Day 4 : Gangtok to Namchi to Pelling
While the original plan was to drive down directly from Gangtok to Pelling, our driver enticed us to going to Namchi for an additional Rs.3000. Google maps said that it would take around two and a half hours to Namchi and then another two and a half hours to Pelling. We started early the next day agreeing on the new plan.
What we were supposed to see:
Namchi is known for Char Dham mainly and then the Sandruptse monastery on Sandruptse hill. Char Dham is basically a religious site which has a replica of the 4 main pilgrimage sites across India which Hindus believe must be visited once in a lifetime to attain salvation. Char Dham atop Solophok hill allows you to complete the pilgrimage, all in one place, and was inaugurated in 2011 by the chief minister of Sikkim. It has an imposing statue, 87 feet high, of Lord Shiva. The founding stone for the monastery way laid by Dalai Lama in 1997.
On the way from Gangtok to Namchi, one can see the Temi tea gardens, the only tea garden in Sikkim. Close to Namchi town is the rock garden and the Namchi helipad.
What we did see:
Google says Namchi is at a height of 1315 m above sea level and Gangtok is at a height of 1650 m. So far, so good. Why? What’s bad if you have to drive down – 1315 is below 1650 right? So we sat back ready to enjoy the ride down. And the ride was enjoyable. Beautiful view of the mountains, the river Teesta below, green-green trees, wild flowers growing on mountain slopes…And then we were in for the shocker. Namchi is on a interlocking hill, so one has to go all the way down to the river and then go all the way up to the top of another hill. That’s not all. Though the road condition is generally good to Namchi there are a large number of hair-pin bends and steep roads. This is when I had a revelation. No wonder Char Dham was a pilgrim site and had been built on top of the mountain! There was nothing else that you could think of other than God while going up that road!
So with God in my heart, head and entire being, we made the 79.6 kms journey up to Namchi town and then 5 kms short of Char Dham, just looking at the sheer steepness of the remaining distance, I decided not to go. And the family agreed. If it was a sin to go that far and not to God’s residence, then I have committed a sin and I bear the cross for the 4 of us. However, I had another revelation then. And that was that God never really said we had to go all the way up to reach him. Isn’t He there in our hearts? Isn’t that what we were taught all through our growing up years? So, after a meal of momos and hot vegetable soup in Namchi town, we began the journey back with absolutely no regret.
From Namchi to Pelling
The two and a half hour journey took us five and a half hours as the road was blocked due to road-work in progress. Initially apprehensive of having to wait in the car and believing God was punishing us for not visiting Him at Char Dham, we asked the driver to take us back to the suspension bridge we had crossed earlier; closer to the river. At-least, we’d be able to entertain ourselves at the river. But there was no way to turn back. On that single car road, there were already a line of cars behind us, also waiting.
In the middle of nowhere in particular, stuck midway on the mountain, there was nothing to do but get out, although reluctantly. 2 or 3 houses on the road-side and one that served as a road-side restaurant cum grocery as well. With nothing else to do and with very little expectation, we walked in.
3 hours in a Sikkimese house
The 3 hours we spent there were one of the best experiences we had that day and one that we will remember for years’ to come. The wooden house had wooden benches and tables which served as a restaurant. But we walked right in and nobody stopped us. In was the bedroom which had a cot, a wooden table and two chairs and big open windows (no glass on them) overlooking the river and the mountains. The owner of the house quickly made us some home-made bread and served it with scrambled eggs and ginger tea with milk. He gave the girls’ noodles which they totally relished. And while we ate, he turned on the music system to entertain us and then sat outside his house so that we could enjoy our very own ‘private dinner.’ Sikkimese people are warm hosts. They are also honest people who do not expect tips unlike most places in the world. There is a strange contentment in them. City-folk like us find it strange and even unreal. But it is as real as the experience we had in that house and that was definitely a blessing. Little did we know then, as we sat in the house, that tourists who had visited Tsomgo lake in Gangtok that day were stuck due to heavy snowfall. We had no reason to complain.
Travelling to Pelling
After being treated with so much love and respect, we were ready to make the arduous journey to Pelling. But nothing could have made us ready for those roads. Most of the journey, the road is kachcha which means its not even made. So you’re steering on rugged roads, not more than half a meter wide and making those hair-pins turns, now only worse because of no barricades and no real roads. We finally reached the journey’s end at around 5.30 p.m. which is early but not in Pelling which is at an altitude of 2150 m. Pitch black and cold, best describes the place at that time of the day. Our hotel, Norbu Ghang retreat and spa, is built on a hillock overlooking the Kanchenjunga mountains ( the third highest mountains in the world). In the dark, there was nothing that we could see. Trudging upwards towards the cottage assigned to us, all we really needed was dinner and a warm bed.
Norbu Ghang Retreat
Wooden cottages in serene settings, cut-off from the rest of the world, a nice, big bed, heaters which work, hot water in the basin and the shower and nourishing hot food and a television with channels that work! What more does a person need when with all this you have family too?
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