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Sunday, 22 July 2012

Stairway to heaven

Stairway to heaven
I guess few places kindle that profound soul-searching desire in you, create an intense hunger to introspect and take a peek into the deep recesses of your core being and make you almost one with the Divine, even if only for a short or temporary period. This is exactly my state of mind as we set foot in Sikkim.
It is close to lunch as we check into Hotel Danzong Shangri La in Gangtok. Following a sumptuous repast, we hire a 4WD with Longfu as our chauffer and guide for our five-day tour of Sikkim. It is early June and Sikkim is draped in all grandeur — showing off its dense and luxuriant forests, crystal clear streams, stretches of exotic blossoms, untamed and magnificent mountains, virgin and pristine in all their glory. Clouds and mist envelop us in their caressing arms as much as they embrace the mountains. We begin our explorative sojourn of this oasis of natural beauty, ensconced in the lap of the towering Kangchendzonga, with its capital Gangtok.
It is evident that religion forms an integral part of the routine of the Sikkimese people. Longfu informs us that there are at least 200 monasteries spread all over Sikkim. We visit the 200-year-old Enchey Monastery, built on the site believed to be blessed by Lama Druptob Karpo, a tantric master who was known for his power of flying!
The architectural splendour of the city with its pagoda-like wooden houses, the Chogyal Palden Thondup Memorial Park, the Orchid Garden, the Ridge, Lal Bazaar and M.G.Marg cast a magical spell on us with their sheer colour, unhurried pace and the smiling faces of the Sikkimese people. M.G. Marg with its bustling eateries and vibrant shops reminds me of Barcelona’s La Rambla.
The second day in Gangtok has us visiting the Tashi View Point, Ganesh Tok, Hanuman Tok, the Saramsa Garden, Changu Lake and the monastery at Lingdum, all of which abound in colour and offer panoramic views of the city. As we move into South Sikkim on the third day, we yet again traverse through diverse landscape that is interwoven with a deluge of gurgling mountain streams, enormous waterfalls, sweeping hills of paddy fields, terraced tea gardens, and placid lakes often hidden inside dense foliages. We inhale lungful of cool, fresh mountain air that carries with it the sweet scent of wild blossoms.
We take in a mesmerising panoramic view of snow-kissed mountains and vast stretches of expansive valley from Namchi, meaning ‘sky high’, 5,500 feet above sea level and the headquarters of south Sikkim. We skim past terraced tea gardens and the township of Ravangla before halting at Sanduptse, to see the remarkable statue of Guru Padmasambhava, a Boddhisatva and Patron Saint of Sikkim. The 135 feet statue, made from copper, cement and concrete, towers at a height of 151 feet from ground level and is located bang in the midst of emerald green thick forests.
On day four, we are ready to proceed to western Sikkim. Most of Sikkim’s peaks lie on its west and remain unscaled because of the local belief that they are sacred and will lose their sanctity if climbed! We visit Pelling, the Pemayanste and Tashiding Monasteries and the Fambrong and Kanchenjunga Waterfalls, each, alluring in its own unique way. Kechopari (meaning Wishing) Lake at an altitude of 6400 feet above sea level has us spellbound. The lake with its crystal clear waters is held sacred by both Hindus and Buddhists. Its magical sanctity, we hear, is maintained even by the birds here, for they do not allow fallen leaves and sprigs to linger in its water for more than a few minutes!
The showers are a trifle heavy as we head North of Gangtok on the last day of our stay in Sikkim. We halt at the Kabi Longstok, a forested grove where stone markers stand testimony to the historic pact of blood brotherhood between the Bhutias and Lepchas of Sikkim.
We continue to navigate towards northeast Sikkim at a leisurely pace before coming upon the Seven Sisters Waterfall, to be delightfully drenched by its jet sprays. We wind our visit to Sikkim with a drive to Rumtek, Sikkim’s largest Buddhist monastery. Rumtek, perched on a hill facing Gangtok at 5,500 feet above sea level is set in sylvan surroundings. The entrance to the main temple is richly adorned with murals, typical of traditional Tibetan monastic painting style.
The rotund guy on the sky above obliges us with a weak glimpse of his glorious and fiery self before he retires behind the snow-capped peaks, casting a pastel peace-pink on the horizon. I am engulfed in that joyous flush and my cup of fulfillment is brimming as I look back for one last time the serene ambience of Sikkim before taking our flight back to our routine world of noise and buzz.
Sikkim lies in the North Eastern corner of India and is juxtaposed between Bhutan and Nepal with West Bengal to the South.
BY AIR: Bagdogra near Siliguri, 117 kms from Gangtok is connected with regular flights from Kolkata.
Daily flights are available to Kolkata from New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and all other major cities of India.
BY rail: Sikkim does not have any rail network in its boundary. The nearest Railways Station is New Jalpaiguri (near Siliguri), which is connected to Gangtok by road.
The writer is a travel enthusiast

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