Sikkim Travelog – Part 4

MG Marg in Gangtok is a pedestrian-only shopping street. Our guide told us that it was the brainchild of Sikkim’s Chief Minister Pawan Chamling. It is said that he was inspired by his visit to Switzerland. There were widespread protests by the shopkeepers on MG Marg against the pedestrian-only concept. But the CM went right ahead with the idea – it is quite popular now, proving Chamling right.

After reading that, if you expect a row of ultra posh shops, roadside bistros and swank cafes, we’re not responsible. We liked the traffic-free shopping experience, that’s all. As we remarked earlier, Sikkim doesn’t look prosperous.

Lachen is a main stopover for tourists wishing to see the Tsopta Valley and the Gurudongmar Lake. Gangtok to Lachen is a bone crushing 6.5-hour journey. If I remain sane, I would never ever   repeat this drive. It just needs too much  bestial endurance. Of course, the drive itself was very scenic – surrounded on all sides by the Himalayas, lush evergreen forests and gushing waterfalls.

The Teesta River thundered below us. What does the river remind you of? – I asked Sukumar. “Setalvad” he said promptly. I was  thinking of another woman, I told him – Mamtadi – thanks to the Teesta river water dispute with Bangladesh.  I find rivers extremely tiresome. They lead to too much bickering, since nobody wants to share them with their neighbors. If it was up to me, I will simply ban all the rivers in India and be done with it.

The drive to Lachen – and indeed pretty much to any destination in Sikkim – is very treacherous. The roads are slushy and a single mistake could mean a precipitous fall down the Himalayas. Drivers from other Indian states shouldn’t even attempt to drive on these roads, unless they are in a tearing hurry to meet their maker.

“Mobile phones won’t work in Lachen, madam,” said our driver. “There won’t be any coverage”. “As long as there is the good old Internet, we’ll be fine”, we said. “Internet?” he said incredulously. “Why, there’s not even TV coverage”. “What?” I shrieked. “No mobile, no Internet and no TV? What do these people do with their spare time?” “Gardening, madam?” the driver suggested tentatively.

I felt peeved. “How do they even catch the news, or watch cricket?” I asked the driver. He shrugged as if cricket was of no consequence. We were outraged – a place that doesn’t care about cricket, that too in the subcontinent! That’s when our driver proudly flashed his Manchester United wristband at us and asked, “Did you know Baichung Bhutia is Sikkimese?” Eek! Football! Even unity in diversity has its limits.

When we reached our hotel in Lachen – not only was there no mobile network coverage (the much maligned BSNL had coverage though) and no internet – there wasn’t any power either. The room heater was purely for decoration. They gave us hot water bottles to help us withstand the cold. The lifesaver was the excellent home-style dinner served at the hotel. “Wonderful pickles!” we exclaimed. “Are they made in Sikkim?” The waiter courteously replied “No, madam. They’re from India”.

After dinner, the hotel manager let us watch TV in his office – the only TV in the hotel. An episode of “Mighty Raju”, a cartoon strip loved by 5-year olds and loathed by parents, brought a smile to our daughter’s face.

Morning brought a fresh set of difficulties. There was no hot water. Our teeth chattered, our blood froze and our fingertips were cold as we brushed our teeth and got through the rest of the early morning routine. We wondered what madness possessed us to come to this godforsaken hole.

Just then the sun came out bright and shining, ushering in a glorious Alpine morning. We gasped: the mighty Himalayas was all around us; its snow capped peaks clearly visible, wearing wispy clouds around their necks. It was worth it, we murmured, awestruck.   An obscene amount of beauty was here, there, everywhere around us.

How do we describe the myriad waterfalls, the jagged snowcapped mountains, the pebble strewn riverbeds, mountainsides festooned by ferns, the pine scented air, the beautiful flowers and the absolute silence broken only by Mother Nature in the form of bird calls and the roar of the many streams.

If such a sight can’t move you, nothing will.

Okey-dokey, here’s the 5th part of this series.


  1. Quote

    A very well written travelogue, well done!

  2. Quote

    Yogita – Thanks for your comment & kind words.

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