Rabangla Rendezvous

Rabangla (also known as Ravangla, Rawangla, Ravong) is a small town perched at a height of 7000 feet in South Sikkim district. Popular for its view of Kanchenjunga, the tiny town surprised me with its well constructed roads and laid back air. June is never a favorable month for visiting the mountains if you want a clear view. I was apprehensive about the Kanchenjunga views and the possibilities the place could offer.

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Ravangla on the way

I traveled to Ravangla from Siliguri by the SNT bus. It is a grueling 6 hours ride. Shared/rented cars are also available from Siliguri to reach Ravong (locally called so). If you are travelling to Ravangla, Siliguri is where you should be. On reaching NJP (New Jalpaiguri) by train, take an auto to Siliguri. The prospect of getting cars/buses/jeeps to reach Rabangla is better here. Sikkim National Transport or SNT is a bus terminus where you get all the information about buses/cars plying to and fro. If you are looking for shared/rented cars, you will get them right across the street.

When my bus started, the aged guard at SNT told me, “Stay there for a week to escape this heat. You’ll love it.” I hope to go back to him now and say indeed I loved the place. It was love at first sight.

If you travel to Gangtok, Rangpo is the state border. All East Sikkim bound vehicles stop here. But the route to Ravangla/Pelling is different. Vehicles stop at Melli, a small town near Teesta River that falls in both West Bengal and Sikkim. This is the entry point to the South Sikkim districts. When I had traveled to Gangtok in 2013, it ached my heart to see Teesta dried up due to political disputes. But this time, it felt good to see the river in her element, hale and hearty, gurgling soundly on her way. The Jawaharlal Nehru Bridge on River Teesta connects the 2 states. From here the vehicles spiral their way up to the mountains.

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Teesta River
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Jawaharlal Nehru Bridge, Melli

The 2011 earthquakes had irreparably damaged Sikkim. Life in mountains is never easy and rebuilding and restoration work requires hell lot of time. Sikkim was once known for its smooth roads and hassle free rides. The picture isn’t the same anymore. The ride is a bumpy one, enough to rattle your bones. Anyways, I arrived at Rabangla well after sunset. Fortunately, my hotel was at an arm’s length from the bus stop.

Rabangla is B.E.A.U.T.I.F.U.L.  It’s unspoiled, green, soothing to your eyes and lungs. Of course June means clouded skies and there’s hardly any hope to catch the snow clad Kanchenjuga peaks. But there’s so much more to the place if you can explore it well. I came across local tales of how a lesser known town transformed into a popular tourist destination in a span of 6-7 years.

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Another view of the town

When it comes to mountains, I am partial to Darjeeling, my home away from home. But now it would be a tough choice between Darjeeling, the Queen and Ravangla, the princess. It is a quaint old place where I can breathe, literally. Its beauty does not lie in the popular sites but the town itself. You really do not need to be at the Buddha Park to enjoy Rabangla. Take a stroll through the roads and enjoy the tender breeze, the clouds floating by, and you can even smell the mist in the air.

I regret staying here for a very short span. I should have planned a 3 day stay here. Nevertheless, I did not give sightseeing a miss. Watch this space for more on Rabangla sightseeing.

 

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Pretty Pelling

Pelling, in West Sikkim, hardly needs an introduction. Well-known for its views of Kanchenjunga, this quaint town is easily accessible and well-connected. For my last trip here, I had travelled from Ravangla to Pelling. You can hire cars for the journey. It’s about 2 hours journey but the road can take its toll on you.

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Enroute Pelling

Mine was a 2-day stay here. I had managed to visit the Khangchendzonga waterfalls, Changey waterfalls, Pemayangtse Monastery, Khecheopari Lake and Rimbi waterfalls.

Sikkim and waterfalls are synonymous and Khangchendzonga waterfalls is a popular one in Pelling. Beside being impressive, I was told that this is usually active throughout the year. Since I visited it in June, I found it in its full glory accompanied by a steady drizzle. You will have to take a flight of stairs to view the falls. The passage is a narrow one but the once you reach the top, it’s beautiful. The sound of the angry falls is worth your time. There are locals who will help you hop, skip over the rocks to get closer to the falls, if you are interested.

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Khangchendzonga waterfalls
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Gurgling Khangchendzonga

Next was the Changey waterfalls.

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Changey

Rimbi falls is another popular waterfall in this part of Sikkim. 

