I decided to embark on an unorthodox trip to Sikkim with my favourite Northeast travel group Chalohoppo earlier this year. After exploring Kaziranga and Majuli in Assam and Mon in Nagaland with them last year, I was more than excited to join them again on a group trip- without much thought into where we were going, what we would be doing, or who all were coming along. Based on past experience, I knew I’d have fun, reunite with friends from the last group trip, hopefully, make new ones, and get to visit one more state in the magical Northeast!
When I look back at my trip (almost 9 months later), it feels like a blur. It was a journey with no prior expectations, no planning on my part, I was undecided about whether I’d even write a blog about it or not, and I literally just went with the flow- soaking in the present moment as best as I could.
In many ways, the trip turned out to be a mediocre experience. The place was beautiful but not as breathtaking as other parts of the Northeast or the Himalayas. The food was delicious but didn’t compare to what we ate in Nagaland and Assam. Most places were more commercial and touristy than I had imagined. We couldn’t cover all the places on the itinerary due to heavy snowfall and roadblocks. It didn’t feel worth the time, money and effort it had taken to get there.
And yet, by the end of the trip, if there’s one thing that truly stood out for me, it was the human bonds that I got to forge during my time in Sikkim.
The details of where we went and what we did maybe a blur, but what I remember vividly are the kindest and most hospitable hosts, drivers who went out of their way to look out for us, my co-travelers who made such a lovely bunch to hang out with that no drive felt too long or strenuous, because there was always laughter, music, and food to keep us entertained.
It’s one thing to travel with your own friends, and quite another to travel with a group of strangers, who over the course of ten days start to feel like your own gang- with leg-pulling and case-taking, inside jokes and individual quirks, getting to know one another and sharing moments of warmth (literally and metaphorically) in a new place- all with zero knowledge or discussion about each others’ professions, workplaces, common friends or the usual city banter (I still don’t know where most of them work or what they do for a living, even though some of us exchange messages every other day).
And so I decided that this blog isn’t going to be about where we went or what we did each day- because none of it mattered in the end. This blog is going to predominantly be a photo-blog: to give you a sneak peek into our journey, our shared moments, and let the visuals do the talking.
I have written a detailed introduction and photo descriptions to provide context, but what I really hope to do is to give you a glimpse of the everyday moments of our journey through the unorthodox parts of Sikkim.
CHI-FILLED BONFIRE NIGHTS IN DZONGU
Our first stop in Sikkim was Dzongu- about 6 hours from Siliguri (including pitstops). At 5100ft, it has thick forests and is home to the Lepchas- Sikkim’s native inhabitants.
MORNING HIKES & DANCING NIGHTS IN LINGTAM
Lingtam is also at about 5000 ft and, in the past, acted as a pit stop for those heading to the high-altitude destinations of the Silk Route.
ROAMING THE STREETS OF GANGTOK
DATE WITH THE MIGHTY MOUNTAINS IN MALLING
After living the urban hill-station life for a day and a half, it was time to head to North Sikkim to catch the snow! While the original plan was to make out way to Yumthang Valley and Gurudongmar Lake, due to unprecedented heavy snowfall, the roads were blocked and we had to cancel that leg of our trip. Instead, we decided to explore other parts of the North that were still accessible.
FEELING AT HOME IN LACHUNG
SNOWFIGHTS IN KATAO
TIME TO BID GOODBYE
As an introvert on most days, group travel has never been something I was fond of, let alone traveling with a group of strangers. My perception changed last year when I went on two group trips with strangers who I continue to remain in touch with, and a few of whom I count amongst my good friends. The trip to Sikkim only reiterated my experience further. It’s quite something to feel a lump in your throat when the time to say goodbye draws near. I haven’t experienced this very often even with close friends, perhaps because we know we’ll see each other sooner or later. In the case of co-travelers from different cities, you don’t know whether you’ll be in touch or not, when you’ll meet next- or if at all, but you’re bound by a shared experience, one that will always be a part of you.
I hope this photo-blog gave you a glimpse into my beautiful journey. Since the blog was not planned before/during the trip, I tried to make the most of the photographs I had. Even then, I couldn’t include a lot of photographs here as it would be too heavy for the page, but I will be posting photos and stories on included here on my Instagram page so you can follow me there.
The itinerary was curated by Chalohoppo with the aim to handpick offbeat experiences and stays that would give us a taste of the local culture and way of life.
While the plan was to also visit Yumthang valley, Zero point and Gurudongmar lake in North Sikkim, due to unprecedented snowfall and roadblocks, we couldn’t make it there.
We stayed at the following homestays/lodges during our trip:
This was a nice place to spend the night and meet the rest of the crew before setting off the next morning. You can grab dinner and drinks at Hashtag pub which is a short walk away.
This eco-friendly resort is amidst lush greenery and the last mile is only accessible by jeep. It is constructed entirely out of local materials and built very tastefully. The rooms are comfortable and warm, they served great food and unlimited rounds of Chi (priced at INR 200 per round).
This is a homestay with the most loving hosts. Basic rooms and facilities, but has great views of the moon at night, the sound of the stream flowing nearby, and if you’re lucky you might even spot some fireflies.
A family-run guest house, it’s a bit away from the hustle-bustle of the main town, making you feel like you aren’t in Gangtok.
Warm hosts and comfortable rooms, this homestay definitely has the best views of the snow peaks, particularly Mt. Kanchenjunga.
Simple homestay run by two brothers and their family, they serve the best vegetarian food and make you feel like a part of their own household.
Mazong Hotel, Gangtok
Comfortable hotel for a pit-stop, but far from MG road where all the action is. It can get a bit hard to find public transport from here, especially at night, so unless you have your own vehicle I wouldn’t recommend staying here.
Hostel recommendation for Gangtok:
Although I haven’t stayed here myself, I’ve only heard good things about this place. This may be the best stay-option for solo travelers and backpackers visiting Gangtok.
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