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My Trip To Sikkim

By Forest Ang

.....We told them that we were Malaysians and they became friendly after that................

The other day, I was digging my old stuff when I found this memo of my one month trip to Sikkim, India. It would be ten years soon and the places, names and the communities would have changed. Anyway, I would like to share this memo before it gets lost again in my store room. Below is the account of the trip. Happy reading!

Week One

Nov 1995 Friday
Precisely 5.45 pm, our SIA aircraft left Penang for Singapore on a transit flight to Calcutta. Six of us (Beng Tiong, Hum, Carrie, Kam Keong, Pho Toe and myself) landed at Changi Airport at 6.50 pm.
We were at the airport until 9.20 pm before we took our flight to Calcutta. We landed at Calcutta at 10.25 pm local time (12.55 am Malaysian’s time). It was a smoggy night. We hurriedly took a cab costing Rs50 to a hotel just a few kilometers away. It was Titumeer Guest House. We were charged R1400 for 3 rooms. There was a horde of mosquitoes that night. The atmosphere was cool.

4 Nov 1995 Saturday
We woke up by the calls of common mynah and house sparrow (I was a learner birder then). Later, I heard parakeet. Upon looking through the window, I saw a man urinating by the main road about 100 meters away facing our hotel. There were many cattle egrets and a few Chinese pond herons near our guest house. In fact, our guest house was surrounded by swamp land. There were waringin fig trees, banana trees, guavas, mangoes and coconut trees….. it must be Malaysia….well it only resembled Malaysia! I also saw house crow, magpie robin and perhaps a pair of swam across the main road on the other side of the water canal. We had our first India’s breakfast at our guest house.
We checked out and took a taxi to Calcutta town. We visited the famous New Market where exotic birds were traded openly. Because of the foully smell, we did not enter the premises to see the birds. We bought small books and maps. We had a big disappointment when we checked in at the Damania Air counter and were told that our plane had left although our flight was much later. A commotion ensures and with some locals arguing with the officials, we finally took our flight at 7.00 pm to Bagdogra. Before we boarded the plane, I was asked to surrender all batteries to the guard. He told me that the batteries will be given back when I landed at Bagdogra. Luckily I hid some and surrendered only a few. Well, I never got my batteries back when I enquired at the counter. We meet a Sikkimish called Mr.Tempo. On reaching the Bagdogra airport he gave us a free ride to the Siriguli’s taxi stand to take our jeep ride to Gangtok the capital of Sikkim. (Note that Calcutta and Siriguli are in the state of West Bengal). The Russian’s symbol of sickle can be seen painted on walls, a reminder that we were in a socialist state. It was like 6.30 pm when we left Siriguli at 8.30 pm. Our ride took us up into the mountains and across the state border. Here we had our passport stamped at Rangpo. It was late at night when we reached Gangtok. We stayed in Green Hotel paying R150 for a double bed.

5 Nov 1995 Sunday
At an altitude of more than 5000 feet, we had to wear thick jackets. We explored Gangtok town and visited the Lal market. I was fascinated by the many piglets and goats in the meat section. They sold live poultry. I took a lot of pictures of the market and also the scene of the town. The roads were narrow and the slopes were steep. Small paths led one road to another from the upper to the lower road. The town was virtually built on slope. In the morning we caught the glimpse of Mt Kanchanjuga one of the top ten highest mountains in the world, painted in orange-red. Later in the day, it appeared snow capped. Many houses had satellite disk. Information is free flowing. We met Boh Ling who came here earlier on her own to meet up with us. We shopped around for a tour agent to take us trekking and touring of Changu Lake.

