Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Club Mahindra Bloggers Trip - Sikkim

When I first started writing trip reports, I would endlessly pain my friends to leave comments. They were irritated by my constant messages and I was irritated that they would not comment. Then in 2008, I started this blog and slowly and steadily built a small base of readers. Most of the readers were strangers who had come to my blog in search of a good travel story. After some months of communication, some of these people even became good friends. I would chat with them regularly and connected on social networking sites. I even went to the extent of traveling with a fellow blogger who I had known only through his blog. It was a great success which made me believe that it was easier to make friends with common interests. I started meeting fellow bloggers whenever I happened to be in their city. Up until this trip, I had met Lakshmi Sharath, Arun Bhat, Arun Nair and Neelima Vallangi. With each of them, conversation was effortless and it felt like we already knew each other. It has been over 2 years since I moved back and the only friends I made are those that I met through travel forums, group trips and blogs!!

When Club Mahindra offered to take me on a trip to their resort in Sikkim, I jumped at it, not because it was Sikkim, but it was with 8 other travel bloggers. The fun started in the flight itself. There were 5 of us and we pretended to own the aircraft. During the 3 hr flight to Calcutta, we had loud arguments/discussions about everything from exercise to investments to altitude sickness. Calcutta airport was a serious dump!! How does a city that claims to be the most intellectual and philosophical city tolerate that stink is beyond me. We felt bad even eating a sandwich from a Coffee day. Bagdogra airport was much nicer. The drive to Gangtok was along the Teesta river and it was beautiful, but very windy. The combination of windy roads, heavy traffic and diesel smell did a number on me and I was seriously nauseous. Multiple stops and five long hours later, we reached Gangtok.

Back at the resort, we ordered some drinks and set out to get to know each other. It was a motley group of nine. We could not be more different than the other. One was a compulsive chatterbox while one was a quiet listener, one loved eating while one loved cooking, one took pictures of everything in sight while another took pictures of herself at every sight. One wore very trendy clothes while another wore her husband's jeans. One was a meticulously planned traveler and another was a spontaneous I-will-figure-out-as-I-go person. The group was a mixture of travelers of all ages and ailments. However different we all were, we shared a common passion (borderline obsession) for travel. I felt completely at home with these serial-travelers. Everybody was coming from a trip and/or going to another trip after Sikkim. Some traveled for work while some quit work to travel and yet others chose travel as their work. These obsessive compulsive travelers/foodies seem to have found an answer to the work-life balance equation (less work...more life). It was refreshing to talk to people who never let work come in the way of life. Life is not just about earning a living....it is about living!!


Moving on - Gangtok itself was not very impressive. Having passed through another hill station recently (Nainital), I will go out on a limb and say that all popular hill stations in India are avoidable. They are noisy, polluted and the man made structures block out mountain vistas. Trick is to find a small village just outside these hill stations and stay there. Club Mahindra's Royal Demazong was six kilometers outside Gangtok towards the hills. A tiny dirt road lead to the most impressive location in that region. Set in the middle of the majestic Chola range, almost halfway to the clouds (scroll down to see those pictures) was a beautiful heritage structure. Our rooms were very tastefully decorated and spacious. The best part was the balcony which offered uninterrupted views of the mountains all round. On a relaxed holiday, I could imagine myself sipping my morning coffee in the balcony listening to the songs of the birds.









Our first stop the next day was the Bulbulay Himalayan Zoo. While I no longer enjoy zoo's, this one was different in that animals were kept in large open/semi-open/closed enclosures. I was also excited about the prospect of seeing snow leopards, Himalayan civet cats and the star attraction - the Red Panda Bear. A beautiful walk through the woods took us to the first attraction - Black Bear or Bhalu. A bear rolling on the ground and wrestling with a piece of wood was misconstrued as two bears making out which led to a lot of innuendos and jokes. The Leopards, handsome as they are, posed for photographs.










The drive to the Lingdum monastery was just beautiful. Light green rice fields interspersed with dark mountains was a sight to behold. Many a time, I made the driver stop on narrow roads just to get a quick shot of these landscapes.




This was my first monastery in the east and I was impressed. It was a very non-touristy place and we found ourselves to be one in less than 20 tourists at the site. The architecture of the monastery is like other Buddhist structures in Nepal, Bhutan and North East India. With rising levels and pagodas, it looked very grand and majestic.








