Travel Diary: Million Star Camp In Thar Desert!
Imagine waking up in the morning amidst the Himalayas, surrounded by the aroma of tea gardens, viewing the snow clad peaks of kunchenchunga! That’s what mornings are like in Gangtok. Gangtok! The capital city of India’s smallest state, Sikkim, is a mountain paradise! The road to this small city is a beauty in itself. A 4 hour drive from the Siliguri city of Bengal to the small capital, along the breath-taking view of Teesta.
Teesta is said to be one of India’s ideal camping locations, where water is so clear and pure that one can not only see their own reflection, but also the reflection of the mountain range that runs parallel to the river! So my first agenda on the itinerary was to river raft in Teesta. The white waters, the winter temperature of the mountains and the beautiful backdrop gave me a perfect adrenaline in my body!
After the plunge, we drove up to Gangtok and checked in to our hotel, our road trip was full of fresh oranges, steaming momos and thupka! We stayed at Elgin Knorr Khil, one of the most beautiful properties in the city. The reason I am saying so is because I fell in love with the push out garden it had. The garden was picturesque in itself, overlooking the Pajaro stadium with a backdrop of the snow covered mountain peak.
The hotel looked like it was picked out from a piece of Buddhist history! The architecture was a complete Tibetan replica, with wood finish and huge rugs to cover and make the space feel warm. It was a quintessential part of the Himalayan heaven. The passages are clad with historic pictures of Buddhist monks, and run as a story corridor. After a traditional welcome, the sikkimese way, with shawls and a cup of cherry brandy, we were led to our cosy cocoons. The room was a replica of Buddhist architecture yet again. With a heavy wooden poster bed along with timber flooring, a beautiful red rug is laid to insulate. The room is equipped with a heater and an extra set of quilts to snuggle up during the winter winds. A small seating place along with a kettle full of piping hot tea and cookies on tray, feels like a private chateau in a little hamlet.
We were then called for lunch. We booked in for a full board stay so got all meals from the hotel. The lunch consisted of soup, healthy vegetables, roti and rice. But the best part was what awaited us after lunch. Hot Temi tea or rosemary tea along with an array of desserts were served in the garden. The garden had small tables with chairs and a mesmerizing view. Imagine spending the chilly afternoon basking in the sunlight, savouring tea or making yourself hibernation ready with the mouth-watering desserts. To accompany us we had two fluffy white snow dogs which usually played on the flowerbeds or sat taking in the view. That evening we decided to hit the mall road.
The mall road was so clean, beautiful, serene and spotless that it didn’t seem like we were in India anymore! No cars were allowed on the road, nor was smoking, making it a perfect getaway from the pollution. Be it stores of major clothing and fashion brand or small Marwari sweet shops, the mall road was always hustling and bustling. We stopped at the bakers café for our afternoons refreshments and felt as if we reached a corner in Paris. The aroma of breads and shortcakes filled our nostrils. Rum balls and Christmas tea cakes were seen on all tables along with hot chocolates and mocha chinos to die for. After a filled up stomach we headed back to our hotel, had a lovely Chinese dinner and then hit the sack. The days are short here, so people tended to sleep early.
The next morning we began our sightseeing. We decided to visit the change lake. The lake lies between India China border which is less than 20 kms away, making it a complete army zone. As we winded up the mountain, we saw small waterfalls and Buddhist flags with their preachings all along. The lake was a beauty in itself. One could see specks of ice as the lake began to freeze. We had hot momos and Maggie and then went for a long yak ride to embrace the Sikkim culture. On our way back, we stopped and picked up a few souvenirs along with a lot of photos. Then we came back to our hotel and followed the previous day’s itinerary.
We decided to visit the Rumtek monastery the next day, the oldest Tibetan monastery. We could feel the Buddhist aura. We were lucky enough to find the lessons and absorb the beauty of that culture. One done understanding Buddhism, we headed to view a few local sightseeing points. After resting for a few hours in the evening, we planned to gamble the night out at the local casino.
On the last day in Gangtok, we travelled towards Naamchi, another hamlet in the state. There we saw beautiful tea gardens, plucked a few leaves and then visited the cleanest temple I have ever come across, the Char Dham temple. The vibrations of Hindu gods and goddesses and the purity of that place, just made me want to stay back there. But the surprising part was, there was not a piece of garbage anywhere!
Our trip to Sikkim, was our winter weekend getaway where we not only embraced adventure, but two beautiful religions left their mark in my heart. The state is so clean and green, with dustbins all around. And with the banned use of plastic, Gangtok sets the example of Swach Bharat goals!
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