30th November 2010 & we i.e. Rolling Wheels Bikers Club, a Motorcycle Touring Club of Kolkata were riding our way back to Siliguri. We left from Chitwan at 7.00Am in the morning to reach Pathlaiya in the afternoon where we had our lunch. (Refer to our Tour of Nepal 2010)

After our lunch comprising of the ‘like it or not, mandatory Gobi’, we started for Siliguri via Kakkarvita. Total distance estimated to be 450km approx.

The road to Kakkarvita seemed beautiful with dense forests in both sides & the smooth tarmac. It is Pleasant in daytime & biting cold in late evening. We had to endure both since we had started late after lunch. Exactly at 8.50 pm we reached Nepal border & customs office & crossed into Indian Territory with a sense of triumph & glory.

After our triumph, we started for Siliguri where we planned to stay for the night & leave for Kolkata in the morning. The 40 Km ride took a heavy toll in the already tired souls and we literally dragged ourselves till the Siliguri Bus stand. Rathinda somehow by accident got separated from the group & boarded some hotel nearby. We decided to search for hotels in the area since Krishnenduda & Bapida had good rapport with some hotels due to their earlier travels. Even then it took us quite a while to manage a hotel in Siliguri since there were no available rooms to accommodate the whole lot of us.

At last at around 10.30pm we managed two rooms in a hotel & relieved our luggage there. Now for food!! The hotel kitchens were closed at this time of the night & we had to satisfy our hunger in a nearby restaurant which was already closing up. After about 10 days we managed to find some mutton & chicken items for us & most importantly without any ‘Gobi’ item.

With bellyful of long desired food & a pack of lovely Indian Cigarettes we returned to our hotel & went to bed. We needed to start early tomorrow for Kolkata.

Since the last two days there was something that was bothering me quite a while. I felt the tour ended too early. I needed a longer break from the daily life in my hometown. To my happiness I found out Bishwa too was having a similar feeling. It was not long when he suddenly said, “you know Kedar!! Sikkim’s not far from here!” It seemed to be the best suggestion I ever had from him & the whole night we spent planning for places we could visit in Sikkim. The others knew nothing of our plan.

1st December 2010 & at 9.00am everyone was ready to leave for Kolkata, when we suggested repairing my bike in Siliguri & then leaving for Kolkata. Bapida too decided to repair his bike in the Siliguri Royal Enfield workshop. Hence Bishwa, I & Bapida stayed back while Tirtho, Krishnenduda & Subho left for Kolkata & decided to make a halt in Raiganj for the rest of us.

We left for the RE workshop & Bapidas bike received a few repairing. When my turn came, we told Bapida of our plans to visit Sikkim. Bapida happily agreed & gave us instructions on the formalities & rules of travelling in Sikkim & then left for Kolkata to join Krishnendudas group in Raiganj. Meanwhile we received a call from Rathinda informing that he & his Bike is leaving for Kolkata by train due to severe fever since yesterday night. His train was scheduled to 4.30pm.

We decided to meet with him & take his camera with us but I received my bike at 4.00pm. We hurriedly left for the station but here strikes misfortune again. My bikes clutch cable tore & we had to come back to the workshop for repairs again. There was no hope of meeting Rathinda in the station anymore.

After our repairs Bishwa took me to his uncle’s house where he used to live a few years back. We received a warm welcome & I was astonished to see his popularity there. Another astonishing fact was, he was called ‘Raja (King)’ by everybody there.

2nd December 2010: At about 10am, after packing & mounting our saddlebag we left for Sikkim & bid goodbye to the friendly neighborhood. To reach Sikkim, one has to travel through the wonderful Sevoke Road. It was the first time I was riding my bike through the wonderful road. Dense pine forests on both sides with the crickets cheering loud, it seemed like a path that led to heaven. Indeed it does. Sikkim is heaven. My excitement knew no bounds. Bishwa too was excited when I asked him to drive for me. It was the first time Sikkim motorcycle tour for both of us.

