The colourful people of Sikkim and its global tourists give the city a cosmopolitan flavour. Looking at me from a corner of my desk is a gleaming Hotei (Laughing Buddha) that travelled with me from Gangtok, back to Kolkata. His mirthful eyes and cherry-blossom cheeks lift my spirits as I remember the nodding pines of the eastern Himalayas.
We had reached Siliguri after a rain-swept night that had painted the foothills a flaming green and as we climbed, the twisting, boisterous Teesta accompanied us. Breathing deepl the fresh air, we rode up as birches, cypresses and ferns created memorable vistas en route as we passed tiny hamlets perched like birdnests on the arms of the young mountain.
Drove into Sikkim to be greeted by greener hills, well-maintained roads. The huge factory of Wai Wai instant noodles spewed white smoke into the fresh mountain air. “Holy smoke! cried my friend in glee.
Gangtok: beautiful, well-maintained and clean. The colourful people of Sikkim and its global tourists give the city a cosmopolitan flavour. We hit the town centre and strolled along the bricklaid promenade with blushing orchids and gorgeous flower-displays, old-world painted street furniture and art-deco lampposts as smiling Sikkimese women walked by. As daylight ebbed, we fortified ourselves with a plate of Shaybally and a pot of golden orange pekoe, then trudged up the road to watch Kanchenjunga playing games with cameras and the light.
Took a cab next day for the journey to Enchey Monastery, which follows the Nyingma order of Tantric Buddhism. And sure enough, there was a story of a flying lama. Lama Druptob Karpo had taken off from the Maenam hill and landed on this wooded hilltop where he built a small hermitage. The monastery came up here about 200 years ago. The stillness was hypnotising.
A car took us to chilly Lava via Kalimpong around lunchtime next day. We checked into the strategically located Green Palace hotel which gave us a room with a view to die for; but we had little time and set out for the trek to Rishyap, 4kms away.
The route climbed up a wooded hillside with the green splendour of Neora Valley to our right. Pines and cypresses lined the trail, our feet sinking in the carpet of leaves and rain-soaked earth. We walked for an hour, without meeting a soul, and stopped often to listen to the sounds of silence, punctuated by creative calls of hidden birds. At the tiny village of Rishyap, we relaxed among rose bushes and wildflowers, nursing our teacups, trying vainly to spot the iconic Kanchenjunga hidden behind a bank of clouds.
Next to our hotel at Lava was the Kagyu Thekchenling Institute of the Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism and as the light fell and clouds came whispering to the window, we saw young soft-faced monks out on their evening walks. It was getting cold but I insisted on keeping the windows open and soon the clouds drifted inside and the blankets were damp but it was very dream-like. We could hardly see each other but our voices and aroma of orange pekoe transformed the small hotel room to a cafe Ã cafe in the clouds!
At daybreak, Lava still wore its cloak of clouds as we plodded to the bus stop for the bus to Siliguri. The cottony-clouds swirled around the hotel and I looked back one last time before the clatter of the engine would drown out the fascinating aura of a magical land.