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Rimbi waterfalls

The Pemayangste Monastery is located at an elevation of 2085 m. The ride/walk to the monastery is quite a steep one.

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A steep walk to the monastery

During the time I went here, renovation work was ongoing. A visit to the monastery also gives you an insight to the life of the monks residing here. You can take a look at their study room. During my visit, the younger monks were reciting their verses, together. On asking they said it was their prayer time. 

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Stairs to the monastery
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Pemayangtse monastery

Khecheopari Lake is considered a wish-fulfillment lake. Since it’s a sacred place, silence is maintained here.

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The Lake
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Pebbled path

From where you park your car, a pebbled path leads to the lake. It is flanked by the Buddhist prayer flags. The surrounding area of the lake is soothing to the eyes. You will find greenery all around, with wild flowers scattered throughout.

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Souvenirs

If you are interested in souvenirs, there are some limited but interesting options. 

Finally, no trip is complete without food. If you are in Pelling, momos are inevitable choices. Just at the entrance of the Khecheopari Lake, there are small eateries that serve authentic momos with a special sauce. 

Where to stay?

Pelling has several staying options. You can choose the old helipad for your stay. There are number of hotels in this area. I stayed with family at Hotel Simvo. The place is nice and the services and food are good. If you are lucky, you can easily catch a glimpse of Kanchenjunga from the hotel room. 

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A view from my window

I have been to Pelling thrice. The influx of tourists have risen steadily in this town. Yet, amazingly, the place has not lost its serenity. If you are looking for a place to unwind, be at peace, Pelling is definitely an option.

Ananta Basudeba Temple: Bengal’s Terracotta Art

I had almost forgotten about my visit to Ananta Basudeba Temple in Bansberia. A deep dive into an old photo album helped to refresh my memory. I guess it was back in 2010 that I went there with my office colleagues. Our trip included a tour of the Bandel Church, Hangseshwari temple, Ananta Basudeba temple, and finally relaxing at Chandennagar strand.

It was a hot humid day for such a road trip. In fact, at Bansberia we could hardly put our foot down at the temples premises. We were hopping like flamingos and could hardly get a proper shot of either of the temple.

As the name suggests, Ananta Basudeba is dedicated to Lord Krishna. It was commissioned by Rameshwar Datta. The ruins of his palace can be seen around the temple.

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Dating back to the 15th century, the temple displays intricate terracotta work.It was built in the classic ekaratna style, one of the styles used in Bengal architecture. In this style, the temples were built on raised platforms as square structures with shikharas or towers. The term ekaratna here refers to the single shikhara.

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The motifs on the walls, pillars, and arched gateways are inspired by stories from Indian epics-Mahabharata and Ramayana. If you look closer you will find tales from Krishna’s life carved in terracotta as well.

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The delicate carvings speak volumes about the outstanding craftsmanship of a bygone era. The temple has three arched gateways densely ornamented with carvings.

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How to reach?

Bansberia lies in the Hooghly district. From Kolkata, you can drive to this place. It’s a day’s trip. Start in the morning, take your tour, and return back to the city by late evening.

Looking around:

The Hangseshwari temple is interesting to explore as well. Commissioned by Raja Nrisingha Deb Roy, the temple stands out from its peers with its 13 minars or towers.

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Tourist spots in and around Rabangla

My stay at Rabangla was too short to explore the neighboring tourist spots. I managed with just four of them.

Temi tea garden: June is definitely not the season to explore tea gardens. The shrubs looked just planted. Yet the surrounding views are impressive. If you want to soak in the fresh air and lovely surrounding, there is a small tea & snacks stall. I also spotted two small shops selling Temi organic and regular tea.

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Growing tea plants
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A view from the tea garden

Samdruptse: The prime attraction is the holy statue of Guru Padmasambhava. This spot lies at a height of 7000 feet. I loved the prayer flags fluttering in wind lined up on the spiraling road leading to the statue. Samdruptse is actually a hill, a wish fulfilling one. If you are there on a clear day, you will be lucky enough to catch the snow clad peaks. I wasn’t that lucky though.

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Gateway to the statue
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Prayer flags on the way
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Statue of Lord Padmasambhava
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Samdruptse – a bird’s eye view

Solophok Chardham/Siddhesvara dham: This is in Namchi. Located at the top of the Solophok Hills, it is spread over 7 acres of land (approx). The handsome statue of Lord Shiva stands at 87 feet. In fact, you get a glimpse of this statue on your way to Rabangla from Siliguri.

