Friday, June 17, 2011

A dream destination – North East

A dream destination – North East

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Snow-peaked mountains, sprawling streams, placid lakes, emerald green meadows, fringed by pine trees, misty weather are the images that lingers on when I try to put my journey experience in black and white.

I visited the North-East for around 10-11 days in the month of May to get away from the sultry heat of summer and get some cool respite to rejuvenate my body, mind and soul. My trip was planned on the spur of the moment as my sister, who was all set to explore the North East, had to back out due to some personal reasons. She requested me to replace her as she had already made the payment, and thus, I jumped on the god sent opportunity to explore the mystic natural beauty of North East.

Though, I am trying my best to relive each and every moment of my exhilarating journey through my blog, however, the beauty of the places –Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya – leaves me speechless. I am dumbfounded to express the beauty of the place, which has been captured through my eyes and entrenched in my soul for ever.


The first day of my visit was in Assam, where I did little bit of sightseeing as I had just half a day in hand. I visited one of the revered Shakti Peeths, the famous “Kamakhya Temple”. Being a Durga devotee myself, I found this temple very different from the other temples.

It was almost evening when I started for my onward journey to Tejpur, which was a transit point for my enchanting and eye-opening journey to Arunachal Pradesh. I reached Tejpur in the night and checked in at the hotel. The sleepy town is a classic small town with couple of decent hotels. On reaching my hotel, I crashed on the bed as I had to start early the next morning.

The land of mystic charm – Arunachal Pradesh

After early breakfast, I started for my onward journey to Dirang, which is famous for its apples and Kiwi cultivation. Enroute visited Nameri National Park, which is known for a wide variety of flora and fauna. Crossed Bhalukpong, which is around 56 kms from Tezpur and is the entry point in Arunachal Pradesh. Around 5 km from Bhalukpong, is the Asia’s third largest Orchidarium at Tipi, which is famous for its wide variety of rare orchids. Around 450 species of orchids are found. Glass house and an orchid museum are worth a watch.

The drive from Tipi to Dirang was totally mesmerising as the lush green mountains and the meandering river ‘Kameng’ played hide and seek all throughout the route. Ascending and descending through various mountain ranges was a lifetime experience and a feast for the eyes with gushing streams at almost every nook and corner .

With every climb, the weather got cooler and pleasant , which made my journey an enjoyable experience especially after the sultry weather in plains. The lush greenery coupled with heights gained at every bend offered a heady mix of thrill and adventure. I stopped for lunch at a small village named ‘Nechiphu’. The road-side shops offered simple fare like a lunch plate comprising of dal, sabzi, rice and chapatti or momos and Thukpa, a regular with the locals. Also bought couple of water bottles as the stretches are long with very few shops.

After lunch, the journey was smooth. I crossed Bomdilla, which is around 109 km from Bhalukpong and is a five hours drive, however, didn’t stop since I had a night halt at Bomdilla during my return journey. Ultimately reached ‘Dirang’ at around 5 pm. The breathtaking view of the town and the valley was totally out of the world.


Our night halt was in Dirang, a beautiful town in Arunachal Pradesh. I was put up in one of the best hotel, which offered a splendid view of the Dirang valley. After the tiring journey, I was totally famished and needed a brimming cup of hot tea. The experience of sipping tea in the lawn of the hotel overlooking the valley was a totally blissful experience. I have never relished my tea so much, being amidst nature, a sense of serenity and calmness pervaded me, I felt one with nature.

After tea, went and explored the local market, which was buzzing with activity. The market was located at a distance, so asked my driver to drop me at the market. Had early dinner and crashed on the bed as the next was supposed to be even more hectic.

The next day, I had an early breakfast and started off since a lot had to be covered. We started off with the local sightseeing of Dirang – first visited Apple and Kiwi orchards followed by a village tour of Dirang Dzong (Dirang Basti) to get a real feel of the local experience. The village tour was one of the most interesting part of the tour as it offered me a complete insight of the local culture. Though the locals are very shy people. I captured them in my lens. I would personally recommend a village tour to every travel enthusiast.

There was much in store for me in my next halt at Sangti Valley, which is around 9 kms from Dirang town. The valley is famous for the Siberian black neck storks, who visit during winter. The journey from dirang town to the valley is itself spectacular as the river Dirang Chu winds its way through the hills. The first sight of the valley excited me so much that I was ready with my camera to capture the scenic landscape and the panoramic view.

After Sangti Valley, I left Dirang behind and proceeded for my next halt to Tawang, which is around 143 kms from Dirang. Enroute to Dirang, also visited hot water spring.

