Exploring Nepal – Pokhara : At the foothills of the majestic Annapurna Range

A three days trip to Pokhara was the perfect break I needed after a hectic few months. A 20 minutes flight from Kathmandu to Pokhara just gives you enough time to enjoy the free coffee and candies. It is a nice change from having to buy everything, as is the case in Indian domestic airlines. However, the tiny 30 seat aircraft does make one feel jittery.

 

Pokhara is the 2nd largest city of Nepal, surrounded by the Annapurna range it is a popular destination for trekkers and adventure sports enthusiast.

Macha Pucherey

Macha Pucherey

The first day we decided to stay at the Raniban Retreat, though just 5 km away from the main town, it feels like it is miles and miles away from the bustle of the city. The hotel is so placed that it gives you the best view of the mountains. However, it is not for people who have difficulty walking, as one has to walk for 10 minutes to reach the retreat. If you are looking for a place with loud entertainment, this is definitely not the place for you, but for someone looking for peace and quite this is the place to be. Before heading towards the hotel, we did some sightseeing, the taxi we had hired for the day took us to places like the Bindhyabasani Temple, International Mountain Museum, Gupteshwar Gupha. I found the Gupha or cave to be really interesting, thousands of years of erosion has given the stone walls very unique texture and feel. We had our lunch at a local Thakali restaurant. Thakali cuisine originated in the hills of Mustang, and uses a lot of Szechwan pepper (locally known as timmur).The fresh fish fried Thakali style was yummy. The main course consisted of dhindo (buckwheat flour cooked in water) dal, rice, saag, gundruk (a Nepali delicacy) and chicken. After a scrumptious lunch we headed towards the retreat, where a potter was waiting to carry our bags for the 500 or so steps one has to walk. The stay that night was utter bliss, although the next morning was foggy and we could not enjoy the sunrise over the mountain range. I will definitely go back to the place just for the peace, quiet and utterly magnificent view.

Fish prepared the Thakali way

Fish prepared the Thakali way

 

The next day after a leisurely breakfast; we headed towards the main city, stopping to visit the world peace pagoda. We checked into The Lake Side Retreat, a plush hotel near the Phewa Tal. The spa service was good and I totally enjoyed the hour long ayurvedic massage. The evening was spent walking along the lake side area; which offers multi-cuisine restaurants, pubs and curio shops. A very touristy area where you can buy souvenirs for people back home. Some of the restaurants have live band performing, so it is a great place to hang out and have fun.

 

Phewa Lake

Phewa Lake

Coming back home without trying any of the adventure sports on offer would have been a crime. Since we were there only for 3 days, I had the option of either trying paragliding or ultralight flight. Having already done parasailing once, I opted for ultralight fight. The Avia Club has been offering ultralight flight for more than 17 year, so they are the people to go to. The hotel helped us with the booking and offered us some discount. It was a fantastic experience, the day was very clear so I could see the complete mountain range. The wind blowing across your face, a single engine light aircraft and a big lake below you does make one feel jittery. However, when my 15 minutes were over, I felt I should have taken the ½ hour package.

Thrilling ultralight flight

Thrilling ultralight flight

They also offer you a video footage and photograph of your flight on payment of 25$ or INR 1500.

The 2 nights and 3 days passed in a jiffy, I would definitely want to go back, especially now that I have heard of far off places like Mustang , Jomsom and the ABC trail, but that will be another story to tell.

Note for Indian nationals: Do not carry Indian currency in denominations  of 1000 and 500 , it is not accepted anywhere in Nepal only Rs 100 is accepted.

Respect the local custom, culture and people.

 

Vidya

 

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Posted in Adventure, Himalayas, India, Nepal, Nepali cooking, Pokhara, Tourism, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exploring Sikkim: On top of the world at Bhaley Dhunga

We had been thinking of going for a trek for a long time , the chowri kharka trek had been a while and Maenam was on our “To do” list. As with most of our outings it was an impromptu decision. Once we decided to head towards South Sikkim, the weather started changing for the worst. The warm winter sun was replaced by cold rain. However, we were determined so on 1st march 2014 we headed towards Ravangla on local jeep around 12.00 pm and reached Ravangla by 3.00 pm.

The journey was uneventful, but the weather changed for the worst, light drizzle changed to downpours. Though we were excited, the fear of bad weather ruining our trek was there in the back of our mind. We reached Ravangla and started hunting for lodging. We went walking and luckily found one hotel viz Hotel Queens Regency right opposite the place were the trek starts. Though it was clean, the charges were a bit on the expensive side but it served our purpose, so no complains whatsoever.