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Lord Shiva @ Chaardham

Buddha Park/Tathagatha Tsal: There is a strange sense of serenity here and the continuous chants of the Buddhist hymns adds to the setting.

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Buddha Park

Besides these, there is Rayong Sunrise View Point, the twin Ralang monasteries, Ralang hot spring, and the Tashiding Monastery. Among these I regret missing Tashiding. On our way to Pelling from Rabangla, the friendly chauffeur (and a garrulous one) chipped in a lot of interesting details. We could see the hill on top of which Tashiding Monastery resides. He mentioned about the sacred water that is kept in a vase inside the monastery. The locals refer to it as the Satya Yug ka pani (water belonging to the Era of Truth). There is an annual festival, known as Bhumchu, celebrated around the holy water.

If you are visiting Ravangla in March-April or September-October, visiting Rayong sunrise view point makes sense. But June isn’t really the right month for it as you will mostly experience cloudy sky.

Means for sightseeing: Rented cars (small or big) are available for sightseeing. You can ask your hotel to arrange a car for you. I had checked in at Hotel Meanamla on Kewzing Road (a part of Biswas Group of Hotels, Kolkata).

Cherrapunji: Tripping on clouds

Cherrapunji, in Meghalaya, is popularly known for its incessant rainfall and is recognized as the wettest place on earth. Currently though, it is Mawsynram that receives the highest rainfall. Lying in the East Khasi hills, Cherrapunji is also known as Sohra.
 
Cherrapunji tour includes a visit to the Mawsmai Nongthymmai Eco Park, Nohsngithiang Falls, Khoh Ramhah view point, Kynrem falls, Mawsmai Cave, Nohkalikai Falls, and Thangkharang Park.
 

20141012_102050 Mawsmai Nongthymmai Eco Park

Engulfed in clouds, Cherrapunji has a strange beauty about it. As my car crisscrossed across the mountainous roads, I could see clouds pooled in between mountain ranges. White and blue smeared against the solid green. Even if you want to capture the moment, I wonder how much of it is possible with a camera. It is one of those surreal moments – you have seen it and as soon as it vanishes, you are too dumbstruck to believe it existed.
 

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The gurgling waterfalls are a treat to behold. There are local tales associated with some of these falls.
 
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At Khoh Ramhah, the Bangladesh plains are clearly provided the view is not engulfed with clouds. The Thangkharang Park lies nearby and is popular for its orchid plantation and view of Bangladesh plains on a clear day.
 
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Khasi monoliths are a common sight here. You might catch a glimpse while traveling around. In the Khasi way of life these stones mark the memory of their ancestors.
 
 
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Somewhere along the way
Quick tips: I had visited Cherrapunji as a day trip from Shillong. At the end of the day, I was dropped off at the city. However, one can stay at Cherrapunji and explore the place at his/her own pace. There are caves, foot bridges, and waterfalls to explore and enjoy. To stay at the guest house in Eco-park contact MTDC (Meghalaya Tourism and Development Corporation) for booking. You can check the details here. I had stayed at Bonnie Guest House (one of the guesthouses listed under MTDC) in Shillong. The rooms and services were good and the tariff affordable.
 

