I came to know about Silk Route first time from various trip reports in IndiaMike long back. And since then the idea to explore this part of Sikkim was in mind, but couldn’t materialize it somehow due to other assignments. I have been to North Sikkim, South Sikkim and West Sikkim previously, so I had fair enough idea about Sikkim but not Silk Route which constitutes the East part of Sikkim. Though we were aware that there would be huge rush in Puja vacations, but this year I had already extinguished so much leaves, as practically I was on holiday every month. Starting from February in Bhutan, March in Jhallong, April in South & West Sikkim, June in Bangalore (though this was due to annual checkup of my wife, but made a short trip to Coorg), July was planned for Latpanchar but later on a verge, went to Goa. And now, I was planning for October!! Anyone working in IT Industry would raise their eyes!!
Thus I decided, not to take a single leave in these remaining two months to convince my manager for this holiday. So I thought of clubbing Puja Holidays with 1 or 2 leaves for this trip.
Planning : TL;DR 😛
Well every budget and do-it-on-your-own traveler like me, loves this stage the most. This is one of the most exciting stage for peoples like me, as most thing began here!! For me, it was, on a fine evening at Tea and Snacks, I placed the idea of this trip to Silk Route in East Sikkim among my family travel group. And guess what? My mom and my aunt just shooed it away stating, “dhur esob choto choto trip e amra zamu na, tui tor bou re loiya ja” (We are not going on such small trips, you go with your wife). Yes, who doesn’t loves long trip, but considering my situation, asking for more leaves would raise more eyebrows from senior management. Anyway, I started planning things. Trip Advisor didn’t helped much here though, but India Mike came to rescue with such awesome trip reports being shared there. I went through almost all past reports, that have been shared by various travelers out there, to understand the daily activities and the destinations.
With help of various such trip reports, I quickly made up an itinerary like NJP – Sillery Gaon – Reshikhola – Zuluk (actually spelled as Dzuluk) – Nathang (actually spelled as Gnathang) – Mankhim – NJP. But soon, I had to dismiss this plan, as my mom and my aunt was not getting agree to settle in anything less than 10 days. So I promised them to take Pelling which they wanted to visit badly during our trip to Gangtok and North Sikkim last time.
And then I came up with the base destinations of Silk Route, namely, Icche Gaon / Ramdhura, Sillery Gaon, Reshikhola, Aritar and Mankhim. One can use any one of these as base destination for starting their journey to Silk Route. I must say each destination offers different charm, so staying at one and passing through other would be an injustice. And to tell you the truth, I just wanted to stay at all these destination. But….that’s not possible, due to the number of days in hand and also as I cannot return on the same route covering different destination each way due to my plan of including Pelling.
So with help of Arup Da and some other members from India Mike, and from pictures shared in in various Trip Reports at India Mike and Google Images, I fixed up Reshikhola and Mankhim. I just loved the pictures of Reshikhola, so didn’t gave another thought on it. The attractive point of Aritar is to stay beside the Lampokhari Lake which seemed to be fine for Honeymoon Couples, but the same didn’t seem attractive much to me. So I safely kept Aritar as a sightseeing tough & go destination. Mankhim is the hill top of Aritar from where one can get some great views on a clear day as well as the Lampokhari Lake. And thus Mankhim seemed to be a perfect destination as I always tend to love clouds stucked in hills. I’d have surely chosen Sillery Gaon, if I had more days in hand. But then, I thought of covering Pedong – Icche Gaon / Ramdhura – Sillery Gaon on another trip next time. You know, there’s always a next time with me!! With the base destinations been fixed, it was time to plan Pelling through Gangtok. On our last visit to South & West Sikkim, we missed out Yuksom and Namchi as one of our friend caught fever. So I thought of covering them too this time!!
Anyway, the plan was almost fixed with the route being NJP – Reshikhola (1N) – Mankhim (1N) – Zuluk (1N) – Nathang (1N) – Gangtok (1N) – Pelling (2N) – NJP. This seemed to be perfect, as I’ll be done with 3 leaves only. And then I realized my 3rd leave is on a Friday, so what’s the point on catching train on a Friday? I can safely include another day as Saturday and Sunday is off day anyway. And thus I thought of halting at Yuksom for one night.
I started calling up the homestay owners along Silk Route, as during the Puja vacations, booking starts as early as from April. I got a quote of 850/- per person per night from Reshikhola, Mankhim and Zuluk (Dzuluk). But Miss Pema Sherpa from Nathang (Gnathang) quoted 900/- per person per day. So I called up Sebastian Pradhan from Reshikhola again but he was out for some work and asked to contact his daughter Pranita Pradhan. She said, she can arrange all the destinations for Rs. 850/- per head. That seemed reasonable, as I don’t have to transfer advance to each and every homestay owners separately and I was getting a flat rate of 850/- per person per day in average. But all of them I spoke to, said they will charge Rs. 3500/- per day for vehicle, which is absolutely a great offer considering Puja vacations and normal rates.
Last time while at Pachu Residency in Pelling, I noticed the tariff of the rooms we were staying in were mentioned as 1600/-, but we got it for 1500/- from Dipankar Da. When I asked Mr. Prantik, the owner, about such discrepancy and how am I getting it at a lower price from a tour operator instead if I contact the hotel directly? He smiled and went ahead to clear my confusion. He said, most hoteliers have some contract with tour operators for a special price because of the number of tourist they send every year. Now it’s upto the tour operator to make decision about the final rate. He further said, many times he came across unethical tour operators who charge Rs. 2000/- from tourists, for rooms that he offers for Rs. 1200/-. And in the end, when the tourist arrives having a mindset of a room for Rs. 2000/- often leaves unhappy and gives bad reviews. Because at the end of the day the room is of Rs. 1200/- not of Rs. 2000/-. So when a tourist is paying such amount, s/he would obviously have a picture of room of such value. He thinks keeping such profit margin is clearly unethical and it also affects the reputation of the hotel.
