All the cliche sayings were turning out to be true.
Majestic, eternal, mighty, the most magnificent.
We had to cross the width of Nepal to get to Uttrakhand from Sikkim. In transition, we entered and crossed a part of West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and finally we would enter Uttrakhand. We were very eager to cross West Bengal as fast as possible. It is one of the dirtiest state we’ve ever visited, there was trash, dirt and dust everywhere. The landscapes are beautiful if you can look past all the garbage that exists in plain sight.
Once, when I wanted to get rid of all the empty water bottles that we had collected over the previous day. I gathered it all up and asked a watchman who was sitting nearby, for a dustbin. He looked around and shrugged; “Throw it anywhere.” He said. The traffic gave Naveen a severe case of road rage, most of the roads were undone and muddy, which gave our car quite a workout. People were just generally spitting and peeing all over the place. How can anything improve when there is no love shown towards it? Naveen and I felt unhappiness looming over everyone. They were unhappy with their food, their land, with each other and everyone around.
Once we escaped from West Bengal, we entered the infamous Bihar. I didn’t want to think much of it. But my poor mother’s BP touched the roof when I told her we were going to cross through. And why wouldn’t it? All the stories of Laalu’s notorious jungle raj that exists could scare anyone. But once we entered the state and crossed by the small villages, we felt it was peaceful. Of course, we were the object of everyone’s stares and judgement. But, we had to look past that. Bihar was a lot cleaner than West Bengal but the infrastructure was one of the worst. We had to go around at least three bridges that were broken in half and cross one of the most rickety bridges to get into Patna, the capital. We were stuck in a traffic jam on that bridge for about two hours before entering Patna city and the bridge was narrow enough to only have two lanes, one incoming and the other, outgoing. The bridge felt weak under the weight of all the vehicles. Each time the bus in front of us moved, the street lamp shook and the bridge literally groaned. Everyone stuck on the bridge could only pray that it wouldn’t collapse.
Uttar Pradesh was hot. The sun was beating down on us without mercy. Piercing through the glass and burning our skin to our bone. We missed the cold Sikkim weather. We stopped for the day at a small town, Gorakhpur, a couple hours before the capital city of Lucknow. Naveen, being the true blue south Indian boy, got excited looking at a couple of dosa points in the town. (But, he was disappointed. I wasn’t surprised.) Gorakhpur, a small town with all the makings of a big city, a mall in the city center, couple friendly hotels, designer brand stores, good restaurants. But it is remarkably crowded with vehicles, people, cows and dogs. We were out of the town before we could get stuck in worse traffic.
We reached Lucknow on the eve of Holi. Rightfully named the city of Nawabs, the city is wonderful with wide, clean roads and beautiful buildings. But to our unfortunate luck, the entire city was shut for the festival of colours. Though we saw a very few people of the city covered in colours, there was very little traffic, which made Naveen very, very happy. We crossed the beautiful city in less than an hour. What upset me was that I didn’t get to taste the amazing Lucknowi food, which I was so looking forward to.
Driving through the heat again, we were now eight hours away from reaching Bhimtal in Uttrakhand. We were so eager to see the mountains, get away from the heat and feel the cold mountain air on our skin.
And just like that, our Sikkim journey came to an end.
When we had to say our goodbyes to the Sherpas, I thought it was would be a polite goodbye. Similar to like how our goodbyes was with the Limboo family. We were all packed when Jamuna asked us to wait for five minutes. We didn’t mind, the sun was out, the garden was in full bloom, we used the time to do some sunbathing. God knows we needed it.
Jamuna came bumbling from around the corner holding two silk scarves, khatas, usually given during special occasions or during the arrival or departure of guests. She put it around our necks, wished us a safe and happy journey, she told us to take care of each other and keep loving each other even when the times got tough and asked us to keep in touch with Pema and her.
I am generally not one for hugging and sentimentality but at that moment, I was so full emotion, I immediately wrapped my arms around her and pulled her into a tight hug. She patted my back and with a wide smile, she said, “Take care, see you soon, nameste.”
And so, we were in our car and on our way out of Sikkim.
Thank you Sikkim, thank you for everything. Thank you for your people, your food, your water, your land, your mountains, your air, your sunshine, your peace. As soon we were out of Sikkim, we wanted to turn back. But, there were places to see, more adventures to go on, more stories to live. We couldn’t get so attached to a place.
But one thing we were sure of, though we had to leave Sikkim, we didn’t have to leave the mountains behind. So, we made our way to Uttrakhand – the land of the Gods.
Sikkim – in pictures.
Pema Sherpa surprised us by inviting us to his relative’s wedding in his village. That was one of the most endearing qualities of Pema, he never missed an opportunity to show off his heritage. Whether it was the land, the mountains or the people. He wanted to help us have a real Sikkim experience.
