An Autumn trekking holiday in India.
Part 4- Sikkim Province and Kalimpong.
Days: (10 - 14) . . . 2nd to 6th November 2004
Holiday details : This latter part of the holiday included a visit to Pelling in Sikkim Province and Kalimpong back in West Bengal. (photo: Matti stops for a chat and photo with one of the provincial border police)
Weather : As on the trekking days the early mornings were beautifully clear but cloud built during the day. The weather though was generally excellent, like a nice English summer !
From the high foothills we now journeyed by 4x4 using roads which varied from the sublime to the ridiculous.
The region was characterised by steep incised valleys and we followed the fast flowing river Ranjit downstream for some time. Crossed occasionally by wonderful suspension bridges built for another age, our concern about using them with our well laden land rover look-alike was only eased by the size of the lorries that had crossed before . . . . if they made it then so should we !
Her we go on our first one . . . is that a missing plank ?
The weight limit was more like a size limit. If you could fit through the arch you were ok.
Road quality varied, but it didn't seem to worry the local drivers.
A superb drive following the river down, and passing through natural woodlands, terraced fields, rice paddies
and small villages whose life style owed little to modern day culture.
Crossing the border into Sikkim.
Once a separate country and closed to visitors, Sikkim is now part of India. It had received state money to modernise the roads and infrastructure so the traveling became easier. To all intents and purposes however it looked and behaved like just another part of northern India. We had to observe provincial border checks as we entered, but at least it gave us chance of a break after the last three hours bumpy ride.
( Sikkim toilets, I may confirm, are no better quality than their Indian neighbours )
Still travelling towards our destination of Pelling.
We stopped for refreshments at the village of Legship pronounced 'legs-hip' (funny how you remember these things !).
The fruiterer at Legship.
Darjeeling Tea, Coke, or a beer from across the road quenched the thirst, but bananas at 3 rupees (4 english pence) each were a delight too.
"How do I drink it, and what is it anyway ?"
Not having tried the "Bamboo Beer" at Kalpokhari on the trek, Ann samples the delight of this and a traditional Sikkimese diner at the hotel in Pelling. It was made from fermented Millet seeds and hot water. The bamboo name comes from the traditional tankard.
Early to bed as our time clocks were still on trek-time so we woke in time for a new dawn - Sikkim style.
First light on Kangchenjunga - from the bedroom window.
Up to the hotel roof for this wider angle shot of the high peaks as the sun rose.
After breakfast the colours have changed again
and the valley mist has risen, and turned to wispy cloud over the peaks.
The Phamrong hotel by morning light.
If it had been the Costa Brava there would have been complaints about the hotel being in the middle of a building site, but a lot of India is like this. At least the pace of building is slower and with no mechanisation there is no noise, just an interesting view and an insight into building methods. An appreciation of the power of one man and a bucket.
The Rabdantse Palace - historic capital of Sikkim
We were in Pelling partly for the view but also for the local history. The town was once the ancient centre of Sikkim rule, with the palace placed in a commanding position on the hillside. The ruins are under the care of the Indian Department of Archaeology.
The ancient remains date from the 17th century and the second Chogyal of Sikkim.
The capital was abandoned due to the threat from the Nepalese. Today Nepal is under threat from the Maoists. Nothing changes it seems.
On the hillside above the fort is Pemayangste Monastery.
Pemayangste, the second oldest Buddhist temple in Sikkim.
This is the most important religious site in west Sikkim and still a working community for its monks.
Inside, as well as the beautifully painted prayer hall there is a wonderful 5 meter high wooden model, an interpretation of the abode of Padmasambhava, the nirvana we could all reach with true dedication to the beliefs of the religion
This side building houses a giant prayer wheel twelve feet high and eight feet in diameter which rings a bell when turned correctly.
( No photos were allowed inside the main building)
First sign of civilisation since the trek so we tried to buy postcards. The bigger problem however was to buy stamps. This was the local post office.
"Life is an endless journey. Why not end it here at the tsek-khim (Phamrong) restaurant"
I fear it altered the meaning slightly in the translation.
From Pelling it was another five hour car journey to Kalimpong.
Distances here are measured in time not miles due to the terrain.
The ever twisting roads, the quality of the surface and the occasional need to stop for refreshments determine when you arrive.
The junction of two rivers and the border between Sikkim to the north and West Bengal to the south.
Here the Great Rangeet River meets the Teesta, heads south, and will eventually enter the Bay of Bengal
The river dominates all and the road clings to what is left of the hillside in order to get through.
We crossed the main Teesta River and climbed the steep valley sides once again
towards our destination of Kalimpong.
The Himalayan Hotel
An oasis of peace in a busy bustling town.
Like the Windamere in Darjeeling, this hotel dates from the time of the Indian Rajah when it was built for the English visitors.
We only spent one of our two nights here - a real shame.
Another beautifully painted temple, built in the same style as Pemayangste, but this time a much more modern, 20th century building. Photos were allowed here so we were able to bring back a few pictures of the inside.
The chair for the Dalhi Lama
The icons of the Buddhas
Kalimpong is also famous for commercial nurseries supplying orchids and Cacti for domestic and international demand
Our time there included a visit to two of them.
Kalimpong is also an important market town, built on the junction of the old trading routes between Sikkim, Tibet and Bhutan. It is also the local bazaar and shopping centre for this large hill town.
We walked through the town full of people, numbers swollen by the local schools sending their children home at the end of the day. Streets were crowded with cars, bikes and people but there was no aggravation or hassle that we found in some of the the big cities.
The shop on the left sold traditional textiles and prayer flags, in contrast the one on the right sold the latest in electrical goods.
The shops were bright and colourful, but in many cases the buildings were old and in desperate need of maintenance.
Local services :
Water supply pipes develop in an ad-hoc way and are just laid along the roads and pavements as new houses or shops require a supply.
Wiring is the same, only above your head!
Refuse disposal operatives (right) at least the only ones we saw.
(biodegradables only please - they can't cope with wrappings either)
Two night at Kalimpong were soon over, and it was time to turn south for Delhi
We followed the road down stream towards the lowlands.
Wildlife at the roadside.
Our first monkeys of the holiday.
Out of the hills and across via Silguri to the airport at Bagdogra.
The river was full of activity, washing, people fishing or gathering stone for building and the like.
At Bagdogra we had completed the circle and were back at the airport for our internal flight.
Here we parted company with Dowa, our guide and leader during the trek and the subsequent days in Sikkim and Kalimpong.
His local knowledge was always spot on.
Many thanks to you Dowa
( . . and I hope we spelt your name and everyone else's names correctly ! )
Airborne towards Delhi
To the right a final view of Everest, to the left Kangchenjunga,
two snow capped giants that we had seen during our week in the foothills.
Ahead was the Taj Mahal.
- - - o o o - - -
Technical note: Pictures taken with a Canon IXUS 400 Digital camera.
Resized in Photoshop, and built up on a Dreamweaver web builder.
This site best viewed . . . with a well padded car seat and a careful driver.
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