This part of the journey was the most spectacular as it offered abundant natural beauty, however, there were short stretches of bad roads too. The scenic landscape , winding river, the majestic eastern Himalayan range compels one to revel on nature in its full splendour. One tends to forget all worries & insecurities with every climb and just gets engrossed with the nature in all its bounty.

Stopped for lunch in a small village. I had maggi, and trust me, it never tasted so good, especially the soupy style. After a quick lunch, I proceeded immediately as I was warned to cross Sela Pass before noon owing to visibility factor. On the way to Tawang, Sela Pass is the second highest motorable pass at 14000 ft height, which runs through a small ridge along the Paradise Lake.

I comfortably passed Sela Pass before noon, felt great, as I posed for the camera at 14000 ft above the sea level. Never in my dreams did I ever thought that I would achieve such unattainable height, speaking literally. Since, I belong to a defence personnel family, I remembered my dad, who use to tell us about the hard life in mountains. As I proceeded to my next halt “Jaswant Gar’, a war memorial raised to pay homage to Jaswant Singh (Mahavir Chakra Awardee – Posthumous), who singlehandedly stopped the Chinese battalion during the 1962 Indo-Chinese war, my patriotic emotions found a natural expression and came to the fore. I couldn’t help myself saluting my dad (whom I missed a lot) and to the entire Indian Army, who are giving their today to ensure better tomorrow for us. This is for all defence personnel – “Jain Hind” & hats off to you.

Had a steaming cup of hot tea from the nearby canteen run by the Indian Army and proceeded further as we had to cover quite a distance. The bunkers on the top of the memorial reminded me of the difficult life my father , as part of the Indian Army, spent at such heights. My eyes filled with emotions kept searching for the route through which the Chinese entered India during the 1962 war, suddenly fell on the point from where the first view of Tawang could be seen. Nestled in the lap of the Himalayas at 3500 metres above the sea level, this beautiful land of Monapas from a distance seemed like city spread over a number of hills with its Monastery immediately capturing one’s glance. The legendary 17th century Tawang Monastery, perched atop a hill, overlooking the hill and surrounded by thick clouds, entices the spiritual part of even the atheists with its ethereal peace.

I kept looking at the monastery in awe when a sharp shower forced me to rush back to the vehicle. It started raining heavily and the descending mist and cloud, all of a sudden reduced the visibility to just a few metres. We cautiously started descending. The valley in front of me and the monastery yonder suddenly got engulfed by the clouds. Our driver stopped at a point and pointed to the Jung Falls at a distance, which had swelled up due to heavy rains. The water gushed from the falls making it a spectacular wonder and reminded me of the scene from the Bollywood blockbuster ‘Koyla’ starring Madhuri Dixit and Sharukh Khan. It would not be out of place to mention here that some part of the movie “Koyla’ was shot in the vicinity of the ‘Jung’ (Nuranoor) falls as well as the Madhuri Lake ( ) in Arunachal Pradesh.


As the weather was getting worse, we decided to visit the falls on our way back as we had to return through the same route. After crossing a number of small villages, we finally reached Tawang.

It had stopped raining and the sight of monks rotating the prayer wheels in the middle of the city reminded us that we were in the land of Lamas. We had proceeded a little when the main gate with the caption “Welcome to Tawang” greeted us . We crossed the market and proceeded towards our hotel. On the way, and interesting piece of architecture captured my attention. It was a big prayer wheel on a traffic island in the middle of the road rotating constantly on the logic of water turbines i.e through the flow of water . As the wheel rotated, a bell on top rang at regular intervals spreading positive energy all around the city adding to the religious fervour . We checked in at our hotel and decided to take it easy since we had couple of days in hand to explore the place.

We had a leisurely dinner and crashed on the bed as the next day held more adventures.

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Friday, January 7, 2011

Testimonial : Lampokhari photo uploads by Subhra Lahiri,

Testimonial : Lampokhari photo uploads by Subhra Lahiri,

I visited Aritar (Sikkim) on 26th December,2010 with my family. Your arrangements are marvelous.
With best wishes

Subhra Lahiri [Raja].

Sunday, May 9, 2010

From zero point to Nothingness (Sikkim) : By Manisha Surve

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Prayer wheels, Salt tea and Monastery

............Rumtek Monastery, the most sacred and revered place of worship......i turned the prayer wheels sending the "om mani padme hum" chants reverberating in the universe and in my inner universe.................

