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The Silk Route

Posted by @bhitalks on May 30, 2009

the Legendary Silk Route, the only open trade route with China at Nathu La

The photograph on the left shows the NathuLa Business Channel. These are the gates to the famed trade route between India and China. Legendarily known as the Silk Route, this is the only open trade link on the Sino-Indian border. On the left of this gate is India and on the right, China. The single barbed wire fence can also be seen in this picture, dangling down from the platform where we were standing.


Chinese soldier shaking hands with children at Nathu La


The picture on the right shows a Chinese soldier shaking hands with children on the Indian side of the border. The barbed wire fence can be seen clearly. The platform on the Indian side is a bit higher from the ground than the Chinese side.

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Panoramic Frontier!

Posted by @bhitalks on May 30, 2009

Summer2009_2_127 Stitch2

This photograph was done in panoramic mode at about 1300 hrs. This provides us with a panoramic view of the Sino-Indian border at Nathu La!

Towards the left of those concrete stairs is China. Towards the right is India. You can notice the snow clad Himalayan ranges in China towards extreme left. The blue-capped hut-like structures on the near left of the stairs are the Chinese posts. The one up higher up is a watch post that the Red Army uses to keep a watch on the roads on the Indian side! One Chinese soldier is seen here climbing up to the post on a call from his Major. If you click on this picture and open it up in original size, you will see another Chinese personnel manning the watch post.

Towards the right of the stairs that fortified wall like structure is the Indian army bunkers and posts.

What a sight!

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Snow in peak summer!

Posted by @bhitalks on May 30, 2009

At Nathu La, Jaishree in the snow

Just as we started our final climb up to the Nathu La, it started snowing. At first it was a slight drizzle, then rain and then snow. It made our trip worth it. Who would have expected snow here in the summer of May! However, not all was covered in snow, as most of it had already melted during this summer. There were a few patches of snow here and there which were the last remains of the snow that had covered the entire area last winter.

Jaishree didn’t waste a single moment to find the biggest chunk of snow and dashed for it. This photograph shows her on top of a huge rock of ice at Nathu La.

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Mera Bharat Mahan, Hum Hi Jitenge!

Posted by @bhitalks on May 30, 2009

On way to Nathu La Pass

While climbing up to Nathu La, we encountered this motif drawn on the hill slopes so that it is clearly visible from the snake like winding road that leads to the frontier. This is the handiwork of the Indian Army personnel. At this height of 14,000 feet, the vegetation is meagre and the mountains look barren. Even at the fag end of May, the peak of summer the temperature is 4 degrees celsius!

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Summer of 2009 – Day 7

Posted by @bhitalks on May 30, 2009

We woke up early today, in anticipation of good weather and clear view of the Kanchenjunga ranges. Weather did improve but clouds and mist persisted and our remaining hopes dwindled! However, our tour manager, Gyatso came with a good news… our permits for Nathu La got cleared for today.

And so there we were, moving out of Gangtok by 0800 hrs for a drive that would take us a little over 3 hours. We had Sachin for our driver today as he is a regular on this stretch of the road. We cruised only for a little distance when the road started getting narrower and ill-maintained. Perhaps more so because of the heavy rains until a couple of days before. As we started climbing up, the climate got pleasant. A welcome turn from the humid and warm Gangtok that we left behind. The landscape of the valleys were more or less similar to those we saw in Teesta valley not so long ago.

Only until we reached the Tsomgo Lake at 12,500 ft. Also, called the Chhangu Lake in local parlance. A rather smallish but beautiful lake in the middle of nowhere took us for a pleasant surprise. Not that we weren’t expecting it, but seeing it first hand was another experience altogether. Clear hazel water was calm and smooth. This lake collects its water from the melting snow in summers from the peaks above. This time it had perhaps collected more water from the continuous rains in yesterdays. During winters, it gets frozen on the surface. What a spectacular sight that would be!

We were consciously careful as the air gets thinner and breathing problems hamper the zeal at such heights. But, we didn’t feel a thing even at Nathu La higher up there. Yes, we did start panting even after a little brisk walk or climb but not that bad.

