Sunday, 9 June 2019

Sikkim - The Natural Beauty - Part 1

Panoramic view of Himalayas

Sikkim - The Natural Beauty (Part 1)

There was one place (alright a few places) which I wanted to visit for a long time - Sikkim. Have heard so much about the natural beauty of the place, seen photographs, but never got a chance to visit. But not anymore. Made time and the plan to visit.

Fine, where do I start from? Don't know anyone there whom I can check with. Thankfully there are quite a few agents on-line whom we can check with for planning such trips.

One such online portal helped me get quotes from 5 different agents. We can choose what seems the best fit based on our ideas. We can also customize the tour package, which is a good thing. Of course there will be variations in the price based on what you want to visit, number of days being planned etc.

Winding Roads


Since it was a trip with family I was a bit particular about the places that we stayed. I have to mention that you cannot expect the hotels to be in the same standards as you get in a big city, so you have to keep your expectations to a minimum. Nevertheless, except for one place which we stayed, the other places were quite alright.

The agents had given an initial plan of covering Sikkim and Darjeeling, but I was quite interesting in exploring Sikkim completely, hence planned a full 1 week trip just to Sikkim. I was to caution here that though the state is one of the smallest states in India, the travelling time within the state will be quite long, due to the nature and condition of the roads.

The plan was to reach the Bagdogra airport in Siliguri and be picked up taxi to Gangtok. Though we reached the Bagdogra by 1:30pm and got the taxi by 2:00pm, by the time we reached Gangtok, it was quite close to 9:00pm in the night. Thanks to a long traffic jam while crossing the Mahananda airport and partially to the road conditions as well.

Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir



The next day we started early and left for Baba Harbhajan Singh Temple. This is near Nathula pass, which borders China on the east. Baba Harbhajan was a Major in the India Army and the army still believes that his spirit guides them. The temple is completely maintained by the India Army personal.

White returning we stopped at the Manju lake and the Tsongo  lake. Manju lake is at an altitude of about 14000 ft. This is not the most common or well known lakes for the tourists. Thanks to the local driver, who stopped there for us to have a view.

Manju Lake - Altitude 13,615 ft


Tsongo lake is the one which is generally told to everyone who is visiting the place. Both the lakes have their beauty. Winter would have been even more beautiful with the lake surrounded by snow. The spring season had a different hue altogether.

Tsongo lake - Altitude around 12,000 ft.


It turned out to be a good decision to have started early in the morning. The weather was sunny and clear in the forenoon, but after 12 noon, nature changed her face. The place started getting covered with thick clouds and started having hailstorms. We were already in our taxi after having a good tasty lunch.

In the afternoon, despite the inclement weather, we visited places like Ganesh Tok, Hanuman Tok which are some of the famous temples in Gangtok and quite popular with tourists and local residents. But due to the rains could not spend much time in these places.

In the evening the rain stopped and weather became quite cool, allowing us time to roam around in the MG Marg, the famous shopping street in Gangtok.

Stream and Lord Siva


Next day we started around 8:00 AM and headed towards Lachen in the northern Sikkim. Though this is only about 100km from Gangtok, it will take a solid 5 hours to reach there. Nevertheless, what you see on the way will ensure that your travel is never tiring. If there is a heaven on earth, you can call the this route that!

There are big and small streams; big and small falls for most part of the entire route. The route also winds alongside the Teesta river. You can just forget yourself in the magnificent beauty of nature!

Streams and Falls

The most famous among the bigger falls are the seven Sisters Falls and the Naga Falls. If you are an explorer and decide to stay in one of the numerous small villages on the way, then I am sure you can see much more than what you see en-route. These 2 falls are on the way to Lachen from Gangtok, hence more popular among the tourists.

Seven Sisters falls

Since the time is less and reaching the destination will take a long time, I did was not able to spend as much time as I would have loved to, in most of the places. If there is an opportunity to stay in one of these places, I certainly would!

Passing through good roads, bad roads, worse roads and no roads in some places, and lofty bridges we reached Lacen by around 9:00PM in the night.

A bridge across a river

This small town is at an altitude of about 9,000ft. Understandably it was cold but the hotel we stayed was alright. We were able to manage with whatever warm blankets that were provided.

The plan for next day was to start as early as 5:00AM and go to Gurudongmar lake and proceed on to Lachung, which is also in the Northern Sikkim, but a good 100km away from Lachen. We have to take permits from the army at least at 3 places, so starting early is very important to visit the place as planned.

The drive to Gurudongmar lake is predominantly on terrains than roads. Almost the entire stretch after crossing the Lachen town is under the watchful eyes of the Indian Army. There are quite a few places where photography is restricted since those are Army posts. Keep in mind to avoid any kind of photography in these place.