Anyway, so I knew I will get fair price from my old and reliable contact, Dipankar Da, than if I try to book directly in South and West Sikkim. So one fine morning I called him up and shared by plan. But the same evening he called me up, and said, he have modified the plan and increased two more days. Everyone reading this, please don’t this otherwise, as I have such good terms with him that he being an avid traveler, keeps me suggesting new destination and modifies my plan accordingly. So if you are contacting him for your own reasons, rest assured, he’s one of the best and most ethical tour operator I came across. And as I already said, he being an avid traveler can suggest you some great offbeat places at reasonable cost. Even though I requested him, not to do that, as I won’t be able to manage my leaves anymore, but he kept on insisting for the same and said it’d be a really good experience and he want me to explore this destination otherwise he wouldn’t have insisted this much. I knew, he never suggests anything wrong, and there must be something exotic about this. So I readily agreed, but kept on thinking of managing another leave somewhere in my unconscious mind.
I was in Coorg at that time when booking window of IRCTC was about to open, so I asked him to manage the tickets as I was not sure whether I’d able to do that from mobile at such rush condition. Though he tried hard but it still went to WL 133. But I managed to secure the return tickets on my own as we were back to Kolkata by then. Now that the tickets were booked, planning were done, it was time to transfer the advance to Sebastian Pradhan to secure the booking. Even though I had developed good relationship with Gopi and I was constantly in touch with him, I thought of making it through Dipankar Da only, as either way there’d be no price difference, but contacting him directly would surely make Dipankar Da offended specially when I’m booking all the hotels through him. As I was loosing out nothing, I thought of not to take such move and asked Dipankar Da to assign us with Gopi only. Gopi was already aware of this, as I used to speak with him every once in a while.
Finally, before transferring advance, for the last time, I thought of checking Silk Route portion once with Dipankar Da, and he offered me the same rate as of Sebastian Pradhan / Pranita Pradhan. Last time on my trip to South & West Sikkim, he offered me the car for 3300/- per day. So I enquired with him about the possibility to travel in same rate again 😛 I knew, it would be next to impossible due to Puja rush, but Dipankar Da assured he’ll try his best to ensure the same rate in both Silk Route and with Gopi.
Thus without giving it a second thought, I shared the details of discussion I had with the homestay owners and asked him to go ahead with the bookings for Silk Route too. Either way I’d be loosing nothing, as no homestay owners throughout Silk Route can offer me the rate of 3300/- per day for vehicle. Even if Dipankar Da couldn’t manage it, I’d be paying the same amount, but if he could, I’d be on the gainer side 😛
One fine morning, Dipankar Da called up and said, to check “Ei-Samay” or “Ananda Bazar”, bengali daily immediately as some special trains have been announced due to Durga Puja. He already informed me not to worry, when my ticket got in to WL, as it was sure that Puja Speical trains would be announced and asked me not to cancel the tickets anyhow, as many times Railway accommodates WL tickets on some special trains automatically.
He further informed that he have altered the itinerary on the South and West Sikkim part and made it like Gangtok – Ravangla – Yuksom – Pelling – Hee Gaon (Hee Patal). He further said that, the accomodation at Yuksom is not yet guaranteed due to lack of availability, in that case he’d make us accommodate in Ravangla for 2 nights. I was bit reluctant to do that, but he ensured, it’d not be a bad experience. And if at any point things get available at Yuksom, he’ll shift us there. As I have been to Ravangla before, I was unable to judge what’s the point of staying at Ravangla for 2 nights. But as Yuksom had no availability, I had no way. And regarding Hee Gaon, I kinda guessed that, because last time on our trip to South and West Sikkim, he was staying there when we were in Kaluk. So I somewhat guessed that, he’ll be making us stay there, as on various occasions he told me to visit there if I get a chance.
I kept a close eye from that day on IRCTC, as no one was sure when the booking window for the same will be opened. Finally one morning, I found it to be marked as “#” beside the availability which indicated that the booking was about to open that day. I got ready and quickly opened up excel and noted down the name and details of the passengers, so that I can quickly copy paste the same to extend my chance. And guess what? luckily I was able to score a confirmed ticket on Sealdah – Kamakhya Special!!
In between, Dipankar Da called me up one day to inform that he was able to secure our booking at Yuksom as some tourist have cancelled their visit recently. Good enough!! I was happy that I’ll be able to stay in Yuksom, which was a long pending plan. But in the meantime, I realized that, we’ll be changing hotels every day that means it can be rushing through the places without feeling it, which I particularly don’t like. But it was too late to re-think. But again, most of the places I have been to already, so it didn’t mattered much.
Here’s the final itinerary for your reference…
Day 1 : NJP – Reshikhola
Day 2 : Reshikhola – Mankhim
Day 3 : Mankhim – Zuluk (Dzuluk)
Day 4 : Zuluk (Dzuluk) – Nathang (Gnathang)
Day 5 : Nathang (Gnathang) – Gangtok
Day 6 : Gangtok – Ravangla via Namchi
Day 7 : Ravangla – Yuksom via Tashiding
Day 8 : Yuksom – Pelling via Pelling Sightseeing
Day 9 : Pelling – Hee Gaon / Hee Patal (Chaya Taal) via Singhore, Uttarey, Dentam
Day 10 : Hee Gaon / Hee Patal (Chaya Taal) – NJP
7th October : The Beginning…
Gradually, the Mahalaya passed by, and things started feeling differently. Puja specific advertisement banners and hoardings started appearing here and there. It was full of Puja environment everywhere and add the excitement of the tour on top of that 😛 I was feeling very lazy to go to office anymore, leave alone any concentration on the work. It was like everyone was anxiously waiting for the “Mahasashti” (6th Day).
(Un)luckily I was offered to change my shift to UK time for some production issues and I grabbed this chance to get my leaves approved!! And thus, maybe, my manager agreed due to the hard work of last 2 months without a single leave and late night work hours. Finally the “Mahasashti” (6th Day) arrived!! People started hopping pandals from “Chaturthi” (4th day) only. Though our train was at 11:55 PM in the midnight, but my dad didn’t wanted to take any risk, and asked us to start for Sealdah before dusk. As post that, the roads will be full of traffic jam and he didn’t want to take any risk.
Well, one cannot argue and win with him, so we agreed, and I called up my manager to request Work From Home which got approved without much issue, as most of the people did same thing. Though it was work from home, but I spent most of the day charging my camera, checking memory cards for the last time and all.