We didn’t stop at Tsomgo, as we had to reach Nathu La as fast as possible, timings being the reason. We further climbed upto 14,400 feet winding thru the narrow roads with steep ascents. The mountains started getting brown because there is little vegetation in lower temperatures. By the time we reached the army helipad (where all vehicles are made to wait as the army personnel manage visitors in batches for Nathu La) we were already shivering. We had to put on the jackets which we hired at Tsomgo specifically for this purpose. Once our batch was cleared, an army personnel escorted us in our cab to the final peak i.e. the Sino-Indian border.

The moment we started our ascent to the border, it started snowing! Wow, snowfall in late May!

It was a 5 minute climb to the border. And when we finally reached the frontier it was a different feeling that overcame us. Being at the only open link between India and China was a feeling that kept us awestruck. Nathu La is a lepcha word which means “the pass of the listening ear”. It is that legendary silk route between India and China, and is still the only trade link on the Sino-India border that is open.

There were patches of snow at this time of the year and Jaishree had her heart’s fill of fun playing with those small patches. The border is demarcated by a single fence of barbed wire at knee height. On the chinese side, construction work was on for some convention centre by the Chinese. There were a couple of Red Army personnel at the border who were as busy taking pictures of Indian tourists as the Indian tourists were taking theirs. Initially they were reluctant to come even near and just nodded from a distance. But, after repeated requests from several Indian tourists, they finally came closer, shook hands and posed for photographs. Jaishree shook hands with one of them and even chatted for a while with another one. The Red Army personnel do not usually utter a single word, but sometimes they do respond hellos and byes. And this sino-tibettan army man exchanged hellos and thank yous with Jaishree and posed for a couple of photographs.

I had already started feeling very cold, the temperature here was 3 to 4 degrees celsius and I got myself completely wrapped in a jacket and with muffler over my ears and the hood tightly over the head! We could help remember the 45 degree heat at Delhi we had until a few days before!

After a while we drove down to Baba Harbhajan Singh mandir. Baba was an Indian Army personnel and went missing during the Indo-China war of 1962. This mandir was made by the armymen when he appeared in their dreams. Until a few years ago, this mandir was maintained by the Indian Army and they used to organise a lunch and prayer every week. The lunches were later discontinued and now it is maintained by AWWA.

We didn’t stay long here, and after a cup of coffee drove down back to the Tsomgo lake for lunch. Jaishree tried nearly everything a small shack had to offer! From dimpsums to chowmin to egg-rice, everything! Drive back to Gangtok was another 3 to 4 hours during which Jaishree dozed off and me was busy taking pictures on the way. Every once in a while Jaishree would wake up, enjoy the beautiful valleys and then doze off again. We were feeling tired.

By the time we reached back our hotel at Gangtok, it was nearly 8 in the evening. We have had our dinner early and now retiring to bed. See you tomorrow.

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Bird’s Eye View of Gangtok

Posted by @bhitalks on May 29, 2009

Gangtok from a bird's eye

Gangtok from a bird's eye

This picture shows the Gangtok city from a bird’s eye perspective. Gangtok looks like an artwork, as if someone has neatly splattered buildings over the mountains. We took this picture while returning from the Lingdong monastary from about a distance of 5 km. Of course, it was taken with a teleconversion lens mounted on our camera. Quite an eye catching view.

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The Gorgeous Lingdong Monastary

Posted by @bhitalks on May 29, 2009


The Gorgeous Lingdong Monastary

The Gorgeous Lingdong Monastary

The Lingdong monastary is a beautiful place located in the Ranka village 5 km from the Rumtek, 20 km from Gangtok. This monastary is attached to a college of Tibetology. It is perched on a mountain slope away from the urban hush and is not frequented by tourists. Only monks are what you find here and you find yourself enveloped in serene tranquility of pristine nature. It has so calming effect on the body and soul that you may want to just sit there on it’s parapet walls and soak it in for eternity!

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The Rumtek Monastary

Posted by @bhitalks on May 29, 2009


At the Rumtek monastary

The Rumtek Monastary

The Rumtek Monastary is the oldest monastary in this region. The legend has it that there were heavenly signs including but not limited to lightening streak brilliantly white focussed on the point on ground supposed to be most pious. And the monastary was founded. It is the official seat of His Holiness Karmapa in exile.

