Name : Dr.Aninda Sen [On Nov 07, 2011]
State : SK
Title : Namchi-A Tour Diary
Since the success of the get-together of Regional College of Education,
It was several months ago that Subrata Pal had suggested that we got together at Namchi, Sikkim, where he has been working for the last 20 years or so.
Considering that we needed a venue and that we were eager indeed to get together, we agreed and a tentative date of 26th – 29th October 2011 had been agreed upon for the occasion. That the place offered some breathtaking sights of the mighty
A flurry of phone calls and discussions continued from July 2011 onwards. All ex-Regional-ites whose whereabouts were known were contacted and informed about the proposed get-together and finally, when Subrata completed the Hotel bookings on 13th September 2011 that we knew that our trip was truly on.
As per our plans, a group would converge upon Siliguri from Kolkata on 26th October comprising of Samar-da (Samarendra Kumar Saha), Amit-da (Amit Kumar Panigrahi), Ranajit-da (Ranajit Kumar Medya), Sabitabrata (Mandal) with family (wife: Mousumi & daughter: Soumyaseema), Sudarshan (Roy) with family (wife: Rumpa, son: Sankarshan & daughter: Bithika), Sujata (Chakrabarty) Samadder with family (hubby: Amiya(da), son: Adwaija & daughter: Aditi) and Indrani (Das) Biswas with hubby Aloke(da), and then would proceed for Namchi by road.
Since I stay much closer to Siliguri, at Katihar, I, with my family (wife: Gitali & daughter: Sharanya) would travel independently to Siliguri and join the Kolkata team either at Siliguri / New Jalpaiguri (NJP) or directly at Namchi, whichever would be convenient depending on the actual time of arrival of the two groups at Siliguri / NJP.
We had been expecting Surachita (Patra) Roychowdhury, from
Subrata (Pal), his ever-smiling wife, Chanpa and 13-year old daughter Debarati, who had volunteered to look after the local logistics of the get-together, would meet us at Namchi (where they stay) and join the gang.
26th October, 2011: Getting to Namchi
I started from Katihar for Siliguri at 6:45 AM. It being relatively early in the day, there was not much of congestion. Also the roads (NH 31) being much better than they used to be not too long ago, we made quick progress and reached Siliguri at 10:05 AM. I had asked an acquaintance, Prantik (Bose) in Siliguri, to arrange for a vehicle to take us to Namchi. We met up with Prantik near the
Once in Siliguri, the team from Kolkata, contacted us and it was generally decided that they would proceed ahead without stalling and we would follow, finally meeting up at Namchi.
Namchi is the capital of the South Sikkim in the Indian state of
Historically, Namchi was the place where Pende Ongmoo, the trecherous princess who poisoned one of the Chogyals of Sikkim, was caught and killed for her deed. Legend says her spirit still haunts the foothills of Ghurpisey.
The present Chief Minister of
We took the
It was named to commemorate the coronation of King George VI in 1937 and was completed in 1941 at a cost of Rs 4 lakhs. The foundation stone of the bridge was laid by John Anderson, the then Governor of Bengal in 1937.
Soon, we crossed over from the plains, and the terrain became hilly, we started climbing all the time, travelling on roads that showed tell-tale signs of landslides every now and then, crossed and recrossed the Teesta, keeping it in the valley either to our right, or to our left, but kept on climbing away from it higher and higher, leaving the river to cut its way through the valley at the bottom.
With an earthquake having played havoc in several parts of Sikkim not too long ago, and the knowledge that the road to Sikkim (which we were traversing now!) has to be closed down every now and then because of frequent landslides, it was stressful even to believe that we would be safe till the end. But the wonderful beauty of the Teesta below, the hills and mountains all around, the lush green of the forests that grew on them and the sights of the animals, plants & flowers all around, we managed to keep ourselves sufficiently distracted, so as to forget our fears for the entire duration of our trip. There is a stretch of road here, where you will find a lot of monkeys on the wayside. Uttam-da told us that these monkeys have to come out from the forest in search of food. The forest wealth is simply not sufficient to feed all of them, and they come to the roads hoping that humans will feed them. It is a tragedy that urbanization, defforestation and modernization have taken its toll in so many places. Here these monkeys have been forced to leave their homes to look for food in some one else’s territory. Sadly, none of the monkeys look healthy. I am sure, the food that the monkeys manage to get from human passers-by is neither sufficient, nor healthy.