The day passed like a breeze, and we started for Sealdah at around 5:30 PM and we managed to reach Sealdah within 7:00 PM. Sealdah was looking completely different this time. It was fully decorated with lights and “dhakiyas” (the drummers) were playing “dhaks” (drums) all around. But we were bit skeptical about how to spend this 4 hours now. Me along with my wife, Suparna and my cousin, Akash went ahead to check out Big Bazaar. We did some window shopping there roaming around here and there on AC (ofcourse we didn’t bought a single thing :P)!! And then we roamed around here and there around Sealdah to pass time and at around 9:00 PM we went ahead for dinner.
The bad news was both Darjeeling Mail and Padatik Express started late which indicated that ours would be late too. Although we were more or less aware of that, being a special train, it’d be late anyway and dirty as hell. Soon our train was announced and it arrived on platform. This being a full AC Train, the coaches were that of Rajdhani and Duronto had been re-used. Surprisingly, we found the train to be neat and clean and very well maintained even being a special train. May be due to the coaches of well known trains being re-used. But whatever it is, we liked it. Even the linens and towels provided were neat and clean. It’s good that Railways have improved and we felt like value for money. We generally don’t travel in AC at all, so we were excited a bit for this too!!
The train blewed whistle and started towards it destination at around 12:10 AM, 15 Minutes late than scheduled departure time. We pretty much had nothing to do, so we spent some time chit-chatting among ourselves and then we all hit the bed with dreams of Mt. K in our mind 🙂
8th October : Day 1 : NJP – Reshikhola
Our train was bit late as expected and reached NJP at around 12:30 (instead of scheduled departure time of 10:05 AM), straight 2.5 hours late. In the meanwhile, we already informed Arpan, our driving partner for the Silk Route leg about the train being late. After coming out of the NJP Station, we called him up and met with him. He and his agency’s manager Mr. Mohan was waiting for us and upon noticing us greeted us warmly. After a small chit chat we started for our first destination Reshikhola.
We asked Arpan to stop at some ATM where he seems would be feasible. In the meanwhile, Mr. Chumbey Bhutia from Prakriti Eco Retreat, Reshikhola called up many times to inquire about out whereabouts. We informed him that we probably won’t be able to take our lunch there as we just started from NJP and the road through Siliguri Hong Kong market was full of traffic jam, so we’d be having our lunch on the way. Arpan stopped at few ATM’s but we were out of our luck as all the ATM’s were out of cash.
Soon we crossed Kalijhora followed by Sevok. Previously we thought of having our lunch here, but the road was full of traffic jam, thus we asked Arpan to carry on. Arpan gave us a stopover at Lohapool to have our lunch. It was already 2:45 by then. We were bit worried about ATM though, as we were not carrying much cash, and later on we won’t be getting any ATM throughout Silk Route. Arpan informed us that he’ll be taking the route through Rangpo, as it’d be full of traffic jam through Kalimpong, and thus he assured us that we’d get cash easily at ATM’s in Rangpo.
He further went on saying that, it’s very problematic to get cash in Siliguri and this region, because of this Puja vacation. Most tourists take out huge amount of cash and due to this locals face problems too. I asked him in that case how does local people manage it during Puja vacations? He informed us that local people takes out necessary cash much before this Puja vacation in order to avoid any unwanted situations.
After having our lunch and a small break we started for Rangpo at around 3:15 PM. It took us around 1.5 hours to reach Rangpo. We sought his suggestion for picking up liquors while at Lohapool, he told us that he’d give a stopover at Rangpo for ATM and asked us to pickup liquors from there only, as it’d be cheaper in Sikkim. Again unluckily, due to some occasion, all the ATM’s in Rangpo market were closed. We checked out 4-5 of them, but the shutter was down for all of them.
Without wasting much time, we bought a 750ml of BP (1Ltr bottles are not common and not available in Sikkim) and started proceeding to our today’s destination Reshikhola. Now my mom, dad and aunt was getting tensed due to this ATM issue. But I assured them, that we won’t be needing much cash throughout Silk Route leg as all being homestays with fooding and lodging package, everything is paid. Dipankar Da had already paid Arpan from the advance that I have transferred to him, so we don’t even have much scope to use cash anywhere till Gangtok. So I asked them to keep calm and not to worry. We’d be fine with whatever we were carrying.
In the meanwhile, Mr. Chumbey Bhutia called up 3 times, worrying about us for being so late. I handovered the phone to Arpan, and he explained the traffic throughout the route and bad condition of the road. Finally we reached Reshikhola at around 6:00 PM. We called up Mr. Chumbey Bhutia, and he informed us that, two porters are already waiting there, and they would guide us to the homestay. Arpan, by noticing curiosity in our face, explained us that, Reshikhola is on the Bengal side, but the point where the car drops you, is in Sikkim side. Thus one have to walk around 1KM (around 45 minutes – 1 hour), first by crossing the Reshi River through the wooden pools and then through the forest to reach the homestays. He further explained us that, one can also come from Bengal side, but there’s no wooden pool to cross the river, so except summer time when the river is much gentle enabling the car to cross the river easily, one cannot reach these homestays on other season.
A feeling of thrill ran through our veins!! We felt very excited and adventurous hearing this. Though we were travelling with family, all in their 60’s, my dad being 65+, my mom who is 62 and my aunt who is at 60, still they ensured, it’s kinda adventurous for them too. And as they are used to travelling, it won’t be an issue!! Arpan bid us good bye and said he’ll be here tomorrow by 10 AM. Though we asked him to stay with us, but he being from nearby village, went to his home instead. The boys packed the luggage in a basket same as like they do in Tea Gardens and handed over two torch to us. One of them asked us to follow him and another one said he’ll walk behind us to ensure nothing goes wrong. It was all dark, so we stepped slowly. After walking for around 15 minutes we reached the pool that we need to cross. There were 2 of them. Upon noticing few homestays beside the pool we thought to be one of them. But the porter boys confirmed that they were opened recently, and ours is still a bit far away. We kept walking through the forest which seemed to be denser in the dark.