The statue of Lord Buddha with the mountain range as  backdrop at Rabangla

The statue of Lord Buddha with the mountain range as backdrop at Rabangla

First thing to do while out on a trek to any wildlife sanctuary is to check with the local forest officials. The official asked us to fill the visitors book in the morning and insisted we take a guide along with us. After having taken care of the most important aspect of our visit , we decided to explore Ravangla. It is a small town, on  a ridge between Maenam and Tendong hills , it get pretty cold during the winter months but even the summer months are not much better, it has a very good view of the Kanchendzonga range. The town is a hub of activity during the month of September, as the Pang Lhabsol festival is celebrated with much fanfare. The monks in the monastery perform the traditional Cham in the courtyard and there are other activities too. Recently the Tsathagat Tsal where a big stature of Buddha has been placed has increased the influx of tourist. As every member of the group had already been to Ravangla gompa except for me, I insisted on going there. It was love at first sight. The mystic dusky ambience of evening, the fog engulfing the beautiful monastery, the praying wheels and the flags, this whole package had me head over heels. Must be the romantic side of me. After offering prayers and posing for photographs, we headed towards to market place. We had to stock for the hike, so we bought bread, chocolates, cheese, chips etc. The last thought before we fell asleep was the day should clear up.

 

Up- up we go

Up- up we go

It was 5.00 am when we all woke up and started gearing up, the first thing we did was check the weather. Our happiness knew no bound when we saw a clear morning with the mountain range in full view. After gulping down tea and biscuits we headed towards the forest post for registration. The whole process just took us not more than 10 mins The entry fee was Rs.10/- per person and an extra Rs. 10/- for still camera. All dressed up in brightly coloured gear we were ready to move on. The guide joined us along with his dog. As documented the trek starts at the height of approx 8000 ft and we were suppose to reach Maenam hills which is documented to be at the heights of 10600 ft. We gradually moved from our base at around 6.05am and as suggested by our guide Mr. R.K. Gurung we took the short route via Simal Dara, though very steep it cuts down the time and distance, plus lets us walk through thick vegetation. We find the new stone trails, which are currently being laid down difficult to walk on. It requires a lot of footprint for it to be comfortable. For the first time trekkers taking the shortcut would not be advisable as it gets really steep as we move. Since we have been born and bought up in the hills it is not so difficult for us. We reached Tatney at around 6.55am where there is a small waiting shed. After 5 mins rest we continued further. The walk was less steep and joins the proper trail in places. The path is very confusing and it is highly recommended to hire a guide for this trek. After 45 mins of uphill walk we reached our next stop Nunthalay at 7.45 am. We took a 10 mins rest there.

snow covered trees right out of fairy tales

snow covered trees right out of fairy tales

After crossing Nunthalay the terrain started changing there were less vegetations and at some places we were able to see wild primulas at their purple glory. The elves would have been happy with this pristine beauty. After walking for a while we reached a barren place from where we could see the hills surrounding Maenam covered with snow. As we moved higher the trail was covered with snow, it seemed right out of a fantasy movie, something out of the movie Narnia. As we climbed higher it grew colder, with the increase in altitude the pace slows down and breathing  becomes difficult. Finally, we reached Maenam monastery which is the top most point of Maenam at around 9.50am.

Happy to be finally @ Maenam

Happy to be finally @ Maenam

The view of the mountains all around and the land below is a rare sight to see. We forgot all our pain, tiredness and hunger once  the clouds lift slowly and the magnificient mountains were right before our eyes. We had earlier decided to have our packed lunch at Maenam but when we saw Bhaleydunga right before us, it energized us and we decided to conquer Bhaley Dhunga before we had our lunch. From Maenam to Bhaley Dhunga is a 45 min trek, first we have to decent and then again climb uphill. We reached there at 10.45 am. Bhaley dunga is a cliff top from where you can view the mountains and the town called Yangang right below.

Snow covered trail from Maenam to Bhaley Dhungs

Snow covered trail from Maenam to Bhaley Dhunga

 

The view form the top is mind blowing, the vast range of majestic mountain and valley of sun kissed paddy fields with meandering rivers and tiny villages below. It was heaven right on earth. It makes you realize you are nothing compared to the might of nature. It makes you forget all your petty problems. For me it was an ultimate experience of liberation. Everyday problems and tensions seemed to vanish and I was enjoying the blissful state of oblivion. Beauty of man made structures seemed so vain in front the beauty that was right in front of us. After all the excitement of being on top of the world and of course photography session, thanks to our smart phones, ipads and of course my canon G12, we sat down to have our so called packed lunch.

