Please login to vote.
Friday, 20 November 2009

Sikkim and Darjeeling: Eco-travel at its Best - Page 2

Written by Christina Kay Bolton
  • Print
  • Email
  • AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Rate this item
(0 votes)

Sikkim is the greenest state in India in more than one way. It is lush and vibrantly green due to its unique micro-climate, created by its location in the shadow of Mt. Kanchenjunga and between the Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal. Books have been written about the miniature biosphere created here, and the region’s multitude of different species. The cyclones of the Bay of Bengal reach up to the Himalayas and to Sikkim in particular; that, combined with the monsoon, means Sikkim receives more than its fair share of rain, but it is also ‘green’ in an eco-sense. For instance, plastic bags are banned so they don’t end up on roadsides and in rivers like in the rest of India. Shops use paper bags or newspaper to wrap things and shoppers can buy inexpensive re-usable bags in most places. In fact, Sikkim is definitely the cleanest state that I’ve been to in India.

Kalimpong

My journey to Kalimpong was a series of frustrations as I traveled overland from Bhutan, which I would not advise because the road is an endless series of potholes and it is a long ride – in my case made extra long as we made a detour to Siliguri to get my permit for Sikkim. Foreigners need a permit to enter Sikkim, which is another reason that fewer people visit. Permits are given out at certain border crossings, but not at all of them, and we made the trip to Siliguri so we’d be able to take a shortcut towards Pelling. Unfortunately, it was a big waste of time; at the huge Government of Sikkim office in Siliguri there wasn’t one person there who could sign a simple tourist permit! Hopefully the Indian government will soon drop this permit requirement for Sikkim, as it discourages tourism without having any benefit for the people of Sikkim. Flying to Siliguri is a much better option for arriving in the area, and from there it is much easier to get to Kalimpong, Darjeeling, or Gangtok.

Sikkim and Darjeeling: Eco-travel at its Best, travel india, travel Sikkim, travel Darjeeling, Mt. Kanchenjunga, Eco-travel, Quest Himalaya Adventures, Arthur Pazo, The Orchid Retreat, Kalimpong, Elgin Mount Pandim, Pelling, Norbu Gang House, Hotel Tashi Gang, Yuksom, Mayfair Gangtok, Mayfair Darjeeling, Gangtok, Glenburn Tea Estate, Darjeeling, KurseongIn late afternoon I arrived at The Orchid Retreat , a small guesthouse just outside Kalimpong with marvelous gardens and was welcomed by Honey, the kind owner who looks after you on your stay. We had tea in her beautiful living room with a view across all the mountains to the south. Her family is in the orchid business and ships orchids all over the world. This area is abundant with all varieties of orchids as you’ll be able to see by walking around their garden which is a mix of native jungle and cultivated plants.

Rustic cottages are set in the garden surrounded by plants and filled with birdsong. The road seems very far away when you descend into the garden, and the retreat quality is enhanced by the fact that there are no TVs or telephones in the rooms. Sikkim and Darjeeling: Eco-travel at its Best, travel india, travel Sikkim, travel Darjeeling, Mt. Kanchenjunga, Eco-travel, Quest Himalaya Adventures, Arthur Pazo, The Orchid Retreat, Kalimpong, Elgin Mount Pandim, Pelling, Norbu Gang House, Hotel Tashi Gang, Yuksom, Mayfair Gangtok, Mayfair Darjeeling, Gangtok, Glenburn Tea Estate, Darjeeling, Kurseong The cottages reminded me of being at summer camp – peaceful and close to nature yet very basic and could use a good spring cleaning. There are also rooms at the main house which are less rustic, but have fewer birds since they’re above the main garden.

The meals were very good. For dinner I was brought a delicious vegetarian soup, an appetizer, one meat and two vegetable dishes, roti (flat bread), and a tasty rice pilaf followed by sweets and tea. It was a huge meal. There was another woman traveling alone there and we ended up talking and then eating together. I also met Mr. Ganesh, Honey’s father-in-law, who was very hospitable and extremely knowledgeable about all the plants, as he has been in the business his whole life and has traveled many places around the world to lecture about orchids.

It was the tail end of monsoon season when I was there (early October) and the sky opened up at night with thunderous rains, but luckily daytime was clear. For breakfast I requested Indian fare and was given poori (fried bread) with curried potatoes, a well-spiced omlette, and a basket of fruit. My guide for Kalimpong arrived and after consulting with him and Mr. Pradhan we decided on a little sightseeing in Kalimpong and then driving east to Lava, a small mountaintop town. Mr. Ganesh got the guide’s cell phone number and acted like I was his own daughter – I felt very protected.

We went to Deolo Hill, which is a park and lookout point, and also to the international school, which had been around since colonial times and had a British style stone church. The drive to Lava was beautiful – the forest was thick with tall trees and moss. Lava is at a higher altitude and is much cooler than Kalimpong. Sikkim and Darjeeling: Eco-travel at its Best, travel india, travel Sikkim, travel Darjeeling, Mt. Kanchenjunga, Eco-travel, Quest Himalaya Adventures, Arthur Pazo, The Orchid Retreat, Kalimpong, Elgin Mount Pandim, Pelling, Norbu Gang House, Hotel Tashi Gang, Yuksom, Mayfair Gangtok, Mayfair Darjeeling, Gangtok, Glenburn Tea Estate, Darjeeling, KurseongWe visited a monastery where monks were busy with debate class. They would quickly make their points and follow it with a loud clap pointing at someone else who would then do the same; it was contrary to the quiet, reflective atmosphere one usually thinks of in a monastery. Though I know this is common practice at many Buddhist monasteries, I hadn’t actually run into it before, so I was lucky to here.

We drove halfway back and then went for a hike through the villages. Rural stone paths are what most people use instead of roads. We saw many houses, crossed some streams and even ran into a small hillside factory where they make glass noodles Sikkim and Darjeeling: Eco-travel at its Best, travel india, travel Sikkim, travel Darjeeling, Mt. Kanchenjunga, Eco-travel, Quest Himalaya Adventures, Arthur Pazo, The Orchid Retreat, Kalimpong, Elgin Mount Pandim, Pelling, Norbu Gang House, Hotel Tashi Gang, Yuksom, Mayfair Gangtok, Mayfair Darjeeling, Gangtok, Glenburn Tea Estate, Darjeeling, Kurseong(supposedly the glass noodles from Kalimpong are better than those in the rest of India due to the minerals in the water). Afterwards, we went to Kalimpong Park Hotel for a late lunch with the owner of Quest Himalaya Adventures, Arthur Pazo, who would be my main guide for the majority of the trip.

(Page 2 of 7)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

Search Content by Map

Search

All Rights Reserved ©Copyright 2006-2019 inTravel Magazine®
Published by Christina's Arena, Inc.