After the muggy heat of Kolkatta, the anticipation of climbing through the mountains for a glimpse of the Himalayas is tantalising. As a prelude to its beauty, we see beautiful tea estates just outside the airport of Bagdogra, the closest airport to Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim.
Twisty, winding, uphill roads and a slowly changing landscape from the flat plains crowded with villages, to the mountains awash with fresh rains and a chill wind, increase my anticipation. More so because, I have been told by trip advisor that the hotel that we have booked into, gives us a direct view of the “Kanchendzonga” , as she is called locally. I am waiting for an uninhibited view of the mighty mountain, which caught my fancy when I saw it in Darjeeling long long ago.
Our visit to Gangtok, though a very short one left indelible memories. This was one of the first times that we had ventured into a North Eastern state, and had no idea of what to expect.Not only was our holiday enjoyable, we ended up learning very new things about the people and place, so different from us in culture, but still bound by a common country.
Five of the most unique things which made Gangtok special for me were:
As we entered Gangtok, the first thing that struck me was the amazing capacity of the drivers (some as young as eighteen, but look younger still) who manouvered with ease, huge vehicles, on almost ninety degree inclines. Narrow roads, which are two way streets and also double up as pedestrian walks, make for slightly scary viewing. Our driver, a sprightly eighteen year old revealed to us the secret of his alertness- apparantely, a weird kind of chew called Churpi. Made of yak milk, it can be chewed on for hours together, and works the way betel nut works for us, people down south! Unfortunately, the taste of it, is not something that you can get used to, and one tiny cube of churpi lasted me about two hours of trying to analyse the flavours and failing! I had to rest my poor mouth for atleast an hour from all the chewing!
2. The cleanliness
Gangtok is a quaint town with a population of about a lakh of people. The whole town is built on the incline of a hill. Apart from being the only state which has adopted organic farming, it also appears to be a state which takes its cleanliness pretty seriously. Even the back alleys of the the town have barely any trash lying abandoned on the roads.
Where else would you find quaintly painted bus shelters, roads lined religiously with flowers and parks hidden in the middle of two mountain roads?
3. The profusion of flowers.
Though Sikkim is famous for orchids, there are other flowers which bloom in gay abandon and look so pretty, that they almost look fake. None of the pictures have filters, and though hard to believe, all the pics are of real flowers. Even the roads are lined with flower pots!
4. A new kind of market
The M G market is the hub of most activity, situated at the center of the town. But, a chance discovery led us to the Lal Market – which is a huge shopping mall cum cinema cum vegetable market cum parking place. It seemed like everything under the sun including a whole floor dedicated to rows and rows of tailors who stitch up almost anything, was available! The grocery stores lined up an interesting array of stuff- rows of stringy spaghetti, churpi, different kinds of lentils, noodles and sweets lined up in neat rows.
5. The elusive Kanchenjunga
Over the next few days, though we saw the Himalayas up close and personal, the Kanchenjunga remained elusive. Staring hard could only give me a faint glimpse of it, and in a flash even that would dissappear! When you wake up to the Himalayas every day, maybe, just maybe, you get so used to it that it ceases to be a wonder, but I really envied the people of Gangtok their view, if nothing else! If you get used to the view of the mountains, and find it non exciting, then watching the city at night is yet another experience you get to compensate for the loss. The whole hill looks lit up with fairy lights and smells of thukpa and momos being cooked. The warm smells of the food wafting from tiny windows of closely lined homes, the biting chill in the air and silence leaves you in a state of stupor that you never want to break! Ah, for the peace!