We reached Gangtok at 2.30pm and parked our bikes to the ‘Hotel New Orchid’ which is a fixed hotel for our club every time we visited Sikkim. Let’s say since 1998. This hotel is actually our 2nd home. We have heard many stories of their friendliness & cheerful attitude of Sherpa Passang, who is the hotel manager since 1998 & a 12 year best friend of Rolling Wheels Founders.

We climbed upstairs to the reception & asked for Passang & the guy happily shook hands & said, “You must be from Rolling Wheels! Krishna Nandu called me up informing you are coming. Your room is ready as well as your lunch”. Now, this Krishna Nandu is none other than Krishnenduda. Passang in these 12 long years couldn’t pronounce the name as it is & neither did Krishnenduda ever try to rectify that. “He pronounces it so sweetly”, Krishnenduda always says.

When we were showed our rooms we were shocked! The first thing I did was look for my purse to see how much money I would have after paying for a room like this. It was too lavish for us!!

Bishwa asked Passang if he has some other room which was a little economical to which Passang simply smiled and said, “Room of my Choice…Rent of your Choice”. We stood stunned!! Now we understood the depth of his friendship.

We freshened up & had our lunch. It was delicious. Perhaps it was the most delicious food since we left home. After our lunch, we sat with Passang and discussed our tour plans.

In the evening we set out for the M.G. Market to buy a few necessary items like:

1. One belt to hold your pants in the required place.

2. One camera to hold on to sweet memories.

3. A pair of gloves to hold on from the cold while driving.

4. A bottle of Red Wine to hold a party in the hotel.

After the brief ‘HOLD UP’ we returned to our hotel when we received a call from Suprobhatda. He is a senior member of RW as well as the ‘legal advisor’ of the club. He was very happy when he knew that we had left for Sikkim from Siliguri and called to congratulate us & also requested us to travel through the ‘OLD SILK ROUTE’ & also sent us a pair of maps for the same.

The OLD SILK ROUTE is a mesmerizing corner of India – the ancient Silk Route, which used to connect Lhasa in Tibet via the Jelep La Pass to India and onwards to the rest of the world. In the Travel circuit, this territory is marked as East Sikkim and has been opened to tourists relatively recently. Even now most of the route is restricted area due its international boundary with China (Tibet) and the route is controlled by the Indian Army.

We decided to travel the Nathula Pass, Tsango Lake, Baba Mandir, Old Baba Mandir, Kupuk, Bofors point and Zuluk, Renok via OLD SILK ROUTE then to Rishi, Lawa, Kalimpong and descend to Siliguri. We needed necessary permissions for the same.

3rd December 2010: We left for the Tashi Ling Building (The Secretariat Bldg) for the required permissions at 9.30am. We needed to meet the Home Secretary for that. After registering ourselves in the appointment register, we met the home secretary & told him of our plans. He told us that the permission has to be taken from the D.I.G. office in Development area. His job is to accept the same. We also needed to make an application letter for the same. We immediately called up Tirtho for help regarding the application letter. Within a matter of 30 mins Tirtho sent us a couple of Semi-finished letters by email. All we needed to do is to fill up the blank spaces like the engine no., Chassis no. etc & the take a printout. One letter was addressed to the D.I.G & the other to the Home Secretary. Travelling Sikkim numerous times has made him an expert in the permission procedure part. We took the letters to the D.I.G office. The D.I.G was a charming lady who seriously listened to our plans & provided us with the permission. She further assured us of any help if required. She was indeed of much help.

While our way back to the Tashi Ling Bldg, we accidentally entered a ‘One way zone’. The nearby sergeant paid no heed to our being new in this place & entering accidentally and we ended up paying a huge fine of Rs.1000 for traffic violation. This was indeed a big setback since we were already running through limited funds.

We took the permission letter to the Home Secretary & soon it was accepted and we came to know that The D.I.G had called up the Home Secretary to see to our permissions. We were surprised to see the efficiency level of these people.

