Part III in a series on Sikkim
11am: Our Air India flight from Delhi departs at around 11am and arrives in Gangtok at 1pm (this is the earliest flight we could get; Air India has a daily run to Gangtok and back, arriving in Gangtok at 1pm and departing from there for Delhi at 1:45pm everyday).
1pm: On arrival, we head to the Pre-paid West Bengal Government Booth in the airport to get a taxi to Gangtok. They quote around Rs 2000 for an Indica and Rs 2400 for a Tavera.
Tip 1: If you see other tourists that look like they are headed to Gangtok as well, it may be a good idea to approach them to share a cab in order to split costs.
Tip 2: If you’d like to save a few bucks, step out of the airport and bargain with the multitude of taxis parked in the private taxi stand right outside.
Tip 3: A shorter and more convenient way to reach Gangtok is to take the helicopter service from the Bagdogra airport. The Pawan Hans costs about Rs 2800 per head, but brings you to Gangtok in flat 45 minutes and even gives you a short ten-minute ride above the city. If you can afford it, go for this option as the drive to Gangtok is not something to die-for and can be safely skipped, giving you an extra half-day in Gangtok.
1:30pm: We bargain with the private taxis outside the airport and get an AC-Innova for Rs 2400, (initially quoted at Rs 2600 for a non-AC Innova). Having found another couple headed to Gangtok, we share the cab and split the fare. On exchanging notes, we discover that not only is the couple from Delhi as well, they are also married on the same date as us- just a year later!
We set forth at 1:30pm and after a quick stop for the driver to grab lunch an hour later, we begin the hill drive. The road is fairly bad and bumpy in most parts. We are carrying sandwiches and munch those along the way. Since it is a good 5-hour drive, you may want to carry some grub with you or grab a bite on the way. Rambu and Malli are two little townships on the way that could offer you something decent to eat (don’t expect a lavish spread).
We notice, as we drive past Siliguri and Kallimpong and stop for meals/snacks, that the local people along the way speak Nepali, Bengali and Hindi. The Nepal border is barely 25kms from Bagdogra and has a market to buy cross-border goods. Bhutan, too, is about a 5-hour drive from Bagdogra.
Most of the drive is along the River Teesta, which slowly winds its way up the hill along with us. The weather, surprisingly, is hot and uncomfortable, even though it is the last week of March.
4pm: We stop at Gelkhula for tea and try a local sweet being sold in packets, called ‘Lopchu Pedas’. These are little sweets made of milk and dates, in a small nearby village called Lopchu and look very similar to the Pedas of Mathura.
4:40pm: We enter Sikkim from the east through an industrial town by the name of Rangpo (pronounced Rum-po). Our ID proofs are checked here. A lot of industrial work can be seen underway here- factories, mining, oil industries. Danny Denzongpa’s Wai-Wai factory also falls along the way. On exiting the town, we see the famous Sikkim Manipal Institute.
6:30pm: After dropping off Rahul and Aradhna at Hotel Mayur, a stone’s throw away from MG Road, we descend downhill to our hotel: Suhim Portico, a luxury hotel situated about 2kms from MG Road.
Hotel Suhim Portico
The hotel is classy and done up in good taste. We are greeted by Tashi at the reception, who helps us through the check-in, which takes about five minutes. A photo ID needs to be presented here as well. We had pre-paid 50% of the cost in advance through online payments and the rest of the cost is to be paid at the end of our stay. They have rooms on the floors below the reception and on one floor above the reception. The upper floor is preferable for good views.
We are given a suite (Room 103) on the upper floor and are fairly happy with what we see. The room doesn’t actually have a great view, but is spacious, with a wardrobe, couch and study-table in the outer room; and the bedroom and bathroom in the inner room. With wooden flooring, lots of wood work, cream and brown curtains and classy furnishings, the suite looks warm and inviting. I head straight to the bathroom for a shower. Cream and brown tiles, clean towels, amenities like shower gel, shampoo and hair-dryers are luxuries we are not going to get once we leave for the upper reaches of North Sikkim.
Ready and refreshed, we head towards MG Road to plan our trip to North Sikkim, which is to begin the very next morning. Read about that in my next post.
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Piyushi Dhir is the author of 'In Search of Love', 'I'm Yours, The Next Time', 'Silent Promises' and 'Enmeshed Evermore'. She is a contributor in 'Nineteen Tales of COVID-19', a collection of short stories. A voracious reader, a keen traveler, a businesswoman and a mom, Piyushi currently resides in Canada. A nomad at heart, she loves to discover new places and capture the hues of life with her pen.