Saturday, June 8, 2019


We started on our 120 km drive from Gangtok in East Sikkim to Pelling in West Sikkim, via Ravangla (South Sikkim). This would take some 5 - 6 hours on the mountain stretch, excluding our halt at the Buddha Park, Ravangla and lunch. 

One family from our group wanted to go to Namchi village too (for an additional cost of Rs 3000 for their vehicle). So they started an hour early. The chief attraction there is the hill which is the home to the largest statue of Guru Padmasambhava. The scenic view of the valley from there is supposedly breathtaking. Otherwise Namchi is a quiet little town mostly inhabited by Sherpas. The rest of us were in no mood for extra road travel in the ghat section where the roads weren't in great shape.

So the rest of us started in our Innova cars at 8.30 am after breakfast. We were to first visit the Buddha Park of Ravangla on the way to Pelling.

The coffee break after two hours was welcome - we could stretch our legs a bit.
Another hour later, we reached Rabong. Very close to it is 
Ravangla, where the Buddha Park, also known as Tathagata Tsal is located.
As we entered, our eyes were riveted on the majestic, gigantic statue of the Buddha, towering tall amidst the colorful park engulfed in greenery.
The 130-foot (40 m) statue of the Buddha, we gathered, was built and installed in the place through the joint efforts of the Sikkim government and its people for boosting pilgrimage and tourism in the region. It was consecrated on 25 March 2013 by the 14th Dalai Lama to mark the occasion of the 2550th birth anniversary of Gautama Buddha. The place became a stop on the 'Himalayan Buddhist Circuit'. 
We reached there at noon and it was bright and sunny. However, on most days, we were told, it was foggy and rainy out there.  
We were lucky and we clicked photos against the awesome backdrop. 
We were allotted an hour to go around the place.

For those who shied away from the numerous steps leading down and another set of steps leading up to the statue, there were alternatives. You could take a nice, long, stress-free walk along the circumference of the park along the paved path. Better still (?), you could take a battery operated vehicle (sort of golf cart) which would use the same path to drop you off and then bring you back for a couple of hundred rupees.

We walked along leisurely, stopping to admire the flowers, taking photos .... and then reached the place, 
where prayer wheels lined one side and statues in various yoga poses, the other side.
Then we reached the back side of the statue - the cloth portion was black and exposed body part golden and a treat to watch, against the colorful patterns and motifs adorning the pedestal.

We went around and reached the front, which was so majestic!

We walked down a few steps to see the Buddha statue in its full glory. Oh how huge and awesome!
There were large, beautifully carved urns near the entrance, 

which itself looked invitingly colorful.

Photography was prohibited inside. As we went around the place, we experienced tranquility and peace. The main idol is housed in a glass enclosure with paintings covering all the sides including the ceiling. It’s like a fully covered art gallery. The inside of the temple is artistically covered with life size huge paintings from the various stages of Buddha’s life and proves to be a really spiritually enlightening journey, as you walk along the sloping pathway to reach the various levels. All in all, an unforgettable experience.

As we came out, we saw the gathering white clouds descending. Fog was engulfing the place. What a change in the weather in just 30 minutes!

This time we came down the steps and then climbed the next fleet of steps - they were not too bad as the steps were not steep.

We were surprised to see that the Buddha statue had gone hiding behind the fog and would peep out just for a few seconds as if playing hide and seek with the fresh set of visitors.

We used the restroom, which was really well-maintained.

We didn't fail to rotate the prayer wheels lined up near the exit, for our wishes to be granted.

We paid a visit to the souvenir shop there and bought some really good ones - 

the prayer wheel, rotating even in mild sunlight (Rs 150 /-) and a cute little marble Buddha statue.

Beautiful, colorful collages near the exit attracted everyone.

We sat and relaxed for a few minutes, while waiting for the rest of the group.

We then drove to the nearby local eatery, 
the modest and homely 'Tathagata Kitchen' for lunch, where we got a taste of the local cuisine.
The green leafy vegetable was called 'ningru' and had a particular flavor. Everything was cooked in olive oil, we were told - simple, tasty, healthy food; the 'crispy karela' (bitter gourd) was the hot favorite.

As we were finishing, we were joined by our friends who had gone to Namchi Village. They were happy with their 'darshan' of  Guru Padmasambhava. After lunch, they were to proceed to Buddha Park, where the fog would have played spoilsport with them.

At 2 pm, we started our drive to Pelling, located in the icy heights of the Eastern Himalayas. We could have breathtaking views of mountains with white fluffy clouds resting on them.

The roads were really narrow, with enough room only for one vehicle in many places. But the drivers were experts, and very patient and cooperative. They would halt at the 'arm' to let the vehicle from the opposite direction pass. Sometimes as per convenience, the required vehicle would back out till it reached a spot with sufficient space to resolve the 'confrontation'.

We reached our hotel, 'The Chumbi Resort' at 3.30 pm.

We were accorded the traditional welcome with 'kadha' - sort of white stole.
Then we enjoyed the special tea in a special 'double-layered' bowl.
This resort had cottages with spacious rooms, with a beautiful sit-out.

Ours was a nice big room.

The wash room was extra large - it had the provision of keeping our luggage there.