6 Nov 1995 Monday
For breakfast, we had Alu Paratha, a kind of salty pancake costing Rs6. Momo that was very common is like our Malaysian’s wanton (remember the one ton mee!). That morning we took the Changu Lake tour. Our first stop is the Hanuman Mandir Temple. There were many flying flags with written scripts called Dohza. They were put up for an event or celebration. The Tibetan called it Omnipayme practically means “take him to the heaven”. On the way up, we saw the work of nature. Many winding roads by the steep mountains were eroded and washed down. Repairs were done on them. Many local laborers were seen breaking up big rocks into smaller pieces for the construction of roads. Labors were cheap. Rocks were abundant. The mountains were rocky. Everywhere you can find rocks. We reached Changu Lake at an altitude of 12400 feet. The lake was beginning to be frozen. There were army camps along the way to the lake. I was told that during the Sino-Indian war that place was one of the frontiers facing China. I was told by army personnel not to snap photograph towards the north with China behind the hill. It was very cold up here and it was here that I saw the only true yaks. Yaks are like buffaloes with overgrown long hairs. On the mountain’s side we saw freezing water. With the cold winds, we had to stay in the open exposing ourselves to the sun.
On our way back we were taken to a Tibetan’s crematorium. The smoldering flame was there but he crowds had gone. The priest came up to us and happily invited us to have a photography session. That evening we had a good briefing about our trekking trip to Dzongri. We were introduced to 3 Hindustani guides namely Ameer, Sarneer and Sanji. I knew from their eyes that they disliked us because we were Chinese and they had fought China at the border.

7 Nov 1995 Tuesday
I was fascinated by the porters around Gangtok who carried the load using only a belt to rope the bottom of the loads and with the other end supported on the head. Called Namlo, I bought the belt for R6.
We departed from Gangtok that morning and headed for the foothill town called Yuksom, the village to start our trekking journey. We passed through the Gosh Khan Dara suspension bridge at Singkam, plying 129.54 m that was built in 1976 till 1977. It was a testimonial of Indians superb engineering technologies. Strong, stable, hardy and majestic, towering like our Penang bridge’s main span, it was a sight to behold. Of course there were many more bridges of this nature which later I have lost count.
We reached Legship a small district border to have our passport stamped. We had our lunch here at 3.00 pm local time. The roads were winding and landslides were numerous. We visited Tashiding Monastery. Eventually we reached Yoksum, a small village having a laterite main road. We stayed at Hotel Demazong.
The trekking package included our food and lodging. For hot bath, we had to pay Rs5 for a pail of hot water.

8 Nov 1995 Wednesday
In the morning, we could see the Kanchunjuga Peak from Yoksum. At 8.15 am local time, we started our trekking journey. We passed through the village and along the road there were several ancient Mani (pagoda shaped tomb). Our luggages were carried by the djos (a cross between the buffalo and the yak). The djos were strong animal and can withstand hardship, cold and heavy loads. We had our lunch at a trekkers’ hut. We had biscuits for lunch and our guides had instant noodles. What a luxury for them! We were not satisfied with the treatment.
We continued trekking crossing a beautiful river called the Insa River. It had majestic waterfall and huge turbine-churning water. We crossed the Zhulangepull Bridge over the Insa River. A beautiful hanging bridge built by the Indians.
We reached Bakhim (9000 feet) at 3.30 pm. The place was very dirty with rubbish everywhere. It was a very cold night. I had to wear 3 jackets to keep myself warm.

9 Nov 1995 Thursday
At Bakhim, signs of lack of Vitamin C appeared. My fingernails’ tips had dried and cracked. There were also some slight swellings. I also had backache.
The yellow billed blue magpies were common here. We started from Bakhim at 8.30 am reaching Tsoka (10000 feet) at 10.00 am. Tsoka is a small village with agriculture as the main occupation. The folks looked very much like Tibetans or Chinese. There were numerous solar cells lamps. We continued our journey up. It was at the start of our journey away from Tsoka that the weather turned cloudy. Midway to Phedang, it started drizzling. When we reached Phedang at 1.30 pm the rain started to pour. It was very cold. Talk about proceeding to Dzongri was not agreed upon by most of us. And it was an omen not to do so. The guides couldn’t set up the tents so they broke open the lock of a storeroom. They don’t seem to have any experience setting up tents! Later it started snowing. It came down in droplets. Then it drifted down like what you saw in the movies. I had a great time enjoying the snow fall. The mountains surrounding us turned white. The trees turned white. The ground turned white. But unfortunately the snow didn’t last. It rained again. So seven of us slept in the miserable, dirty firewood store.

Continue Week Two

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