On top of the world @ Bhaley Dhunga

On top of the world @ Bhaley Dhunga

The government is planning to build a skywalk at Bhaley Dhunga, it would be a major tourist attraction and bring in revenue. But it also leaves a doubt in mind, do we need a skywalk here, the 5 hour uphill hike and the joy of reaching the top will be lost forever.

After 25 mins of being on top we decided to retrace our journey. Return journey went steadily, must be the change in altitude we all were suffering from headache. When we moved from Bhaleydunga it was 11.10 am, we reached Nunthalay by 12.50 pm there we took 10 mins rest and we moved further down. When we reached Tatney it was 1.20 pm there we rested for 5 mins and moved on because we needed to reach Gangtok the same day. We made to Forest check post at 2.00 pm and then on reaching our lodging had a cup of refreshing tea we headed back to Gangtok.

 

Do:

  • Wear comfortable shoes preferably hiking shoes.
  • Wear cloths in layers, it gets hot as you walk uphill.
  • Wear rain jacket on top, the weather it very unpredictable.
  • Breathing becomes difficult as the altitude increases, so walk in a steady pace, one that suits your body.
  • Personal experience says do not eat chocolate in high altitude.
  • Do take a guide, the paths are confusing, our guide charged us Rs.600/- for the day. You can ask for a guide at the forest outpost.
  • Carry plenty of water, no water source  on the way.
  • Carry a basic first aid kit.
  • Respect the local culture, custom and people.

Don’t

  • DO NOT LITTER.
  • Do not pluck flowers.
  • Try not to disturb the wildlife.

How to get to Ravangla:

Daily shared taxi service from Gangtok or you can hire a car.

Rabangla is slowly turning  popular with tourist, so many lodge and hotels  present.

Best time for the trek  March – April and October- November

 

Manisha B

Posted in Exploring Sikkim, Hiking, Himalayas, India, Memoirs, Monasteries, North East, Sikkim, Sikkim Tourism, Travel, Trekking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exploring Sikkim : Blessed at Tholung

It had been two months since I was out of work and was looking for an opportunity to go out and get motivated & inspired by the nature outside my doorsteps at Gangtok. So while all this was going in my head almost everyday at home, one of my dear friend from school Tshering Doma suggested we make a trip to Tholung monastery for the ” Khamsel” ceremony which apparently is held once in every 3 years. The idea fascinated me and all of sudden I started looking up for information on the internet. Before this all I knew about Tholung was that it was located in farthest corner of Dzongu (protected Lepcha reserve area in Sikkim) and was the epicentre of the earthquake of 18th September 2011. As I researched I found out that the monastery is probably the oldest in Sikkim built in the 1780’s and it holds some rare scriptures, relics & artifacts dating back to 1600’s. During the 1700’s Sikkim witnessed invasion of Gorkha from Nepal and this led the monks to shift the valuables belonging to the learned Guru Lhatsun Chenpo & other Lamas from Dubdi & Sanga Choeling monasteries to its current location at Tholung. So with this little information I packed my bags and decided to join Tshering & her Agya (brother in Sikkimese) for the trip towards to farthest corner of Sikkim I had ever been to.

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In the early morning hours of 21st November 2013, I met more people who were part of the group heading to Tholung. After acknowledging each other we started off towards Mangan at 6 am. The drive to Mangan via Radyong Tintek & Dikchu was scenic and got a glimpse of morning sunrise over Khanchendzonga range. I already had a feeling that this was going to be a special trip. We stopped for breakfast at Mangan. Today we had to walk for about 12 kms (no one was sure about the distance) from the village of Bey to reach the monastery so we hogged as much we could. After breakfast we continued on our journey. We drove into the Dzongu reserve area after crossing river Teesta at Sankalang. The river looked wild & fierce at Sankalang and I couldn’t but be in awe of the sounds coming from river. I was happy to see the river flowing freely & wildly, it’s a rare sight nowadays in Sikkim to see a free flowing river. It didn’t take too long for the road conditions to deteriorate as we drove further into the Dzongu Reserve area.  We drove past Passingdong village which is probably few of the villages in Dzongu  open  to tourism & run homestays locally. The landscape around; the tall hills covered in the changing colors of autumn trees , the cardamom fields, the ripe orange orchard, the waterfalls, the pink cherry trees couldn’t have been any more beautiful. The further we drove I felt as if I was travelling to a magical land. We drove past beautiful fields of gold at Lingza around 10 am. We were only about 5- 6 kms away from Bay from where the trek would begin, I was already jumping in my seat with excitement but it was shortlived as the road conditions were at its worse. The road was wide only for a single vehicle to drive, there was no room for a vehicle coming downhill. After half an hour of bumpy ride we reached Bay where the road ends and the trek begins. The village of Bay was destroyed by the September 2011 earthquake and only one or two families live here nowadays. After parking the vehicle, we strapped our bags and our trek began as we crossed the suspension bridge over Rimpi River at 11 am.

