West Sikkim /01

When I first offered my proposal to my friends over phone, the general reaction was, ‘What? Ring chong pung?’ I corrected immediately, ‘Noo. Rin-chen-pong. It is in West Sikkim.’

For past few months I had been reading about this less explored heaven on earth on many travel forums and travelogues. At first my plan was to visit Dooars and to do some jungle safari, but then I changed my mind and enjoying cold during the first week of December on the lap of Himalaya while exploring monasteries sounded like a much better plan. We had booked our tickets to/from NJP/Bagdogra long back, but had not zeroed on the destination until mid November. My travelling usually starts 2-3 months before the actual schedule. When my mortal body is dragging itself off the bed and getting prepared for office, my mind has already started packing. Or you might think I am sitting in the office, doing mundane calculations on excel sheet with a grave face; but I am actually sitting on the balcony of the tourist lodge, sipping coffee, enjoying scenic beauty all around me. Even now I am supposed to be working, instead I am writing this travelogue, to ward off my Monday blues.

So around mid October, when I was feeling all confused between Darjeeling and Dooars, my problem solver senior cum mentor suggested, ‘Rinchenpong chole jao.’ Honestly, I had never heard of this place before. After his suggestion and going through several Indiamike posts, I decided on a short trip to Rinchenpong and Pelling. Itinerary was quite simple - Day 1 and day 2 at Rinchenpong/Kaluk, day 3 and day 4 at Pelling.

When the Kamrup express started from Howrah on 29th November, I was probably the happiest person alive on earth at that moment. I was trying hard to keep my calm, but inside, I was dancing like a kid (not human, but goat). Our train reached NJP next day at 8.30 in the morning. I was already exhausted owing to sleep deprivation all night, thanks to the big aunty and her loud voice in the opposite coupe. We had a really hard time getting a car from NJP to Kaluk. The whole place was infected with agents of various local tour companies, who would try to fool you if you had not done your prior homework. Here’s a small tip: NEVER take a Bengali tour guide/driver/agent while travelling to Sikkim. Always go for the Sikkimese people. They are honest, polite, harmless and extremely helpful; the qualities that most Bengalis lack, especially those tour agents. After a lot of harassment, we finally booked a car to Jorethang from Piyali cinema stand, Siliguri. My exhaustion was completely evaporated as soon as we left behind the army camps and Mahananda sanctuary. From now onwards the Teesta would be our companion in this journey. 





No matter how cold the temperature of the hills is, they always stretch their arms in warm welcome to their guests. The beautiful Teesta kept accompanying us until we reached Tribeni. From there, she handed over the task of hospitality to her sister, the Rangeet and she gladly accepted it. However, condition of the road to Jorethang was really bad, it was dusty and bumpy. I smacked my head to car ceiling once. I tried to sleep but most of the time I was having a hard time just to keep my bottom fixed to the seat. And all this time, my friends were sleeping quite peacefully god knows how. We reached Jorethang at around 12.30 pm. We had to book another car to Kaluk from Jorethang stand. Our young Sikkimese driver (who was a nineteen years old kid by the way) assured us to get to Kaluk in two hours and as promised we reached Kaluk by 2.30 pm. Kaluk is a very small village in west Sikkim, and so is Rinchenpong. The main attraction of this place is the view of entire Kanchenjunga range. We had decided to stay near Kaluk bazaar and explore Rinchenpong from there, which was the next village. I had read numerous positive reviews of Kanchen Valley tourist lodge on travel forums, so we decided to stay there. The place was owned by a guy named John Chetri and his sister Krishila.

Kaluk

We went during off season and the lodge was almost empty except another Bengali group. In the afternoon, when we reached the entire area was cloudy and covered in fog. After freshening up, we went to have lunch on the rooftop restaurant of the lodge; fresh hot food felt like heaven after long journey. It was foggy and gloomy outside. Mr. Chetri told us that it remained mostly cloudy during this time of the year. ‘What?! That means we won’t be able to see Kanchenjunga?’ I looked at my companions in despair. They were scattered around the table busy chatting among themselves. I realised nobody shared my gusto. I finished my lunch with an already disappointed heart. We were completely exhausted. I fell asleep as soon as I hit the bed.

When I woke up, I could not figure out for a moment where I was. It was completely dark. I got up from the bed and went out to the balcony. Now the cold hit me hard. It was freezing outside. I looked down from the balcony, shops were closed, road was totally empty; the entire Kaluk seemed to have gone to sleep. The lights on the far beyond hills were twinkling like million stars. I was trying to picture how my Dunlop would like at this hour. Traffic jam? Noise? Rush to go home after office? It seemed like an impossible nightmare to me and I quickly brought my mind back to my current surroundings. My guy scolded me for sleeping for so long and made a grumpy face about his repeatedly failed attempt to wake me up. I didn’t bother much and suggested we could go out on the empty street for a walk.

There was nobody on the street except a few furry dogs. They started to follow us wagging their tails as if they had known us from Adam. There was a small shrine in the middle of the marketplace where few oil lamps were burning in the dark. A policeman was sitting inside a small check post at the crossroad. All the shops were closed except one. It was a liquor shop that was half opened and a lady was sitting in the counter. My friend was dying to eat pork momo since our arrival in Kaluk; he went in and asked the lady if she served any momo. She nodded her head affirmatively and welcomed us in her shop. After entering we realized that there was a small wooden bar at the back where we were asked to take seats. The temperature was at around 3 or 4 degree Celsius and we needed some warmth from within. The lady suggested local port wine would go nicely with the momo. We looked at each other and said in unison, ‘let’s take a whole bottle.’ The wine came, and then came freshly cooked momo with steamy soup. 



The police man on duty outside came and joined us. He was a really funny guy. He claimed to speak Hindi, Bengali and English pretty fluently and left no stone unturned to prove his claim. As a result, the conversation that took place between us and the police man for next half an hour was beyond any description. It felt like I was watching my favourite sitcom, only live, with me being an important part of it.

                                                                                                                                     (To be continued)

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