It is one thing to see the sights that makes a mountain, a mountain, or makes a sea, a sea….. but unless you listen to the sounds of a place – any place, the experience is simply incomplete! All along the way we were accompanied by the sounds of the hills. At times it was the sound of the river splashing its way through the valley, sometimes it was the sprinkling sound of slowly cascading water flowing down the face of the hills, and sometimes it was the sound of crickets and other insect shrieking, creaking and whistling from somewhere in the dense foliage all around.
Thus, it was a climb through winding roads through valleys, hills and jungles and with the help of a little telephonic guidance from Subrata, the local lad, that we finally made it to Hotel Samdruptse in Namchi, reaching there at 2:15 PM. The Kolkata team had already reached the place about half an hour ago and were waiting for us.
26th October, 2011: Namchi: the first impression
Subrata had taken the pains to invite us to his place for the evening. Having reached Namchi at 2:00 PM, our whole team quickly had lunch and rested a bit, so that we could be fresh enough for the evening. I on my part went around meeting all the guys, their families and kids
When we reached Namchi, it got a bit cloudy and we were afraid, it might rain. It did rain in the evening, but fortunately it was just a drizzle.
So, when we finally went to Subrata’s place around 7:30 PM (our invitation was for 4:30 PM!). It wasn’t all that cold and a half sweater was just about what we needed to stay warm. The drizzle added a bit of moisture and dampness to the surrounding, but all of us were prepared with umbrellas to combat the rain. Besides it was just about a 10 min. walk from the hotel and not much trouble.
Our first impression about Namchi was that of a sleepy hamlet, lying on the lap of the mountains, and all this in the camouflage of a Sun not in its full glory – created by the clouds and the quick sunset leading into the evening. The Momo’s, Samosa’s, Sweets and the hot coffee was great to start off the evening, and our entire trip, with. What followed was a lazy, and yet animated, session of talking and catching up between all of us, all trying to relive our moments 25-or-so years ago when we had been attending one Regional College of Education – No! not here at Namchi, but hundreds of miles away, at
One thing that I have not mentioned so far is that today was Deepawali. With sunset started the fireworks by people all around. Subrata said, Deepawali is usually great here, but with the earthquake in the recent past that had claimed many lives, the general consensus among the local populace was to have a toned down event, in memory of the many who had lost their lives. Nevertheless, the fireworks in the backdrop of silent, beautiful valleys and the quiet all around was a new experience.
Looking at the rains, Subrata predicted a fantastic view of the Kanchandzonga next morning, provided there were no more rains during the night. When we finally returned to our hotel at around 9:00 PM, we decided to wake up early to take a peek. Subrata had also arranged for three vehicles to pick us up around 9:30 AM next morning to visit the local tourist spots.
27th October, 2011: the first day’s tour
Wow! That’s how I describe the waking up this morning! We woke up early at about 5:15 AM, and sure enough, as Subrata had predicted, the view of Kanchandzonga was just breathtaking. I have seen
We dressed up and around 6:00 AM, Samar-da, Amit-da, Sabitabrata and myself, left the hotel to soak in the local ambience. We strolled around, loitering around the hilly elevations all around, took photographs of the valley, the hills, the mountains, the local trees, flowers and even spider cob-webs! We inhaled and exhaled deeply, to take in as much of the fresh, unpolluted hilly air as we could and finally ended up in a tea shop for a cup of tea before returning to our hotel to get ready, have our breakfast and then to start our day’s tour.
Today we had planned to visit Rabongla, located about 22 Km. from Namchi. Distances in the mountains are highly misleading. 22 Km. is one thing in the plains but the same in the hills is quiet different! We had already learnt this when we spent 4 hrs. to travel only about 100 Km. from Siliguri to Namchi, and were mentally prepared to sit for prolonged periods in our vehicles, when we finally started the day’s tour at 9:50 AM.
Roads in the mountains tend to be somewhat repetitive and after a while it looses its uniqueness. The sense of fear, ebbs down after a while and one tends to start to “Expect the unexpected” around every corner and after every turning. It gets to you in such a way, that you are prepared to see unexpected sights all the time. Once that happens, there is nothing more left to take your breath away or to surprise you, even by its beauty. But one cannot say the same thing about Namchi! While the roads tend to hold your attention on the merit of its narrowness at places, the valleys, hills and springs all around keeps you awake by its natural beauty. While we crossed umpteen number of spots which are marked as landslide prone areas or sinking zones, we kept on staring in awe at the surroundings.