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The devastation of September 2011 was clearly visible to us, large portion of the hill was brought down to the river bed and the starting portion of the trail is buried deep under.  We took the alternate trail which ran along the river side and hopped rocks. As I was walking along on the banks of a turquoise river & climbing up the forest trail, I was overwhelmed by the place, so peaceful and local porters carrying loads with a smile that never left their face even during the steep climb uphill. The trail was decent with many tiny log bridges connecting sections of the trail at places.

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There were 5 rest huts along the way and the nearer we approached to the gumpa the trail steeply climbed up. Catching our breath every now & then and stopping over for some snacks we walked for about 4 hours and finally reached the Tholung gumpa at 4 pm. People had already started arriving at the place before we got there. The place was crowded with monks & pilgrims. As we walked towards the gumpa we saw the quake had such a big impact on the monastery that the four walls of the gumpa had come down and now only the concrete pillars were holding the gumpa. After offering our prayers at the gumpa we went for the hot sogya(tea with salt) being offered to everyone by the volunteers. We were allocated a room in the basement of a building by the organising committee and it was getting dark so we went to the room to relax. The room was big enough for all of us in the group so we unpacked and put our sleeping bag in place and took some rest before dinner. The dinner was served at a hut by the organising committee for all. I was very well impressed at how accommodation & food was taken care of for the pilgrims by the committee. It had been a long day for us and after dinner we crashed on your mats & slept peacefully.

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The next morning, in the early hours of dusk few of us from the group decided to go for a short hike to visit a place where people come to collect holy water (Thi in Sikkimese) and a nearby holy cave. We took the trail which went straight through the village and downhill through the forest to river side. We walked along the river bank and climbed up a massive land slide which had brought down with it tonnes of stones & boulder. An hour walk brought us to the Thi, many monks were already there praying and collecting the Thi. We joined them and after filling our bottles walked up steep steps to reach a cave which was located on the bottom of the cliff. The cave was lit up with candles & incense sticks on the inside, 2 – 3 people could enter the cave at a time. The people believed that Guru Rinpoche has meditated in this cave. On our way back we came across this rock cliff which if looked closely at resembled book shelf in a monastery with holy books stacked horizontally. The people believe that sacred religious books are hidden behind the rock. We were back at the village at 9 am and went to have some breakfast. After a stomach full of breakfast we went straight to the terrace of the building adjoining the monastery where the Khamsel would take place. People has begun to gather for the ceremony, we found ourselves a seat on the floor and settled down.The Rinpoche arrived and the ceremony began after a short prayer. I could see monks making their way towards the Rinpoche carrying a tin box which contained all the treasures & relics of Guru Lhatsun Chempo. Apparently there are around 18 boxes like those and the content of all the boxes would be displayed to the pilgrims. Most of these boxes contained holy works of Guru Rinpoche & Guru Lhatsun  Chenpo. What was truly amazing were the clothes belonging to Guru Lhatsun Chenpo which were in perfectly good conditions for something which was about 300 year old. All the clothes were handmade of silk in bright colors of yellow, red & blue and had intricate patterns of dragons & flowers on it. Many sacred thankas were also put on display. The ceremony ended in the afternoon around 3 pm, the remaining relics would be shown on the next day. After the ceremony we wandered around the village talking to other pilgrims like us. The night ended early for us and after dinner went straight to bed.

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The next morning we woke up to the sounds of monks performing puja at the choesum (alter in Sikkimese). After visiting the monastery for early morning prayers, we went for breakfast at one of the make- shift canteens put up by local people of Bay and had hot cup of tea & bread. Today we were leaving after the first half of ceremony so we packed our belongings and had everything ready before the ceremony started. In the ceremony today unique relics like the horse saddle, the cane basket which carried all these items from West Sikkim, holy books written in silver & gold, the Tashi Targye (eight lucky signs) made of gold which a part of the coronation ceremony held at Yuksam In 1642 AD, thankas and clothes were shown to the audience. We left the gumpa after the first half of the ceremony got over. We took the trail back to Bay and after 3 hours of downhill walk & physical exhaustion we reached Bay and drove back to Gangtok.

