Roaming in Sikkim
Follow Roark's friends Nicolas Jacquemin and Thomas Mundler and discover Sikkim, a small Indian state that borders Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan.
We first heard the name “Sikkim” a few years back when we met our friend “Chocho” in Australia. He used to talk about his homeland with such passion and joy that we became really curious about this place. It’s only a couple months back that we got the good news, he was getting married with the lovely Tseten in Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, and we were invited. We booked our tickets not long after that.
Our first flight was to Delhi, where we arrived in the morning. We spent that day exploring the city and its monuments such as the Lotus Temple or the Qûtb Minar. We went back to the hotel to get a good night of sleep before starting the final part of our journey to Sikkim.
We were supposed to land in the new airport of Pakyong in the Himalayan mountains but the weather conditions didn´t allow any plane to land so we diverted to Bagdogra, in West Bengal. We had now a 3h30 long drive north waiting for us.
We arrived at night in Tadong, just down the main road leading to Gangtok. All Chocho’s family came outside to welcome us with open arms and traditional scarfs.
They showed us our room as they have a small hotel, in which they are living. We then went upstairs to join them in the living room, where they served us traditional tibetan food. The day after we took a tour to Banjhakri Falls outside the city with Anum, a good friend of Chocho. That place was really cool to see and we learned about the story of Banjhakris, mystical healers practicing black magic.
Chocho took us to the local market to meet with Tsundu, who is behind Skate Konnect, the first ever skaters community in Gangtok. Their only skate spot is actually the rooftop of the building and is not appropriate for skating. We had the chance to meet lots of young skaters that started thanks to Tsundu because he’s doing everything he can to introduce youngsters to skateboarding instead of turning to drugs, as it is common there because of a high rate of unemployment. After talking to the guys of Skate Konnect we decided to help them with the organization of the first skate event in the city ever. But we’ll come back to it later.
Few nights after we escaped and headed to a camping site on the other side of the valley thanks to Mantis Adventure. We went there accompanied by Chocho and his wife, Anum and Rinchen. We lit a fire on arrival and started singing and dancing around it enjoying local beers. We had a perfect view on Gangtok, just across the valley, and its numerous lights that looked like a second sky. This is when we met Sunny and Kumar, the people living on those lands, we were actually sleeping on top of their farm. Kumar then asked us if we would like to have a whole chicken or have it cutted. We chose the second option and he disappeared for 15min, he then came back with what was by far the best chicken of our lives, cooked on the fire. One hour later it was a surprise to see Kumar inviting us for dinner in his house where he cooked with his wife a chicken curry with rice and spinach, a true delight. It was also during this dinner that we were introduced to what they call « Fire Balls » , small round chilly that could easily be taken for cherry tomatoes. After this lovely dinner we headed back to the fire where we had one last beer before going to sleep. In the morning we took a small walk in the mountains. It was then time to say bye to Sunny, Kumar and his family and adress them a big thanks.
Then came the preparation of the wedding. During the days preceding the ceremony, all Chocho’s family and friends of the family came to help. From preparing the decoration to brewing rice wine or baking traditional pastries, everyone was coming to help the family. That’s something that really impressed us there, the locals are really looking after each others, they are naturally kind and caring. On the morning of the wedding, we got called upstairs to dress us with tibetan outfits. Rinchen came to pick us up and drove us to the hotel Rendezvous where the ceremony was happening. The wedding was taking place in a big hall where the husband and wife were sitting on a stage receiving gifts and blessings of hundreds of guest along the day. Around 6pm we were invited to get change as guests were now changing to suits. The hall then turned into a dance floor where the oldest DJ in Gangtok was playing a mix of occidental, indian, tibetan or nepalese music until late at night.
For our next adventure we slept in a small house in the mountains so that we could start hiking early in the morning. Chocho and his wife took us to a place they call the Three Sisters, three peaks next to each other from where you can see the Kanchenjunga, the 3rd highest mountain in the world. The view over there was just breathtaking and it was definitely worth the walk.
Chocho and his family were insisting that we needed to go to Tsomgo Lake, at 3753m high. It was indeed an amazing idea, the way to the lake had to be made by car on crazy mountain roads with wooden bridges and vertiginous falls. Military indian bases were all along the road till the lake, completely frozen at this time of year as it is very cold. We had the chance to experience a ride on Yaks, big furry ox with long horns. We then went up using the cable car that took us at more than 4000m high from where we had an amazing view on the lake and the surroundings. Weather was clear until a cloud invaded the lake beneath us, and soon us with it. Temperature suddenly dropped as the cloud was passing right through us, it lasted 2min before the it made its way. It was now time for us to go back to Tadong and start packing our stuff for our soon departure.
On our last day in Gangtok, as I mentioned before, we were helping with the organization of the first ever skate contest in the capital. We were really worried about the weather as it was supposed to rain that day for the first time in two weeks. But I guess we had good karma cause it didn’t rain in the end and we were able to go on with the event. Tsundu made a remarkable job finding sponsors to help his community to grow. Skate Konnect built their first skate ramp especially for that contest and they were all super excited to train on it for the very first time. The event took place in the main street of Gangtok and lots of citizens just stopped to watch the contest as it was very new to them. We were acting as judges on that day, it was a really nice experience to witness the growth of a new community there. We decided to donate our skateboards as well as equipment we gathered with some friends to support the community in Sikkim, as it is really hard for them to get proper equipment.
After the contest we went straight to one of Chocho’s sister as they were celebrating the Tibetan festival. All the family was reunited for this event for the first time in years, and we were welcomed as their own. It was a night that we will not forget, being part of all that, in the middle of an amazing family.
The following morning was time for us to go back to France, it took us quite some time to say goodbye and to thank everyone of them for everything they’ve done for us during this amazing trip. We will for sure remember this journey, the people we met and everything we learned about a completely different culture.
Text by Thomas Mundler : @meudleur
Photo by Nicolas Jacquemin : @nicolasjacquemin