An interview with Soumendra Padhi..........................
Silk Route of North Sikkim is part of the more extensive trade network that connected India and China in ancient times. Why it is called Silk Route? Because it was the hotbed of silk trading between the two countries. The entire silk route covered China, India, Persia, Middle Eastern Kingdoms, Egypt and extended up to Europe. In India the entry point of this road is through North Eastern Sikkim which is known for its rugged terrain and marvellous beauty. The journey on Indian side begins from the pretty capital city of Gangtok and heads to heady heights Nathula Pass and descends to the Nathang valley also known as Ladakh of the East and finally culminates at Icchey Gaon. The entire route takes you through dizzy heights and breathtaking views of the great Kanchenjunga.
At Bohotraveller, it is our endeavour to connect with fellow travellers who have made and cared to share their beautiful travel experiences with us. This time we got in touch with Soumendra, 33 who resides in the bustling city of Mumbai, India. He recently had the great honour of being a proud recipient of National award for his movie on a child prodigy called Duronto. A media & advertising guy by profession and a bohotraveller at heart, Soumendra took a trip to the famous Silk Route of Sikkim in November’15. He for sure inspired a few of us to do the same as he spoke to us about his journey. Here are excerpts from an interview from the man himself giving a sneak peek into the road less travelled!
1. So who did you partner with on this Journey and what was the total duration of your travel?
We had customized our tour as me and my wife was the only travelers. We took the trip in November for duration of 17-18 days. Ideally 5 Nights/ 6 days are enough to travel the Silk route if you are on a time constraint. We also covered Lachung and Lachen during this trip that are not part of the Silk route.
2. Tell us about your travel arrangements?
We had hired Innova for the entire duration with driver and tour guide. Make sure that the vehicles you book are registered with Sikkim Tourism and have permit to travel throughout Sikkim. It also makes them reliable and trustworthy.
3. Can you please take us through your itinerary?
We had booked most of the stays prior to our arrival. Most of the destinations have home-stays and no hotels or guesthouses. Since we were on a leisure trip we spent two Nights at all places which also gave us time to acclimatise. We started the trip from Sillery Gaon and finished it up at Gangtok.
Sillery Gaon: 2 Nights.
Lava: 2 Nights
Aritar/ Mankhim: 2 Nights
Zuluk: 2 Nights
Gnathang valley: 2 Nights
Gangtok: 3 Nights
Apart from Silk route:
Lachen: 2 Nights
Lachung: 2 Nights
4. What inspired you to take this difficult journey?
We wanted to go some place..very quiet and away from the hustle & bustle of city life. We didn’t want to rush. It was a leisure tour for us. We extended our stays at places that we liked, for example the forest bungalow at Lava. We opted for offbeat places to stay at to avoid any crowds of tourists. If you are looking for some quiet time for yourself then this journey is one to take.
5. How did you plan the trip?
We planned the tour ourselves by going through reviews, travel forums. lonely planet and trip advisor were of great help too.
6. Your favourite moments of the travel?
Staying at West Bengal forest bungalow at Lava was an amazing experience. You can also request the forest officials to arrange for a fire camp in advance.
Sunrise at Zuluk and Sunset at Nanthang Valley was also a splendid experience. You may have seen thousands of sunsets and sunrises but nothing comes close to what you get to witness here. Our final stop at Gangtok gave the perfect climax to our journey with Paragliding!
7. Any particular challenges that made the journey particularly difficult?
Zuluk and Gnathang Valley is challenging as temperature touch below zero degrees so you must stay in Lava or Mankhim so that your body adjusts to such cold temperatures and high altitudes.
The facilities in most places will be basic but the rooms are very clean. Make sure to ask for room heater although it is chargeable.
Sikkim is not your usual place, it is different in lot of ways and each traveler will have his or her take away from the tour depending on how he wants to see these places.
8. Please share the must-see places on this route.
En route to Gangtok, this entire track is strewn with gem of places. You must see Old Baba Mandir, Kupup Lake, New Baba Mandir, Menmecho Lake, Tukla Valley, Jelepla Pass, Yak Golf Course, Ice Hockey Field, Four Lake Point and Tsomgo lake also known as Changu Lake. You can enjoy Yak riding at the Lake. The famous Zig Zag road at Zuluk makes for a picture perfect spot. The sight of Mount Khangchendzonga from Lungthung and Thambi view Point at the time of Sunrise is another unmissable feature of this trip.