On our way up to Rabongla, we crossed through Rabong. Based upon its central location in
On our way to Rabongla, the driver of our vehicle, Palden, also showed us Large Cardamon (Badi Ilaichi) plants. The plants he showed resembled Haldi (Turmeric) plants, and was just a bit larger. We could not see any cardamom, though, but it was not harvest season either, we were told!
We reached Rabongla at 10:30 AM. Rabongla is located at an altitude of 8000 ft. The place where our vehicle took us to was slightly beyond the Rabongla market-place. There is a small
It was time to leave the place and move on. One of the biggest tourist attractions of the region is the Ralang Monastery. The Ralang Monastery is a Buddhist monastery of the Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism in southern
According to legend, Ralang was built after the fourth Chogyal came back from his pilgrimage, when the 9th Karmapa performed the Rabney (blessing). He threw grains from his residence in Tsurphu
Ralang Monastery has an extensive collection of paintings and thangkas and is host to an annual festival, known as Pang Lhabsol when
I have had the fortune of visiting many monasteries in
It was soon time for Lunch. Subrata had arranged for lunch in a Hotel at Rabongla – Manokamna Hotel - through an acquaintance of his…. and the hotel was run by a Bengali and they served Bengali cuisine. The conclusion – a whole bunch of hungry, bengali tourists broke free to have their lunch! And what was it? Bhaat, Moong Dal,Poshto, Alu Bhaja, Ful Kopi-r tarkari and Tomato-r chutney (with amsatta).
Having completed lunch, it was time for us to visit a newly built tourist resort at Chemchey. We started at 2:20 PM and reached the facility at 2:50 PM. The campus of the facility had plenty of well maintained (seasonal) plants in full bloom, but more than that, it had awesome views of the valleys all around. The facility actually had a strategically located tower sitting where, you could enjoy the beauty of nature for hours together.
We spent about 20 minutes at Chemchey and then boarded our vehicles again. This time, we were on our way to the world famous Temi Tea Gardens, which was the only Tea Garden in
Having spent a few light moments in the Garden, we were done for the day and ready to be bundled back to our Hotel. But, just outside the Tea Garden and in a house just next to it, we finally saw the Large cinnamom plants from close range. Like the earlier ones these plants did not show signs of their produce. We also saw a climber growing atop other trees in plentiful numbers. We could not have identified the plant had it not been for the Squash vegetable, hanging from its branches! I saw the Squash plant for the first time.
Finally we left the Tea Garden and stopped at a Stall nearby for a cup of Coffee for everyone After the coffe, my daughter, Sharanya, started something that I was not prepared for. She started to express her desire that all the kids (her dada’s and didi’s) should sit with her in the same vehicle so that she could have her share of the enjoyment along with them on equal terms! Imagine Sharanya at 5 years wanting to enjoy – on equal terms – with the rest, the youngest among them being Soumyaseema (Ritchie), who was double her age! Samar-da finally arranged for rearrangement of seats and I ended up on the vehicle carrying all the kids, with Gitali being the other adult in the same vehicle! Finally we were dropped off at our Hotel at 5:00 PM.
Once back, the majority in the group wanted to look around in the local market place. The local market is the
The market around the Park consists of all kinds of shops from eateries, shoe shops, dresses to items of daily need. Unfortunately almost no one (apart from four wine shops that I could see in the vicinity!), was open for business! I was told that the Sikkimese have a tradition of celebrating Deepawali in a unique way. Children (and sometimes, older men too!) form small groups and go around the market and households, singing, dancing and making merry, over this festive period. After they have danced a while, they squat at doorsteps and ask for money. Some shopkeepers, we were told, go elsewhere for the festive season, while the remaining ones down their shutters to avoid having to pay up for playing the host to these dancing, singing and making merry. I could easily infer that the market wouldn’t be open tommorrow either. The songs that these troops of youngsters (and some not so young, as well!) were singing, could be heard from everywhere in Namchi drifting through the valley. It had a strange hilly ring to it, carrying a typical essence of the valleys. The use of the dholak and the guitar as accompanying instruments weaved a strange web of sounds all around us, even though most of what we heard was the strange, typically rustic (yet melodious!), hilly tune as the noise reverberated to us through the valleys in the darkness; we never got to see the faces of the singers and their groups – we just heard them! With the market nearly closed, and no drunkards amongst us (!) to take advantage of the open liquor shops, we finally called it a day and returned to our Hotel. Dinner was around 9:30 PM. We sat together, mostly in the hotel lobby gossipping, gossipping and more gossipping and generally had a great time.
