It was our last day at Gangtok and the travel agent had planned a trip to Namchi, a town 3 hours away, with a replica of all 4 dhams of India. Why was an atheist couple headed there? I don’t know, I just wanted to see the Shiva statue and the Buddha statue against the snow-capped mountains. This day was so bright and clear that I wanted to cancel Namchi and attempt Nathu-La again. Naturally, the hubby turned it down, and we set off for Namchi in a gleaming, brand new Innova with the driver’s adorable 8 year son for company.
As soon as we set off, the driver asked us if we wanted to go to Ravangla to the Buddha park at an additional cost of 1000rs. Now I’d had it with these extra charges and being ripped off. Especially with the extra amount for Katao and the chaos with Nathu-La. So even though I badly wanted to see it, I said no. Bad move.
Also, we were tired of the continuous drives, and wanted things to be short and sweet. Of course, we hadn’t bargained for the crazy drive to Namchi. Nor the speeding and braking ability of an Innova. Nor the fury of a man (driver) spurned. I thought that a man would drive well since his kid was in the vehicle and this would minimize the chances of our plunging to our deaths. After a while, I was convinced that this man was on a mission to end it all.
He took us to Namchi via an alternate route, quoting construction on the regular route. The drive was certainly very beautiful, though very hot. Pretty houses and fields dotted the entire roadside, and the Teesta gleamed and glistened alongside.
Each house was studded with lovely flowers outside it. It was like a flower show every few meters. This part of the drive was undoubtedly the most scenic.
We crossed over the Teesta to drive towards the West of Sikkim. Namchi is on the way to Pelling, the best place in Sikkim to see the Kanchenjunga from. Of course, we had given this a miss, as we spent more time in North Sikkim instead.
From here on, we drove higher and higher. The views got better, the road narrower and more deserted. There were a few isolated villages with brightly colored houses.
Soon we were very high up in the mountains. Looking down was so scary that I just looked straight ahead. My favorite structures, the tall prayer flags dotted the route and probably were the savior for all.
By now ,even I was feeling car sick. Suddenly we turned and were facing a series of mountains, when in the distance, I could see the snowcapped mountain range of the Kanchenjunga, India’s highest peak.
We continued traversing peak after peak at this height. After almost 3 hours of this crazy drive, the driver showed me a shining white structure in the distance at the top of a mountains, ages away. It was the famous Shiva statue in the midst of the Siddheshwar dham.
I was sure that it would take at least an hour further to get there but our Schumi got us there in less than half an hour. We entered the dham complex and invited the driver’s kid in with us. He was a cute bubbly 8-year-old and my kid and I had a great time chatting with him. In fact, he made the day for my daughter. It was otherwise very boring for her (us too).
It was the statue of Shiva that was most magnificent. Huge and commanding, this structure stood out by sheer size and construction.
My kid took one look at the Nandi and asked me what a cow was doing here. Thank the Lord she didn’t call it a yak.
We walked about in the awful heat, looking at the replicas of the 4 Dham temples. Most were closed for the afternoon, but it didn’t really matter to us.
To be very frank, I wasn’t tickled by this place at all. I just wanted to head home. It was intolerably hot (30 degrees). To think that we were at 0 degrees the previous day. In fact, the driver was stunned to see us out so soon. After a quick lunch at the temple complex’s marvellous restaurant, the driver took us to the Shirdi Sai Baba Mandir replica, that was a glittery as the original.
The driver showed us a shining speck even higher up, on another mountain far off and told us that we were going there next. Good God I thought. Surprisingly we climbed down this mountain and up the next with great rapidity and were at the foot of the statue of Guru Padmasambhava (the one who had blessed Gurudongmar with staying unfrozen forever). Not surprisingly, this was built more beautifully than the Siddheshwar dham with gorgeous flowers all around.
It provided a bird’s eye view of the town of Namchi and supposedly of the snowies too, but alas none were too great.
As we left the Samrudatpse complex, all hot and bothered, our driver offered to take us to Buddha park for no extra charge, but we would have to miss the famed tea gardens. I was very keen on seeing these and too tired to travel any more, so we refused and went to the tea gardens instead. Luckily the route was not as crazy as while reaching Namchi. By this time there was some cloud cover.
The tea gardens were not as large as Darjeeling or even Munnar or Pahalgam, but were certainly very beautiful. I enjoyed standing amongst them and seeing the lovely view of the different shades of the mountains behind with the pretty tea gardens around us.
While driving back, we actually drove through the entire tea estate, and were able to appreciate its beauty more. It was tea-pickers wrap-up time, and they were all trudging back with baskets full of tea. It was a surprising sight to the kid who couldn’t imagine that tea looked green.
Another crazy drive back and we were back in Gangtok. We left early the next morning, with another beautiful drive to Bagdogra. It had been a wonderful holiday, and we had thoroughly enjoyed Sikkim. I was hooked to the Himalayas, and can’t wait for the next journey there.
Till then, I can close my eyes and remember the snow and the trees.