Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sikkim: tastes, tips and takeaways

Some tips for the tourist, not found in a tour itinerary:

1. When you go on a tour, the norm in India is that the tour operator stops at some restaurant for lunch-break. In Sikkim, you find no such 'proper' place for lunch. You only find some small eateries selling local food.
The local food normally found is noodles, thukpas and momos.  We had a dig at all three. The Momos were quite tasty and my family liked them particularly because of the really spicy chutneys served with them. The chutneys vary from place to place and so do the momos' size. But inside, it is the same stuffing of finely chopped cabbage and carrot.
By default, the thukpa was rejected by family as it was a very, very watered down version of Chowmein and was quite bland in taste. The Chowmein, we found, was ok, though not yummy.

The Thukpa

Momos with the spicy onion-green chilli Chutney
2. It is also important that we do not waste much time in eating at a restaurant. One, there aren't many on your way to the tourist sights. Two, you cannot afford to spend about an hour on ordering and eating food as it is dark by 5 pm itself and you need to complete all the sight seeing before that time.

3. Another strange thing is the abundance of banana trees on all the mountain slopes. Surprising to find these trees one normally associates with the tropical plains and not the colder temperate regions. You are, therefore, assured of finding banana fruit wherever you go. The abundance does not convert to inexpensive though.

4. Day times are ok but nights are cold. So you need some warm clothes. October was pleasant and just one sweater was enough for me. Nathula is much colder and you need to properly protect yourself.

5. Lower oxygen levels at Nathula could be a deterrent for BP patients.

6. As mentioned in my earlier post, a visit to MG Road in Gangtok is a must-visit place, not just for its walk, but also for its many eateries (and pubs too).

7. Sikkim, being a mountainous terrain, you get some very good exercise as you keep climbing and getting down slopes all the time. It looks easy for the locals as they do it all the time but it is not the same for many of us whose only exercise is to move our fingers across the keyboard. Even to go to eating food at the MG Road, we had to climb up a steep flight of 50-60 steps. To do this, I had to stop at least 3-4 times. Going here may not be a great idea for the elderly.

8.  A pleasant surprise was to find many restaurants claiming 'pure vegetarian' food. I found this to be a relief as I thought the North-East India is known for its meat eating habits. Later, I came to know that it is because of the prevalent Buddhist religion which forbids consumption of meat and second, to support the vegetarian tourists who visit the monasteries here.

9. Rabdentse  Palace Ruins at Pelling can be skipped. One, it is almost razed to the ground. Two, you need to walk 2 kms up and down the mountain and it is not worth it! I say this because the climb is definitely quite tough for people not used to trekking. And if you have to go, then start at at least 2:30 pm and not later as you cannot see anything in the dark if you reach late. It took me (a person not used to any physical exercise) almost 45 minutes one way. It was the ancient capital of Sikkim and may be of historical value for the interested.

10. All the monasteries are worth visiting because of the peaceful aura.

11. Particularity intriguing are the 'Mani Khorlo' or the prayer wheel that we found almost everywhere...mostly near monasteries. We are supposed to rotate them clockwise as we say our silent prayers. We found two giant ones in Sikkim...about 10 feet high! Here's the ones that we found on our way to Rumtek Monastery:

Mani Khorlo: On our way to Rumtek Monastery

If I'd stay back, I am sure, with all the physical exercises going up and down the mountains and through breathing the pure mountain air, I'd return much thinner and healthier.