72 hours in Gangtok
Traveling is an effective antidote to ennui. It lifts the veil of custom from the outside world and exposes the latter to view with all its wonders, excitement and novelties. Travel is the outcome of insatiable curiosity of man for knowing and exploring his environment. Travel educates a person by broadening her outlook.
For someone with long list of to-dos, meeting deadlines and liabilities in general, a quick getaway is often a welcome change. Enslave to the dead routine, for a journalist like me, change is always a welcome.
Landing in Sikkim on a programme arranged by the Arunachal Pradesh government through the Department of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) and in collaboration with the Arunachal Press Club, we a-10 member media team, took to the land of dramatic contours to help transcend the mechanical and trivial existence of daily life besides in a quest to gain first-hand knowledge of the life here.
There is an aura about Gangtok that grips every visitor. A perfect place to unwind, Gangtok has a strong industrial presence with tourism being its heartbeat and hospitality in its roots. Just as its unpredictable weather, there is always something different happening, which wasn’t quite expected.
It’s a magic being in Sikkim. Clean serene beauty, this picturesque travel destination is a charm for the one in search of mist, mountains and colourful butterflies. With its unique culture and natural landscape, Sikkim is a picture of perfection and pristine purity.
Nestled in the Himalayas and endowed with exceptional natural resources, Sikkim is a hotspot of biodiversity and development. Though small in size, Sikkim has been identified world over as an important repository of germplasms of unknown dimensions. Perhaps, there is no part of the world, which offers a spectacular scene with every turn of the road as Sikkim.
Sikkim is like a stupendous stairway leading from the western border of the Tibetan plateau down to the plains of West Bengal, with a fall of about 5,215 metres in 240 kms. It is the main catchment area for the beautiful Teesta river, which has its main source from Chho Lhamo Lake in the north and is further strengthened by many streams and rivers of which Tholung, Lachung, Great Rangeet and Rangpo are important drainers. It also has about 180 perennial lakes, among which Khachoedpalri, Gurudongmar, Chho Lhamo and Men Moi Tso are some of the most scenic.
Dominating both legend and landscape of Sikkim is the mighty Khangchendzonga. Known to outside world as Kanchenjunga, it is the third highest peak in the world. For a Sikkimese it is much more than a mountain: Khangchendzonga is the Guardian deity, a country God whose benign watchfulness ensures peace and prosperity for the land.
For foodies, Sikkim is a mouth watering, low fat spread. A fusion of both Asian and Western influences and traditional rooting, the food in Sikkim remains an unraveling experience of a lifetime. Hot steamed flour dumplings filled with minced meat, cheese or vegetable, accompanied by homemade chilli sauce and piping hot soup. From roadside shacks to the most expensive restaurants, you find Momo on every menu. The Thukpa or Gya-thuk, a typical Tibetan style noodles in soup, based with vegetables or meat is also very popular.
While for a distant foodie, Momo and Thukpa could sum up the menu, Sikkimese cuisine is much more than just the two of the popular dishes – which now are available in every corner of the country. The Nepalese prepare a special kind of bread, mostly during festivals called the Saelroti. This is prepared from fermented rice batter which is deep fried in a ring shape and eaten with potato curry or meat or simply by itself.
Fermented food, in fact, is an important element of many Sikkimese dishes. Chhurpi, a fermented dairy product prepared from cow milk with a mild sour taste is used for making soups and Achar. It is often used with Ningro, a wild fern to make a most exotic combination.
Kinema, a fermented soybean food, rich in protein and with a unique flavour is eaten with rice while Gundruk and Sinki are two traditional fermented vegetable products which are sun dried after fermentation and stored for consumption. These are later used for soups, curries and pickles.
Bamboo shoot is another commonly used ingredient in local food. This can vary from fresh bamboo shoot called Tama, which is often used with pork to make an irresistible curry to Mesu, a traditional fermented bamboo shoot product used to make pickles.
But the most exotic local dish is surely Sishnu Soup, prepared from leaves of edible wild varieties of nettle.
Accompanying the food often is Chaang, a fermented cereal-based alcoholic beverage. It is sipped from a bamboo receptacle using a thin bamboo pipe. The receptacle which has millet in it is topped with warm water a few times until the millet loses its flavour. No visit to Sikkim is complete till you try this at least once.
(This article was originally published in East Expedia in 2013)