When we moved aside the curtain of our large windows, we let out a squeal of delight! What a view!
Snow-clad mountain ranges right there! We were informed that the highest peak Kanchenjunga would be visible too in clear weather. This really excited us.

Of course we couldn't get great pics due to the fog.

We rested for some three hours before going down for dinner which was great - right from soup to the three desserts.

We continued to hang around with our group in the lobby till 10 and then retired to bed, promising to be up early the next day for the sunrise at 5 am.

We were up at 4.30 and rushed to our window only to heave a sigh of disappointment. 
The mountain ranges were visible but due to the clouds, we couldn't get to view the golden rays of the sun dazzling on the snowy slopes.
We rushed to the terrace of our building in great hopes for a better view.
But nope, no luck again. We returned to our rooms, disappointed. But we had one more morning - the next, and we hoped we would have better luck.

As we went down for breakfast, we could get a better view of the mountains.
Our tour of the town of Pelling started at 8 am after a hearty breakfast.

Pelling is a small little charming town known for its magnificent views of the mighty Kanchenjunga. The town has a rich cultural history and the fresh air emanating from here makes this place one of the cleanest and most loved places in the whole of North India.

The first halt was at Penyang Monastery.
This is a three-storeyed building with steep steps, which houses paintings in natural colors - some of them renovated and restored. Another floor is lined with parchment files, carefully and neatly lined up and stored. Then there are Buddha statues in various poses. Photography is not allowed inside.

After this we left for our next destination, Kanchenjunga Waterfalls. It took us one hour to reach there - blame it on bad, narrow roads as well as the fog and drizzle.
The place had numerous visitors thronging the place. 

To get the view of the full glory of the mighty waterfall, 
you had to cross the narrow, wobbly bridge and walk over the stones and water to get closer to the waterfall. To make matters worse, umbrellas also were present in large numbers.

My better half had already gone close to the waterfall and was all excited that I too join him.

And I stood away, with some sort of phobia that I might slip on the stones - broken bones was the last thing I wanted during the tour. I tried to argue that I could see the waterfall but he insisted that it was a fraction of the close-up view. The 76 year old's enthusiasm did finally rub on to the 67 year old and there I was, waddling my way gingerly. Help came from unexpected quarters. A young lady came forward and held my hand and boosted my confidence to walk on and get close to the waterfall. Surprisingly the stones were not slippery.

She also obliged us by clicking our pics. Wasn't I glad to have made it! I realized there was an older lady as well as a couple of young men, assisting persons like me who needed help. We rewarded their services with a token amount. A nice way to offer service as well as to earn cash. God bless them!

The long return drive along the mountains was particularly scary on the bad, narrow roads, compounded by the fog causing poor visibility. 

On the way we saw the Rimbi Falls.

We reached the serene and tranquil Khecheopalri Lake, 34 km from Pelling. The lake is situated amidst pristine forest at an altitude of 5,600 ft. The aerial view of the lake shows that it is shaped like a foot. According to legends, this lake is identified as the footprints of Goddess Tara / Lord Shiva / Lord Buddha.
The holy Khecheopalri lake, a hot favorite of pilgrims and tourists, and enveloped in a dense forest cover of temperate vegetation and bamboo, is not located along the main road. It is about a ten to fifteen minutes walk to the lake through a lovely tropical forest. 
On the way is a small temple. 

At the entrance, there is a small stupa.

Colorful prayer flags sway in the breeze.

Another interesting spectacle was of the little mound of tiny stones stacked one upon another for wishes to be granted.

There is a walkway to the lake, lined with prayer wheels, prayer flags and Tibetan inscriptions, which add to the piety of the place. People who wish to offer prayers at this 'wish-fulfilling' lake, have to remove their footwear, and use the walkway to get to the lake to offer prayers and incense.

The most interesting thing about this lake is that the leaves are not allowed to float in the lake which is taken care of by the birds that pick up the leaves as soon as they drop on the surface of the lake. 

We drove back to our hotel for lunch. We were glad that the sightseeing in Pelling was over - we could have a nice rest in the afternoon ( a rare privilege during the tours).

In the evening, after tea, we gathered for the entertainment program, arranged exclusively for our group in the hotel's conference hall.
There was a one-hour Sikkimese dance program by three talented young girls, who we were told were studying in Junior College.
The artistes stole our hearts with their poise and grace as they presented dance numbers and we showered them with our appreciation.

This was followed by a 'free for all' - and everyone let their hair down and shook a leg.

After dinner we retired to bed keeping our fingers crossed for the cloud Gods to be benevolent on us the next morning so that we could see golden streaks on Kanchenjunga at sunrise.

We woke at 4.45 am and got ready for the spectacle. We were in luck. As the sun rose at 5 am, its rays dazzled the mountain ranges in gold and silver.

We managed to click pictures of the glittering golden streaks on the mountain tops. But believe me, the photos do not do justice to the actual visuals we were blessed to witness.

Mission accomplished, all of us were in great cheer.

Having got up early, we got to spend some time in the sprawling lounge, yes - for social networking!

After a good breakfast, we lovingly bid adieu to idyllic Pelling and started our drive to Darjeeling.

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