The state, tucked away in the Northeast, is small but beautiful and full of surprises. Sikkim promises all kinds of tourism from 'eco' to adventure to spiritual, but what can be a bigger draw than the chance to relax in the lap of the great Himalayas? For city-dwellers like myself and my cousin Vasumathi, a wellknown geographer, it was fantastic to just breathe in the fresh mountain air!
Many friends warned us about the tricky weather and the biting cold and so we were fully prepared with warm clothing. However, the weather was fine throughout our stay and we needed the sweaters and woolen coats only while going up the mountains to the Nathu-La.
Climbing up the winding roads to Gangtok took more than five hours. The scenic route was grand, but alas, pretty bumpy! We had our lunch at a guesthouse on the banks of the beautiful Teesta River but by the time we reached Gangtok our bones were aching. Since there was nothing planned for the rest of the evening, we decided to relax and recuperate — and book our return flights by helicopter as neither of us were willing to go through that bone-rattling experience again. Of course, in the light of recent incidents, I would probably prefer rattled bones than a helicopter next time round...
Although Gangtok is not very big, there is so much to see —monasteries, the zoo, temples, flower shows and exhibitions—as we were informed by Tarachand, our excellent guide. After a hearty breakfast washed down with Temi tea, we stopped at the Hanumantok, located at about 9km from Gangtok. The beautiful temple, located at an altitude of 7200 feet, was completely free from pollution.
The steps to the quiet hilltop temple were steep but there were many tourists like us — including from the far off Tamil Nadu, who were looking through their binoculars at the spectacular view of the mountains. From the top, I could see the Khanghendzonga (Kanchenjunga) and had a bird's eye view of Gangtok— a kaleidoscope of tiny houses painted in different colours! The pundit informed us that AB Pant, the then Political Officer, established the temple in 1952 and since then the Indian Army and donations from devotees maintain it. Sharma, our driver and a devout Hindu, added that the temple was known for its mystical powers to fulfill wishes. The close by Lukshyama, the cremation ground of the royal family was an added draw. Coming down on the way back, we stopped at another temple called the Ganeshtok, at 6500 ft, also built by AB Pant, a year after Hanumantok in 1953! From there too, I could see snow-clad peaks including the Kanchenjunga. Clearly it was a popular spot as lots of buses and taxis were parked outside. After a sumptuous lunch, we decided to walk around in the afternoon to get a feel of the city. Soon we found ourselves gasping for breath as the roads were so steeply inclined! We city-slickers were not equipped for such exertions! We came back exhausted and after a light dinner of Chinese dumpling, fried rice and noodles we called it a day.