It had been a while (more than two years) since VJ and I had gone on a vacation together. So when an opportunity to take a vacation at a very short notice came knocking, we decided to make the most of it. We did not have enough time to plan, so we had only two options - purchase a really expensive itinerary from the likes of MakeMyTrip or head out without much planning and decide the itinerary on the go. We decided to take the second option.
We wanted to explore an area we have never explored earlier. Northeast India had been on our minds for some time so we zeroed in on Sikkim after some thought. We purchased the flight tickets (they were expensive as we booked them barely two days before the travel) and booked a reasonable homestay in Gangtok for a couple of nights. We began our vacation with no idea of what we would do after Gangtok. Details of the itinerary and how it developed will follow in another post, this series is about exploring various aspect of the State. In this edition, we will explore Sikkim's wonderful water bodies, some that you go seeking, others that surprise you on an unexpected turn.
My first memories of mountains relate to a trip to Mussourie, that I undertook with my family (parents and sister) more than two decades ago. Mussourie then was very different from Mussourie now. It was greener, much less crowded, and a pleasure for people who love to walk. My lingering memory of Mussourie is of tiny little waterfalls that would make their ways across the road at every turn. These falls would crop up at the slightest hint of rains and vanish as the weather got dry. Since then, I have been to various hills and mountains, but was yet to come across a sight like that. That is until our visit to Sikkim last week.
Sikkim is blessed with several high altitude lakes - Gurudongmar in the North, Tsomgo in the East, Khecheopalri in the West are only some of them. Unlike the commercialized lake complexes in most of India, lakes in Sikkim are considered Holy and visitors are reminded by the means of signs to keep silent. Tourists generally tend to ignore these signs, so unless you plan your trip in a way that you are able to get there before the tourists do, you won't ever experience the true magic of these haunting locations. If you do manage to get there and experience the silence, you will find yourself amidst the music of nature - bird songs, cicadas, and the sounds of fish splashing about. There can be nothing more beautiful than this. Except may be a tiny hidden lake in Yuksom. Khecheopalri Lake is the most famous lake in West Sikkim, but the lesser-known Kartok lake in Yuksom is the one that took my breath away.
Not too many tourists visit Yuksom, simply because it is marketed as the base for many treks and nothing more. However, Yuksom, in its own right, is a quaint little place, much prettier than Pelling, and much more peaceful. Kartok lake is also known as "Gold Fish Lake" as it is home to several beautiful Gold fish, which are much prettier and quieter than the forever hungry catfish that reside in Khecheopalri. Kartok lake is the perfect place to spend an hour or so meditating, reading, or just being. If you are planning a trip to West Sikkim, I would suggest that you visit Yuksom and Kartok lake, but only if you are in search of and can respect silence. I would not suggest this place to you, if you are looking for touristy things like food, curios, noise, and horse-rides.
River Teesta is the main river that flows through Sikkim. It is a beautiful and grand river that keeps you company during most of your travel from Bagdogra to Gangtok. However, there are smaller rivers that are as beautiful (if not more) and easily accessible. River Rimbi is one such river. We came across it when we were on our way from Pelling to Yuksom. We were able to approach the banks through the River Orange Garden. The time we spent here was one of the most memorable of this entire trip.
Waterfalls in another story altogether. Most waterfalls in Sikkim, at least the ones we came across, are highly commercialized. People have come up with ingenious ways to monetise the waterfalls. At Khangchendzonga Falls, we saw an entire family of locals (mother, father, possible grandmother, daughter, son, grandson) standing near the pool, offering their hand to the tourists to navigate the rocks and charging money for it. And these really weren't difficult rocks to navigate. What surprised us further was that the Tourists were gladly availing this service and paying money for it. We aren't judging anyone. As long as it made everyone happy, there was nothing wrong with it. We visited several waterfalls during this vacation, and the waterfall that we liked the best was a comparatively smaller one with just one Kiosk at a distance selling snacks. This was the Rimbi waterfall, and another place that we want to keep safe in our memory and literally too.
When you think of all this, it is clear that Sikkim is indeed still a paradise when it comes to uncommercialised waterbodies. And this was not even monsoon. I wonder how many new waterfalls crop up during the rainy season and how fast the rivers flow. We'll need to plan another trip to find out.