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How to reach: Plenty of vehicle ply between Mangan & Dzongu. Indian nationals other than Sikkimese & International guests require permit to enter the Dzongu Reserve Area. The permits are provided by the Department of Forest, Government of Sikkim.

Best time to Visit: April- May & Oct- November

Where to stay: Forest huts are available at Tholung

Note: You can trek further from Tholung to Kishong which takes a day to reach from the gumpa. There are no accommodations at Kishong so it will be advisable to carry tents along. In case of winter travel carry warm clothes. During rainy season expect to be attacked by the leeches , so carry some salt along which keeps the creatures away. Most important : Do Not Litter.

 

Manisha S

Posted in Exploring Sikkim, Hiking, Himalayas, India, Memoirs, Monasteries, Sikkim, Sikkim Tourism, Travel, Trekking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exploring Sikkim: Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary

 Planning to visit Sikkim, keep couple of days aside for trek or hiking. It is the best way to enjoy the pristine air and natural beauty of the land. Sikkim, offers many trekking and hiking trails that run through rich biodiversity and cultural life of Sikkim.

Let me take you on a virtual tour of a place called Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary in West Sikkim. It is a comfortable trek and ideal for both beginners and pros. Even if you have just a day to spare, you can enjoy the thrill and the adrenaline rush that comes after visiting the Barsey sanctuary.

Before that, one small piece of advice, do not forget to carry a comfortable pair of shoes in which you can walk for a couple of hour. It is a practical advice. Even if you do not want to trek/hike, the shoes will come handy, as you will have to do a bit of walking around after all you are visiting the hills.

Have you seen a Rhododendron flower? No! Scroll down and check out the picture. Lovely isn’t it. Now imagine a jungle full of Rhododendron in bloom, everywhere you look you see trees full of flowers, so much so that the leaves are not seen.  Just not that, you walk beneath a canopy made of these flowers. Interested! Read on… the air is cool, Himalayan birds chirping and signboards warning you of the great Himalayan bear, don’t you want to witness all these in real.

Rhododendron  flower

Rhododendron flower

Last April we went to Barsey, I think everyone in the family had already been there at least once except for my husband. He is a non-local and lives in Mumbai and we wanted to show him a different facet of Sikkim. Earlier we had taken him to Gurudogmar Lake at 17,000 ft near the Indo-China border. This time we decided to take him to Indo-Nepal border.

We decided to make it a day’s trip. However, a daylong trip can be a bit tiring but it is doable or maybe we could do it, as we are locals. It takes around four to five hours to reach Hilley in West Sikkim-(this is the point where we disembark and start our hike) from Gangtok.

A very comfortable trail

A very comfortable trail

We left Gangtok around 6:30 am and reached Hilley by 10:30. We were fortunate; we did not come across any traffic snags or road blocks. The road especially from Okhrey to Hilley which is around 10 kms is beautiful. It passes through virgin forest and Rhododendron tress which in local language is called Gurash. Hilley is an isolated place with hardly any inhabitants though there are a couple of hotels run by locals and it also has a lodge run by the Tourism department. From here on a clear day you can see the majestic mountains standing tall and walk amidst the gurash and silver fir trees.

However, we did not hang around the place but immediately set off for Barsey. Before entering the sanctuary, one has to make an entry in the register kept at the forest checkpost.  The 4.5 kms trek is gradual, anyone can do it. If you have doubts, pick up a staff to help you walk, however don’t forget to bring it back. Others might need it too.

The starting point where you have make an entry in the register.

The starting point where you have make an entry in the register.

Well I did pick one and started the trek, we started off gradually chattering amongst ourselves but after a while the beauty, the silence of the place permeated into us and we began to walk in silence. Suddenly I looked up and the sight was mesmerizing, we were walking under a canopy of flowers. I nudged my husband and when he looked up, he was speechless.

We walked in silence in a steady pace after every one kilometer there is a shed for rest but we did not use it. We were eager to reach our destination. After walking for nearly 45 minutes we reached a bend and then what we saw left as awe struck. We were amidst riots of colour; the small clearing had gurash trees in full bloom. We were surrounded by  different shades pink and red flowers. As far as our eyes could see there were flowers. I had been to Barsey twice earlier, once with the family and once with friends but even then I had not seen the forest in full bloom.

Rhododendron trees in bloom

Rhododendron trees in bloom

My husband came to me and said, “Thank you for bringing me here, this has to be seen to be believed, I had not even imagined in my wildest dream the sight I am beholding now.” By the way he still thanks me and the family.