It was while we were sitting in the lobby that a gang of 6-7 foreign tourists made their entry into the hotel. All of them carried heavy luggage, adorned bikers gears including jackets gloves and other motorbiking paraphanelia. We were told later that this was a group of tourists who were biking (yes, biking!) through the Himalayan terrain! As for their build – even the tallest amongst us, would look like a dwarf in front of them! It was surely a lesson for all of us. The fearlessness, the sense of adventure and the sense of confidence, with which they came to a country like ours – which for them must indeed be remote – carries a lesson for all of us. I can only say ‘Hats off’ to these people for their spirit!
Dinner came next, and we went for it as soon as it was laid out. There was more gossip post dinner, among those like me who still felt they were up to it after the hectic tiring schedule for the day, and finally, we surrendered to our tired bones and retired around 11:00 PM..
28th October, 2011: the second day’s tour
The second day did not start as early as the first. All of us were a bit tired from the schedule yesterday and many of us overslept. Besides, we had plans for an early start for the local sightseeing tour today that we wanted to start immediately after breakfast. So no one opted to go out in the morning and instead concentrated on getting ready so as to avoid being late to start.
Our plans for the day was to visit the Chaar Dham, the Sainath Temple and the Samdruptse Monastery anywhere else that Subrata might have planned to take us as a surprise package.
Today – right at the beginning – Samar-da made sure that the children got to share the same vehicle. The result? Like the last lap yesterday, I sat again with the kids all day! I was eager to make sure that the age difference with my companions did not come in the way of either the kid’s enjoyment, nor mine! I promised to myself that I would become a kid with them and shout, scream, whistle, sing and dance all the way, with them and enjoy the day to the fullest!
We started the day with an early breakfast, followed by departure by our hired vehicles (we had retained the services of the same three vehicles that we had used on the first day), at 9:05 AM. Our first stopover today was the Chaar Dham about 5 Kms. away.
The Chaar Dham (also called the Solophok Project, based on the name of the Hill on which it is being built) - a Pilgimage center of the Hindu deity Lord Shiva. It is nearing completion and is scheduled to be officially opened by the Hon’ble President of India, Her Highness Ms. Pratibha Singh Patil, on the 8th of November this year. It contains the temples of the four most important shrines of
The bad news is that Chaar Dham is presently closed to the public, so as to complete construction before its officially final opening. However, when we reached the place at 9:15 AM, we managed better and managed to slip into the premises – all twenty one of us! Despite this exercise, we were still unfortunate as we couldn’t go beyond a point. We still managed to see the gist of what was being constructed. It was a construction depicting the four holy hindu pilgrimages It is here that plans of an enormous Shiva idol, temples representing the 'Char Dhaam' and a cultural center are quickly taking shape. We were forced to exit the place early, as we did not have the sanctions to stay on and on, but had a prolonged photo-session outside the Solophok Project gates.
Finally, we had to leave. Our next stoppage was the local
We started from the Sai Nath temple at 10:45 AM. This time even I did not know where we were headed for. All off a sudden our vehicle completed to crawl over the edges of a rise, and suddenly we were on top of a table-land. Right at the centre was a piece of asphalt all marked to identify itself and towards one corner was a building on which was a display board reading “Assangthang Helipad”. This, we were told, was the nearest aerial approach to Namchi. It also doubled up as the local driving-school grounds where most locals came to earn the expertise to be able to convert their Learning License into a full-fledged ones! No matter what it said, or what it was used for, I was conscious only of the scenic beauty of the surroundings and wondered over and over again, how beautiful the place was! No wonder Namchi is fast becoming a major tourist spot and pilgrimage centre. The Namchi monastery, Ralong monastery and Tendong Hill are important Buddhist pilgrimage centres and all the wonderful natural sights around has given Namchi the potential to emerge as one of the hottest tourist spots in the
Our next stoppage from the helipad was the world's largest statue (at 135 feet) of the Buddhist Guru Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche, the patron saint of
The statue was amazing. Some said it resembled a kind of hybrid between Lord Shiva the Hindu deity and Lord Gautam Buddha, the father of Budhdhism. It sat their with the peak of the Sandruptse hill towering above it. It was a bit cloudy in the morning and smoke billowed from somewhere nearby and, aided by the wind, it carried itself across the face of the statue. The large eyes of the Guru seemed to look at the smoke sternly, annoyed at them for coming in the way of his vision. We stayed there for more than an hour, taking photographs of whatever we got, till someone gave us the call to regroup and exit as it was nearing lunch time.