Wiles of the Sea

As far as I can remember I have always preferred seaside to hill stations. The immovable, gigantic, dominating monsters called mountains both scared and bored me. The steep slopes could never make a place in my heart. On the other hand, there is sea with its mood swings, sand and surf, noisy, constantly moving, unpredictable and most importantly, it calmed me down. No matter how jittery I am, sea can strangely soothe my frayed nerves. Be it Puri, Puducherry, Goa or Digha each of the trips were memorable for me. Each had taught me something different about sea and its surf.
I remember my first trip to Digha. The sun was almost down when I finally reached. The ‘summer sea’ seemed to withdraw alongside sun. Tranquil, submissive it immediately erased all the traces of exhaustion that I bore due to the bumpy journey. Some would actually scoff at the mention of Digha as a travel destination. But this place is home to me. I could relate to the sea here. She comprehends me so well. It seems I can talk to her relentlessly as she saunters, keeps coming back and forth lending a patient ear to all my woes. When I retire for the day, she solemnly whispers “sleep tight” and the very next day she is wildness personified. Unfettered, indifferent and oblivious to everything around, the huge waves crash against the rocks as if spelling doom. It’s a bit weird but sometimes I can relate to her darkest moods too.
May be this is why I love visiting Puri in monsoon. I was in school when we first paid a visit there. The waves there were giant. The dark waves keep coming ashore randomly. As they approach I see white horses riding their way to the beach! The sea at Puri is always noisy. But during monsoon, it is formidable. We visited my father’s colleague who had built a hotel there. The third floor, where he resided, had a lovely terrace with a glass enclosure. I liked to call it ‘glass house,’ though partially so. It was from there that I witnessed the monstrosity of sea for the first time. The dark, evil waves roaring and bickering washed away the shores, swallowing everything that came in their way. While the darkness scared me, their might fascinated me. Watching the giant waves collide on the big black rocks at Puducherry roused similar feelings. I guess I am still fascinated with it, rather smitten by it. Her boisterousness stirs similar emotions within me. It liberates me.
And yet when I stand in front of the vast expanse of it, I feel so puny. It seems to mock me; the way Nature often derides man – establishing its dominance time and again. My predicament is sea is my tormentor and respite. I remember sitting for hours on the Goa beach basking in mellow warmth of the sun, absorbing the gurgling noise of the untiring sea, the golden sand sparkling in daylight. As the day wears off, the sand feels cool and smooth.
The sea, then, is a picture of exquisite beauty. The sun falters, its red and orange hues splattered across the horizon and the sea calmer than before as I stand barefoot. The waves gently kiss my feet and recede, pulling the sand underneath as cool breeze touches my face, my mind draws a blank. Finally, I am at Peace.
 

My World Of Books

Books and me are strangely bound to each other. Even in an age when ebooks and Kindle reign, it is hard for me to imagine my shelf without books. Despite much persuasion from a lot of people around, I could not convince myself to go only for ebooks and buy a Kindle. What fun is there in a book if you cannot hold it and read; if you cannot experience the bliss to smell the new pages from a book you just purchased from your hard earned pocket money! These notions seem long forgotten but I still can’t hold myself when I see books from my favorite authors on the decorated shelves of the book shops. My reponse to books is emotional, judgemental. I’m either in love with the plot/characters or I’m completely unmoved. Books make me introspect for days.

It is an inexplicable joy to ride through the adventures of a nonchalant Peter Pan while you are curled up inside your quilt or to slowly drift to sleep while reading about Rapunzel’s woes. I can still read Peter Pan over and over just to enjoy his devil-may-care attitude. I still remember my first novel- Pride and Prejudice and inevitably like hordes of other teenagers I fell for Mr. Darcy! But the ‘Darcy’ phase was a short one for me as someone introduced Wuthering Heights to me and thence arrived the despicable Heathcliff. It is difficult to love Heathcliff but it is even more difficult to ignore him. You definitely do not agree with his measures yet his love for Catherine is unfailing, unflinching. How can you ignore such emotion and passion?

Love was even more tempestuous and complicated with Scarlett and Rhett Butler. But ‘Love Story’ worked as balm to soothe the frayed nerves. Idealism had never appeared so astounding before ‘Gora’ (Rabindranath  Tagore) and sacrifices and human bonds so beautiful before ‘Ram er Sumati’ (Sharatchandra). I loved the latter may be because it presented an idyllic world where bonds of heart were stronger than those of blood. I have been called snobbish for my preference for Classics and I accept it in jest. My love for Classics is innate probably because I have grown up reading them. But it’s hard to ignore writers like Alice Walker, Salman Rushdie, Chinua Achebe, Amitav Ghosh, Haruki Murakami and even Shashi Tharoor.

However, when Howard Roark made way to my bookshelf all lofty ideals about love where left behind. Fountainhead deconstructed and reconstructed my notions on love and idealism. Books were there to teach you a way or two in life. Books were and still are my escape routes from life’s reality checks. No matter what, I will keep visiting the book fairs and get hold of a ‘real book’ than those easily downloadable ‘virtual ones.’