However it was just the beginning, we reached the forest department’s bungalow where there is a small shop where you can ask the caretaker to make maggi, tea etc. He even has liquor in store in case you need it. Have I forgotten to mention that Barsey is at approximately 10,000 ft above sea level and once you stop walking it really gets cold. Our teeth started chattering and my farther suggested that we should go further up  a hill. After the refreshing cup of tea, we marched up. The climb to the hill is quite steep at places, but every step is worth it.

The entire forest covered with blooms

The entire forest covered with blooms

You just stop searching for words, and soak in the beauty and nature surrounding you. The mountains and the surrounding makes you feel very insignificant. Your dreams, aspirations, the rat race holds no meaning at that point of time. Those mountains and jungles have been there even before us and will remain there even after we have gone.  After enjoying nature’s might and magnificence, we descended and made our way back to Hilley at a leisurely pace listening to the songs of Himalayan birds.

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From Hiley we got into our vehicles and retraced our journey back to Gangtok. By 7:30 pm we were at home discussing the trip. As I said it was kind of hectic but fun.

However my advice would be to make it into a two days trip. Leave Gangtok, stay overnight at Okhrey or Hilley, next day visit Barsey and return to Gangtok. Any travel agent in Gangtok can plan this trek trip for you. Also the same hike can be converted into a long trek if you want. Speak to your travel agent about it.

Do’s and Don’t’s

This is such basic but please do not  litter.

Do not pluck flowers however tempted you might be, the forest guards check at the exit point. But it is your civic duty to ensure you follow the rules.

It is advisable to carry a wind cheater or a rain coat.

Wear warm clothing (its cold throughout the year) and comfortable shoes.

Quick facts

Best time to visit: April -May , when the trees are in full bloom.  Oct-Nov is also good but there will be no flowers, you can walk through the forest and enjoy an amazing view of Kanchendzonga range, as the days and nights are very clear during this time. 

Most travel agents will give you a good deal for this trip as it is a very popular destination, or contact the Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation  Help Desk at Gangtok

 

Divya K

Posted in Exploring Sikkim, Gangtok, Hiking, Himalayas, India, Memoirs, North East, Nostalgia, Sikkim, Sikkim Tourism, Travel, Trekking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Absolute Demazong ….. a great place to hangout

I am a foodie, I love to try out new cuisine and places to eat. Few years back eating out was not a very popular concept in Gangtok, but now times are  changing, and so has the attitude of Gangtokians, we see lot of  new restaurants mushrooming, serving a multitude of cuisine.

My cousins and I wanted to try this new place called Absolute Demazong, we had heard some pretty good things about it. The four of us went on a friday evening. Demazong means ‘valley of rice’. It is another form of the word Denzong and is the old name for Sikkim. Considering the name of the restaurant , we expected the fare to be traditional. We were not disappointed. Along with  all the typical items in the menu (Indian, Continental, Chinese), it also has a very good selection of traditional Nepali, Bhutia and Bhutanese dishes.

As well as  regular alcoholic beverage the place also serves  chaang , a local drink made of fermented millet, served in a bamboo canister sipped using a bamboo pipe.

On that day,  there was a  local band belting out hit Nepali songs. I don’t know if the live act happens everyday or just the weekend.

The place has an open floor plan, and the decor is nothing extraordinary, though the furniture is traditional Sikkimese.

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We ordered a non-veg  Nepali platter for starter to go with chaang and Dansberg Blue (a pale lager beer, locally brewed), which turned out to be very good.

The people of Sikkim do not eat as much masala as the North Indians, so if you have  a hot palate, you may find the local food to be quite bland. But you can spice it up by ordering side dishes like Ema Tachi, a Bhutanese dish made of chilli and cheese and the wide variety of achars. If you are lucky and are not afraid to experiment you may be able to try dishes made of stinging nettle (sisnu)  and eatable fern(ningro) . It is  a seasonal delicacy and an acquired taste.

The staff is friendly and the service is very good. After a very hectic week, it was good to relax with a glass of beer and good music.  If you are looking for a quite dinner for two I would not suggest this place, but it is perfect for hanging out with friends.

If you plan to travel to Gangtok and want to try the local cuisine, I would recommend Absolute Demazong. Do try the local chaang and the locally brewed beer.

Location : Hungry Jack Complex, National Highway 31A, Gangtok.

Hotel Hungry Jack is a landmark building, so any local will be able to give the direction.

USP: They serve authentic local cuisine  and also serve  chaang.