There are extra charges for tourists who are not from Armed forces of India to cross Nathu la pass. Also note that a small trek is required to reach Menmecho Lake.
9. What is the best time to visit this route?
October- November and March- April are the most ideal months to visit here.
10. How safe is it for small children to travel on this route?
High altitudes with thin air and cold conditions can affect aged people and kids adversely. Besides the road journey also takes its toll because you are sitting all the time and the road conditions are not really good.
11. Please share some valuable tips with us.
Sikkim is a beautiful state with beautiful people. They are honest and tourist friendly which makes these treacherous paths very safe to travel people-wise.
Make sure you carry proper warm clothes, hand gloves, thermals and shoes. You must carry valid identity proof at all times as you will need permit to visit these places. It is a very simple process and can be done at the time of entry by tour operators.
You must get up early in the day to enjoy most of these places particularly Zuluk and Nathang Valley. The day starts early and ends even earlier. By 4.30-5pm it is already dark so make sure you reach next destination early so that your day doesn’t go waste.
12. Any precautions, expected hurdles and information that can be helpful?
Expect absence of phone network at Zuluk and Gnathang so keep somebody from the family or friends posted lest they worried.
Carry cash as locating an ATM is difficult and there are very few except in Gangtok and Baghdogra or Siliguri.
High-altitude treks require trekking permits. These are valid for 15 days and can be easily organised by trekking agents.
It is advisable to plan & book in advance. Opt for home stays if you really want to eat good home food and live more of Sikkim.
Don’t forget to taste chhang, a refreshing local rice beer served in wooden mugs.
Jet, Set, Go……….
Apart from the interview, Soumendra graciously agreed to share important contacts and other information that can prove to be monumental in preparing and booking for this awe-inspiring journey. Here we share it with our readers:
Drivers (They have permit to travel throughout Sikkim and have their own private vehicle (Innova) registered with department of tourism)
Norbu – +91 9593052128/ +91 9593374117
Ugyen – +91 9564801337.
Stays & Accommodation
West Bengal forest Bungalow: Get in touch with them on http://www.wbfdc.com/ Aritar:
Lampokhri lake Resort (A part of India beacons sojourn facilitating eco-tourism)
+91 9903295920 / 8902491395/ 9477614894/ 33 24191976
Heaven Valley Resort: Contact Robin (Owner): +91 9647857292
Namgyal Bhutia’s Home Stay – +91 9832043666, +91 8391971993.
Pema Sherpa: +91 9474145958, +91 9474648767.
Gopal Pradhan: +91 9609860266
Suraj Pradhan +91 7872883264
Try to book Daftar Bungalow from above mentioned contact details from Zuluk.
Since it is the capital of Sikkim, the options are many. We stayed at Hidden forest retreat for which the contacts are as below:
Phone No. : + 91 3592 205197
Mobile No. : +91 9474981367, 9434137409
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
How to reach Gangtok :
Gangtok, the capital city of Sikkim can be reached only by road from various railheads and airport at Bagdogra. From there you have to hail a cab which has permit for Sikkim. Following list gives you sneak peek into the distances of important locations from Gangtok.
Bagdogra Airport: 124 kms
Siliguri - 114 Kms
Darjeeling – 94 kms
Kalimpong -85 kms
Kolkata - 720 kms
Distance from other destinations:
Pelling – 120 kms
Lachung – 116 kms
Lachen – 122 kms
Where to Stay:
As rightly pointed out by Soumendra, in the interiors of Sikkim you may have to make do with homestays but Gangtok gives you most amazing hotel options. Our tops picks are:
The Elgin Nor-khill, Gangtok
WelcomHeritage Denzong regency
So this was all Soumendra had to share with us and he sure gave us every little detail to make that trip. If you enjoyed reading this piece do let us know and if there is something more you want to add, do comment. For regular dose of travel stories, tips and hacks straight in your inbox, subscribe to Bohotraveller today!