From zero point to NOTHINGNESS

......what am i doing ? what is the purpose of my life? What is going to happen next ?.....and all these existential questions become negated to a big 0 or we realise that god and nature are one....overpowering, omnipresent and omniscient and to realise the sacred presence in pristine nature is the key to discovery of the self......

Gurudongmar Lake @ 17100 feet

...........this lake in North Sikkim located at the height of 17000+ feet, is an awesome and out of this world spectacle. Surrounded by snow clad mountains and crystal clear icy water, it is a very sacred lake and it is believed that any wish you make there comes the percentage of oxygen in the air is only 4% hence to stay here for more than an hour is not possible for most is an out of this world experience. A special permission is required for this visit and foreigners are not allowed to visit this lake.

Yumthang Valley - a riot of rhododendrons in bloom

.....The whole Yumthang valley, one of the most picturesque sights in the whole of sikkim, is a riot of colour in this season as Rhodendron flowers bloom throughout the trekking trail in red, white, pink and yellow.......The Shingba Rhododenron sanctuary is full of flowers in bloom as sikkim celebrates Rhodendron festival from 25 APril to 15 May.....

Tsomgo, Yak, me and the SNOWSTORM !!!

................Tsomgo lake...baba mandir, yak ride ......all this is routine tourist activity....but what happened next was a life changing experience for me.....all of a sudden at about 3.30 while returning it started raining snow, and the whole landscape in 1 hr changed from black to white...all the cars got stranded and this continued till 6 in the evening...there was ankle deep snow and about 1500 tourists and 150 vehicles were stranded at various points.

My gracious host said that i have got two options - to stay overnight in the car, or walk in the snow for about 5- 6 kms till we reach the check point. Well i definitely chose the this was going to be my first trek in the snow at night and who knows i may never get the opportunity again....and it was fun. Initially i kept slipping and stumbling but once i learnt the trick of walking on soft snow with my heels and at times slip on the ice while maintaining my balance. i along with four other c0 -travellers walked for about 2 hrs in the snow till we reached the point where a taxi had come to pick us up. Back in my resort i had a hot soak in tub with lemongrass oil and salt ........Well i guess i am ready for a ski course now.... day there was a news item in local and calcutta newspapers.....

....and the Hooghly flows on

21 April, 12.20, Arrival in Calcutta
.....twenty years ago, that was the last time i came to calcutta and twenty years later i get to visit the city where i spent the most formative 10 -12 years of my life. In a whirlwind tour in 24 hrs i see calcutta in a fast forward mode.....this slow moving and leisure loving city. Whether calcutta has changed or not is difficult to say but i definitely have.....

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Zuluk, an unexplored destination in Sikkim

Perched on the rugged terrain of the lower Himalayas in East Sikkim Zuluk is a hamlet close to The Indo China border, located at an altitude of 3000 meters(10000 ft), it is a relatively new and offbeat tourist destination. Zuluk derived its importance from its location on the historic Old Silk Route. The route started from Kalimpong and passed through Pedong, Arotar, Zuluk and Jelepla to Chumbi valley in Tibet. After the Chinese aggression however Nathula is the official corridor between India and China.

There are about 60 families consisting of about 600 people living in Zuluk. They are largely immigrants from Nepal who came settled here in the hope of a better future. They are honest, simple, hardworking and hospitable by nature.

However most of them are illiterate. Zuluk has an extreme climate. Winter is very severe with snowfalls and freezing temperature while summer is wet and foggy. Due to poor quality of the soil and vagaries of weather, farming is ell neigh impossible. Neither there is any scope for practicing cattlerearing as an occupation. Most of the land is fenced and military controlled making it unfit for grazing. The only source of livelihood there is employment in the construction and maintenance of border roads. People live in penury misery.

However, there are immense tourism potentialities which need to be tapped properly. Zuluk is an abode of peace. It is an ideal destination for those who like serene ambience, far from the ‘madding crowds ignoble strife’. For a person who is long put up in a city and is tired of his humdrum existence, it is a welcome relief.

Zuluk has a primitive appeal. There are no hotels worth its name. a visitor has to accept home stay and put up in small cottages which have however attached bathrooms. Bedrooms are made comfortable and worm at night by room heater or fire place which locals call Bukhari. One has to get up at to reach in time the Sunrise Point (10600 ft) at Zuluk. The rising of the sun is a phenomenon which is beyond description. The dark eastern horizon gradually turns reddish as the sun about to appear.

Then as the sun rises from behind the distant mountains its glimmering rays first touch the snow clad tip of the Khangehenzonga range on the west which slowly turns crimson and then golden and finally silver. All this futile and crude attempt to describe a scene which is breathtaking and awe-inspiring. One has to see it to believe.