Ratings

Ambience  : 3/5

Food : 4/5

Service : 4/5

 

Vidya

Posted in Cooking, Eating out in Gangtok, Food, Gangtok, Himalayas, India, Nepali cooking, North East, Restaurant Review, Review, Sikkim, Sikkimese Food, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exploring Sikkim : Day trek to Chowri Kharka

Destination:  Khedi Pokhari;

Trekkers: Four- all ladies, (yeah… go girl power)

Information available about the destination: haphazard, unreliable and unhelpful.

Supposed time taken to reach the said destination: varied from 6 to 8 hr to 3 whole days!!!!

Route: vague idea and generally relying on the information from the locals.

Thus armed with the above information about our destination which was Khedi Pokhari, we planned to start our trek @6 am.

The night before was spent at Muma’s Homestay in Chota Singtam, “Muma” meaning Mother in Nepali….it is a beautiful place owned and run by a very lively couple who feed you scrumptious  meal and entertain you with their talks of Sikkimese history and any topic that fancies you. After our delicious Italian dinner cooked with simple homegrown organic vegetables we bundled up for the night, all-eager for tomorrow. The dawn arrived bright and clear and we were all ready to begin our trek. The taxi that was to take us to our starting point was supposed to arrive by 6 a.m. but alas like everything in India the taxi too ran on Indian Standard Time i.e. according to the fancy of the taxi’s proprietor or driver as the case may be. Finally it arrived at 6:45 am and we were on our way. We reached the starting point of our trek  at 7:15 a.m. and started walking with spring or as the case may be autumn in our step.

stream on the way

stream on the way

At first we were all eager and enthusiastic ,talking and laughing and admiring the view and taking pictures of anything interesting from pristine clean waterfalls to blooming flowers to mountains beyond. It was all truly breathtaking. The gradient as expected  was steep to begin with but slowly it got steeper to the point that it was 80° at some places. Let me inform you on the side that this trek is not for the ones who expect a gradual rise in gradient and gentle walk. This very hard trek leaves you gasping for breath while both going up and coming down.

bamboo bridge across a stream

bamboo bridge across a stream

Since we did not have a clear idea of the route due to the wonderful information provided by Sikkim Tourism and the local Forest Department, we turned to our best sources i.e. the locals we met along the way (who were few and far between). Some told us it’d take 3hrs to reach Khedi, while others said a day and so on, but nevertheless we got the directions right. So we climbed, slipping, falling, and being stung by stinging nettle on the way. Large cardamom shrubs grown and pruned by the locals cover half the way. We met few ladies going to their respective cardamom field to prune it before winter came and asked them how far Khedi Pokhari was. They told us that with the pace we were walking (which according to us was very fast, thank you very much) we’d reach there only by tomorrow but by 12 noon we would manage to reach another spectacular place called Chowri Kharka, the former of which means a yak and the latter as far as I know a cast in Nepali, though I fail to see the underlying connection of the latter’s name. Anyhow, after the talk and a bite or two of sandwich and apples besides an abandoned shed, we set off again. The climb getting steeper as we trekked , and let me tell you from personal experiences, that though resting is essential in a trek, it’s definitely hard finding you steady momentum after that rest. So there we were four of us with no clear idea of our destination, slipping and falling and laughing and attending to natures call but, determined nonetheless, to reach our destination.

Great view along the way

Great view along the way

As we climbed, suddenly there is a break in the foliage and trees and before us  is a small but beautiful pasture with big cows tied at the front of small herders cottage. The view on the opposite side was awe-inspiring , we could see the whole of the Kanchenjunga range and other surrounding mountains until back of beyond. We asked the cow-herder for general direction and how long it would take us to reach Khedi. He told us that with our pace it’d take 3 hrs more but that we would not be able to get back down today itself because the days are shorter and by 5:00 p.m. its pitch dark. By then we had also accepted that we would not be able to reach Khedi and return on the same day , it had to be a two days trip or  we had to setoff really early next time. So we asked him how far was Chowri Khargda and he told us bout an hour. Gritting our teeth we set off again.

Trek through dense forest

Trek through dense forest

The climb though on this part was less steep as compared to earlier part of our journey so it was not as hard as it had been earlier. But before the hour was up there was gradual thinning of the fauna and foliage and we reached the most enchanting place we had ever seen (here I take the liberty of encompassing my fellow trekkers because the feeling was entirely mutual). It was a relatively big pasture with 3 cottages belonging to cow herders that live here during summers. And the view on the opposite side was spectacular. With Himalaya range  unbroken and going on forever as far as the eyes can see and on the forefront the Kanchenjunga in all its snow capped glory. We asked one of the residents what this place was called and when he told us we had reached Chowri Kharka you have no idea how ecstatic we were. We couldn’t care less if we didn’t reach Khedi this time, this place was so enchanting and magical that we were happy to make it our destination this time and promised ourselves Khedi for the next.

