A tight hug of nature guaranteed
The beauty of Sikkim is in its cleanliness, up-kept surroundings, natural beauty and a perfectly evolved city which still holds on to its cultural heritage, finds out daughter-father duo Vanshree Rai and Dr Vibhuti Rai during a recent excursion. While Dr Rai is a senior geologist, science activist and professor at the University of Lucknow, his daughter is a professional designer with M/S Flipkart. Both, however, share a keen passion for nature, travel and photography…
We have had the privilege of visiting several parts of the world as well as our own country, India, as we love travelling and enjoying the nature. It not only provided us an opportunity to visit geologically important places but also gave us an insight to explore the countryside, its people, their culture, the beautiful and lush gardens, roads, public amenities, markets, forests, the fauna and what not!
During a recent geological field excursion in and around the State of Sikkim, we were perplexed with the region as it was the first time we were visiting Sikkim. Although, the state of Sikkim is a small state within the ambit of Himalayan terrain, we were astonished to see its natural beauty with high altitude lakes, farms, and the dense pinewood forests. It was a completely different experience compared to what we had seen in other Himalayan states like Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Kashmir and many others in the north east. Sikkim shares its border with Tibet in the North, Bhutan in the East, Nepal in the West and the Indian state of West Bengal in the South. The ancient name for the region Indrakii- the garden of the Indra- so nicely symbolizes the lush green surroundings.
Starting with the capital Gangtok, it promises the views of the mighty Kanchenjunga, world’s third highest mountain, where we stayed for five days. This city relates almost to a dream city with clouds floating as you walk down the streets, has a well connected network of rather thin roads with most of them being one way only, steep slopes well-lit with practically no garbage seen anywhere with every corner having segregated garbage bins. We were amazed to see that all government buildings were located on the sides of arterial road which included state and central Government organisations. Roads having drains on both the sides which were well covered with steel lids. Although there were thousands of vehicles plying across the city in the daytime, none of the vehicles were parked on the road unless it was a stipulated parking. Taxis are the main mode of transport in the city. Even if you have your own vehicle, coming from outside, it is advisable to park your vehicle and hire local taxi for travel as driving on such steep and tight roads is so difficult for the drivers from plains, as it is a sort of crime to overtake. The centre of the capital is the Mahatama Gandhi Marg (MG Marg) which is lined with shops selling handicrafts, jewellery, small and beautiful cafes with bakeries serving the most delicious cuisines.
Sikkim is a unique blend of different customs, religion and traditions of different communities. Sikkimese culture finds expression in its beautiful arts and crafts. The local Sikkimese people are extraordinarily warm, soft spoken, simple, helping and polite. The Gorkhas population dominates a considerable portion of the Sikkim’s population and that is why Nepali and is also the most common language among all the others in Sikkim. Also, Sikkim shares its borders with West Bengal, so people also speak Bengali in this region. It is like a beautiful cultural bouquet that is adorned with attractive folk dances, traditions and customs of different tribes and castes. These myriad cultures have given birth to a quintessential Sikkimese culture that encompasses all walks and ways of life. Sikkim’s traditions and festivals are strongly influenced by Tibetan customs while retaining the diversity of all the ethnic groups. The women wear their traditional dresses which are usually skirts or trousers with shirts. Carrying an umbrella is quite common as it can rain anytime.
Our host Prof Arun Misra of the Geology Department of Sikkim National University told us that in Gangtok, there may be five different weather zones depending upon the altitude you are in as the entire town is spread on a hill slope where temperature can change instantaneously. One thing that we loved most about various places across Sikkim was the passion for colourful flowers. Almost every house or commercial establishment had pots full of beautiful flowers which were very bright and lovely. Even the common market places like MG road and Lal-baazar, the municipality had decorated the sides of bridges or central market area with vibrant coloured flowers, giving a beautiful setting to the city centre. The market area had beautifully decorated shops, eateries, public benches, washroom facilities etc. that reminded me of cities like Oxford, Prague, and Strasbourg etc.
We were stunned to see the greenery spread all around the region. No uncovered soils were exposed making the urban area looking so refreshing and serene. Greenery and colourful flowers mesmerised us completely. It would be proper to mention that almost 100% places including roadsides and villages had public toilets which were kept absolutely clean by the authorities. The crime rate in Sikkim is negligible and it is a very peaceful state.
A few places that we could visit were the higher altitude area of Nathu-la pass, Tsongmo village, the gorgeous Chhangu Lake, Baba Harbhajan Mandir where I witnessed absolutely breaktaking scenery. Besides that, we also had the chance to visit Namchi where the four Dhams are built in an enormous setting which also has an enchanting Rose garden which is studded with delightful flowers of practically every color, shape and size. The majestic Buddha Park of Ravangla also called ‘Tathagata Tsal’ which is located in the south of Sikkim is a world in itself where you’d want to just sit peacefully for hours and look at the beautiful surroundings and the humongous Buddha statue. Another stunning location we witnessed was the Banjhakri falls where you need to trek a little bit to reach the falls but once you go up there, you won’t regret the walk up till there. Other places we visited were the Do Drul Chortel Stupa, Namgyal Institute of Tibetology museum, Hanumantok and Ganeshtok temples, Botanical Garden and many others.
Sikkim has a variety of plant species as well as animals and birds which you can see everywhere wandering in the mountain meadows. The Teesta River also offers rafting if you want to dive in the laps of nature. One thing that is engraved in our mind about the beauty of Sikkim is the cleanliness, up-kept surroundings, natural beauty and perfectly evolved city which still holds on to its cultural heritage and gives a very cosy vibe to anyone who visits. We covered the entire trip within Sikkim by road and the experience was filled with colourful Tibetan flags all the way, tall pine trees shadowing the roads and most importantly the clean fresh air was the cherry on the cake. It was almost like a tight hug from the nature itself.
The visit would not have been completed if we fail to mention the very tasty thukpa and momos with more than 10 different varieties to cheer up the taste buds. We would be having an everlasting impression on our mind for the beauty and the clean surroundings of the various places of the Sikkim state which is absolutely dust free with rather cold weather conditions, where clouds cross over to our rooms, the mist in the air, the coloured conical rooftops, perfectly curved roads, civilized behaviour, neat and clean public places and availability of absolutely clean washrooms everywhere. Needless to say that the entire visit has left a permanent impression on our mind that in our own India, we have some of the very clean states and places that can bring joy to us and we should also try to make the rest of India equally beautiful and pleasant.
Nearest Connection for Gangtok:
By Air - Bagdogra Airport – 5 hours by road
By Train – Siliguri – 5 hours by road