Tourist vehicles lined to get permit


Seeing army personnel and their machineries at an altitude of over 17,000 feet in the midst of an unforgiving cold desert and the hardships they endure just to serve the wellbeing of the nation, just gives goosebumps. No words to explain that feeling you get.

Gurudongmar Lake, present at an altitude of 17,200 feet, literally in the lap of the might Himalayas, is a miracle by itself. It is considered holy by Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. Legends has it that when the nearby villages were facing water shortage, they prayed to the Buddhist monk / saint Lord Padmasambhava, who touched the frozen lake and a part of it melted to provide the locals with the required water for their use. It is said that even to this day, the lake does not freeze completely even during peak winter. There are similar legends across all faiths, which adds to the mystery of the lake being a sacred one!

Gurudongmar Lake - Altitude 17,200 ft

One might wonder why there is a water scarcity when there are so much of streams and falls. Well, those are only on the way and once we go beyond a certain altitude, like the Thangu Village which is on the way to Gurudongmar lake and at an altitude of 14,000 to 15,000 feet, the Himalayas is nothing more than a desert covered in snow - tundra. The weather can be just unforgiving during the winter and water might get scarce when everything around you freezes.

Himalayas
Desert or not, hot or cold, the Himalayas has MAJESTY written in capitals all over it from whichever angle you see it! I have see the Alps, as you may have read here, but the Himalayas is in a league of its own which no other mountain in the world can even reach to. You have to just see it to believe it!

Snow covered rocks - Himalayas

Fire and Ice - Himalayas is a proper tundra

Gorges and Streams

One need to be a bit careful while near the Gurudongmar lake. The oxygen levels will be a bit low due to the very high altitude. So do not strain yourself too much and consciously breath deep to ensure you get enough oxygen.

I spent some time there and started on our way back. We stopped once again at the Thangu Village were we had stopped while coming. We had planned to have our lunch in one of the small eat outs run by the locals. Simple food with great hospitality was the hallmark of such place we visited throughout our travel in Sikkim.

A small shack in Thangu Village which serves delicious simple food to tourists


Considering the length of the trip and so much to share, I will update the rest in the next part. I obviously don't want to have the post go very lengthy.

In the next part I will share some photos from the rest of the trip to Northern Sikkim and West Sikkim along with some things to consider while planning a trip to Sikkim.

Until then enjoy the photos here :)

River and Mountains of Himalayas

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Europe Trip

Alps on the Austrian side

Road trip in Europe

Here are some more high resolution photos of Europe

It was the Easter weekend and I was in Europe. Along with a couple of colleagues we decided to have a trip for 3 days in the Europe. Planning went till the last moment and finally decided we will travel south into Austria and if time permits to Italy as well.

The next morning we rented a car from Frankfurt airport and start quite late around 11:00 AM. On the way we decided we will quickly check-out the Neuschwanstein Castle in Fossen. It was a de-tour from the initial plan, but still decided to check out. Apparently, it turned out that this castle was the inspiration for the castle in Disney logo.

It was close to 6 PM in the evening when we got there, but still had enough light to see around.

View of the Neuschwanstein Castle from a bridge

Sun setting behind the Castle

After roaming around a bit around the castle, we decided to proceed on to Salzburg in Austria. It was around 11 in the night by the time we reached there. Thankfully we had booked a hotel, in advance, for the night stay. The next day we decided to roam around the Alstadt (old town) of Austria.

This place is the birthplace of Mozart. Definitely a place to visit for all music lovers! Since we had limited time we did not explore all the places. We took about half a day to roam around the places near the Salzbach river and the old town.

River walk with the old town on other side

The good thing which I observed in both Germany and Austria is that the development has never interfered or destroyed the old town and the culture, which is a good learning for every other developing country that are fast expanding their urban cities.

Salzbach river with the old and new towns on either side

After exploring the place till afternoon, we did a quick lunch and proceeded on to Italy from there. My idea was to return back to Germany in a different route and explore a couple of other places, but then decided the Alps between Austria and Italy was worth driving through.

We reached the little town of Bolzano Bozen in the Italian border, well past 10 in the night. The next day we decided to check out a few places and head back to Germany. Since it was the Easter Sunday, the place was completely deserted with very minimum to no one in the streets.

Monastery lit by the morning sun

Deserted town of Sankt Ulrich


This also happened to be one of the skiing sites in the Italian Alps. Since the summer had already begun, the ski resorts were pretty much closed. Nevertheless a quaint place to roam around for a few minutes.

