Gangtok - The call of verdant vales
Date: 9th June 2004
THE CALL OF VERDANT VALES
I look out of my hotel window at dawn and all I can see is thick fog. Annoyed, I snap at my Assistant Director, Mikey – “Why the hell did you have to wake us up so early? We can’t shoot!” – thinking longingly of my warm bed. Mikey assures me, “It will clear up soon that’s what the guide says.” Our guide, Ashok, certainly seems to have a hotline to the heavens, for as we have breakfast, the clouds in the valley below begin lifting. Soon, Gangtok gets unveiled – a clutch of buildings and houses strung over hillsides, several with typical oriental sloping roofs, painted green or red.
We begin with filming typical landmarks like the tranquil Ridge Park, the Royal Chapel and the Drodul Gompa with its huge white chorten – a peaceful oasis of meditative calm, golden prayer wheels, smiling monks. We drive to the 19th century Enchy Monastery, strung with colourful prayer flags, sitting atop a hill from where we get panoramic shots, as far as Mt. Kangchenjunga. The monastery is a small colourful building with murals of fierce Buddhist Gods on the outside porch and an exquisitely painted prayer hall.
The Lal Bazaar is vibrant and jam-packed with vegetables and fruit stalls, tiny stalls selling animal produce and clothes; jostling for space amidst crowds of smiling red cheeked locals. I walk over to a stall to look at tiny white squares strung together. “That’s yak’s cheese (churpi)”, Ashok urges, “Try one” I do. And begin chewing… and chewing! It’s hard and an acquired taste!
At the Govt. Institute of Cottage Industries, some of the handicrafts on display are quite beautiful-hand woven carpets in Tibetan designs, brilliantly hued thankas, red lacquer furniture and wooden painted figurines. I put together a pile of goodies but Mikey reprimands me “how the hell are we going to carry all this?” I am miffed but meekly settle for one thanka of Avalokiteshwara, Ashok tells me “This place is also a training institute” and leads us through several halls filled with students hard at work. We film girls painstakingly weaving carpets and shawls on wooden looms; and boys carving pieces of wood and painting thankas, meditatively. A teacher tells us “it’s not just about making an item for sale, we teach them the discipline of working with focus, awareness and love.”
One evening, we are invited to dinner. Our host, Namgyal, seats us in front of red painted tables and serves us momos and thupka. He offers me some “tomba” the local brew made from fermented millet. I sip it from a tall bamboo canister. Soon, I am floaty and happy!
Another day, we drive to Rumtek to film the Dharmachakra Centre, the main seat of the black hat sect – the Kargyupa order of Tibetan Buddhism. The 24km drive is picturesque as we drive through verdant hillsides, lime green paddy fields and gushing streams. Long bamboo poles strung with thin vertical strips of white prayer flags line the approach drive. The prayer session is redolent with the aroma of butter lamps and juniper smoke: seated monks chant mantras, which resonate in the darkened, hallowed hall. On the altar, a huge gold Buddha with cool eyes, gazes into nothingness, and melts time into infinity. A gong resounds, bells are rung and Mikey nudges me out of contemporary nirvana.
We plan to film Tsomgo (Changu) Lake, a quick getaway from Gangtok. It’s charming, but a steep 37 km drive, wherein we climb 12000ft. The landscape changes dramatically from lush hills stark mountain ranges. We cross the snowline to drive through a white wonderland of virgin slopes and snowy pines. Soon it begins to snow and we begin to freeze. I am mad with Mikey “Why didn’t you check, we are not adequately clad.” Mikey is sheepish. “I could not imagine the weather would change so dramatically in two hours. Have brandy. It’ll warm you up in no time.” It certainly does, for in a while, we start a crazy snow fight – till I discover all my fingers are stuck together!
Soon, we drive into a large expanse of the frozen Changu Lake. After quick shots with the anchor, Gaurav, rolling through the snow – Shammi Kapoor “junglee” style – I’m happy to drive back. The shoot, cold, brandy and altitude have taken their toll, but of course, Mikey is in a mood to sing. I am reluctantly forced to give up my sleep when the boys begin screeching Queen’s We Are The Champions. I mumble under my breath, “Not for long Mikey, not for long….!
- The best time to visit Sikkim is between March-May.
- The nearest airport is Bagdogra in West Bengal, a 4 ½ hour drive from Gangtok. Taxis for local traveling can be hired in Gangtok.
- Sikkim Tourism offers a helicopter service linking Gangtok with Bagdogra & West Sikkim, Gangtok, and a Kanchenjunga
- Trekking opportunities abound but permits are required, which are available from Sikkim Tourism offices in Gangtok and Delhi. Local trekking agents can handle permit and supply guides.
For more enquiries contact:
14 Panchsheel Marg,