Monday, November 4, 2013

Sikkim : A Mystic Land

Sikkim is a truly mystical land, a confluence of advancement and mysticism. It is India’s least populated state, hosts Kanchenjunga, the world’s third-highest peak, have borders with Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal and only open border with China (Nathula-Pass). Very little is known about its history and it was added to the Indian Republic only in 1975.
In pre-historic time it was inhabited by three tribes namely Naong, Chang and the Mon. The Lepcha tribe who entered later completely absorbed these tribes. Lepchas are believed to be the natives of the border area of Tibet and Burma. They were a very peace loving people, shy, worshipping nature and deeply religious, which can still be sensed among the present Sikkimese people.
A monestry in Gangtok
An Indian monk Dipankar Srijana or “Atisha” visited Tibet in the 10th century.  He  led  a  missionary  journey  and  preached  celibacy &  moral  abstinence and  opposed  the  tantric  arts.  The Gelugpa or the reformed order, originated during this period of time. The Gelugpa sect is now headed by the Dalai Lama. The unreformed or the old order was the Nyingmapa, whose source of inspiration was the great mystic yogis of that time. The Nyingmapa trace their origins to the great yogi Milarepa. They resisted the reform of the Gelugpaand and maintained their beliefs in the tantric practices. The gap between the followers of the two sects deepened. In time, the Gelugpa sect, headed by the Dalai Lama, became the prominent influence in Tibet, while the Nyingmapa sought refuge in Sikkim. In  the  15th  and  16th  centuries Buddhism  was  introduced  in  Sikkim  primarily  due  to  this conflict  among  the Buddhists  of  Tibet.
Loaded with all these information, I was super excited to visit this mysterious land to understand more about its past and present. Moreover it was my Honeymoon trip so I wanted a least crowded destination than the popular one in North India, added with a charm of anonymity.
How to reach Sikkim
Air: Sikkim currently does not have any airports, the closest operational airport to Sikkim is Bagdogra Airport, near the town of Siliguri in West Bengal. The airport is about 124 km away from Gangtok.
Roads: NH-31 links Silliguri to Gangtok. Privately run bus, tourist taxis and jeep services are operated throughout sikkim, and also connect it to silliguri.
Rail: Sikkim lacks significant railway infrastructure. The closest railway station are Silliguri and New Jalpaiguri in West Bengal.
On the way to Gangtok
Staying options in Sikkim
Sikkim is gradually becoming a popular tourist destination in India. Though it is not easily accessible from all part of the country but is still preferred by the eastern states especially the people from West Bengal, who also has reputation of a frequent traveler. There are number of hotels in Sikkim, which offers quality accommodation at modest price. I stayed at hotel “White Mountain” which was at a walking distance from the famous M.G.Road of Gangtok.
M.G.Road of Gangtok
My journey started from my home town Patna through Kamakhya Capital Express – 13248. It starts at 22.45 from Patna and reached New Jalpaiguri at 12.20. First time I have seen a train in which half of the compartment was 2nd AC and half was the 3rd AC, separated by a door within the same compartment. On reaching New Jalpaiguri we had an arrangement with the hotel and they send us a cab.
Way to Darjeeling and Kalimpong
The journey was pleasant especially due to Teesta river which was accompanying us all along. Like mount Kanchenjunga, the rivers Teesta and Rangitt are an integral part of the consciousness of Sikkimese people. A series of dams has been proposed within the Teesta river system that aims to produce some 50,000 MW of electricity within the next 10 years. There are growing concerns that the building of these dams may lead to river induced seismic activity. It is suspected that the 2011 earthquake was result of these haphazard construction activities. I saw thick smoke coming out of the chimney of a industrial unit. Don’t know how much rules are following by these industries, wishing at the same time that in the fight of nature versus development, these pristine hills must not loose their tranquility.
Industries for development or a ecology threat?
Road to Gangtok
On the way, we faced a long traffic jam. The 125 km road from Silliguri to Gangtok was not in a good condition and somehow not adequate to handle the pile of traffic. En-route we stopped for a lunch of Momos and Chowmin, which was widely available along with the regular rice meal which is a favorite of Bengali population.  Finally we reached Gangtok around 8 in the night, took dinner, and doze-off for a promising day ahead.

Oh Shimla! Why are you so beautiful?

Near Fagu Valley : Shimla
Off-course I want to confess this…that I have never loved anybody, anything, so deeply and admiringly… as I love Shimla! Yes I do!
As far as I could remember it was a love at first sight. It was 2002, when a college trip allowed me to visit you. I remember there was a girl in our trip and we were kind of getting comfortable with each other, till I started developing a feeling for you. Rest is a story…that girl was not able to understand that how can a guy love to watch hills more than curves? But it was actually a choice. A preference of life long commitment over teenage infatuation …and I made my choice.
Shimla in 2002
Since then it was never ending desire to visit you again and again. Sometimes in a group sometimes alone, but still… I didn’t have enough of you.
flower in shimla
A beautiful morning of Shimla hills
I love you for hundred thousand reasons but most of all I love you ’cause you are you!
Shimla… I love you for your narrow alleys…winding roads…victorian architectures and mesmerizing environment…
Mall road : Shimla
I am in love with your innocence, your fragrance and the beauty that bestowed around you