Finally after walking for around another 40 – 45 minutes we reached the homestays. First one we crossed was Mr. Sebastian’s Homestay, Reshi Eco Resort and then the last one being ours Prakriti Eco Retreat, belonging to Mr. Chumbey Bhutia. Upon noticing us, Mr. Bhutia came forward and welcomed us warmly and showed us our cottages. It was really cozy and clean. We already fell in love with the atmosphere there. Staying in a cottage beside the river hearing it’s chirping sound made us felt right within the nature. The boys came forward to ask whether we’d like to have anything, we immediately replied “Tea” all of us at a same time!!. Mr. Bhutia excused himself and asked us to get fresh and said that in the mean time our tea will be here.
After some time, the boys came up with Tea and some onion pakoda for us. Mr. Bhutia too came up and asked me to join him at the balcony. After some time, my dad, mom, aunt, cousin and wife came up and joined us too. We discussed about various things from Nature to politics to his love for Football. He told us about his family and childhood!! He also informed us, that Reshikhola even being such a great destination, most people doesn’t likes to come up here due to the distance one have to walk from the drop point. He further went on saying “Everyone wants to get dropped right in front of hotel”. We knew, it was the bitter truth.
He further told us about, how much he loves travelling. He told us stories of his experience of bike tour to various destinations including Bhutan. I too shared my part of stories about travelling and he was happy to know that I have been to Bhutan too!! In the meanwhile it started drizzling a bit. He showed us some local drinks that they take, homemade with “kadu” and generally taken with a pierced bamboo being used as a straw. My mom, being spent her school life at Kurseong, identified this thing immediately!! And it was then he guessed that she might be well versed in Nepali!! Yes my mom can speak and understand Nepali quite well due to her whole childhood being spent at Kurseong.
Mr. Bhutia, excused himself informing us that, our dinner would be ready in some time and till then asked us to enjoy the nature, and to go near the River. I thought the road will be full of leeches, but he ensured nothing such exists here, so not to worry!! He further told us to wake up in the morning early to enjoy the nature. Me, Akash & Suparna went nearby the river to enjoy a smoke at such awesome weather. Akash was quite happy to came at such destination and thanked me to choosing this one in the itinerary!!
Later we were called for dinner, and we were served hot rice / roti, dal, sabji, chicken and egg. Mr. Bhutia came forward to inform us that, he adjusted the eggs as we didn’t had our lunch. But we really felt there was no need to do such thing. Post dinner, we spent some time chit-chatting among ourselves and had a peg each, before hitting the bed.
9th October : Day 2 : Reshikhola – Mankhim :
My mom, dad and aunt being early risers, were up by 5 generally!! We woke up at around 6 o’ clock and literally rushed outside with the camera to capture the splendid views!! Me and Akash, went nearby the river and spent some time clicking pictures and having a smoke. Mr. Bhutia came up and wished us Good Morning 🙂 He further informed us that our breakfast would be ready in an hour. So went ahead to get ready, as we thought of start by 9, as it’d take around 30 – 45 minutes to walk up there. Later we went ahead to a shade nearby the river and it was like, we sat there getting soaked ourselves into the nature.
Later we were called up for breakfast, where they served hot puri and sabji along with Tea. Tough we already had a round of Tea before too!! Post breakfast, we went for a walk, and I decided to go and meet Mr. Sebastian Pradhan, as during my planning phase I had a lots of discussion with him and his daughter Pranita Pradhan. Though later I called him up to apologize, when I came to know that Dipankar Da have booked Praktiti Eco Resort instead of Reshi Eco Resort. He told us that it was absolutely fine and it’s great that we will be coming here and asked us to meet him once we are there. Though I felt very bad, but then I realized the how generous these people are.
I walked up there along with my mom, aunt and Suparna and upon enquiring a person busy watering flower, he himself introduced as Mr. Sebastian Pradhan to us and smilingly said “main malik nahi hun main mali hun” (I’m not the owner, I’m the Nurseryman). We shaked hand and I introduced my mom, aunt and Suparna. He then showed us his garden and asked us to take a look freely as we like. My aunt being a gardener too, got mingled with him quickly and they kept on discussing about various things related to various flowers in his garden. I then enquired about his daughter, but she was busy serving the guests, so I thought not to disturb her in that case. He further went ahead to show us coffee plantation in his garden.
Finally after spending some time we bid good bye and went towards our homestay. After returning, we informed Mr. Bhutia, that Arpan, would be there by 10, so we’d like to start, as it’d take us some time to reach there. It was already 9:00 AM by then and thus he informed the boys to make the arrangements. Mr. Bhutia informed that us we have to pay an amount of Rs. 400/- as porter charges (Rs. 200/- each way). That seemed reasonable, as we already thought of paying them some tip for carrying such heavy loads throughout the route. Last night when we came here, the route felt a bit long, due to synchronization required between us due to limitation of torch, but now while leaving, we reached the drop point within 30 minutes. We called up Arpan and he informed that he’s already on his way and he’ll here within next 5-10 minutes.
Finally we started at around 10:15 AM. Our first destination for the day was Lampokhari Lake in Aritar. Arpan stopped at Rehnock, by noticing an ATM there, and asked me to try here. As this is a bit offbeat area, chances are it won’t be out of cash. He was damn right, we took out some cash considering the remaining 3 days of Silk Route leg and started for Lampokhari Lake. We reached there at around 11:00 AM. It was a nice little lake in the midst of hills covered with clouds.
Pointing at one of the hill top, Arpan told us “That’s Mankhim, the halt for the day”. We took some time to roam around the Lake and clicking pictures. Me and Akash was keen to go for the boating. Though it’s not like, I kind of like boating and all, but it was a different charm at this destination. Me, dad, Akash and Suparna went for it. The allowed time frame was 30 minutes, which I felt was enough. We took almost 3 rounds around the lake.
And then we went to a nearby shop to have Tea and Momos. Arpan was having tea and gossiping with his friends already. Finally we started for Mankhim at around 12:10 PM and it took us 30 minutes to reach there. Upon noticing our car Mr. Robin Rai, the host for our day, from Heaven Valley Homestay came forward with some guys and carried our luggage. I being behind him, upon noticing a cottage at the top, asked him whether we can stay there? He smiled and replied “That’s your cottage only”. I cheered up with joy!! Mr. Robin is a very jolly person and took some time out to chit chat with us. His brother Mr. Prakash and Mr. Bimal joined us. He further told us that, this cottage has been newly constructed and belongs to his brother Bimal. He also showed us the properties belongs to him and his brother Prakash.
