It was my first trip to a state situated in the lap of the world's third highest mountain, Khangchendzonga. Out of all the states in the Northeast, I had chosen Sikkim as my destination this summer. It was my chance to get a glimpse of one of the most beautiful and green states of India. And as I set foot in Gangtok, I knew I had made the right decision.
Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, is one of Northeast India's most visited cities. The pleasant weather welcomed me with open arms. Away from Delhi’s scorching heat and horrible traffic, I was in a state endowed with exceptional natural resources, green lustre, beautiful waterfalls, gorgeous mountains, trimmed trees, wonderful landscapes, and scenic beauty.
Nestled in the Himalayas, Sikkim is a hotspot of biodiversity. The five-hour long drive from Bagdogra airport to Gangtok was not tiring at all since I was held spellbound by the arresting beauty of the mountains.
I spent two days in Gangtok. The capital was breathtakingly tranquil and truly emerald in colour. I had to miss my trip to Nathula, thanks to landslides, which are common during rainy seasons in Sikkim. Nathula is a pass on the Indo-China boarder. Here, not only one gets a chance to see an international border, but pose with Chinese Army officers as well. I had no option but to miss this opportunity to have a look at The Dragon.
People in Sikkim are warm, honest and humble. Trust me, you can’t get cheated in this northeastern state. A cabbie told me that you can roam on the streets of Sikkim with lakhs of rupees in your pocket, and you won’t be robbed.
I went for local sightseeing on the first day of my trip. Hiring a taxi in Gangtok is not difficult at all. The cabbie asked for Rs 2,000 for taking me to more than 10 sites. I saw the striking Enchey Monsatery, charming Flower Show, Sikkim’s Cottage Industry, Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, Banjhakri Waterfalls, Tashi view point (from where Khangchendzonga is clearly visible), Hanuman Tok (where Lord Hanuman rested while bringing Sanjeevani Buti for Lord Rama’s brother, Laxman), and Ganesh Tok.
MG (Mahatma Gandhi) road is the best place to spend evenings in Gangtok. It is one of the best shopping destinations I have ever seen. One can get almost everything here, and that too at a very reasonable price. Vehicles are not allowed inside this market. The use of plastic is also banned. Fountains in the middle of the road and slow music make it a tourist’s preferred choice in the evenings. Comfy chairs near the fountains give tired tourists much-required rest.
Who says it is difficult to get vegetarian food in Sikkim? I can assure you that you will get all kinds of varieties here. A number of vegetarian hotels on MG Marg were truly a delight.
<b>Darap village: Home away from home</b>
After Gangtok in east Sikkim, my next destination was Darap Cherry village in the western part of the state. I had preferred a village over the famous Pelling town to quell the curiosity about how a village looks. The village was almost 135 kms away from Gangtok. I had to cross Pelling to reach this village.
This was the first time I was going to stay in a village. I had read about the concept of village tourism on the Sikkim government’s website, and thought of just experiencing it. I had no idea what it would be all about, except that we would be away from the chaos of a town or city.
What a wonderful village it was! The panoramic view of mountains surrounding the village just stole my heart. It was no less than heaven. It was pure beauty, completely untouched by urbanisation. As soon as I reached the village, I was warmly welcomed by the president, Mr Sushil Tamang. The place was so refreshing and beautiful that I forgot it was time to have lunch. But my host did not. Within 20 minutes, I was served relishing ‘homely’ lunch. ‘Homely’ because food tasted as lip-smacking as it does at home. Less spices, less oil and more taste. Mr Tamang then showed me my room. Surrounded by trees, the room was pleasing enough (it was far better than the one I stayed in Gangtok). After a few minutes, I was served hot tea. I was told I could even use the kitchen if I wished to. It was frankly a home away from home.
After an hour or so, Mr Tamang and I went around to see the picturesque village. I visited a Limboos’ home (a community), a local school (though there were no students as summer vacations were on), cardamom gardens, meditation centre, and local nurseries.
The village was not only rich in natural resources and bio-diversity, but also in culture and customs of local tribes. I got a chance to experience the village lifestyle from close quarters. The villagers were very welcoming. I must share the fact that most of the villagers are not poor in Sikkim, thanks to cardamom gardens and the land which they have sold to the government for some projects. In fact, they are proud to call themselves a beggar-free state. And they love Zee TV. The entertainment channel has a major following in Sikkim, locals revealed.
Kids here were not shy at all. A four-year-old rosy-cheeked boy, Lohit, did not take much time in becoming my friend. He used to wave his little hand at me and share his ball to play.
In fact, the kids know the technicalities of the place really well and hence walk along the hills in a disciplined way.
In the evening, Mr Tamang told me how this concept of village tourism took birth. The Sikkimese government has started promoting tourism on a much larger scale recently, but this was just helping cities, not villages. The villages were not benefiting from the government’s tourism drive. It was then that the educated unemployed youth of Darap village realised the potential of the beauty of the place they lived in and started promoting community-based tourism to make it a sustainable source of livelihood for villagers. This concept is firming up in other villages too, and the concept of homestays is gaining popularity across the state.
And then I was briefed about the heroes of Sikkim - football captain Baichung Bhutia and Bollywood star Danny Denzongpa. After the dinner, I was told Mr Tamang is hosting Danny’s younger brother, who was there to celebrate a personal occasion with his set of friends. Danny owns a very famous brewery in South Sikkim.
The next day, we went for local sightseeing. The mighty Khangchendzonga Waterfalls, amazing Khechuperi (Wish fulfilling) Lake, scenic Sewaro Rock Garden and beautiful Rimbi Waterfalls made me realise what all I miss in Delhi. I miss ‘nature’. And the next day, I had my flight back to Delhi.
And as I landed, I was welcomed by scorching heat. What accompanied me till my home were not mountains and waterfalls, but pollution and vehicles’ noise. The transition was difficult to bear, but I had to accept how urbanisation has robbed Earth of its virginity.