16th March 2016, Wednesday…Day (26) Gangtok to Lachung 116 km
It was second time during the trip that I was leaving Lalpari on its own, first time when I walked down 7000 stairs to and fro to Nongriat and stayed for the night in a rest house near the double decker living root bridge in Meghalaya.
This time it was 2Nights/3Days trip to North Sikkim, my first experience in a shared taxi since 1999, when we travelled to Hemkunt Sahib with friends. It was not a very pleasant experience. Being a lover of personal freedom, I felt choked and the trip propelled me to travel solo most of the times thereafter.
Karma Tenzing and Manoj assured me that they would take care of my Lalpari in my absence and the fact was made known to the parking attendant as well. I woke up Ram, the security guard at the cinema office, took bath, freshened up and got ready to leave for Vajra Taxi stand from where taxis to North Sikkim ply.
At 8am I received a call from the travel agent. He told me to reach taxi stand and board a cab SK-03 J0257. I walked down to Vajra Taxi stand and found the cab parked inside a crowded parking area. A large number of tourists, mainly from West Bengal, were looking for their respective taxis in the crowd as well.
Our cab Mahindra Maxx was driven by Ramesh, a 21 year old boy, from North Sikkim itself. We were seven tourists, a cook and a driver totalling 9 people in the cab. The tourists comprised 1 punjabi (me) and 6 bengalis. The couple was from Kolkata and four friends were from Behrampur.
I got the front seat with the cook and the driver, the couple and one friends got the middle and the last seat was occupied by the three friends. We began at around 11.30am.
I was very relaxed and excited because after so many days of solo drive, someone else was driving. I wanted to talk and know about fellow travellers but they did not respond very warmly. Most of the times they talked to each other and that too in bengali.
As soon as we entered North Sikkim our permits were checked. The permits were arranged by our tour operator, we had just given them our id and photo.
It was bit overcast but pleasant. The first halt came after driving for 25 kilometers. All the taxis heading North carrying tourists were stopping at the spot. It was a waterfall right near the road and could be reached after climbing few stairs.
Most tourist were with families and friends. They clicked pictures and enjoyed tea/coffee and snacks. I met few locals and tried to know about them, their life and things like that. Surprisingly majority of them were from Nepal.
Next halt was at Dikchu, a small town situated at the meeting point of two beautiful green rivers, Teesta and Dikchu. Water of both the rivers was extra ordinarily green but that of Dikchu was more dark and green.
All the tourist cabs were stopping at the spot. There were few eating places at the junction. Our driver told us to go inside one of them for buffet lunch, included in the package. The lunch comprised dal, chapati, rice, chicken and salad. And as expected, it was pretty ordinary.
Our driver was moody, brash and rude. He drove rashly, applied brakes frantically, made us jump all the time, talked over phone continuously, did not use safety belt, stopped frequently for meeting his friends, never stopped when we asked, played loud music all the time without break.
Since I am a regular solo driver, I was not enjoying at all. I was feeling like asking the man to give the stereo a brake, drive bit smoothly, stop talking over phone and use seat belt. The other six tourists did not seem worried as they kept talking to themselves and joined the driver in smoking during the breaks.
Our permits were again checked at Tung Police Picket Post. We were now entering into sensitive zone, bordering China. The next halt on the rout was Chungthang.
After driving for about 100 kilometers from Gangtok we reached Chungthang, a town situated on the confluence of Lachung and Lachen rovers, which becomes Teesta. It was good to see a Gurudwara in the town. It is said that Guru Nanak Dev ji visited the place on the way to Tibet and China during 3rd udasi.
Since it was the native place of Ramesh, the driver of the cab, he parked the car and told us to wait. He then went to his home and arrived back after 20-30 minutes. Thereafter he took the cab to a shop in the town and got the tank filled with fuel, not sure from where the fuel was sourced.
A little later, we came to know that we were heading for Yumthang and not Gurudongmar the next day. Our tour operator had told us that we would be driving to Lachen the first day and drive to Gurudongmar, the next day.
The driver told us that we shall be staying in Lachung that night and not in Lachen and that we will drive to Yumthang the next day and not Gurudongmar. It was little shocking as our minds were made up for Gurudongmar the next day.
But then that is the difference between being on your own and dependant on others, in this case, the tour operator and now solely this man, 21 year old Ramesh, the driver.
We halted briefly at a waterfall, known as Amitabh Bachchan falls, right on the road. All the cabs carrying tourists to Yumthang/Lachung were stopping at the spot. And like the previous one, everyone clicked pictures, selfies, smoked, ate snacks and relaxed after being imprisoned in the cabs for long.
We reached Lachung at 6pm. The guest house, which did not have a name, was situated at a good location. Two-Tree cabs were already parked and the owners were busy allocating the rooms. I was allotted a single occupancy room on the first floor. The room was very small, had one bed, which filled all the space available in the room.
In any case it was okay but the main issue was it did not have any provision for lock, the bolt from inside and outside was broken, the wash room did not have water, no mirror, no socket for charging laptop or camera battery. I had to charge my cell phone, camera battery and laptop in the dining room and had to sit guarding them for over two hours.
The wine shop at the guesthouse was a pleasant surprise though. Most of wine lovers did not have to go far for finding the booze. The owners did try bonfire inside the premises but it was a mere formality as nobody turned up. The serving of food was a very mean affair as one had to give solid reason why one needed more.
Despite all this, had a wonderful time. I knew before hand there was no freedom in a package tour, had to bear the whims and fancies of both, the fellow travellers and the tour managers.
Did not have any other choice too and like any other place, could not drive to the place on my own. It also reinforced the fact that MONOPOLY IS BAD………!!!