Loud temple music and the ringing of the gong made me walk into the inner sanctum where the evening prayer was going on. Monks were chanting scriptures while tapping their music cymbals. Outside in the courtyard, a big group of monks were practicing a prayer dance. The older monks were unfazed by our presence, but the younger ones would look at us from time to time and blush. I wonder how kids as young as these decide to become monks.







However exhausting the days were, we used to stay up till late in the night and have very interesting discussions. Men were bored by the relationship conversations, but took part in the singing session with gusto. I doubt if anybody on our floor slept that night. Looking back at the trip, I think my most favorite memories were not of the places, but the people. Some of them will remain good friends and travel buddies for years to come.




Coming up - Sikkim 2, Drive to Nathula Pass and Tsmongo Lake

32 comments:

  1. Good one there. However, waiting for the entire log.

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  2. Loved the last para more than anything Vamsee! :) Aren't we glad to see that "living" is taking priority these days?

    You guys had good fun.. wish I could've joined too. :(
    But there's always a next time and it was great meeting you here.

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  3. I was looking forward to your anecdote wondering how different or similar it would be from mine.

    And Vamsee, you wrote my heart out and taken me there again.
    Yup, could not have agreed more. Life is about LIVING (in caps).
    :-)

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  4. Beautiful snaps.. Red Panda bear? Have never seen one.. can you put some pics of it? it's always fun to travel with people having common interest :)

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  5. Superb write-up, Vamsee! You are a great observer of people! I liked the way you've described your fellow travellers! And I just lovvvved the pics - the forest and mist-covered mountains and valleys just call out to me!! Lovely!

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  6. i think saru mama have taken these pics the were awesome even akka u can also take these kind of pics if u had taken send some pics to me

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  7. Beautiful....As always, I was there with you all thru the narration and experiencing the same feelings, emotions...

    Thanks Vamsee for this unique experience!!!

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  8. Thank you for this trip, Vamsee...the write up, as usual, is evocative. But the pix are just AWESOME.

    Yes, life certainly is all about living and making teh trip on earth worthwhile.

    Looking forward to more posts and more tavels with you, virtually and really.

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  9. Simply awesome, Vam! Very crisp write up and breathtaking pictures! Love the fog rolling over the mountains and the monastery. Next I am going to ask you for a picture book with pics of animals you see during your trips for Maya. Looking forward to the Part II of the blog!

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  10. Awesome, as usual... the pics as well as the write up. I especially loved the description of your co-travellers.. would love to know which was which! and the best part about most of club mahindra resorts is their location - just far away enough from a popular tourist location to be serene and peaceful!!

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  11. Beautiful Pictures. And I wonder who was it was wearing her husband's pants :)

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  12. Great pictures...Thanks for sharing.

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  13. though i have been reading ur posts for the past year, this is the fitst time i am able to comment.. ril finally let me do it..

    wonderful... simply wonderful.. ur wildlife pics come out beautifully.. i can almost read the mood of the snow leopard...

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  14. maybe its time for another discussion on relationships :)

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  15. I enjoyed your article very much. It triggered wonderful memories about my own trip in the early nineties. I was so fortunate because a very good Indian friend accompanied me and introduced me to his relatives in Sikkim. After singing "mues i denn, mues i denn zum St├Ądtele hinus" (think Elvis when he was stationed in Germany) with the Chief Minister I got permission to travel where ever I wanted. Maybe he got so sick hearing my off tunes that he wanted me out of Gangtok :)

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  16. brought back a rush of memories ..its so true..people make places and yes, Im referring to the group here and very very well written Vamsee and some lovely pics

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  17. Fantastic pictures! Loved each of them.Planning asummer in Sikkim, will come back to make notes. Always feel nice to read your posts
    Cheers!

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  18. Wow, loved the pics... esp that of the cat!! :)

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  19. nice pics and good writeup, vamsee which camera are you using for this breathtaking pics?? :)

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  20. Hi Vamsee,
    Great framing and perspective as usual! It must have been quite fascinating with other prolific travel bloggers too! I especially liked the prayer wheel picture.

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  21. Awesome pictures! I think even Goa should be the next destination on your mind if you love the beauty of nature so much! Hotels in Goa are some of the finest in India and it won't be wrong to say that some of the hotels in Goa are competing against international seven star hotels! No doubt several people in India as well as abroad are fascinated by the place. There are many tour package companies like club mahindra that give access to some of the finest hotels. So keep travelling!

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  22. Hi,

    Simply outstanding pics ! Indeed amazing blog post .

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