It’s a very large area, where they as a whole family run this homestay business. Everyone working there is either their brother or sister of other family member. In a quick time frame we got mingled with his niece who was there with his mother on a holiday, due to Dusherra. But whatever it be, she didn’t allowed to click her pictures. She kept mumbling “Pehle aunty ka photo khicho phir mera” (First take her photo and then I’ll allow to click mine) pointing towards my wife!!
Bimal and his sister came forward to chit-chat about our whereabouts. They all were quire jovial and friendly. You see this is the culture and warm hospitality I always talk about at homestays. No hotel, doesn’t matter how much you pay, can give you this friendly feeling. You’d feel like being one of them of their family. Within few minutes, we were called for lunch.
Post lunch, Mr. Robin came up and asked us to take a look around, go to the view points. They have two view point, one being private, designed with an Umbrella, and another being shared with Shantikunj, one of the 3 homestay’s in Mankhim. We went towards the private one, the one with Umbrella. We met up a Bengali couple there who were on a holiday, and did some chit-chat. They were there through Nature Wings. In the meanwhile, another bengali group appeared and noticing us speaking Bengali asked me “Which travel agency?”. They were also there through Nature Wings. I wittily said “Nature Wings seems to be very well known”. Yes even I have heard their name before, but for me I always like to do my trips on my own instead of going in a packaged tour. One of the person from the group card forward and smilingly approached “Nature Wings are self proclaimed expert in this region”. And then we all laughed out!!
Mr. Robin Rai too came up and asked us whether we’d like to check out the souvenir shop. Though we don’t like doing shopping while on tour, but still we thought of checking it out, as my aunt was looking for a Buddhist wind charm. Upon noticing us, his sister, came forward and welcomed us warmly. She introduced herself and told us, she’s now married off at Gangtok and now came here with her daughter, as her school is off due to Dusshera. We informed her that we already met her daughter and she’s very cute!! She asked us whether we’d like to try out traditional dress. Trying out dresses would cost Rs. 100/- with picture and Rs. 50/- without picture. Though we were very reluctant to such thing, but Suparna wished to try out. And then later on one by one everyone tried out the dresses while I clicked the pictures!! This time, I made her daughter agree to get her picture clicked!!
Later on we bought some Buddhist souvenir as they seemed to be cheaper than Gangtok and Pelling. As we thought of moving towards the 2nd view point, it started raining badly. So we spent some more time chit-chatting with them. After the rain halted a bit, we went ahead towards the view point. One can view Lampokhari Lake clearly from there. We further went ahead towards Shanti Kunj and crossing the same we reached till Kanchanjungha Mirror. Lalit Rait, the owner, came forward by noticing us and offered us drinking water noticing my wife panting. Later he informed us to go further up there to a Shiva Temple. Though my wife took rest there, Me and Akash went forward.
Later in the evening, I called up Bimal and asked whether a beer can be arranged, which he did in no time. Though we were carrying whisky, but Me and Akash tends to love beer more!! We all spent rest of the evening having drinks and chit-chatting among ourselves. Later at around 8:30 PM, we were called for dinner. They only had roti’s with sabji and chicken. Though I prefer rice, but at a homestay at such an exotic location, it didn’t mattered much. But what went bad was, all the homestay’s asks for number of roti’s before preparing the same. But they somehow guessed and prepared 3 roti per person in an average. Fortunately, we were carrying cakes and biscuits with us so we managed it somehow for that night.
10th October : Day 3 : Mankhim – Zuluk (Dzuluk)
Mr. Robin already informed us last night to get up early, as because of the rain chances are there that the cloud will be cleared out and we’d be able to view Mt. K. Thus we woke up early today too, but out of out luck, it was full of clouds blocking the whole view. Though the cloud started smudging towards different end but that didn’t last long. We were served Puri and excellent Alu Sabji in breakfast and after last night’s incident we had a sumptuous lunch. We guessed, Bimal’s sister was not there yesterday, and thus he might have messed it up!! Anyway, we thought of leaving it after having such a great breakfast!!
Finally Arpan arrived at around 9:30, and we started for our today’s destination Zuluk (actually spelled as Dzuluk) after bidding good bye to Mr. Robin and his family. I took the Email ID of his sister though for sending the pictures of her daughter. Though she said, she doesn’t use it much, instead her daughter only keeps using her mobile for Facebook, WhatsApp and all those!! I’m aware of this generation, so it’s not a generation gap for me!!
Our first stop was Rongli, where we need to make the permits in order to proceed further. Rest of the Silk Route being restricted one needs Restricted Area Permit to visit these places. To get the permit one need a letter head from authorized tour operator of Sikkim with details of the tourists along with ID Proof and Photograph. I went with Arpan while others kept decided to explore the market. Arpan took me to a tour operator’s office where I needed to fill up the details for all us in a form as per the ID Proof. There were lots of drivers filling up the forms for their guests. Arpan thought I might feel offended and thus told me, he would have filled it up himself, but asked me because I’ll be well versed with our names and if he makes even a small mistake, they will reject it and we’ll have to apply it again. I assured him that not to worry, and it’s absolutely fine and makes sense. We payed Rs. 200/- for the permit which Arpan had to pay to the tour operator (probably for the letter head).
He then asked me, whether I’d like to go with him to the office or explore the market. I choose to explore the market instead as I’d have nothing to do there and no one knows how much time it’d take. He’d be standing in the queue and I’d be getting bored. Instead I called up my cousin and wife and met with them, and had a beer!! In the meanwhile, Arpan was done with the permit. He informed us that he thought it’d be a lot of rush in there, but not much queue was there and so he was done early.