Chowri Kharga

Chowri Kharga

We decided to have lunch and rest for a while then start our trek downhill. It had taken us 3 hrs of steady uphill climb to reach here. After some lunch and rest and lots of picture taking we started out descent. While we were coming down the whole magical experience was completed by the arrival of 4 mountain horses from the forest to the pasture. You cannot guess the sense of fulfillment we all got.  So with that air of contentment we started our descent.

Saw some horses grazing

Saw some horses grazing

Let me divert a bit and tell u something … during Diwali festival the Nepali community had the custom of going to other houses and singing the local folklore.  On the night of Diwali it’s the girls who do the singing  and for the next 2 days  the men or boys do it. There is a line in this lore which goes like this “ eh rato mato! Eh chiplo baato! eh laardai paardi aayeka deusi!” which means “oh the red earth and its slippery way, oh falling and pitching we’re on our way”… man this was the line that was going round and round like a song worm in my head throughout our downhill trek. After slipping and falling for numerous time we were praying for some uphill relief!! Coming down such a steep incline, please mind my language, a B**** on your muscles and toes and feet, it cramps more when you’re coming downhill than going uphill. But finally after two and half hours of  steady downhill we finally reached the starting point. And since we had no taxi waiting we walked again but it was not bad as it was on a leveled road. After walking for a while we hitched a ride on a truck, happily scrambled at the back of it atop the boulders it was carrying. It dropped us half way from where we walked for a while and finally a taxi stopped and conveyed us to Muma’s where we had hot tea that refreshed us and after that it was back to home same day (as we stay pretty close by) for a nice long hot bath and a very good nights sleep undisturbed by any dreams

The descent

The descent

This trek can be planned as a day trek. Make sure you have very sturdy hiking boots or shoes with a good grip as the path can be slippery.

You can stay the night at Muma’s homstay at Chota Singtam 15 km away from Gangtok (if you want the contact detail just leave a comment). They will arrange for a picnic lunch as well as a taxi to take you to the start point of the trek. 

Since the trek is through some very steep terrain, you need to be physically fit. 

Don’t forget to carry basic first aid kit. You never know when you may need it. 

If you plan to go all the way to Khedi its better to contact a travel agent.

 

Dibesha

Posted in Gangtok, Hiking, Himalayas, India, Memoirs, North East, Nostalgia, Sikkim, Travel, Trekking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chutney….. Nepali style

In any Indian household chutney is an important part of everyday meal. Weather you are having pakoras, samosas or any other snack you always find a certain type of chutney. In north India, hari chutney  is very popular. When I was at the University in Edinburgh, I would make chutneys using various ingredients. One of my friend from Delhi once pointed out to me that she had never had the red chutney I prepared. It got me thinking that maybe it was uniquely Nepali, I may be wrong, it may be made at other parts of the country too, but in my house we just love the red chutney. In fact both my sister don’t need anything else  with rice if there is red chutney.

When we were teenagers  and old enough to help mum in the kitchen, my mum used to make us use the grinding stone or silpatta to make the chutney. I still remember her coming and checking if the chutney was fine enough. If it was not, we had to redo the process. How I used to hate it. I would sometimes grumble why we had to do everything in the traditional way when we could have easily used the electric grinding machine. My mum  was actually teaching us valuable life lessons. The discipline to complete the task  started to the best of our ability.  The importance of tradition and also making us realise that food is tasty cooked in the  traditional way.

Grinding stone

Grinding stone

Even now we use the grinding stone to make the chutney, but I  have stopped grumbling.  For those who do not have a grinding stone at home the electric grinder will work too.

Red Chutney 

Ingredients:

2 medium size tomatoes

2 clove of garlic

a small piece of ginger

chilli according to taste ( if you want it hot put a lot of chilli, preferably red ones)

salt according to taste.

For the  authentic taste you need to roast the tomato in fire, since its impossible to have a fire at home ,slice the tomatoes in two and  microwave it for  3 minutes. Put the tomato, garlic, ginger and chilli in a jar and use the hand blender to blend it , or  use the electric mixer/grinder.  Blend it for few minutes till all the ingredients form a smooth puree and add salt according to taste.

You can garnish it with finely chopped onions or use it as it is . It works with rice, roti, samosas, pakoras or just anything. 

Red chutney

Red chutney

 

Vidya

Posted in Childhood, Cooking, Food, Gangtok, India, Memoirs, Nepali cooking, North East, Nostalgia, Sikkim, Sikkimese Food | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment