A GLIMPSE OF THE HIMALAYAN BEAUTY Whenever our family thinks of a holiday, the first choice would definitely be any place where we can be closer to nature. Last year we visited the North East for the first time and I will take you to <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-comffice:smarttags" /><st1lace><st1:City>Gangtok</st1:City>, <st1:country-region>Sikkim</st1:country-region></st1lace>, in this article. Gangtok, ‘The Lofty Hill’, is close to the mighty <st1lace>Kanchenjunga</st1lace> peak. In fact the peak is visible from a few spots in Gangtok when the weather is clear. I want to write about this wonderful place. We had a feast for our eyes, as we drove in a shared taxi from <st1:City><st1lace>Darjeeling</st1lace></st1:City> along the river Teesta Tosta. The clear waters flowing in the deep valleys surrounded by thick green forests were so soothing. Adventurous people could also do a bit of river rafting at this river at a beautiful locale. On our way, we stopped by a small little village Nanchi for our breakfast, where we were served some tasty steamed rice dish like our idlies, by clear skinned lovely ladies dressed in traditional <st1:country-region><st1lace>Sikkim</st1lace></st1:country-region> attires, in a cosy homely atmosphere. As our vehicle entered <st1:country-region><st1lace>Sikkim</st1lace></st1:country-region>, the cool breeze and lovely peaks welcomed us with love. There are a number of hotels and lodges, suiting various budgets. We chose a fairly reasonable lodge near the bus stand. We found one or two South Indian hotels nearby but a Marwari Bhojanalaya near the Bus Stand was the most reasonable and best place for pure vegetarian meals served hot and fresh. There are a number of taxis and autos for local sight seeing. To our luck, we got a very good guy, who took us to <st1:time Hour="16" Minute="56">four to five</st1:time> wonderful view points like the Hanuman Tok, Ganesh Tok, <st1lace><st1:City>Tashi View Point</st1:City>, <st1:country-region>Nam</st1:country-region></st1lace> Nang View Point and a lovely Monastery, the Rumtek Monastery. The Monastery was a peaceful place at an elevated spot. We felt like sitting there for a longer time but as we had many other places to visit, we came out with disappointment. On our way back, we visited the Botanical Garden, where a flower show was on. We got to see exotic varieties of orchids there, though for people who have seen Ooty and Bangalore Flower Shows, this show seemed very simple. The best part of our Gangtok trip was our visit to the <st1lace><st1laceName>Baba</st1laceName> <st1laceName>Harbhajan</st1laceName> <st1laceName>Singh</st1laceName> <st1laceType>Temple</st1laceType></st1lace> at an altitude of more than 13000 ft. above sea level, just less than 10 kms. before the <st1lace><st1laceName>Nathula</st1laceName> <st1laceType>Pass</st1laceType></st1lace>, which is the border between <st1:country-region><st1lace>India</st1lace></st1:country-region> and <st1:country-region><st1lace>China</st1lace></st1:country-region>. In any of our trips to the <st1lace>Himalayas</st1lace>, what we enjoy most is the drive along the mountains overlooking deep valleys. The pleasure of viewing the mighty peaks (some of them snow capped), the innumerable water falls, streams, lakes and rivers and the rare species of goats, sheep and yak cannot be described in words. As we were ascending, the mountains were turning from green to barren brown and the weather was getting colder. To visit this temple, we need to take permits from the Army authorities and to visit the <st1lace><st1laceName>Nathula</st1laceName> <st1laceType>Pass</st1laceType></st1lace>, another special permit is required, which is issued one day in advance in limited numbers. We could not get that permit, as we had no time. However, our visit to the temple was good enough. On our way, we saw something most wonderful in our lives, the <st1lace><st1laceName>Changu</st1laceName> <st1laceType>Lake</st1laceType></st1lace>. From the descriptions I have heard about the <st1lace><st1laceName>Mansarovar</st1laceName> <st1laceType>Lake</st1laceType></st1lace>, I, for a moment thought this was Mansarovar. The <st1lace><st1laceName>Changu</st1laceName> <st1laceType>Lake</st1laceType></st1lace> suddenly appeared, as we took a turn around a peak and that beautiful sight got imprinted in our memories permanently. What our cameras captured is nothing when compared to that. This clear lake surrounded by tall peaks on three sides, is lined up by a tiny street of small shops where the locals sell some local handicraft items and certain unavoidable eatables and drinks. The locals also give us joy rides on the furry yaks, which children enjoy. Of course, animal lovers like our family were sad to see the yaks toiling at that altitude for our pleasure with injuries and bruises caused by greedy owners. As we drove away from the lake, it shows itself in more exotic ways from different angles. From one angle, it looked like a saucer filled with water. We reached the <st1lace><st1laceName>Baba</st1laceName> <st1laceType>Temple</st1laceType></st1lace> at around <st1:time Hour="12" Minute="0">12 Noon</st1:time>, after a wonderful drive of nearly 4 to 5 hours. The weather was very chilly and a waterfall near the temple was fully frozen. This temple is built in honour of a soldier Lance Naik Harbhajan Singh, who died years ago near that place, while on duty. There is a legend that this soldier went missing while on duty with his friends and appeared in the dream of one of his friends and said that he lay in a particular spot. Next day, when the army went to the spot, they found his body there. Thus he was cremated there and a temple built in his honour. The legend continues that he is still in service, because the shoes, bed and water bottles appear to be used everyday and the army continues to send his salary to his family in <st1lace>Punjab</st1lace>. He has been getting his promotions as per rules and is now a Captain. Every year, he is supposed to go on leave to his native place and hence his personal belongings are transported to his home during that period. Hundreds of pilgrims, mostly service personnel visit this shrine and offer prayers. Prasad in the form of lunch is served to all pilgrims by the army, who maintain this shrine, two days in a week. We felt we were on top of the world. We realised with sorrow, how far away from nature we city dwellers live! None of us was in a mood to return from this spot, where except the temple, there is no other man made structure. All good things come to an end and so did our trip. In fact, we had gone without much preparation. Otherwise, we could have visited <st1lace><st1laceName>Nathula</st1laceName> <st1laceType>Pass</st1laceType></st1lace> and Peling, where we could see more of snow. We needed another four to five days to cover these places. I advise tourists to visit Gangtok for at least 7-8 days to really enjoy all its beauty. And if the Sino-Indian friendship is successful in opening up Chinese border for tourists, you will need more time. The best period to visit is between April and August. As we drove down the mountains along the lovely <st1lace><st1laceName>Teesta</st1laceName> <st1laceName>Tosta</st1laceName> <st1laceType>River</st1laceType></st1lace> with heavy hearts, we captured nature’s beautiful scenery as much as possible in our minds and entered the congested New Jalpaiguri Railway Station, to catch The Teesta Tosta Express to Kolkota! This trip was so memorable that even as I am writing this article, I am transported to Gangtok mentally and relive every moment of my tour!