We started at around 11:30 AM and crossed Lingtam within next 20 minutes. In between we had to pay a entry fee of Rs. 560/- for 2 days. The officials explained that this area have been declared as Wildlife Zone from 1st April 2016 and one have to pay a fee of Rs. 55/- per head per day. For students there was a concession of Rs. 20/- per head per day. One have to submit the photocopy of ID Proof along with passport size photo. The official was highly impressed by noticing me keeping the documents of each member in an organized way by clipping them. He said “This is a great idea, I’ll tell other tourists too, to keep their documents this way. That will save their and our time too.” 🙂
Further we crossed Que-Khola Falls in Nimachen and Phadamchen and reached Zuluk (Dzuluk) at around 1:40 PM. Our host for the day, Mr. Sherpa Passang, owner of Palzor Homestay, was right there when we reached. He welcomed us warmly and called up his sister. He asked us to follow his sister and said he’ll carry the luggage. His sister, said the lunch will be served shortly. Soon our lunch was served and as usual it contained Rice, Dal, Sabji and Egg Curry. We were damn hungry and the preparation was just awesome. We literally licked our fingers after finishing our meal!!
Post lunch, we hiked up the road where there was a Army Hospital. We noticed few homestay’s there too. After spending some time there enjoying the view, we came down as it was about to go dark. Later we went to a nearby shop to buy beer. It was very cold out there, so we thought of having a peg of rum. We found Mr. Sherpa there and then he introduced us to his mom, dad and his elder sister. He said the shop belongs to his father. He further kept on saying that everyone here in Zuluk (Dzuluk) are his family members. When I inquired about Mr. Gopal Pradhan, owner of Dil Maya Retreat, he introduced a women sitting beside him, as Gopal Pradhan’s wife and he said Gopal Pradhan is his uncle. Though I really couldn’t understand how the whole village can be his family members. Did he meant it otherwise? I’m not sure, as I thought of not stretching the matter much.
There were another Bengali group, came to buy some drinks and some drivers having Honey Bee brandy. Noticing us, they shifted, and asked us to be comfortable. Akash and Suparna, ordered a 250ml of Old Monk, and I ordered a Beer. Rest of the evening we spent there chit-chatting with them. Later we came to our room and after chit-chatting for some time, dinner were served. Post dinner it started raining heavily. Later on Mr. Sherpa came up to take his daughter and son who were also there. When I asked “Why Palzor Homestay?” he pointed towards his son and said “He’s Palzor, this is in his name”.
11th October : Day 4 : Zuluk (Dzuluk) – Nathang (Gnathang)
I woke up in the morning once to check the weather but was able to barely anything due to huge clouds. Later after having our breakfast, we went to check the nearby Shiva Temple. Arpan arrived at around 9 AM and informed us that if the weather is like this only, we won’t be able to see anything from Thambi View Point. One can view the whole Zigzag road from Thambi View Point on a clear day. So he asked us to get ready and that we’d go to Thambi View Point and wait for the weather to get clear instead of staying here in the rooms. It seemed reasonable to us. So we quickly got ready and started around 9:30 AM for our today’s destination Nathang (Gnathang).
It took us 1.5 hours to reach Thambi View Point and as guessed, it was full of clouds and nothing was visible. We felt really bad. Arpan consolidated us by stating that, even he’s much surprised about the weather. It never rains this much in October, but god knows what happened this time. Even after waiting for around 30 minutes, things didn’t changed. We decided to have some Tea and Momo at a nearby shop. Finally loosing our hope, we started to proceed further. After crossing 3 – 4 turns, Arpan stopped and exclaimed, “Sir dekhiye, weather clear ho raha hai” (Sir see, weather is getting cleared). Yes it was getting cleared on the upper portion, but the lower portion was still same, so there was no point in going back. We waited there for sometime and clicked some pictures of what was getting visible.
We reached Laxman Chowk at around 11:30. We had a stopover for smoke and clicked few pictures.
Arpan informed us that he’d take us to Old Baba Mandir today only, as from Nathang (Gnathang), it’s a different route and sometimes Army doesn’t allows to take that route. It was 11:30 by then, so there’s no point in going to the hotel so early. It took us 30 minutes to drive to Baba Mandir from Laxman Chowk. We already been to New Baba Mandir on our last Trip to Gangtok and North Sikkim on our way to Nathulla. But the original one always have it’s own charm.
Finally we reached Nathang (Gnathang) at around 1:10 AM. Noticing us, Miss Nima Sherpa, younger sister of Miss Pema Sherpa, came forward and welcomed us warmly. She arranged our rooms at Drafter Bunglow. Though our booking was in Phinasa Lodge, but I called up Miss Pema from Kolkata, to make me stay in Drafter Bunglow only. Both the property belongs to her. We went ahead towards the valley, but were called for Lunch soon. Miss Pema Sherpa came up, and served us lunch. It was around 10 degree out there as displayed in the digital clock.
Post lunch we were thinking of exploring the Valley and walk up to the distant Monastery that was barely visible, but out of our luck, it started raining heavily. So we decided to take it up in the afternoon hoping the rain would stop by then. The temperature dropped severely and we couldn’t restrain ourselves getting under the blanket. When we woke up, it was evening by then, and we noticed it was still raining. Soon we were served Tea and some pop-corns.
We had plans to visit Sunrise Point in Lungthung tomorrow, but we were really worried now, that if it keeps raining like this, then the most important part of our tour would be a miss. All the sightseeing like Sunrise Point, Kupup, Memencho Lake were planned for tomorrow while going towards Gangtok. We were literally praying to god to stop this rain. But the time passed by and things seemed to got worse. The rain was catching it strength and due to the same temperature was getting dropped severely. Last when we checked in the digital clock it read 8 degree centigrade.
We noticed them providing wooden logs to another family staying beside our room. I went ahead to ask for the same, but they informed that it’d cost Rs. 600/- for the same. Though the price seemed to be reasonable, but then we thought, it was already 7 by then and here as per the norm, they would be serving us dinner by 8:30 and then we can anyway hit the bed. If god is with us, we have to woke up at 4 AM anyway for the sunrise. We spent some time chit-chatting among ourselves and the dinner was served in the room at around 8:30 PM. At around 9 we took our dinner and hit the bed.
12th October : Day 5 : Nathang (Gnathang) – Gangtok
We woke up at around 3:30 AM just to see that it was raining like hell. It was literally storming outside. We stayed awake till 4 o’ clock, and then we loosed hope and went to bed. Later on we woke up at around 7:00 AM. Suparna, Akash and my mom was having breathing problem due to the thin layer of oxygen. Though we were aware of such in Nathang (Gnathang), and thus we were carrying camphor and pop-corn. Miss Nima came up in the morning to know our whereabouts. She informed that due to this bad rain, the oxygen have dropped severely and thus we were having such problem.