Now all we had to do is to give copies of the permission letter to different offices like the Tourist Office, The D.I.G. office, the Black Cat Barracks. We had our lunch in the Black Cat canteen with tea & noodles at 6.30pm. Meanwhile the letters were accepted & we were given the NOC for the entire route. We thanked the concerned officer & left for our Hotel. Next day, in the early morning we would be heading for Nathula pass.

At night we quickly packed our bags and paid the hotel bills since we would be leaving early morning for Nathula pass. This is the time we noticed that we don’t have enough money for the tour. The Rs.1000 fine has put us in a fine mess. The money we had with us is just enough to take us back home in Kolkata but not to make the tour of Sikkim. Bishwa & I became busy discussing what’s to be done. Just at this time, suddenly we received a phone call. It was Rathinda!! He called us up to see how things are going. We told him of our possibility to cancel the tour & come back to Kolkata due to fund shortage. Rathinda strongly objected to the proposal & said he would deposit the money in my bank account provided we would successfully make the tour without any compromise. We were stunned!! This is Rolling Wheels bikers club. An environment of true friendship. A family united.

Just before we went to bed Bapida & Suprobhatda called up to wish Good Luck & warned us of possible dangers in the roads & advised not to take junk food. It felt so good to be cared for.

An important piece of advice for the Old Silk Route: There are no petrol pumps in the way, so we need to carry some on our own.

4th December 2011 and we reached The D.I.G office at 5.30am to bid goodbye. The D.I.G. was somewhere else on duty but when we called her up in her mobile she came down to the office and had a look at our papers. She told us that we have a special permission to make a stay in Nathula at the army barracks if required & we would get any help required from the army. This permission has been done by the P.A. of the Home Secretary, Mimi. We were sad since we couldn’t get time to thank her for the help she had done without our request.

We went to the market and bought some chocolates & an empty 5 liter jar for the extra petrol we needed to carry. Meanwhile Rathinda called up and informed us that he has deposited Rs.3000 in my bank account. We set off for the petrol pump and Bishwa waited for our turn to fill up the tanks while I hurried to the A.T.M counter for cash. At about 9.00am we started for Nathula pass with a peace of mind and unbounded excitement.

Nathula Pass is about 62 kms from Gangtok (The Capital town of the state of Sikkim). We were cruising through the sharp hairpins that were taking us to a higher altitude with every steep curve. One side of the road we had the mountains while the other side a deep cliff. The thought of falling into one made me a little nervous. Luckily I was sitting pillion to Bishwa & I knew he was safe hands.

After crossing about 21kms we reached the first check post. It was called ‘3 miles’. We had to deposit a copy of the permission letter here. After the formalities, we started for Tsango Lake which was 25 kms from here. While going I noticed many big & small army barracks on the way. Couldn’t take any snaps due to prohibition & terrible road conditions which is rather astonishing since these roads are maintained by the Border Roads Organization (BRO) which is one of the most efficient ones in the country. We enquired about the reason in the check post and came to know that a week back this area received heavy & continuous rainfall for 3 days which resulted in such bad road conditions which are already in the process of repairs. Yeah…we noticed them too. I really wish the whole of West Bengals roads falls under BRO.

After driving total 46 kms we reached the Tsango Lake. The lake was half frozen and the water was chilling cold. There were many beautiful birds around the lake & there were Yaks. I took the opportunity to take a ride on the mighty buffalo. Well…the real intention was to keep my legs warm in its thick fur. Thick it was but the Yak smelt very bad. YUKKKS!!!

After the yucky ride we started for Nathula pass which is about 11kms from Tsango Lake. The road conditions became worse and narrow. It also seemed a little steeper. While driving, there were situations when we had a few funny fall downs which were actually totally harmless. Ultimately at about 1.25pm we reached Nathula Pass last check post where we had to show our permission letter. Nathula was still 3 kms to go. At last at 1.40pm we reached Nathula. My joy knew no bounds. I raised my hands & shouted “I love my India”. Bishwa shook hands with a Chinese soldier and yelled “Indi Chini Bhai Bhai” (India & China are Brothers). I am not sure whether the guy understood what we said and greeted us with a smile & a Thumbs up of Good Luck. He also took a snap of ours in his camera.