After this exciting experience, the tourist may offer obeisance to the Nag God at the Nag Temple. The temple is a cave like structure in which the deity is the King Cobra or Nag, a Hindu mythology god. Here the image is a natural formation made through cracks in giant sized rocks. The local people worship with great reverence. The Thambi View Point at 11000ft. is a place from where one can have unhindered view of the Three Level Zigzag roads on the adjoining hills. This geometry of curves is really unique and unparalleld.

Next is Lungthung at about 13000 ft. It is the habitat of rare species of The Great Red Panda which is the National Animal of Sikkim. As good luck would have it, visitors may chance upon some of these species. After Lungthung comes Luxmi Chowk full of dense mixed jungle of Rhododendrons, Lichens, mosses, ferns etc. The twittering of the birds and panoramic view of the majestic Khangchendzonga freshen the mind of the tourists.

Lake falls on way to Adi Baba Mandir. Wild ducks swim in the transparent water oh the Lake which freezes during the winter. The Adi Baba Mandir is a memorial built in the honor of Sepoy Bhajan Singh who met with a tragic accident in this area and died. His Samadhi was constructed near Chhokhya Chho but was later shifted to the Watershed Memorial near LOG BR. Wreath lying ceremony is held at this site in the memory of all those Valliant soldiers who laid
their lives at the Watershed defending their motherland.

The road to Valley is very often covered with snow. This area is being developed as a Ski point in Sikkim.

Chinese Water Towers on Jelepla are visible with naked eyes. The Tukla Valley (12500 ft.) is also snowy and chilly. There is a war memorial built to commemorate the death of British soldiers who died at the battle of Tukla.

Kupup is only 16 km. from Tukla. En route, we come across Memenchule or Elephant Lake . Kupup is a part of the historical Silk route and traces of Loard Younghusband’s Track are visible. An Environmental Park is being developed here. There is also an Ice Hockey Field. The Yak Golf Course is the highest golf course in the world at 13025 ft. and is recognized by the Guniess Book of World Records. A cup of hot tea energize the travelers. Lhasa is about 520 kms. from Kupup.

One can drive straight to Nathula from Kupup. Nathula is in Tibetian plateau at a height of 14200ft and has the highest motor able road in the world. Nathula is at present the gateway of India and China. It is open for Indian nationals only on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. The Tsomogo Lake (12210 ft) is about 16 kms. from Nathula. The Lake is 1km long, 50ft. deep and oval in shape. The Local people consider it a holy Lake.

It is exclusively the home of Brahminic ducks apart from migratory birds. If visited in May and August, tourist may see a large variety of flowers in bloom like the Rhododendrons, primulas, blue and yellow poppies etc. It is also the habitat of the Red Pandas. Foreign tourists are allowed only in groups of two or more.

Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, our final destination, is only 40 kms. from Tsomogo Lake. It is a well planned township on the hills. Its exquisite gardens, Luxurious hotels, bars and restaurants make it a tourist a paradise.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Unravelling the beauty of Himalayas -- A visit to Lava, Lolegaon & Rishap

Having stayed in Mumbai for most of my life, my recent visit to the Hills near Kalimpong was an enriching, enlivening and a memorable experience, enough to captivate my heart. The breathtaking view of the tea gardens, the winding mountain roads, deep valleys, towering mountains and trickling mountain streams during the journey from Bagdogra Airport to Lolegaon, a small village at the height of 5,500 ft from sea level is etched in my memory, even today.

I was on a 4 day trip with my better-half to celebrate my first marriage anniversary and the setting was perfect as it gave us ample time to be amidst nature and enjoy its pristine beauty in all its glory. The Hill stations of Lava, Lolegaon in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal are among the lesser known and least visited places on the Darjeeling circuit. We decided to visit the places as we had heard the beauty of these places is unparalleled and they are epitome of virgin beauty.We had heard those places are lined by tall pine trees, often engulfed in mist and fog, making it a perfect destination for especially for honeymooners and people seeking seclusion and solitude.

An hour's flight from Kolkata took us to Bagdogra Airport, a small airport known for its strategic importance. Our cab driver was waiting at the airport and we proceeded on our 5 hours drive via Siliguri and Garubathan. Another road leads to Lolegaon through Kalimpong, but we preferred this stretch as it offered lovely landscape dotted with tea gardens all around. We stopped at a roadside shop to relish steaming momos, a favourite with locals, along with cup of tea, to refresh us.

