Travel and Leisure

A Sojourn Amidst The Mountains

We often prefer to escape to the mountains as a break from our mundane city life. My husband and I have a deep fascination with the mighty Kanchenjunga, the world’s third-highest mountain, standing at a massive 28,169 feet in a section of the Himalayas in the border region between Nepal and Sikkim. What an eternal beauty it is! We can best view the elusive Kanchenjunga from the quaint little town of Pelling in West Sikkim, making it one of our favourite holiday destinations.

We recently took a trip to Pelling, which was very short because it was our baby boy’s first ever trip to Sikkim. We wanted to keep it short, as we weren’t sure how he would react to the high altitude and change of weather. This was a follow-up trip from the one we took in December 2020, which was longer and where we explored Pelling and the nearby attractions.

This time around, though, we decided to keep our plans flexible. We could spend the two days simply in the hotel gazing at Kanchenjunga and not do any sightseeing if the baby did not feel up to it. Even that felt like a wonderfully relaxing vacation.

We started our trip from the Kolkata airport, boarding a flight to Bagdogra. Just the day before, we received the somewhat disturbing news that a landslide had forced the closure of the main highway from Bagdogra to Pelling, necessitating the longer route through Darjeeling. Anyway, we told ourselves, these events are common in the mountains, and one must adapt accordingly.

My baby boy refused to fall asleep before take-off. This caused a bit of worry, as everyone, including a co-passenger, told us we simply must put the baby to sleep before taking off and make sure his nap continues until the plane lands. This is the only way to avoid hassles during the flight, they said.

Once we were airborne, as expected, my baby started fussing. He wanted to explore his surroundings and not remain confined to our assigned seats. While we tried several techniques to pacify him, nothing seemed to work. I gave in, turning off the seatbelt sign and taking him for a stroll.

And this led to the most delightful encounters! Several co-passengers offered to take him in their arms, play with him, and soothe him! At first, I was apprehensive about my baby boy’s reaction, but I was pleasantly surprised when he appeared to feel most at ease in their arms. He warmed up to people he’d just met with natural ease. As he played in the arms of kind strangers, I watched and clicked pictures with sheer joy, realising that these genuine human connections, often forged instantly, are indeed special and could potentially solve many of today’s problems. Social media dominates a world where people often complain of loneliness and constantly compare themselves with their peers, so it made me happy to see human connections taking precedence.

We landed in Bagdogra on time and started our journey to Pelling via the meandering mountain roads. Stopping for breakfast and lunch on the way, we finally managed to reach Pelling around 6 p.m. Having started our journey that day at 5 a.m., we were exhausted. My baby was, luckily, in high spirits. He had spent pretty much the entire day napping on his father’s lap! Despite our exhaustion, the little one remained incredibly enthusiastic and eager to play! We indulged him, taking turns, just when we received some bad news. The weather had apparently not been cooperative for the last week, and our old friend, Mt. Kanchenjunga, decided to stay hidden. My husband was quite disappointed. Being a photography enthusiast, he had managed to bring his fancy DSLR camera along (ignoring my protests that it would be inconvenient to carry the heavy camera with our baby) and was hoping to get some classic snaps of sunlight touching the mountain. However, the forecast did not seem encouraging.

At 5:30 a.m. the following morning, we awoke to the most spectacular sight. The beautiful Kanchenjunga looks radiant in the early morning sun! How lucky we are, we thought. Grabbing our baby, who was still asleep, and our camera, we made our way downstairs. We had chosen to stay at a hotel with excellent views of the Kanchenjunga (weather permitting, of course). Several other guests were down there already, all marvelling at nature’s grace and beauty. Family members were forcibly waking up the still-asleep guests to catch a glimpse of the snow-laden beauty! After all, who knew how long the Kanchenjunga would be visible? And sure enough, around 7 a.m., the clouds started coming in again and obscured the mountain from view. It appears that nature rewards early risers!

We packed our day with sightseeing activities. However, our plan was flexible. If our baby became cranky, we would come back to the hotel and spend the day relaxing.

