I along with my family visited the North East region of India during June-July last year. We visited regions of Sikkim- Gangtok and Pelling along with Darjeeling in West Bengal. We did not get time to research well about these places as our plan was a hasty one and therefore we saw many realities of these regions not normally seen by people. Below I will write in brief about my experience and then provide important travel tips.
Brief description of my experience.
We had contacted our local travel agent and booked a travel package from him. The package was quite costly but we had no time so we went with it. We packed our best of the clothes and accessories and started off for our trip. Our journey started with visiting Gangtok.
Gangtok is the largest state in Sikkim and is also its capital. We took the air route and reached Kolkata and then went to Bagdogra in West Bengal and from there we had our travel agency's private jeep to take us to Gangtok. The way to Gangtok from Bagdogra is very beautiful. The narrow roads are surrounded by mountains on one side and majestic views of river Teesta on the other side.
View of Teesta river on way to Gangtok.
Our excursion of Gangtok started with a bad news of road blockages. The way to many sites which were planned in the trip were blocked due to landslide which occurred because of heavy rain previous night. Our trip plan was changed and we went to see other places like monasteries, tea garden, parks etc. and also enjoyed the rope way ride over Gangtok which was awesome. Though we couldn't visit many planned sites because of road blockage but our trip to Gangtok was great and we headed next to Pelling.
Ropeway Ride over Gangtok.
The way to Pelling was quite dangerous though beautiful. The roads were narrow and because it was raining it was cold also. We had not carried any woolen clothes with us which we really repented at that time. There was water flowing from mountains onto the road which made us apprehensive of our jeep slipping over the narrow road. It was getting dark and very cloudy. By evening it got foggy and we were still traveling over the narrow roads. It was really scary but thanks to our driver, who was expert in driving on these roads, we reached our hotel safely. Our Pelling excursion also started with the sad news of road blockage due to landslides. There was a lot of destruction of property and few people even lost their lives due to the landslide. There was no light and the supply of food and other resources was also cut off due to road blockage. We had no option but to remain in our hotel room.
View from Hotel Room in Pelling
When the rain stopped, we went out for a walk and visited nearby sites ourselves. The place is beautiful and we enjoyed the site of mountains. We even visited the landslide site which was scary. One of my family member was bitten on his toe and there were two marks near the bleeding area. We inquired about the reason for this bleeding from the hotel manager and he told that it may be due to leech biting. We were relieved as leech biting is not that serious. We took a wound healing cream from the hotel manager and went off to our hotel room. The trip to Pelling ended with visit to monasteries, fort and many other beautiful sites. In Pelling we really saw the dangerous face of nature in mountains with heavy rains, landslide, supply cut off and leeches. With our memories of Pelling we headed for Darjeeling hoping that rains do not spoil our planned trip there.
On our private jeep we headed for Darjeeling. The way to Darjeeling is beautiful but the roads in Darjeeling are damaged and not well maintained. It was very scary with our jeep jumping over the narrow roads. Again with the skill of driver we reached safely to our hotel. The next morning we had to wake up early to see sun rise from the mountains. It was chilling cold and very cloudy. The time for sunrise was coming near but because of clouds we couldn't see anything. Again due to rainy season we missed the majestic view of sunrise. But anyways we enjoyed the site. In Darjeeling we visited many places as were planned. We enjoyed the tea garden, zoo, monasteries, rock climbing, museum etc. The trip of Darjeeling ended with a good note with not many disappointments.
Tea Garden in Darjeeling.
Tips for visiting Gangtok, Pelling and Darjeeling in rainy season.
Based on my experiences I have many tips to give to the travelers planning to visit these places especially during monsoon.
1. Firstly, I will not recommend you to visit these places during monsoon season. Even though it is beautiful but it is highly dangerous. Also your trip can get spoiled as you can see from my experience there.
2. Never make a hasty decision and plan well for your trip. These regions are beautiful and to enjoy their beauty to the fullest I recommend you to research well before making any plans.
3. The best time to visit these places is from October to December and March to May. This region gets covered by snow from January to February and gets heavy rainfall from June to September.
4. It is better to book your travel from a travel agency local to the place of your visit. So I will recommend you to book your travel after reaching these places as it will be cheaper, trustable and since the agency will be within your reach so you can go anytime to them if you face any problem in your travel. You may also visit Sikkim and Darjeeling Tourism websites for getting details of authorized travel agents.
5. Carry woolen clothes as it can get really cold here. Carrying a sweater, jacket or shawl is enough. Also carry umbrella as it can rain at any time of the day.