The Teesta played hide and seek for a while as we winded our way up the mountain road and crossed it over the Coronation bridge. The bridge is in itself a marvellous piece of engineering. As we started gaining height, the forests of pine started getting dense and it gave us an errie feeling. The distance from Bagdogra to Lolegaon is over 140 kms and by around 4:30 p.m it turned dark. We realised we still had a long way to go. The road got covered in mist and the clouds had started descending. We passed small villages on the way and our cab driver must have been an expert hand at driving to take us safely to Lolegaon as the visibility had reduced to only a few feets. It was dark all around and the gorge on the other side sent a chill through the spine once I thought what if the car skidded. At times we passed the mobile towers and small villages which gave us the feeling of inhabitants being close by. We just kept driving through the mountain roads, holding hands praying to God to reach Lolegaon in safety. The mountains looked like dark rocks jutting against the moonlight. We reached Lolegaon at around 7:00 p.m and were happy to move in to the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council Lodge, more commonly called the Dafey Munal Lodge. The temperature had dropped to a mean 7 degrees centigrade and the warm and cozy lodge gave us the much needed rest after our long drive.

Woke up early in the next morning in anticipation of viewing the sunrise over the Kanchendzonga. As I stepped out to the verandah I could only see mist all around and feel a chill in the air. I expected the golden sun piercing through the cold darkness of the silent nights to fall on the Kanchendznga. I waited a long time for the fog to clear out, but alas it was not my day. I missed the glimpse of the glorious sunrise behind the beautiful Kanchenjunga ranges. However, that filled in me the desperate desire to visit the place again. After our morning cuppa of hot tea, we took a stroll through the woods.
We could hear the sweet music of "Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells .. Jingle all the way" floating through the air. We followed the music and reached St. Stephen's Academy, a beautiful school set amidst the wonderful hills.We walked back to the market and then towards the Heritage Forest. We took the entry ticket to the park, which was Rs.10 and enjoyed the Canopy walk. This is an interesting piece of walk on a path made of logs to form a sort of hanging bridge and pulled in place by strong steel wires. and affixed to the trees. It gives one a breathtaking view of the forest and the valley below. We lazed around the forest and spent the time in solitude, disturbed only by the call of crickets and the chirping of birds hidden from our eyes. We then returned to the bus/jeep stand and moved through the small shops stored with traditional Crockery and handicrafts. In fact Lolegaon is a small place and does not have too many hotels or lodges, nor does it have many shops or establishments.

Our next destination was Rishyap at an altitude of 8500 ft above sea level.. Rishyap, in Lepcha language means “lofty cliff of forest of ancients trees”. We boarded the 12:30p.m bus from Lolegaon and covered a distance of 14 kms for tickets priced at Rs.30 per pax to reached Lava at around 1:30 p.m. Rishyap is a three and a half kilometres trek from Lava. Alternately jeeps ply on the route and charge Rs.400 It is a beautiful picturusque village with terrace farmings of potato, maize and cabbage. Over viewing the Neora Valley National Park it provides one with a spectacular 360 degree view of snow clad peaks & passes (Mt. Khangchendzonga, Nathula, Jelep La etc), Rishap is a real treat for tired eyes and souls. The journey from Lave to Rishyap is a photographer’s paradise. The trek is a nice one where we walked through the forest road ranging from dense to sparse vegetation.The sudden twist and turns of the trek route opened up scenes which could leave any visitor gasping for more. The lazy wintry sun peeped through the clouds throwing up myriads of colours in the sky. As soon as the sun hid behind the clouds it felt cold and chilly. We covered the distance of three and a half kms of trek in about 2 hrs walking at a very leisurely pace and enjoying the beauty of nature. We reached Rishyap and put up at our cottage. The full moon at night presented an awe inspiring spectacle.

Next morning at around 8:30 a.m we stared our return journey from Rishyap. We walked through dense forests of bamboo and pine to reach Lava at around 11:00 a.m. Put up at the Forest Guest house and hired a jeep for our trip to Kolakham and Chagey Falls. Chagey lake is a distance of about 18 kms from Lava and one can go there by hiring a jeep/car. We hired a car and started at around 12:30 p.m. It took us about an hour to reach the place. In fact the road is just about motorable. However the beauty of the place is worth mentioning. We passed through dense forest of bamboos, oaks, rhododendrons and wild shrubs and reached Kolakham. Kolakham is a small village of the Rai's who are followers of Lord Krishna and shun alcohol, meat as well as garlic.We passed the Neora Valley Jungle camp and reached Chagey Falls. spent time enjoying the beauty of nature.