Are you ready for a jolting drive dangerous enough to scare you? If you are an adventurous like me then this road trip is for you. If as a teenager you have visualized yourself as part of ‘The Famous Five’ adventures, I lived the book here! This was one deadly experience that will stay with me forever
The Old Silk Route in Sikkim, an offshoot of the ancient route that served as the first superhighway for the exchange of commodities, ideas and culture among the countries of Asia and Europe. It was majorly used to transport Chinese Silk to Europe through Central Asia from 2nd Century BC. However, many trade routes (both sea and land routes) existed in much earlier times that connected the main Silk Route and traded in different commodities ranging from salt to gold. The drive to this ancient route through Sikkim is a road to heaven.
This trip was real serendipity in my travel diary. I locked it just two nights ahead. Being mostly a well planned traveler, this was the most unplanned trip. My interest this time was to travel along this route which exists in India located in the Sikkim District along the China border. This road is popularly known as “Old Silk Route” and has got some breath taking views of Mt Kanchandzongha or popularly called Kanchenjunga and picturesque landscapes especially during rough monsoon. A flight to Bagdogra from Delhi and 12 days on the road in a hired Taxi. I wish I had driven around these roads myself however at that point I had to settle for a taxi. My driver, Dewas, a Sikkimese and a well trained, enthusiastic human. That made my travel super exciting and fun. Let me take you through the stops I took during this road trip.
1st Stop- Kalimpong
We drove from Bagdogra to Kalimpong for about 6 hours. Kalimpong is a small hill station near Darjeeling in West Bengal. This was the closest point from Bagdogra on my route. The sun had almost set and it was drizzling. That made the roads very slippery. Enroute I was accompanied by the river Teesta through narrow roads blanketed with dark and green mountains. The local tea stalls offering steaming momos and noodles came as a great respite during rough weather. My host for the night was a well known guest house Holumba haven, located atop a hill populated by leeches, snails and beautiful Orchids. If you travel in himalayas they actually become your companions and not strangers anymore. Having reached late night I had little time to explore the town next day as we had to leave for the next stop. Though I had been to this town a few years ago I decided to take a morning walk before leaving. It was still drizzling and the town was sleeping. We left for Mankhim which was a 2 hours drive.
Holumba Haven Homestay
Mankhim is one such spot where Nature will simply leave you mesmerized.
Situated atop a hill in Dalapchand village, Mankhim is actually a viewpoint from where one can enjoy a stunning view of the snow covered peaks of Kanchenjungha. Apart from the peaks, Mankhim offers a breathtaking bird’s eye view of Lampokhri Lake in Aritar, which with its emarald green water looks like a human heart from that high altitude. The panoramic view of the surroundings from Mankhim will certainly make you stick to the hill top, but if the charm of the place make you feel like doing something more, you can get down to the Lampokhri Lake for a paddleboating session on the serene water or may opt for a short trek through the jungles to reach the Aritar Monastery, which houses several ancient Buddhist murals, artifacts and manuscripts. My host for the night was Robin Rai of Heaven Valley homestay, a very lively and warm host. I spent the day trekking down to Aritar lake through slippery forest. I was attacked by the leeches here because I did not prepare myself well.
Splendid view of Robin Rai’s homestay at Mankhim village
Lampokhri Lake Aritar
Aritar Gumpa Monastery in Mankhim
3rd Stop-Echey Gaon
Imagine sipping a cup of tea at an altitude of 6,000 ft in a village of not more than 30 families and that too in the middle of a jungle. This is what my Echey Gaon Homestay is all about. The name represents a plant named so, that grows there abundant. A hike for about an hour from the nearest metaled road or a drive for 20 minutes through a cobbled stone road reaches you to Echey Gaon. Khawas Homestay, A truly village atmosphere with panaromic view of mountains with the cheerful simple village people. Kanchenjunga range could be seen clearly from dawn to dusk from here. A thrilling and enjoyable jungle trek of about 2.5 km. through Echey Forest reaches Sillery Gaon touching Ramitey View Point, from where entire range of peaks and several bends of River Teesta can be seen. Many beautiful known and unknown flowers and plants attracts one’s attention.
