Last Leg, Silliguri To Gangtok, April 14, Day 4, 10.30 am
We left Kolkata by Darjeeling Express, leaving Sealdah station at 10.05 pm. Did some shopping at Shree Leathers, Lindsay Street and the footpaths of Esplanade.
The train was a hour late, arriving in New Jalpaiguri at 9.00 am. Mr. Chaudhari of the local LIC office picked us up and took us to their guest house in Silliguri for breakfast.
Padmaja had booked a taxi to take us to Gangtok. SAIL has a marketing office in Silliguri and she called the local branch manager. He got her in touch with their travel agent / cab operator. As a result we didn’t have to worry about finding a taxi in New Jalpaiguri.
Our driver is a Nepali who thinks he is driving Formula 1. He also has this annoying habit of braking suddenly in a way that leaves ones stomach about 18 feet behind. Also he manages to jerk the car very badly every time he changes gears.
We should be in Gangtok in about 4 hours. I want to send this off while I still have a GPRS connection.
Will post again from Gangtok
Gangtok! April 14, Day 4, 2.30 pm
We arrived in Gangtok at 2.30 pm. Had a little trouble finding the Mintokling Guest House but our driver was up to the challenge. He stopped other cab drivers and got his directions.
Mintokling Guest House turned out to be a very pretty house built on multiple levels with the entrance towards the top of the house and the ground floor lower down the hill side. The enclosing garden is terraced and full of flowers. There is a lawn at the bottom of the garden with a small gold fish pond, benches and more flowers.
The rooms are spacious, with wooden floors and ceiling. A wardrobe, two single sofas, a bedside cabinet, a wall mirror with shelves below, a small TV on a cabinet with storage complete the room’s furniture. Very comfortable.
We had asked for an extra bed and that turned out to be a mattress thrown on the floor with a bed sheet and two blankets.
The lady in charge, Pema L. Pulger, is very nice and efficient. We quickly checked in and were taken ‘downstairs’ to our third floor room.
We ordered lunch from room service while we all took showers. The food was tasty but in very small quantities. What we expected to feed the entire family was barely sufficient for the two kids.
After a late lunch I went ‘upstairs’ to the office to meet Pema and inquire about local tourist spots and arrangements to visit them. She had multiple options available to cover the entire day. She has a tie up with a local taxi service and offers good prices. These options include a number of ‘Points’. For example Ganesh Tok, Flower Show are two points. A day trip consists of 7 or more points and are priced accordingly. You can take a standard, pre-defined set of ‘Points’ or customize your own itinerary. The price will have to be negotiated of course. We told Pema to book us a 7 Point trip the next day. We also asked her about Tsomgo Lake and were told that it would cost Rs. 2000/- for a Maruti WagonR with driver and that the trip would take a whole day. There could still be snow on the roads beyond Tsomgo Lake. That means the Baba Temple and Nathula Pass are inaccessible.
After that we walked down to M. G. Marg. Every city in India has a Mahatma Gandhi Marg!
M. G. Marg is easy walking distance from Mintokling. We took the alleyways or rather the stairs between houses to Tibet Road. From there it is a easy walk downhill to M. G. Marg. The Marg is a cobbled street with flowers in pots and flower beds down the middle. Large ornate lamps lit up the entire road. There are tour operators, cafes, fast food joints, grocery stores, banks, pharmacies, restaurants, souvenir shops and hotels on this road. There are cast iron benches along the central verge. All in all a beautiful place.
Our first stop was the tourism office to ask about Tsomgo Lake trips. The gentleman there was very helpful and told us that permits are required and that the tour operators would handle all the details. It would cost about Rs. 1600/- to hire a car and driver. For the permits we need photocopies of some ‘ID Proof’ like A PAN Card, Passport or Driver’s License. Also required are two passport sized photographs of each person. There are a number of photography shops on M. G. Marg and it cost us Rs. 60/- for 4 photos of Mamli and Bablu, i.e., Rs. 30/- each. Photocopies of our PAN Cards cost Rs. 2/- each.
We had pastries and coffee at a Bakery cum Cafe before approaching two different tour operators. After negotiating with both we took their visiting cards to the gentleman at the tourism office for his opinion. He told us that the negotiated price of 1600/- to the lake was fair and the operator who had offered that price was dependable. We went back and booked the tour, giving an advance of Rs. 500/- and all the documents.
After that we backed back to Tibet Road and the Tangerine Restaurant for dinner. Tangerine is located on the ground floor of a Hotel which means it is 4 floors below road level. The food was delicious and inexpensive. A meal for 4 with Chicken Momos, Rice Noodles with oyster mushrooms, Chicken fried rice and a country chicken curry cooked the Sikkimese way cost me Rs. 360/-.
By the we were done it was 9.30 pm and the streets were deserted. We managed to find a taxi who charged us Rs. 50/- for the 1 kilometer uphill drive to Mintokling. We were very tired and fell asleep soon.
I am hoping to get a glimpse of Kanchenjunga tomorrow morning. Will try to wake up by 5 am for that chance.