Our first stop was Pemayangtse Monastery, one of the oldest and premier monasteries in Sikkim. When we last visited Pelling in December 2020, COVID protocols had the monastery closed to external visitors. This time, we really wanted to visit the historical place. What a serene atmosphere! The calm and peaceful monastery made us truly forget our woes and anxieties and immerse ourselves in the moment. Our baby, fortunately, also kept quiet and did not make any noise, much to our relief. Maybe the calmness in the air also soothed him.

Next, we made our way to Khecheopalri Lake, believed to be a sacred, wish-fulfilling lake. We also visited in December 2020. On our way, we passed the Rimbi Orange Garden. Here, a dilemma confronted us. The trail involved hiking down the hillside to the Rimbi river bed and walking around the orange garden. Several tourists were concerned about how we would manage with a small baby. Maybe we should not venture all the way down, I told my husband. However, he disagreed, determined to try everything before abandoning it. He believed he could walk down while carrying our son. And thus, we made our way down. With great care and grace, we descended and encountered the vibrant Rimbi River! The small stalls were selling delicious fresh orange juice, the staple “Pahari” maggi, and steamed momos. Tired and hungry from our hike, we munched on while the kind Sikkimese lady at the stall attended to our son, who was quite entertained by her Nepali lullabies!

Next stop: Khecheopalri Lake. We took a walk amidst the greenery and offered our prayers in the adjoining temple. However, we were really disappointed to find that the lake had shrunk in width and access was now restricted. This was in stark contrast to our earlier visit to the lake in December 2020, when we could approach the lake and feed the fish as well. All of that is forbidden now. This was indeed a sad reminder of climate change, global warming, and the adverse effects it has on nature’s precious resources.

By this time, we were hungry again (the fresh mountain air helps digest the food really quickly), and we were quite amazed to find a restaurant serving authentic Italian pizza!!! Indeed, this was an unexpected discovery, particularly in the remote area of Pelling! We made our way there and placed our orders. The backside of the menu card featured their interesting origin story. The pizzeria’s owner initially owned a homestay, where he once welcomed an Italian pizza chef. He became friendly with his guest, and the chef, who was also an architect, built the wood-fired oven for him so he could start his own pizzeria. Initially, he had difficulty establishing his business as he did not find any partners to work with. But as fate would have it, a girl from the city (our server) came to stay at his homestay. She had apparently always wanted to stay in the mountains and wished to start her life afresh. Thus, she volunteered to run the pizzeria with him! Now they’re in a relationship and run the pizzeria together! If my readers ever happen to visit Pelling, make sure to visit Khecheopalri Lake and Latop’s Pizzeria!

A bit exhausted from our daylong travels, we headed into the car again and started for our last stop: Kanchenjunga Falls. This pristine waterfall, which reportedly originates high up in the icy glaciers of Mt. Kanchenjunga, was not very popular until the 1990s. Of course, it is one of the most coveted tourist stops, and rightly so.

We had also visited the Singshore Bridge, a suspension bridge offering breathtaking views of the surroundings. It is about an hour’s drive from Pelling. There’s also the Rabdentse Ruins, which feature the historical ruins of the ancient palace and offer beautiful views of Mt. Kanchenjunga on a clear day.

If you are planning a trip to Pelling, you can either take the train to New Jalpaiguri (NJP) or a flight to Bagdogra (as we did this time). The journey from NJP/Bagdogra to Pelling takes about 6 hours, with a couple of stops along the way. Plan to spend at least 2 full days in the quaint mountain town, which offers enough time to visit the local points of interest and enjoy the beautiful Mt. Kanchenjunga. March and April are good times to visit when the weather is not too cold.

We hope to plan our next trip soon!

Arijita Mukherjee Chakraborty

Arijita Mukherjee Chakraborty is an author with a passion for writing. She grew up immersed in books and has a particular love for authors like Satyajit Ray, Jhumpa Lahiri, J.K. Rowling, and Paulo Coelho. Arijita holds a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Illinois at Chicago and previously worked at Intel Corporation. She returned to Kolkata in 2020 to be closer to family and now runs an edtech startup mentoring students in STEM. Writing serves as a therapeutic outlet for her thoughts and emotions, showcasing her unique perspective, shaped by her academic background and life experiences.

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