He drove us to his village, a little further away from Utteray. A small village called Bhaega. When we entered the venue, everyone welcomed us like we were a part of the community. The entire village was present to bless the bride and groom and shower them with love and gifts. The rituals were about to begin but the celebrations had already begun. The kids were running everywhere, stuffing their face with snacks and the adults were busy sharing laughter and beer. The bride and the groom were still getting ready. The lamas (monks) had taken their place, the elders of the family were filing in and taking their seats on the floor.
The wedding was intimate and quieter than any other wedding Naveen and I had ever attended.
The rituals began once the groom and bride were seated among the lamas and elders. The groom’s relatives, on behalf of the groom and in presence of the monks would ask the girl’s family for her hand in marriage. And once the girl’s family gives their blessings, the girl is considered to be a part of the groom’s family from that moment on.
It’s followed by traditional singing and dancing and a big case of thongba is passed around for everyone to sip from, starting from the lamas then to the elders and then to the rest of the family.
Once the rituals are done, there is beer, good food and socializing that happens and then the entire gathering sends the bride with the groom in good spirits.
Naveen and I were lucky enough to be a part of this special ceremony and everyone present made us feel welcomed. They were excited to know where we were from, what we were doing, what brought us to Sikkim, where we were off to next. They wanted to know how the weddings were from where we came and Naveen pointed out that their wedding ceremony was very similar to a Coorgi wedding. Coorg, a small district in Karnataka, is a good 3,000kms away from Utteray and yet their rituals and traditions were so alike. Coorg, down in South India and Utteray, way up in North India – amazing, isn’t it? So far apart but yet, not really.
Pema had to attend another wedding so we took everyone’s leave and headed back to our homestay. Happy and maybe, slightly inebriated.
Another cold day in Sikkim. And a perfect day for a walk in the woods to a nearby waterfalls, Mainebass waterfalls.
Like Pema and Jamuna had promised, they joined us too. They were more excited than Naveen and I to go on this trek, they were so excited to show us what was ahead, what their homeland had to offer and they eagerly wanted to show off how beautiful their it all was.
It was a short trek, about 4 kms to the waterfall. It wasn’t a difficult walk, though it was uphill. We walked along canals of water gushing past us, the soil and the rocks underneath our feet were wet and slippery and we were surrounded by lush greens.
On the way to the waterfall, there is a camping spot. A large flat, grassland amidst all the greens, where you can set up a bonfire and tents and enjoy the view of the looming mountains all around you.
Just before we reached the waterfall, we had to cross the most enchanting place. A path with a canopy of trees, just the green of the trees and the brown of the soil everywhere you look. Like, Alice’s wonderland but even better.
Naveen and I took our time, enjoying the route, taking time for the sights to sink into our hearts while Pema and Jamuna hurried along the path, light on their feet. It was probably habitual for them to be among these gentle giants, the trees and the mountains.
But still, there was a moment, when the both of them stopped, sighed and looked around with awe and took it all in. That told us that no matter how many ever times you cross the same path with the mountains and the forests, they always teach you something. Something.
When we reached the tall, gushing waterfall, the sky was covering up with dark clouds and there were chances of rain. But since we were so high up, it was hail – freezing rain. We spent maybe about half an hour by the waterfall, I took the opportunity to fill up my water bottle with the clear water and sip on it. Cool, refreshing, light, fresh waters from the mountains. I know they say water is tasteless, but it was delicious. There is no better beverage than water, after all it is the creator of life.
Soon, it started to hail heavily, so we decided to head back, the path was going to be even more slippery and chances of falling were high. (I didn’t the rains to make me slip, I had already slipped and landed on my bum as I made my way to fill my water bottle.)
On our way back, Jamuna stopped and pointed to some plants just growing along the path. “Yeh BP or sugar ke liye bahut acche hai. Mei banau?” (“They are good for BP and sugar. I’ll cook them?”) And without waiting for an answer, Pema and her squatted and started plucking them out of the ground. That’s when I realized that most of these plants, growing at the foot of the mountains are high in the medicinal value and no wonder the people of the mountain are so healthy fit. Everything they get, from the water to the fertile soil to the herbs and plants are all right there for them. Just being provided by the mighty mountains.
I was a lot better at this trek. Totally, we had covered about 8kms and my spirits were still high. My stamina had improved in the matter of a couple of days. And though, I took my time walking, I wasn’t out of breath, my body wasn’t sore and I was feeling good. Naveen, of course, was even better. Pema and Jamuna looked like they had just gone for a stroll in a park.
This is what I found to be the best part of living by the mountains. There is a wonderful harmony between man and nature. The people are grateful for everything that the mountains provide them with, they know the value of the soil they work on, the water they drink. They value the warm sunshine, they value daytime and they work hard, day in and night out and they enjoy it. There is genuine happiness on their faces as they spend their time on their farms, reaping, sowing and harvesting and not an ounce of complaint.
