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Unorthodox Sikkim Through My Lens

This is just one of many travel blogs that have been long due, but I suppose it’s better late than never. If you’re familiar with my blog, the format of this post is likely to come as a surprise- hopefully, a pleasant one!

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.

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Roadside sight in North Sikkim

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. 

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Meet the crew! One of our first photos together while waiting for our permits to be issued.

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. 

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Munlom Nature Resort in Dzongu
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Yummy food was served for dinner- chicken curry, local greens, chilli chutneys, dal, rice & roti.
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Copious amounts of Chi (a kind of millet beer prepared by the Lepchas) was had the night we arrived, the perfect drink to sit in front of the bonfire and get to know each other 🙂
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Breakfast was Khuri – made of buckwheat and spinach, high on protein and nutrients- the perfect cure for a hangover 😉
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What’s an adventure without an impromptu ride on the rooftop of a gypsy? Off we go to the Lingdem hot spring for a dip!
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Post hot-spring dip, chilling in Mantham – this site is the result of a major landslide that created a natural dam.
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Lunch by the river!
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Need I say more…
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Lunch was followed by a short hike, including balancing acts performed on root bridges.

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.

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In Lingtham we stayed at Dhungkar Homestay where the hosts invited us into their kitchen to dance to local beats, chug lots of chhang (another variation of millet beer), eat yummy food and learn more about each other.
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The next morning we set off on a hike to a sacred lake that we found to be a puddle of dirty water. This simple, homecooked meal at a nearby village made up for the disappointment though!
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We also visited the famous Zuluk curves, but in cold, foggy weather, it wasn’t as impressive as we had imagined it to be- mostly because we could barely see them 😛
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Nothing like hot Maggi atop the mountain though, right?

 

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Family portrait with our hosts at Dhungkar Homestay

ROAMING THE STREETS OF GANGTOK

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Off to Gangtok, but not before cherishing some local food along the way!
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Touchdown Gangtok! MG Road is such a fascinating place, we spent hours here and still didn’t get bored. Eat the thali at Nimtho, hot Gulab Jamuns from the vendors walking around the indoor market, and hang out with the boys skating on the roof of the big building in the market (I can’t remember the name).
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Weaving like a pro! Amazed at the skills and speed of the traditional weavers at the Cottage Industries School in Gangtok.
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In love with this beautiful window sill at the Cho Gyal Monastery where a lot of young monks study.
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Walking around Gangtok, visiting whatever comes our way 😉
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Who knew that Gangtok was renowned for its cymbidium orchids?? Fascinating to see orchids of all colours at the Flower Exhibit Centre.

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.

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What can I say about Malling in Mangan district?? We woke up at 5AM to this sight of Mt. Kanchenjunga. Speechless.
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When I say we just stood there in the cold, in awe, and with no care in the world for the cold, I’m not exaggerating! We were blown away by this sight, all the more since it was so unexpected. The previous night, the fog had hidden the view of the mountains.
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About an hour later…

FEELING AT HOME IN LACHUNG 

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The glorious mountain views didn’t leave us as we proceeded to Lachung.
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White prayer flags adorning the barren mountains while the snow shines under the sunlight
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We met the friendliest cats here that would simply climb onto us to steal our warmth 😀
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We also got to eat 24-carat pineapple jam with hot roti which was YUMMY! Best find of the trip (apart from Nepali snacks- called Titora).

SNOWFIGHTS IN KATAO

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Our final stop was Katao snow point, also known as the Switzerland of Sikkim. This place reminded me of Manali, with thousands of tourists present to see the snow.
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I’m glad we stopped to play with the snow about 20 minutes before hitting Katao though. There was nobody here and we had a gala time hitting each other with snowballs! (It turned competitive pretty fast!)

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.

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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.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

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.

All bookings and permits were arranged by Chalohoppo in partnership with OurGuest.

We stayed at the following homestays/lodges during our trip:

Mount Milestone Resort, Siliguri

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.

Munlom Nature Resort, Dzongu

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).

Dhungkar Homestay, Lingtam

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. 

Hidden Crest, Gangtok

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. 

Malla Kothi, Malling, Mangan

Warm hosts and comfortable rooms, this homestay definitely has the best views of the snow peaks, particularly Mt. Kanchenjunga.

Bichu Homestay, Lachung

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:

Tag Along Backpacker’s Hostel

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.

For more photos & behind-the-scenes content from Sikkim- follow me on Instagram.

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2 comments on “Unorthodox Sikkim Through My Lens

  1. Northeast India is one such a beautiful place to explore, I could easily spend days just looking at those incredible mountain views 😊 thanks for sharing and have a good day 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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