bird in water
flower in shimla
I love the lone walk…a joy…and also a kind of luxury…which I miss the most when I am away…
I love the freedom that is in the air…that liberates everyone…
bird in shimla
Early morning birdsong
monkey in shimla
You can’t get away with them…
You might have too many admirers but I am the one who truly cares for you… who feels your pain while seeing you turning into a man’s zoo. I saw you adapting and accommodating…so many of your visitors…with the same love and affection…this sometimes makes me miserable as I am still nostalgic about those days when there were few takers of your charm.
You saw the empires bending knees to your beauty. Then you witnessed the struggle to drive your occupants away, for a greater cause. You were the center of many high profile activities and visits. The site of viceroy lodge up on the observatory hills are refreshingly pleasant. It was designed and built by the PWD (Public Works Department) department, which are otherwise synonymous to the ugliness to its structures. In the late 1800, this was the only building with electricity and central heating system.  This is the place where the decision was made to partition India. You saw the pain but then rejoiced with the site of freedom.
viceroy house shimla
The Viceroy House Shimla. Today, it houses Institute of Advanced Studies.
Mahatma Gandhi in Shimla
Coming back to present…the path that leads to you are extraordinary, and my favorite too…
toy train shimla
UNESCO world heritage tag
First time when I was visiting you with my friends this piece of wonder used to be so isolated that we occupied a whole cabin for ourselves…and made it our little kingdom…where we sang, ate and had lot of unforgettable moments.
shimla toy train
I still remember we used to visited a nearby charm called ”Kufri” that was so peaceful with spectacular view of high hills in the midst of pine trees. Ponies were there even then but it was a mere facility and not a completion.
Kufri Fun World
This time I was so sad seeing this little paradise turning into a commercial nightmare. There was a fun world…which actually snatched all the fun and the pristine nature of this place.
kufri shooting point
The trees otherwise laden with mist are now used to hang bottles so that one can take the aim to conquer the peace of the surroundings. Everything was at stake…off-course for a price…something which is payable…and few things which can’t be recover now.
For someone it is more developed…with better facilities…eating joints…shopping venues…but for me something is missing. I tried to find those missing chords this time which compel me to visit you again and again. And I find few…
So, here I am feeling as fresh as dew. I can’t find you always like I want to…and also my pain is less than yours. I am also a part of this fight…fight between conservation and development…fight between growing expectations and nostalgic movements. Nothing can change my love to you. And I thank god for giving me Shimla.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Jaipur : Sightseeing

On the last day of my Jaipur trip I decided to explore the Jaipur city monuments. On priority basis we zeroed on Hawa Mahal, City Palace, Jantar Mantar, Albert Hall Museum and Birla Mandir. But lastly we were able to cover only three of them living City palace and Jantar Mantar behind.

Hawa Mahal
Ram Niwas Palace

City Palace, Jaipur
How to reach monuments in Jaipur?
All the important monuments in Jaipur can be covered easily by either public or personal vehicles. Birla Temple, Museum Albert Hall, Hawa mahal, Jal Mahal and the forts are mostly on the same route and you need not to divert much.
Places to see in Jaipur
Hawa Mahal
Our first destination was Hawa Mahal. Here I took the guided audio tour which is an incredible option to explore this architectural marvel.

Hawa Mahal was built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, and designed in the form of the crown of lord Krishna. It is a unique five storey structure with 953 jharokhas (small windows).


Courtyard of Hawa Mahal


It was built of red and pink sand stone. After every few meters there is a mark for guided audio tour and numbered accordingly. It’s a must have if somebody is interested in history and don’t want to hire a guide.


These colorful glasses allow outside views but nobody can see inside


Inside Hawa Mahal

Hawa Mahal is situated in the heart of the main market of Jaipur. There was a roundabout and 8 paths were crossing each other outside Hawa Mahal. Wherever you take your eyes it’s all pink. What a city! A delight for heritage lovers.


Albert Hall Museum

Our next destination was Albert Hall Museum. It is the oldest museum of the state and functions as the State Museum of Rajasthan. It was named after King Edward VII (Albert Edward), who visited the city as the Prince of Wales.


The building is situated in Ram Niwas Garden. It is also called the Government Central Museum. Here again I took the guided audio tour though it was very long and I had to finish it in a rush.


Birla Temple

The last stop was Birla Temple. I can rate this best among the Birla Temples I have seen in Delhi, Bhopal and Patna. Though the one in Delhi is quite big but its white structure outnumbers others.


Where to stay?

Jaipur Hotels vary to suit all needs and preferences. Ranging from star hotels in Jaipur to low cost budget hotels, Jaipur has it all. There are a good number of budget hotels in Jaipur that offer good comfort and facilities at affordable prices.

What to eat in Jaipur?

Recognised as a Rajasthan speciality, Dal-batti-churma, is a wholesome Rajasthani meal. A deep-fried sweet dish, Ghewar is in great demand during festivals. What is interesting about Rajasthan is the variety of rotis one gets, even in the smallest eating place. Bajre Ki Roti, Makki Ki Roti, Jau-Channa Ki Roti, Besan Ki Roti, Cheelra, Paratha, Puri, Methi Puri, Rumali Roti… the list is endless. Gatte ki subji, Rajasthani curry, Mangori, Pakodi and Ker Sangari, the traditional subjis, are part of the daily meals here. A papad - plain or masala – is a must to sum up meals, as a tradition in Rajasthan.

Best Bargains in Jaipur!

Just behind Hawa Mahal, there is a place which has one of the largest shops of Jaipur and belongs to some trust related to Queen of Jaipur. I bought few bed sheets and a blanket which was reasonably priced and had some quality stuff. One can also buy any kind of Gem here. The street outside Hawa Mahal is famous for shopping. There was a famous ‘Zohari Bazar’ for gems and jewelry.
It was my third day since I left Delhi, and neither I was on hills nor in the forest and still I was enjoying. It could happen only in Jaipur. This is another side of Jaipur. I clicked this image outside of city palace which showcases the royalty and glamour of high style living and just outside the walls this was what we called harsh reality. Most of the tourists face this kind of situation, especially those with families.
It was time to call off the day as we planned to leave early morning for Delhi. Completely satisfied with our excursion we all decided to come back to Jaipur whenever get a chance.