Stream in the Ulrich town

Eater Eggs and the St. Ulrich town

Since there was not much in the town, we decided to head back to Germany through Austria again. Even most of the eat outs and restaurants were also closed, so we were quite famished and had to find some place to eat when we entered Austria. Luckily the maps showed some place available with a small de-tour and we decided to go there. When we turned the maps on again for checking the route to Germany, it took us through a different route from the one were earlier taking.

Most often during my travels in India or anywhere, such de-tours or off the road place have always been a visual delight. This route was no exception. With just 10 minutes away from the restaurant we stopped for brunch, we were treated with a splendid view of the Alps with the grasslands and meadows.

The Alps!
Every turn would present a view like this and will make you want to stop right there and take everything in before proceeding further.

Alpine Meadows

A wood cabin in the lap of the Alpine meadows

A small village in the Austria - Italy border

We returned back to Germany in the evening the same day after a good long drive. Since the next day too was a holiday in Germany, I decided to roam around Frankfurt in the evening.

For a big city, Frankfurt is not without it charm. As I said before, the development of the modern city has never been in the way of retaining the old charm that talks loads about the culture and heritage.

Church across the River Main

The cloudy weather accentuated the lively place.

Modern city on the other side of the River Main

Winds creating magical painting with the clouds as canvas and light as the paint!

The pedestrian bridge that bridges the old and new across River Main

This turned out to be one memorable trip to Europe. I do have certain gripes that I could not spend more time in certain place due to the time constraint, but nevertheless a memorable trip in many ways!

Castle Heidelberg and the River Neckar

Saturday, 23 February 2019

A Day in Switzerland



Switzerland or Swiss will be high on the list of anyone who would like to visit a place for its sheer natural beauty. So it was a like a dream come true (well almost), when I landed in Zurich airport in the last week of January.

It was an official trip for a week, so did not get much time to explore the place. However, we made sure that we will explore the place on the last day of our stay, before we get on to the flight back home.

The public transport in Switzerland is so well connected that you can travel to any part of the country in public transport and in some cases until the last mile!

Zurich on a cold afternoon


We had 1 afternoon and the forenoon the following day to explore what we can. So on the first day we decided to pay a visit to the Rhine falls, which apparently is the largest waterfalls in Europe!

By the time we got down at the Laufen-Uhwiesen station it was already 4:00PM. Considering the time of the year, we did not have much time. Adding to that was the drizzle that started the moment we reached there. By the time we got the tickets to falls and reached the falls, it was almost around 4:30PM. The falls was magnificent!

ZURICH


Truly a sight to see and behold if you are in the Swiss. Unfortunately because of the gloomy weather, we could not spend much time there and the photographs does not do justice to the beauty of the place. I am wishing to get one more chance to go to this place while the weather is clear.

The magnificent Rhine Falls

Apart from the falls, the restaurant at the starting point of the falls is another sight to behold. The stone architecture and the cobble stone paved pathway are typical of the historical town that it is!

Classic Architecture drenched in rain

The next day the weather was a bit better with the sun showing up now and then albeit the misty morning. We had until 3:00PM to spend. After much research in Google, decided to visit the Mt. Pilatus in the city of Lucerne. A trip to Switzerland cannot go abegging without a visit to the Alps!

Though there are higher peaks in the Alps like the Mt. Titlis for instance, those are quite far from Zurich and we will not be able to return back by 3:00PM. Hence we settled with Mt. Pilatus. It peaks at about 2100mts above MSL and offer some beautiful view of the Alps!

Once again thanks to the exceptionally well connected public transportation of Switzerland, we were able to get the tickets for the entire travel in the Zurich Main Station, including the cable car ride to the top of Mt. Pilatus!

The magical Lucerne City and Lake on a Misty Afternoon


We decided to start very early in the morning, so we can spend enough time outdoors. We had a train to Lucerne from Zurich Main as early as 6:51AM. We reached Lucerne around 7:40AM. This town looks as if has jumped out of some classical fairy tale! The old charm of its architecture and bridges can captivate any traveler! It is so unfortunate that we did not have enough time to explore and enjoy this beautiful city, except for a few minutes in the afternoon once we returned from Mt. Pilatus.

We reached the cable car station by 8:00AM. Since we arrived quite early, the crowd was lesser. Could be because of the weather. The cable car ride is in 3 legs with wonderful views in every leg! Here are some photos of beautiful Alps!

Tunnels that offer a view!

Early arrivers getting ready for a Ski

A restaurant in the middle of the Alpine trees

Morning sun pushing hard against the mist giving a golden glow

I hope I will get another chance to visit this beautiful place again in another season to see the other side of this beautiful natural country!

The Summit