I never thought that the idea of a summer vacation could be stressful. But as usual I was wrong. It was deeply stressful, as once again, the entire onus of planning the trip fell onto me. Of course, I’m fussy, difficult, particular, borderline-painful (as the hubby insists), but once, I would like to be gifted a holiday where an itinerary is dumped in my hands and I simply have to whizz off. Sometime hopefully.
So, the first bone of contention was the country to travel to. I wanted to go to Tuscany and Cinque Terre and the hubby refused to go to any country near the Adriatic Sea. He would rather go to Mauritius. Mauritius with a 12-year-old! We’d be the only fools with a tweenager amongst the honeymoon crowd. After a lot of haggling, we finally decided on Sikkim. It was strongly seconded by my brother-in-law who’d been there before. But I was worried, scared by the crazy winding roads and multiple you-tube videos of drives in Sikkim labelled as the scariest roads of India.
It certainly didn’t help that roads were narrow and overhung by rocks.
Who wouldn’t be petrified with scenes like this? To make matters worse, reaching anywhere in Sikkim is dependent on the weather, which means you can be rained out, snowed out or rocked out (blocked by landslides). And that you are constantly struggling over roads like this.
I even read that there can be fog that can obscure all visibility and you might not know where the road ahead is leading. Can you imagine hairpin after hairpin in such fog?
Add to that the kid’s extreme motion sickness and my height fright (I can’t even look vertically down from the third floor window) and we most certainly had a tough decision to make. Yet, finally, Sikkim it was. With a truck load of apprehensions and stress akin to a qualifying exam, and a truck load of warm clothes and much-abused raincoats, we reached Sikkim. Just to find that all the worries were unfounded, that this was THE trip and that an Indian vacation could be as good as, if not better than one abroad. So, a BIG thank you to Hubby dearest, my brother-in-law Ravi, and my friend Yogesh, for insisting on Sikkim and for addicting me to the Himalayas.
Of course nothing was too easy. On the 3-hour flight, stress levels were even higher, with me having a panic attack every time the plane lurched even a millimeter. It didn’t help that my niece had once again predicted my death on air, or that Yogesh had wondered why I was more scared of falling off a Sikkimese cliff than being in an aluminium tube 35000 feet above sea level. Now, I was scared of both. But reach safely we did and promptly set off on a 4 hour drive to Gangtok, the beautiful capital of Sikkim.
Avominized, excited and scared, all emotions got replaced by just one state. Deep sleep. That credit I must give to avomine (Promethazine, for all the generic drug lovers). It suppresses the vestibular apparatus adequately for one not to bother with climbs, descents, hairpins or even the truck thundering down just beside you. It is amazing. Even if you would fall off the edge the avomine would leave you feeling that blissful high.
It probably was a beautiful drive but I only encountered snippets of it through my sleepy haze. I only remember a hospital in Siliguri, some tea gardens and the Teesta bubbling on beside us. Oh and rain. Lots of it. And getting off the car in the pouring rain to eat a steaming hot lunch and pee in a dirty loo (kind of a recurring theme).
However, I can remember the drive back from Gangtok to the airport, which was in fairer weather and without sedation. The sometimes green, sometimes foamy-white Teesta was our constant companion, as we drove alongside her or high above.
Trees of all colours studded the mountains on each side, even though it was spring. And tiny hill towns were perched precariously.
Who wouldn’t love a place with such lovely houses, with flowers outside all homes and on all terraces, with prayer flags all along and natural beauty beyond compare? Oh and monasteries and statues of Buddha everywhere.
After nightfall, we reached our hotel, the hidden forest, a lovely family run resort. A home away from home. A welcoming abode where the owners seem so happy and contented with their surroundings. Flowers and shrubs of all types grow in pots along window sills, on terraces, in green houses and all along the path.
Did I mention the dog? A lovely specimen called Jacky, who never barked at visitors and posed happily for pictures. And let my daughter touch him as much as her heart desired.
The owners have a huge 3 storey house and there are lots of individual cottages with a terrace facing the hills. “On a clear day”, said the owners, “you could see the Kanchendzonga.” Lovely.
The dining Hall was most elaborately done with knick knacks all along the walls, souvenirs from the trips that the owners had been to. Minimalist was certainly not in their dictionary but none of this was overwhelming. Quite the opposite in fact.
Flowers were everywhere, of all colors, shapes and sizes. My dear sister would have gone berserk just walking about. Even I was so enamored by the flowers that I woke up early one day, just to see the entire place and all the flowers.
The flora on display could put the flower exhibition of Gangtok to shame. I can’t even imagine how many hours the owners must have put into managing this huge and amazing place.
Any great place must have some downs and in this case, it was the side effects of nature: insects. The kid is terrified of anything with 6 legs, but particularly of spiders, and here on offer, was a spectacular specimen with long legs like Deepika Padukone, crawling menacingly down the walls of our room. I could see her imagination turning it into an acromantula. The hubby pretended to kill it while she hid far away. The smart brat even asked for proof of the kill, the dead body. Somehow we pacified her. However, the next morning, in the shower, guess what scuttled out. Our non-dead pal. She screamed in terror and I felt sorry for her even though I was bursting with laughter from within (mean, nasty mum). I’m still laughing at the memory.
Meals were lovely home cooked fare, delicious as could be. I think my daughter ate more here than any place else. Oh, and they served the most delicious hot chocolate we could ever have.
A level down below the dining hall and terrace was a phenomenally well-stocked library, where my daughter spent hours. A level lower still was a large garden with terracing and lots more flowers. They even had trees of Japanese cherry blossom. We didn’t need to go all the way to Japan. The owners had gotten the seeds and grown them all over their home.
I am so grateful to my brother-in-law for insisting that we stay here. The hidden forest remains one of the best hotels I have ever been to in my entire life.