We left the place at 12:50 PM. Now, did I enjoy the day? Oh yes! I did. Me and my bachcha party howled and screamed, sang and danced, whistled and generally made merry like they had not done in a long long time!
Finally, we returned to our hotel at 1:15 PM, where our lunch was waiting for us. It was over lunch that we realised that we had completed our two & a half day stay at Namchi and all of us would be leaving the next day. As the thought sank in, everyone promised they would freak out that evening and flow away in the spirit of youth, enjoying the night to the fullest. But, before that, we had the afternoon and the evening to spend.
Post-lunch, most of the members of our team went back to their rooms for a siesta. It was then that a few of us ventured out into the market to see if we could pick up some gift items in the form of local mementos. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find much. Even then we picked up some pieces of ceramics containing budhdhist artistry and bought them to gift away.
Soon, others followed and before long all of us were out on the streets, out to enjoy the last few hours of a very memorable stay in this wonderful place called Namchi!
The team regrouped in the hotel lobby around 6:30 PM, and soon all of us were enjoying, talking, laughing and reliving our experiences over the previous few days. Even the kids who had met each other for the first time in their lives, and that too for a period of only a couple of days, got animated. And then soon the lobby became a dance floor! A group of twenty odd people – girls and boys, men and women, and any one else who would like to join in – were stomping their feet to the beats of bollywood music ranging from those that originated from the time of our youth (the 70’s, 80’s and the 90’s), to those which were so modern that it was only the kids (not the middle-aged kinds like us!) who identified with them! But dance we did! Our team, other guests in the hotel (including one of the mightily, huge foreign tourist – Finnish, I am told – who was among the ones who were biking through the
It was sad that Gitali had to miss out on the fun. Sharanya was tired and had fallen asleep at 7:00 PM. There was no way we could both leave her in the room to enjoy the dance session downstairs. I did offer to stay for a while with our daughter while Gitali went down. But she probably did not have the heart to interrupt my fun and agreed to make a sacrifice and stay on!
While it looked that the party had just started, soon it was 10:45 PM. And no matter what, we had to retire, so as to be fit for the journey back the next day!
29th October, 2011: the final day.
As on the previous days, we woke up early. The first thoughts upon waking up was that we were leaving today. But even through this thought, I went over to the terrace to see how good the Kanchandzonga looked today. Fortunately, the mountains did not disappoint us on the final day! A great view greeted us and cheered us up!
But then, good things don’t last long. Soon all of us got busy with our packing and we were ready by 8:00 AM. It was then that we got a jolt. Prantik had made a call. He had called to inform us that his driver, Uttam-da, had a small accident the previous evening and would not be able to bring the Toyota Qualis to bring us down to the plains. It was good of him to call and inform, I might have been in a huge soup, if not for the call!
I had to call and disturb Subrata to see if an alternative could be arranged. He assured me we could work out something. Sure enough, in half an hour an alternative vehicle – a Wagon R – had been booked and a guy named Kumar Gurung would drive us down at 9:30 AM, immediately following breakfast. Thus, it was arranged that I would be the first one to start as I needed to reach Siliguri at the earliest, since I would have to pick up my Wagon R from there and drive down the remaining 200 Kms. to Katihar… and the more I did it during daylight, the better. The others would start much later (around 1:30 PM, following their lunch), as they were in no hurry and simply needed to be on time to catch Darjeeling Mail from NJP at around 7:45 PM.
With the arrangements for the return confirmed, we were now more relaxed. Most of us went out again to the market place around the
As per our plans, we completed our breakfast on time. While everyone sat back in the hotel lobby, I knew it was time to move on and that I would have to make the first move. I cleared the Hotel Bills and soon, went up to our room to fetch our bags. The Wagon R was waiting now outside the hotel and it didn’t take long for our stuff to be loaded.
It wouldn't take long for us to leave. But,by now the whole gang had gathered outside the hotel to see us off.There was an impromptu photo session as everyone there staretd taking photographs.I wished everyone well and hoped all of us could share the same spiritfor years to come.And then, things went a bit out of hand.The hunks,I mean the men(not so much the ladies!)started weeping one by one! It was strange! I was not a bride going away after my marriage, nor was I going abroad or elsewhere,with no chances to return and meet again! But here was a group of middle aged men, weeping to their hearts content,out there on the street! Finally I had to leave.I will indeed look forward to the next version of our get-together!