg, newspaper but easy availability of beer. They bought me Tropicana Guava juice and with a child-like tone cheered me and said that this is military juice and will give me energy during my journey. When the car got fixed and everyone cheered, they also made fun of the military driver who forgot to put down the hand break.
Apple Inn at Lachung was a picture-perfect rest house in-between the mountains, with cosy rooms opening into foggy wilderness, revealing the peeks at times. The best part about such views is every time you look out it’s a different picture, a new sight, a live painting. A day trip to the Yumthang Valley, also known as the ‘Valley of Flowers’, followed a dip in the hot springs and a massive vegetarian lunch and for the first time after arriving, I realised this was my last day in North Sikkim and all the passing thoughts crossfaded just like the clouds and my footsteps. Ever after days of coming back home, the sounds of Bhima Waterfall, autumn leaves and valley sunlight reverberates through me. With this I also confess that I have failed as a writer because what I saw, what I felt, I could not word it well enough to give complete justice.