The Darjeeling Spell

Darjeeling- once a favorite with the British, its old world charm still lingers. The people, the bazaars, the Mall, the pine trees, the misty afternoons carry a peculiar appeal. It is difficult to put into words why I like Darjeeling. There are certain places that woo you heart just like that and Darjeeling, the Queen of Hills, is one such place. It is unassuming in its beauty, it captures your heart, casts a spell that is hard to wear off!
My liaison with Darjeeling began years ago when I visited it in January. It was chilling. You would freeze even when the sun shone above your head. And yet, there she was beautiful as ever, captivating you with her views, the winter sun and foggy roads. I would always end up with a strange taste whenever I went out into the mist. The cold would bite your cheeks and could easily penetrate through four layered clothing. And yet I stood bewitched at 5.30am at Tiger Hill as the sun’s rays danced atop Kanchenjunga and its peaks turned golden sparkling in the morning sun. What a view!!! At that point of time, nothing mattered. Not the biting cold winds, not that I weighed 10 kgs more than usual, not that I could not find my grip, nothing. All I could think was: “If there is heaven on earth it is here, it is here it is here!”
The Mall is surrounded with pine trees and in winter youcould see the clouds floating above your head. As the day wears off, you can suddenly be in the midst of just the fog. There is zero visibility and it’s scary. But then within minutes, the fog is gone and you are standing in the middle of a very busy Mall. This is the heart of Darjeeling. It has a relaxed environment which soothes the frayed nerves. You can sit here for hours, enjoying a brimming cup of tea or coffee and watch the clouds play peek-a-boo. If you are lucky you can catch a glimpse of the city from here. And yes, there are tea shops, liquor shops, curio shops and momos to gorge upon. And who can forget the pony rides!
There is a CCD too for coffee lovers but I would prefer Glenary’s anytime. It is an old restaurant that is quite easy to find in Darjeeling. It’s old and famous. The first time I visited here, I was besotted with its old world charm. Order a bottle of beer and enjoy the view of the city from its French windows. None shall bother you and you can stay as long as you want. Besides the food, I love the views from Glenary’s. I would run to this place each day for breakfast, lunch and dinner until my family put their foot down claiming they needed a change. But the next time I visited Darjeeling, I made sure that Glenary’s was the only place I went.
Yes, I had visited Darjeeling twice and am still smitten by it. For a person who prefers sea over mountains, Darjeeling is an unlikely choice. Nonetheless, it is one place that never tires me. I love going uphill-downhill through its lanes, basking in the mellow sun, watching smiling faces as they walk past me and as the sun goes down, the hills are alight with the rooftop lamps. Perhaps I like this place so much because it lets me be. There is harmony, romance, solitude and repose in its air. And that’s why Darjeeling can cast such a powerful spell on me.

 

Gurgaon Saga I

I have always endeavored to pen down my thoughts on the Gurgaon trip. But each time I tried, things just did not work out. And here I am again, giving it a last shot….

In December last year, 2.5 of us (me, my friend and her 4 yr old kid) went to visit another friend of ours residing in Gurgaon. It had been years since the 3 of us had actually sat together or went shopping and addafied. Sometimes it is scary to think how much life can change. And I realized it when we finally arrived there. Besides the usual doses of frolic and fun, the trip taught me lot of things. Foremost of them was how dynamics in relationships change. Over the years you have known certain people and you expect them to understand everything about you. But what you miss is that people grow up; they change. And there is nothing wrong with it but just that the other person needs time to swallow the bitter truth.

A Foggy Ride to Delhi

Ego clashes, hurt sentiments and misunderstandings are part and parcel of every relationship. But the beauty of emotional bonding is that you can triumph over such adverse feelings with ease. One more lesson that I have learnt is never sleep over your disagreements. Spit it out, fight, scream, cry but just get over with it. It is difficult to get good friends in life but it is even more difficult to maintain friendship lifelong. One of my friends used to say, best friends always have a common enemy. I knew the words weren’t hers but I liked the snobbish way she put it!! Now when I see the same person hesitant is conveying her honest opinions to me, I know something is just not right. But the good part is I can still say these things to her on the face.

There is nothing more relieving and soothing than being with people who understand you, love you, and care for you. And then there are certain people who never learn. You cannot even trust them with a simple travel plan! After the catastrophic realization struck me, I decided never to leave the planning part to that particular someone ever again. Yet we managed a visit to the Kingdom of Dreams, a shopping spree at Delhi and a trip to Taj Mahal. The latter was, perhaps, the best part of this trip. It was hardly a week-long trip but no one complained. As long as you are with friends, who cares how long it is? What matters is how many good memories you carry back home. I had loads of them to last a lifetime. I wish the rest have similar moments too….


PS: This little piece is a piece of my mind. I had, whatsoever, no intentions of hurting or criticizing anyone. I wish to rustle up another such little piece containing more about the trip soon…

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