Echey Gaon overlooking Mt Kanchendzonga
Zuluk, A small village beside a winding road, it has a population of about 700 people. Even though it doesn’t offer views of snow-capped peaks, it is an easily accessible spot, near the attractions of this circuit, like the Thambi View Point, Padamchen, etc. You need permit to pass this village. The permit was taken at Rangoli in Sikkim and thereafter few miles at a right turn is the beginning of the Old Silk Route which is a common motorable road now for the rest of the world. Zuluk is the name of the valley . It was the picture of Zig Zag roads of Zuluk that mesmerized me and made me plan this trip.
No Road, No Problem
Traditionally a home of Yak herders from Tibet
The Roads here are very lonely surrounded by Rhodondendrons grown hills. You find no soul for many kilometers
The famous Zig-Zag Roads of Sikkim
Perched on a hill slope at 7,000 ft and covered in dense forests, Padamchen is a small village on the Silk Route circuit just 14 kms from Rongli and 10 kms from Zuluk. Padamchen experiences a very pleasant weather throughout the year and this is one of the main reasons for its popularity. If you are not used to biting cold and snowfall but want to experience the mesmerizing sunrise and winding roads and valleys of this Silk Route circuit, then staying at Padamchen could be a choice. The forests around Padamchen support a wide variety of bird population and bird watchers would love to spend a few days here.
Pine Trees forest on the way to PadamchenWith my host family at ChambaGuest house Padamchen
6th Stop-Gnathang Valley
At 13500 ft above it is the Ladakh of the eastern part of India. Covered by snow during winters and temperatures are below zero. Lack of oxygen levels in the air makes it a bit difficult terrain, so one will have to take precautions as far as getting around this place is concerned. Indeed it is a heavenly place on this part of the earth and words will fall short describing its untouched landscapes. The valley is surrounded by snow capped mountains from all sides and you find herds of Yaks grazing around. The place where I put up was a customs’ Bunglow built in 1920 called the “Dafter Bunglow”. During the early days this bunglow was once used form customs duty collections, but now was renovated by the department of tourism Sikkim Govt. This is perhaps the only stone made construction and a beautiful peaceful place to stay. The hospitality is exceptionally good. The family who maintains the property is very friendly and helpful. Mr. Karma Sherpa and his elder daughter Prema are very helpful and kind enough to guide you and arrange everything you want if feasible. The sun sets here by 0500PM and rises at 0430AM. Bitten by cold they offered to serve my dinner in the room and kept the fireplace lit throughout the night.
Sleepy and Cold Gnathang Valley VillageThe Spooky roads on Old Silk Route
The downpour from Gnanthang via Tsongmo lake and Nath-la-pas will scare you & the city becomes spooky during late evenings. I would recommend every traveler to walk the roads of Sikkim post sunset; especially if as a teenager you have visualized yourself as part of ‘The Famous Five’ adventures. I lived the book here! This was one experience that will stay with me forever. Be ready for a long jolting drive dangerous enough to scare the shit out of you, unless you are an adventure freak like me! The roads connecting Gangtok to all these places are very narrow at some places, slippery during rains & under construction. However, the drive was beautiful & not one to be missed. This was the last stop on my old silk route. Its a modern city however was great to relax and restore the energy spent relentlessly for the past 12 days on road. My host here was Aashishkhim Guest House, tilted naturally due to an earthquake that hit Sikkim in 2011 at a richter scale of 6.9. This is exactly what I needed at the end of my road trip, a warm host like Mrs and Mr Pradhan and amazingly good homely food.
Aashishkhim Home stay at Gangtok
My trip was organized by Ontrip Travel and allied service (OTAS) ontrip.in based in Kolkata. Dipanita was of great help and stayed in touch throughout the journey constantly checking on my comfort and safety. I have all the reasons to travel up North and West of Sikkim to Gurudongmar Lake (one of the Highest lakes of the world) which is even more difficult terrain than East Sikkim.
Which was your adventurous road trip?