Nathula is a beautiful place with the proud Himalayas & the snow clad terrain. The temperature here is normally at 0°Centigrade & we were feeling the lack of oxygen in this altitude. I went towards my bike for the water bottle. It is mandatory to have plenty of water in high altitude. To my misfortune I found out the water in the bottle has froze to ice. We went to a soldier for water and he gave us a bottle of warm water.

After warming up we started for Baba Mandir which is around 6 kms from Nathula. The Baba Mandir of Sikkim holds an interesting legend:

Born in Brondal village of Kapurthala, Punjab Harbhajan Singh joined the 23rd Punjab Battalion on February 1966 as sepoy. The year of 1968 when the states of Sikkim and North Bengal was under the rage of great natural catastrophic where landslides, floods and heavy rain had taken thousands of lives across the two states. On October 4, 1968 sepoy Harbhajan Singh was escorting a mule caravan from his battalion headquarters in Tekula to Dengchukla, he fell into a fast flowing stream and drowned. Search for Sepoy Harbhajan was made with no results. It was on the fifth day of the missing, his colleague Pritam Singh had a dream of Harbhajan Singh informing him of his tragic incident and his dead body being under the heap of snows. Harbhajan Singh desired to have a Samadhi made after him. Pritam Singh ignored the dream as just as an imagination but later when the body of Sepoy Harbhajan Singh was found at the spot where Harbhajan Singh had informed the army official was taken aback and to mark respect and towards his wish a Samadhi was constructed near Chhokya Chho.

Temple of Baba Harbhajan Singh

Baba Harbhajan Singh warns the dangerous activities on the border through the dreams of fellow army men. Even Chinese army men believe to have seen a human figure doing patrolling in the night across the border. Baba Harbhajan Singh is today honored the rank of Honorary Captain and his Samadhi reconstructed at the junction of Kupup Gnathang road and the pathway leading to Menmoichu Lake as a part of the watershed memorial complex.

Baba used to get his salary for the defense funds that were send to his family but due to some reason it has been stopped now and the donation collected from the offerings made by the devotees are send to his home by the army official.   Over the years the shrine of Baba Harbhajan has obtain huge devote across all frontiers. Baba is respected and worshiped by every army men in Sikkim. They believe Baba would forecast accident in the valley much ahead of the happening.

Baba Mandir is of three rooms, the central room has a large portrait of the Baba along with other Hindu deity and Sikh Gurus. To the right of the central room is the room of Baba. The room has every household belongings required for daily activities, from clothes, shoes, slippers and a neat sleeping bed, it is all well maintained. The uniforms are neatly ironed and shoes polished ready for use. Opposite to this room is a small room that has an office cum store room. The room is filled with water bottles, unused slippers, tooth brushes and other items offered to Baba. The followers believe that the water kept in the Mandir after a week would turn into holy water and cure every ailment. People believe that the slippers kept here would help patients with gout and other foot problems and so on. That devotee who cannot visit the shrine sends letters to Baba that is opened by the associate of Baba. These letters usually have the request for the Baba to help solve personal problems and the gratitude for being helped.

He has defeated dead. Believe it or not but it is true, one of its kind of story in the world- a man from an Indian army in a Nathula border is still doing his duty even after his death some three decades back. 60 km from Gangtok towards the panoramic view of the Nathula landscape a road leads towards the valley of Kupuk. Here is the shrine of Baba Harbhajan popularly known as Baba Mandir. Baba Harbhajan has been guarding the international boundary of the two Asian giants the China and India over the last three decades. But believe me he does it alone. Even the army men on the other side of the international wall confirm that they had seen a man riding a horse all alone patrolling the border.