We all caught headache due to low oxygen and thus we were literally searching Arpan. But we found him nowhere. Later Miss Nima informed us that, he had to keep his vehicle in the valley due to the police and thus his car might have frost throughout the night. So he might have got there to defrost the same and bring it here. It might take time to start the car due to such situation last night. Though we were served breakfast, but we denied, as we were not feeling well because of the headache. Mom was having more problem specifically.
Finally Arpan arrived at around 9 o’ clock. He literally looked like, he just came up taking a dip in a lake or river. He smilingly said “Gari lane gaya tha, pura forst ho gaya tha” (Went to bring the car, it was full frosted). We immediately left the room and asked him to change first. But he choose to load the luggage instead otherwise there’s no point in changing. We offered him a umbrella but he said “pura to bhig gaya, kya fayda” (I’m all wet, what’s the point in taking the umbrella). We helped him loading the luggage as quickly as possible and then he went on to change.
After he was done with breakfast, we started at around 9:20 AM. Today our plan was to do the sightseeing and then reach Gangtok. We felt really bad about missing everything, as most of the things were planned for today only. What we felt more bad is the rain didn’t stopped for a single second since last afternoon. But what can be done, as they say “Weather is highly unpredictable in hills”. He showed us Tukla Valley and said on a clear weather one can view Jelep La Pass which used to connect Lhasa in Tibet.
The name Silk Route came from, this route was used to trade silk from Lhasa in Tibet. But after the China taking it over, the Jelep La Pass have been sealed. During that time most of the people who came here in order to do business to make a living had to suffer a lot due to such discrepancy. But mother nature understood their pain and offered her beauty in this region due to which tourism industry was flourished. It was then, these people started homestay business throughout Silk Route in order to make their living.
Arpan stopped at Kupup, but due to heavy rain we couldn’t went out and clicked some pictures on mobile only and started proceeding further. On our way he showed us Memencho Lake. One need to walk down the road to reach the Memencho Lake. Our next stop was New Baba Mandir, which we already have been to. But Suparna wanted to visit it badly, but again due to the rain, we had to give it up. I tried arranging the permits to Nathulla by calling up various agents, but couldn’t manage it. As permits to Nathulla are needed to be submitted 1 day in advance and it’s issued from Gangtok only. It’s very rare to collate it with another driver who would be coming up from Gangtok towards Nathang (Gnathang). Also the permit includes the permit of vehicle too, so one have to use the same vehicle to take the detour to Nathulla, so one have to get down at the junction from their vehicle and go to Nathulla in the vehicle coming from Gangtok. So it needs to match the time in between the vehicles as well as loss of money, due to hiring two vehicles for same point of time.
Finally we crossed Tsongmo Lake (often referred to as Changu Lake) at around 12:40 and reached Gangtok within 12:40. Arpan dropped us at Vajra Stand (Tsongmo Lake taxi stand). Today was our last day with Arpan, from tomorrow onwards my old and trusted friend, Gopi, would be driving us throughout the remaining South & West Sikkim leg.
We were very upset about the day, as most of the things were planned for today and we had to give each and everyone of them a miss due to bad weather. As I finish writing and reviewing this log, 5th November 2:00 AM in the midnight, it’s still raining outside. It might be a co-incidence or am I still feeling the rains of Silk Route are still following me?
The next leg of the Trip Report is continued at Wandering Through Namchi – Ravangla – Yuksom
Few Points To Remember :
- The Key destinations along Silk Route i.e. Zuluk (Dzuluk) to Nathang (Gnathang) is a restricted area, so one needs Restricted Area Permit (RAP) for visiting these areas. The permits are issued from Rongli and/or Gangtok.
- The driver or the tour operator can arrange the permit. One can do on their own, if they have good relations with authorized tour operators in Sikkim, as to apply for the permit, one need the official letterhead of tour operator.
- Shared cabs are not available in this region. So hiring a exclusive vehicle is mandatory. A small group can join with another group to divide the cost.
- Throughout the Silk Route, there are only homestays, with basic infrastructure and amenities but clean with warm hospitality. So please keep your expectations limited. They will anyway go beyond to satisfy you. So as a guest you too should do co-operation from your end as well
- The rates for homestays are charged as per person, which includes fooding and lodging (twin or triple sharing).
- The meal is a set meal, for e.g. at Breakfast it’s Puri Sabji / Maggi / Wai Wai, at Lunch it’s Rice, Dal, Sabji and Egg Curry, in the Evening it’ll include Tea & some Snacks and at dinner it’ll be Rice / Roti, Dal, Sabji and Chicken Curry. It includes Bed Tea in the morning as well.
- Generally the meal timings are fixed. Sometimes they deviate a bit on request, but not much, due to their lifestyle. So please co-operate and don’t think you can have your dinner there are 10 PM or 11 PM.
Prakriti Eco Retreat, Reshikhola : We really enjoyed the clean and cozy atmosphere staying beside the river hearing the chirping sound of the Reshi River. Mr. Chumbey Bhutia, belongs from Pedong, is a very jovial person and being a traveler himself can just make your day!! I’d surely love to go on a bike trip with him sometime.
Heaven Valley Homestay, Mankhim : I think this one is the best out of 3 homestay’s in Mankhim. Mr. Robin Rai with his family runs this business. We were allotted the front most cottage belonging to his brother Mr. Bimal Rai. The whole family is very friendly and we loved being their guest enjoying the serene beauty of our mother nature.
Palzor Homestay, Zuluk : Mr. Sherpa Passang, the owner of this property, named after his son Palzor, is a very witty person. He’s always out there running after guests to fulfill their needs. One can expect a very warm hospitality staying here.
Drafter Bunglow, Gnathang : Miss Pema Sherpa and her sister Miss Nima Sherpa runs this property along with Pinasha Lodge. Both of them are always smiling and there always for your help. The rooms we got felt like we were in a 5* property. The washrooms though is not connected with water source always. Thus you find the cistern missing!! They will provide you enough bucket of water. But the washroom is equipped with taps, so once you run out of water, just inform them, they will connect it with the water source for you to fill up the buckets. Being situated at 13,500 ft. above sea level, some people may face issue due to thin layer of oxygen in the air, so carry camphor and pop-corn to cope up on such situations.
