Last year, when I went there, it was different. I walked from the famous landmark nearby through the street market to the gates of the complex. The first thing I noticed was the hundreds of pigeon feeding on the empty courtyard. Then once in a while a few kids would try to catch the pigeons; and the pigeons would flutter away for a while. Some kids would go too close to the pond in the middle of the courtyard, and their parents, till now not bothered about their kid's safety, would hurry up and bring their kids closer. Even the guard at the massive gates was friendly. I asked him "Can I take photographs inside?". He answered "Please do, Sir" in a manner which only meant "What's stopping you?". There were a few people heading out after offering their prayers. A cleaner trying to keep the complex clean. Everything was relaxed.

Now, I read, its different at Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad.

Gang talk

Gangtok is the capital of Sikkim, a small state near the corridor to the “seven sister” states of North East India. Sikkim tourism’s tagline is “Small, but beautiful”. After roaming around Sikkim for over a week, couldn’t agree more. This place is all about rivers with white waters, waterfalls and flags!

This is how we covered Sikkim:
We reached Sikkim through the town of Siliguri in West Bengal. The road to Gangtok follows the Teesta and Rani river. We reached Gangtok quite late in the evening, and didn’t venture out.

First day in Sikkim was invested in seeing the eastern region. The Tsomgo (or Changu) lake is known as the frozen lake. The same road goes on to the Indo-Tibetan border pass of Nathula. In terms of height, it may not compete with Khardungla / Changlas of Ladakh. But what it lacks in height, it makes up with its political connection. Walking up the final few hundred metres over snow, you reach the border between India and China. A simple barb wire and a few soldiers keeping a watch is all that keeps one away from going to China. Then you zoom out through your camera view finder, and you see Chinese soldiers keeping a watch as well, with guns in their hands. While coming back to Gangtok, we visited the Baba mandir.

The second day we left for North Sikkim. The road from Gangtok passes through several waterfalls and bridges: the further you go from Gangtok, the waterfalls gets prettier, and the bridges get older and higher. From the town of Chungthang, the road forks out to Lachen and Lachung, both towns offering nightstay options. We took the road to the left to Lachen. After a night halt at Lachen, we moved out to the Gurudongmar lake (the third day). The road became drier and vegetation less as we moved towards the lake. The lake is one of the highest in India at 17,100 ft. Legend has it that the lake is blessed, and even when the surrounding water bodies are frozen under similar conditions, this lake doesn’t freeze completely. Also, the wind here is very erratic. Within a few minutes, the gentle breeze suddenly stopped completely, and then a very strong wind blew. It supposedly blows so strongly that it can blow away people! We couldn’t wait to verify that as the army only allows cars to stay for a limited amount of time. On our way back to Lachen, we stopped the car at Thangu. There was a freak snag with the car, and the driver tried to fix it there. I enjoyed the time there by playing an extended practice session of cricket with local village folks. We came back to Lachen and after a quick lunch, left for Lachung.

Lachung is the preferred resting place for people going to Yumthang – the valley of flowers. We had anticipated a lot of flowers there as per various websites. Unfortunately, there was no flower when we went there (the fourth day). Still, it was very relaxing just to sit by the river, on a fallen tree trunk, a warm sunshine negating the effect of the cold wind. Another quick lunch at Lachung, and we were on our way to Gangtok. Although we stayed at Gangtok for two nights earlier, we hadn’t really seen the Gangtok town. We reached Gangtok early in the evening, and quickly went out to enjoy Gangtok. The M G road is the main shopping mall road of Gangtok, and it was crowded to say the least. However, after eight in the evening, the crowd vanished, and the mall was nice!

Fifth day morning, we left early for Pelling, in the west. The road passes through South and west Sikkim’s pretty hills alongside the mighty Teesta and Rangeet rivers. Pelling, as a town, has nothing much to offer. However, we saw our best view of Mt. Kanchenzunga from here. The various “tourist” spots were generally nothing to write home about. However, the Kanchenzunga water fall was nice: this was the first time I actually went behind a waterfall! The Khechupudi lake was absolutely silent and serene – the only sound coming from the frogs croaking loudly continuously.

The next morning we left for Darjeeling.