The long journey to Gangtok, Sikkim lulled all the occupants to sleep, except luckily, the driver. Every so often, a sharp turn or a sudden application of brakes would force our eyes open, only for us to doze off again. What was fortunate though was the fact that none of the occupants were prone to road sickness.
The crisp air and warmth of the sunlight gave off an entirely different aura to the streets of Gangtok. The largest town in the erstwhile Himalayan kingdom is not very different from other hill stations nestled among mountains. Although winter had not yet fully set in, it was still cold enough to make us shiver despite our well layered selves.
MG Marg was reminiscent of western films
The sun was well below the horizon when we reached MG Marg, Gangtok’s prominent business area. Marg quite literally means road. Until about 12-13 years ago, it was just another street with choc-a-bloc traffic. It was not really easy for pedestrians to navigate among the endless stream of vehicles. At some point, however, the government decided to close it off to vehicles and made a large stretch of MG Marg into a boulevard of sorts.
There are now flowers in bloom, fountains and benches. And pedestrians can walk at leisure without having to forever keep a lookout for vehicular traffic. In addition, the thoroughfare is flanked by glittering shops, restaurants, cafes and bars on either side. To me at least, it was reminiscent of the picturesque cobbled streets that I have often seen in Hollywood movies.
The hotel we were booked at was a short walk from MG Marg. While the rooms was well appointed, we could barely revel in the luxury of rich purple drapes and ornate lamps. Before long, fatigue took over and we dozed off in no time.
To Tsomgo Lake and beyond
My travel companions and I started our journey early the following morning. We were going to drive up to the famed Tsomgo lake. Also popularly known as Changu Lake, it is a part of every tourist’s itinerary in Sikkim given its overwhelming scenic beauty. Enveloped by steep snow-capped mountains and resting between a bright green carpet of alpine forests, the charming Tsomgo Lake is bound to leave anyone in awe.
Tsomgo Lake is located at a dizzying 12400 feet above sea level, and is one of many high-altitude lakes in India. Our visit to this sacred site was prior to the onset of sub-zero temperatures and so there was no ice cover on it at the time. Rather, it glittered in front of us in a royal shade of blue and silver.
Clicking photos and talking to locals saw the better part of an hour elapse. With another hour of simply gazing at the lake, we boarded the jeep again for our ride to the next destination – the Seven Sisters Waterfalls.
This point of interest depicted an entirely different beauty of the same element. The spectacle justifies it name with there being seven separate waterfalls that originate from different sources. The channels then flowed side by side and merged into one mighty waterfall before gushing into the lake below. The waterfall looked formidable enough in winter when water levels are significantly lower. One could only imagine what its fury might be during monsoons.
Soon enough, we were hit by severe hunger pangs, given the light breakfast we’d hurriedly eaten earlier that morning. However, there were several little cafes and food sure wasn’t a problem to find. Some spicy momos and a steaming cup of tea later, we were good to continue our adventures.
We then set out for a very unique place – Baba Harbhajan Singh Memorial Temple. Captain Harbhajan Singh was an Indian army soldier who’d lost his life in a freak accident when he was leading a mule expedition. It is since believed that he is akin to a guardian angel, keeping watch over every soldier in the inhospitable terrain of the Eastern Himalayas. Baba is believed to grant favours to those who revere and worship him.
Onward to the Himalayan Zoological Park
It was almost sundown when we reached our hotel. Later that evening, we took a stroll along MG Marg. A rich aroma of baked goods wafted through the air and neon signs adorned storefronts. We entered a coffee shop, which but for its customers, would have been mistaken for a prop straight out of a Jane Austen novel. As we eased into the moment, Gangtok suddenly felt strangely like home.
On day three, we visited the Himalayan Zoological Park. The zoo is certainly a place for wildlife enthusiasts in Gangtok. It was quite an experience to be able to see a variety of animals at close quarters like the snow leopard, red panda, blue sheep, yaks, bears and the Himalayan tahr, among others. Most of these are otherwise very elusive animals are can only be seen in difficult-to-reach places. A long walk into the conserved wild left us exhausted by the time we were safely back in our hotel.
Yet again, we headed to MG Marg on our final night in Gangtok. On closer examination, the city did not look too different from any other; yet it seemed very distinct in its own right. As the night progressed and we listened to ‘90s pop while sipping coffee, I promised myself to visit this haven again. On a future visit though, I’d love to set aside several more days to better enjoy and appreciate this beautiful locale.