6. The drivers here have a habit of stopping at a hotel for taking drink or stuff like tobacco. We often get offended by such stuffs but I will not recommend you to fight with the driver on this issue as he knows well what he should do.
7. The way to these places goes through narrow roads with sharp turns. You will be going up a huge mountain. Though the journey is beautiful but some people may get apprehensive, especially old people. So be prepared to calm them and also trust your driver, he knows the roads well and will keep you safe.
8. Be in regular contact with your travel agent. He is accountable to you and has to re plan your journey in case of any problems. So always carry his number with you in your mobile phone.
9. Be ready to face changes in your planned trip during monsoons as natural calamities like land slides due to heavy rains are common here and lead to road blockages for hours.
10. You may get stuck in your hotel, even on the day of your return from these areas, so be ready for this and try to make a flexible schedule if possible.
11. Always provide update about your travel plans and any other details to your family members or friends regularly so as to get help in case of emergency.
12. I would recommend you to carry some non perishable food items with you. Road blockage due to land slides can cut supplies to these areas which can create difficulty especially when you have old people or small children with you. You can buy stuff on your way to these places.
13. Don't be fussy about food here. I mentioned about landslide, no light and supply cutoff in monsoons. Due to this almost all restaurants and shops get closed and you have to eat whatever you get. People here mostly eat rice and are non vegetarians. You will get vegetarian food too but be ready to adjust on food issue.
14. Do not take any warnings like of landslides, road blockage or heavy rains casually. Generally we ignore such warnings as we are not aware of challenges of life in mountains. It is better to take such warnings seriously and avoid going out of hotel in such situations.
15. Wear shoes and not sandals while strolling in the mountainous regions. Wearing heels is a strict no. The hill roads are narrow, curvy and slanting so walking with shoes is very comfortable and safe as it tighten your grip on the road and prevent you from slipping.
16. In rainy season, different types of organisms come out of their hiding. Leeches are very common in these places. You need to be careful of these organisms which though maybe harmless but can create unnecessary trouble and worry for you.
17. If you wear sandals and clothes which expose your feet and legs then you are at a risk of being bitten by a leech. So always wear clothes which cover your full body and wear shoes to cover your feet.
18. Do not stroll out alone especially when it is getting dark as these areas can get very dark and lonely with not many people out at night.
19. Carry a torch with you in case you get out in dark. Here street lights are not everywhere but only in main city areas. So, in case you stroll out into the outskirts, a torch will be of great help.
20. Carry basic medicines like for cold, fever, wound healers with you while visiting these places.
21. Avoid getting out in rain as the roads are slippery and you never know when the land beneath you slides away.
22. There exist an unrest in Darjeeling over the issue of Gorkhaland and you will find many banners of Gorkhaland there. It is recommended often to check the status of Darjeeling for any political happening w.r.t this issue as it can turn violent. We also found that the place near our hotel was not very safe at night so it is better to avoid walking out on streets late in the night here.
23. Life in mountains is different from city life. Cities are always crowded and you can always find someone to give directions or get any sort of help. But in mountains you won't find many people on roads except in main areas. So take care to avoid lonely and deserted sites which can prove dangerous.
24.The transportation is also infrequent especially in outskirt areas so take care while planning to go alone far away from your hotel as you may get lost. I will not recommend you to take such a risk. If you go out alone then take the phone numbers of the hotel manager and your jeep driver etc to call in case of help.
25. You will find mostly ladies, in shops and hotels, attending to the customers even serving them drinks. Since we are not accustomed to see ladies playing this role, we find it a bit odd at times. I would recommend you to not feel awkward or think otherwise as life is mountains is tough and ladies play an equal role in running businesses.
26. People there are very nice and polite. They are simple, helpful and quite fashionable. They are also music lovers. We were shocked to see that even the police of these areas is very polite which is in contrast to what we see in our places. So do not hesitate in asking for any help.
27. You may need a travel permit for visiting certain places in Sikkim so carry a photo id proof with you before starting your travelling. Also check with your travel agent for the need to make a permit.
28. And lastly, always keep a good high resolution camera and camcorder with you your excursion as you may never know when you come across nature's beauty worth capturing.
In the end I would just say that by following the above tips and by being alert and knowledgeable about these places, you can enjoy the magnificent beauty of nature present there and make your trip worth remembering. So go ahead and plan a visit to these magnificent destinations.
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Nicely written, thank you for writing such elaborate guidance...take care and good luck mate...