Sillery Gaon :
Nirmala Homestay, Dilip Tamang : +91-96350-05318
Icche Gaon :
Icchegaon Homestay : Dilip Kumar Khawas : +91-86702-42128, +91-79069-26652, +91-81167-60140, +91-89722-87740
Prakriti Eco Retreat, Chumbey Bhutia : +91-99322-61029
Reshi Eco Tourism, Sebastian Pradhan : +91-99327-44407, +91-99326-80170 / Pranita Pradhan : +91-90027-74220
Reshi River Camp, Birbal Tamang : +91-86700-56992
Lampokhari Village Resort, Poonam : +91-97348-43981, +91-95939-72711
Heaven Valley Homestay, Robin Rai : +91-96478-57292, +91-76025-70527, +91-97335-11349
Shanti Kunja, Santosh Gurung : +91-97330-31792, +91-97759-94734
Kanchanjungha Mirror, Lalit Rai : +91-97759-15047, +91-78649-01715
Silk Route Eco Hut Homestay : +91-99335-19398, +91-94762-93991, +91-83718-88778
Blue Sky : +91-98002-00685, +91-99329-68835
Kenjola Homestay : +91-99324-34965, +91-76795-80310
Lama Khang : +91-99334-71202, +91-97754-97707, +91-89000-83678
Laden Homestay : +91-97759-26554, +91-70630-85391
Doma Residence : +91-98304-07707, +91-90518-77727
Palzor Homestay / Himalay Homestay, Sherpa Passang : +91-97341-50546, +91-97331-88456
Dil Maya Retreat, Gopal Pradhan : +91-96098-60266
Snowlion Homestay, Chundu Bhutia : +91-81018-27279
Denzong Homestay, Lobzang Bhutia : +91-74072-62795
Lali Guras Homestay, Mr. Mukhia : +91-95937-76585
Dew Drop Homestay, Pempa Tawang : +91-98002-54911
Yangchen Homestay, Chankey Pradhan : +91-90024-41173
New Lite Homestay, Norbu Tawang : +91-96478-88596 / +91-81599-49313
Ganga Sagar Homestay, Meena Sunuwar : +91-97758-47283
Mama Homestay, Nima Gyalpo Tamang : +91-95648-81734
Angel Homestay, Dawa Gyalpo Tamang : +91-96098-72995
Semi Rose Homestay, Som Bhadra Tamang : +91-96352-30768
Jennifer Homestay, Tshering Tamang : +91-95933-73804
Tibetian Villa, Namgyal Tamang : +91-98320-43666
Mukhia Homestay, Suk Bhadra Sunuwar : +91-95937-78166
Hidden Paradise, Durga Pradhan : +91-78728-83264
Sojourn Homestay, Palmu Tamang : +91-78728-93216
Niten Homestay, Parang Tamang : +91-95935-83838
Lungthung / Dhupidhara :
Lungthung Real Estate, Chindu Bhutia / Thandup Bhutia : +91-98004-12703 / +91-85091-23192 / 03592-290110
Lungthung Eco Retreat, Lakpa Bhutia : +91-96478-50075
Hilltop Homestay, Chuna Bhutia : +91-95933-79387
Drafter Bunglow / Phinasa Lodge : +91-94741-45958 / +91-94746-48767
Kazi Homestay, Kazi Sherpa : +91-94754-40763
Pem Diki Homestay, Pempa Sherpa : +91-94746-00660
Lhamu Homestay, Lhamu Sherpa : +91-94743-32385
Sonam Homestay, Chokpa Sherpa : +91-94746-63082
Phintsok Homestay, Thandup Bhutia : +91-94754-39292
Sunset Homestay, Kharka Pradhan : +91-94750-31455
NOTE : All the above contacts can book other homestay’s if their one is already full or even they can book any of the homestays throughout Silk Route as a package.
Arpan (Scorpio – SK 01J 0084) : +91-81454-23829. He drives a Scorpio, and a very good jolly person as well as good driver.
Mohan Ji (Arpan’s Agency) : +91-98325-66772 / +91-94749-08656. He can arrange car throughout Silk Route.
The whole package was booked from :
Dipankar Da (North East Travels) : +91-89722-47306 / +91-94745-94446. Email : email@example.com
A Word of Caution : Anyone planning for Silk Route, please remember, that throughout the destinations along Silk Route, there are no hotels. All of them being homestays offers very basic infrastructure. The package generally includes fooding and lodging, where they generally provide Puri Saji / Maggi / Wai Wai in Breakfast, Rice, Dal, Sabji & Egg Curry in Lunch, Tea and Pakoda as Snacks in the evening and Rice / Roti, Dal, Sabji and Chicken Curry in Dinner. Most of the meals are served in time and dinner time is around 8:30 – 9:00. They go to sleep by 9:30 – 10:00, as they have to wake up at 4:30 – 5:00 PM. So there’s no point in requesting for late dinner. So please make sure to adjust as necessary. All the destinations are within the lap of our mother nature, so while being there, please maintain the tranquility of hill life.
I thought of posting the above in bold, as throughout my journey, I experienced such scenarios where hosts have to face a lot of problem because of few such guests.
Porter Charges at Reshikhola : Rs. 400/-
Lampokhari Lake Entry & Parking : 60/- (Rs. 10/- per head) + 20-/- = 80/-
Lampokhari Boating : Rs. 200/- for 30 minutes
Permit at Rongli : Rs. 200/-
Wildlife Entry + Camera Fee : Rs 560/-
I have removed the personal cost like buying souvenirs, liquors or any other cost of personal nature etc. for your easy reference.
Fooding & Lodging : Rs 850/- per head per day x 6 (persons) x 4 (days) = 20,400/-
Car : 3500/- per day x 5 (days) = 17500/-
Even though we couldn’t go for the Sunrise, but as discussed, it’d have cost extra Rs. 1000/- from Gnathang and Rs. 1500/- from Zuluk.