15th September to 21st September, 2016.
Driving to Sikkim is by far the most adventurous thing we have done during this trip. It started with the drive to Siliguri from Muzzafarpur. Our trusted google map told us to follow the NH for a while and then take the state highway (SH 63). Calling SH 63 a road is extremely optimistic. In reality, it is a mud puddle with occasional tarred strip in between. We travelled a whooping 7 km in an hour before deciding to turn back and take a longer route. It took us nearly 2 hrs to get back to the national highway. After a day’s stop at Siliguri, we started for Yuksom , Sikkim on the 17th. We were rather excited about exploring the last motorable village and the base camp for all Kanchendzonga treks. What we did not know is that Sikkim experienced one of its most torrential monsoons this year. Landslides were a common theme once we exited Siliguri and reached the hills. The highway till Jorethang was reasonably well maintained. A couple of landslides had derailed the road in a few places. But all in all, the road was motorable.
From Jorethang, we drove to Legship, and the road got a lot worse. From Legship, we realised that the main road (to Pelling and then Yuksom) was closed for maintenance. This left us with taking a road that directly connects Legship to Yuksom. Having suffered many landslides, this road was in the worst condition imaginable. Steep slopes, mixed with mud made it difficult for the car to climb, and we got stuck more than once. However, we soon realised that help was always available. Whenever we got stuck, the local people helped us push our vehicle up slopes. They waited to make sure we passed safely through bridges, and gave us instructions on where to be careful of falling rocks. Thanks to them, we reached Yuksom safely by night.
We will let the pictures do all the talking regarding road conditions.
In Yuksom, Mr. Limboo and his family put us up. They have two cottage rooms at the base of their garden (Limboo Home Stay). In addition to the cottages, they also have a number of rooms in their house that are rented out to trekking groups. Mr. Limboo is also a trekking guide, and in addition, the family supplies all necessary equipment to trekking groups. We spent the next three days exploring the village, and eating the awesome food made by Mr. Limboo’s family. Mr. Limboo and his five kids made us feel at home as soon as we arrived. We unfortunately missed meeting Mrs. Limboo as she was out of station. The cottage was immaculately maintained and the food served every day was soulful and different. Looking back, it is the memory of staying with this family that shines the brightest when we think of Yuksom. We hope to return some day soon to trek to Kanchendzonga base camp, with Mr. Limboo as our guide.
It is difficult to describe the beauty of Yuksom in words. It is surrounded by green hills on all sides and every day, we woke up to see the mist lift off the hills. There are numerous streams and waterfalls all around the village. The people are immensely friendly, and everyone takes the time to greet each other whenever they meet. Despite being this remote, Yuksom has a primary health center (with a helipad for medical evacuations) and three schools. May be a place this beautiful should be a little difficult to reach.
The best part, probably, is that the people have a very well developed sense of environmental awareness. They discourage the use of plastics, and whatever plastic comes into the village is recycled into usable items or art. This work is mostly pioneered by Kanchendzonga Conservation Committee, an NGO that has made a serious positive imprint on this region. However, this work is not limited to any organization. Most of the food we were served at Mr. Limboo’s home came from his garden, and we were introduced to fruits we were completely alien to. Mr. Limboo, a school teacher, is extremely concerned about the increased presence of plastic bottles (mostly brought in by trekking groups), and collects them in his backyard.
A mild 1 Km hike from the village took us to Dubdi monastery, which is the oldest in Sikkim. The forest around the monastery is teeming with birds, and some of us were tempted to spend the entire day exploring the forest. There is also Khecheopalri Lake in the village which is worth exploring. But the best sights of Yuksom can be found in the many village lanes, filled with flowers, horses, pigs, and farms.
Our timetable forced us to leave Yuksom after 3 days, and we were happy to note that the roads had been repaired to a great extend by then. From Yuksom, we drove back to Siliguri. After Sikkim, both the front stabilizer rod ends of our car had to be replaced. These were new ones which we had already replaced before the trip! But other than that, we were unscratched, thanks to Arun’s excellent driving skills. From Siliguri, it is off to Kolkata and then down the east coast.