From the bottom of my heart, I hope that they aren’t bored with it, that they aren’t bored with mountains and they don’t crave for the city life that Naveen and I are trying so hard to get away from.
There is peace here, there is happiness without reason or condition. Isn’t that what we city folk are always looking for? Then, why is it so difficult for us to leave it all behind and make a living away from it? Is it because in the cities we can be lazy while having it easy? Is it because the WiFi connection is stronger? Is that the good life? And though we have everything we want living in the city, we are so full of whine and complaint?
What is it? Who knows? Who knows?
Yuksom to Uttarey
The next day, along with some yummy aloo paratha and sabzi, we bid farewell to the Limboo family. It wasn’t a tearful or heavy goodbye. It was simple, to the point and very polite. Just like our stay there. We were guests in their home but their hospitality never made us feel so. If you ever decide to visit Yuksom, even if you are just passing by, choosing to stay at the Limboo’s will be the best decision you can make.
They are a warm, welcoming family who will take care of you to their best effort. The stay is warm and comfortable and their food, dear Lord, their food! Everything they serve is organic and grown in their farm, next to their homestay. It’s fresh, healthy and you will keep wanting more and more of it, even though your stomach is bursting.
They wished us a safe and happy journey, as a parting gift we decided to present them with kadlekaai unddes (laddoos made from peanuts and jaggery) that Naveen’s mother had packed for us. They had shown us such love, we wanted to give them something out of love as well.
Our next stop was Utteray. a small town west of Sikkim. It was going to be a four hour drive from Yuksom. Filled with happiness and a full stomach, we started our drive there. The day was pleasant and sunny and the drive was easy. While we were about twenty minutes away from the town, we decided to call Sherpa homestay and see if we could check in with them.
And that’s the first time we spoke to Pema Sherpa. Pema Sherpa who helped us discover Sikkim in a whole new way. But, more of that later.
By the time we reached Utteray, it was around four in the evening and we were feeling hungry. So here’s the thing about small towns, it’s difficult to get hold of a place that will serve you food during odd hours. (Odd hours being the time in between lunch and tea time, this we experienced not only in Utteray but Yuksom too. To our good luck, in Yuksom, we found a certain Mr. Gupta from Bihar who had set up his restaurant in the little town. Off season or peak season, you can always find Mr Gupta’s restaurant serving hot chai or cool local beer.)
We reached our homestay and though Pema wasn’t around to receive us, he had had made sure our room was ready and Tashi, a handy man and a trek guide for the Sherpas, was there to welcome us.
When we asked Tashi for food – he looked at us quizzically. “Noodles chalega?” (“Will noodles do?“) He asked, scratching the back of his head, hoping we’d be okay with it. We were hungry and we were going to be okay with anything, honestly.
We settled into our room, admired the view outside and gulped down the two bowls of noodles Tashi had served. I was still hungry and a hungry me isn’t really nice to be around. I get all sorts of upset, angry, cranky, whiny and Naveen handles all of those moods with patience and calmness.
We took out our car and decided to go hunting for food. One of the main attractions of Utteray is the Singshore bridge. It is the second highest bridge in all of Asia and it connects two hills and helps trekkers cover a large distance in a short span of time. Due to an accident that had occurred, the bridge was shut for all vehicles. But we still got the chance to walk across it and peek down at the valley, 300m below us.
Also, it’s a tourist attraction and we were sure we were going to find something to eat there. I prayed we would find something there.
We walked across the bridge, peeking over to view the deep valley, when we reached a small eatery. The kind lady who ran the place told us that at the moment we could only get momos and chai. I was up for it. It was a cozy little place, made warm by the yellow light and the lady working in the kitchen. We were welcomed by a few locals who were already seated inside, sipping on thongba.
Thongba is a drink made out of millet mixed with warm water. Something like beer.
I know, when I heard about “warm beer” for the first time, I told myself, wow thats nuts. But it’s nothing like you’d imagine it to be. It’s like freshly brewed beer, but there is no God awful bitterness or fizziness to it. It’s fresh and warm and perfect for the cold weather. Don’t knock it till you try it, I say.
We made friends with some of the locals there who were surprised and shocked that we had driven all the way from Bangalore to here and that we were going to drive around everywhere. We spent some time there, filling our stomachs and hearts before we decided to make our back to our stay.
When we reached the homestay, we were greeted by Pema who was more than excited to help us plan our next few days. He said we could walk up to a nearby waterfall for starters and then see how things pan out. He was ready to give us company on the trek since he didn’t have much on his plate. A little while later, we were greeted by his wife, Jamuna Sherpa. A chubby, bubbly woman with laughter on her sleeve who was excited just to meet us. She served us warm tea and traditional snacks and told us that she too would be joining us for the walk to the waterfall.
We couldn’t wait to see what the next few days had in store for us with the Sherpa family.
P.S. In case, you ever decide to make a trip to Yuksom. Call up the Limboo family (097330 84983) and treat yourself!