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At the flower exhibition, Gangtok

Posted by @bhitalks on May 29, 2009


At the Flower Exhibition

The first thing we did on our Gangtok full day excursion was to visit the flower show to pep up our mood. And refresh it did! The valleys in Sikkim are abound with magnificient flora during spring and early summer. By the end of May, we found the blooms scarce but for a few patches. However the flowers are just beautiful and we could never have enough watching those in their full glory.

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Summer of 2009 – Day 6

Posted by @bhitalks on May 29, 2009

The morning began on a sombre note. Contrary to our expectations, it was not a brilliant day. It was cloudy and misty. And then as expected, our tour manager Gyatso informed us about the change in our itinerary. We will go for local sight-seeing today and Nathu La tomorrow. The permit was granted only for tomorrow. Moreover, the chopper rides were not available. The Sikkim tourism cancelled all the excursion flights and only Gangtok flight of 15 minutes was operating and that too was heavily booked for some VIPs who were around. So the helicopter ride is also out! So sad.

We started our day with a visit to the flower exhibition to get back from the downtrodden mood! And it was of course refreshing. There were Hydrangeas and Neorolgeas and Petunias and Orchids in brilliant colours. These flowers are at bloom during the spring and early summer in Sikkim. By the time we were done with the flower show, Jaishree was back in the groove again.

We moved on to the government handicrafts showrooms and then to Do-Drul Chorten in Deorali (near Gangtok). Here is a monastary and Institute of Tibetology. This monastary was a little different from the other monastaries with a rather smallish front-yard and larger dormitories. Perhaps the reason being its attachment to the institute. Lots of ‘diyas’ in one enclosure caught our eye. It was amazing to watch hundreds of ‘diyas’ arranged neatly on a table, some of which were burning! The museum of tibetology was also good. We got immersed in the exhibits and the photo-documentation of the history of Sikkim. Sikkim was merged with India in 1975 by the way. The photo-stories of the Chogyal rulers and the relations with the Druk (Bhutan) was absorbing. Photography was not allowed so we couldn’t capture some of those moments of Sikkimese history.

We then took a cable-car ride and the sight of Gangtok and adjoining hills was simply mesmerizing. The multi-stories building were splattered across the hills to form the city called Gangtok. It looks like as if some school kid has done a 3D clay model with little boxes neatly strewn all over the hills!

Without wasting more time we drove to Rumtek Monastary which is the oldest monastary in this region. It is 20 kilometres from Gangtok and the terrain is hilly. The Rumtek is guarded by the ITBPF (Indo Tibet Border Polic Force) and is frequested mostly by the tourists. The photography inside isn’t allowed and we had to content by being silent visitors to the main prayer hall. At that time prayer was on and the entire hall was resounding with chants of some 20-25 monks. The monsatary itself is not so beautiful and looks just like any other monastary. However, it is an important landmark, owing to it being the oldest monastary and also the seat of the Karmapa in exile, His holiness, the XVIth Gyawla Karmapa, the head of the Karma Kagyu order.

From the Rumtek, we took a detour of 5-6 kilometres to not-so-frequented LingDong Monastary. The moment we reached this place, we went into another world! It is so quiet, serene, and tranquil that it just captivates your senses. Located on a remote hill in the Ranka village, it is surrounded by forest and the freshness here has a calming effect. This is the best place we went to in and around Gangtok! Not many tourists come here as because it is not included in the 10-point tour which is offered to everyone coming here. Courtesy our cabbie, Karma we got a chance that we shall never regret. This monastary is attached to a college of Tibetology and hence there are numerous hostel rooms for monks that form the periphery of the central prayer hall. We were welcome in the prayer hall and incidentally the prayers were on here as well. We were allowed to do whatever we wanted to in the hall which is truly a great gesture on the part of the monks. Of course we preserved the sanctity of the place by not talking and not being animated! We photographed the breathtakingly beautiful prayer hall to our hearts desire. The hall is decorated tastefully in true tibetan style with colourful motifs all around. The LingDong Monastary is equally beautiful on its exteriors and we spent quite some time around there.

Towards the end of the day, we stopped by the BanJhakri Waterfalls on the way back to Gangtok. It is a small but aesthetically developed park around a natural water fall. Jaishree found the place a delight before returning back to our boring hotel at Gangtok.

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