Every October 4 a special ceremony is organized by the Indian army out here to honor the role of Baba Harbhajan Singh as well as for those soldiers of Indian army who laid their lives for the safeguard of the country. Every Sunday and Tuesday throughout the year Puja is observed at Baba Mandir where free meals are distributed among the devotees. These are the best days to visit Baba Mandir for any visitors.

Despite the blessing of the Baba the army at Nathula border is in high alert when Baba goes on an annual leave from September 15 to November 15 every year. Even leaves for other army men during the months are cancelled and extra cautions are sought after. This year Baba Harbhajan left for his hometown accompanied with two soldiers on Amritsar Express where his family would receive him. Believe it or not but this true legend of Baba Harbhajan is only next to the importance of Lord Kanchenjunga for the people of Sikkim.

(Reference: Baba Harbhajan Singh: Story of a dead Sepoy by Shital Pradhan)

We came to know of these by communicating to the Indian soldiers. They were so happy at our show of respect towards Baba Harbhajan Singh that they offered us Noodles & Tea in their canteen. We were too hungry to be modest.

After our visit to Baba Mandir, we started for Kupuk Lake which is about 10 kms from Baba Mandir & falls within the Line of Control (LOC). We were advised by the soldiers to be cautious on the road since snipers of both countries keep a sharp vigilance in this area. “Any stupid deed & you end up with a hole in the seed” said one Jawan. Photography was also strictly prohibited.

The Kupuk Lake is frozen all round the year. This is the last lake in the area. 5 kms farther and we have an army base camp which is none other than the Bofors point. Luckily we met an officer in the camp who was a Bengali & was from Kolkata. We managed to take a snap for personal use with his permission.

While we were busy chatting with the officer, the Bofors practice session began & we could hardly hear ourselves speak. We decided to take their leave & drive down to the ‘S’ type road we could see from here. That was the ‘OLD SILK ROUTE’. The entire road is full of continuous hairpins. The road was around 6 feet in width.

When we started our journey from Bofors point visibility came down abruptly due to heavy fog followed by snowfall. With all lights on, we could barely see ahead of a couple of feet, but I must admit, it was sheer fun & excitement driving in these conditions.

At around 3.50pm & driving about 18kms, we saw a beautiful waterfall in a place called Zuluk.

We slowly headed forward towards Padamchin which is famous for its beautiful Sunset view. After driving for 11kms we reached Padamchin at 4.15pm. We watched the sunset with warm tea & cakes bought from a small C.R.P.F camp nearby.

Suddenly my phone rang; it was the D.I.G. from Sikkim. She was anxious about us was enquired if everything is ok. She advised us to make a stay at the Govt. Guest House in RongLin but we had plans to reach Siliguri by today. She advised us to ride cautiously through the jungles of RongLin.

After driving for about 22 kms we reached a small village at 4.42pm, it was RongLin. From here we had to ride through dense jungle roads. It was a beautiful combination of Jungle & mountains. Within a short time it was dark all round, so dark that we couldn’t see each other standing beside. We rode on until 5.49pm when we reached Renok. This is where the Old Silk Route ends. My bike needed a drink. Remember we brought 5 ltrs of Petrol in a jar. This is where it comes into use since there were no Petrol pumps in view.

One kilometer after Reynok the road went in two directions. One went towards Lawa & the other towards the Sikkim-West Bengal border. We took to the left since we had plans to visit lawa. In the meantime my bikes meter drive cable gave way not allowing me to take accurate distance chart between Lawa & Reynok. We reached Lawa at 7.20pm, where we changed the meter drive cable & relieved ourselves from the hollowfill jackets we were wearing. Lawa is much warm compared to the other places we visited.

After visiting Lawa we started for Kalimpong which is about 37kms from Lawa. The road conditions were terrible, enough to make one digest his digestive system. With tiresome journey & bumpy roads we began to feel hungry & couldn’t wait to reach Kalimpong.

Atlast, at around 9.05pm we reached Kalimpong where we had bellyful of Chicken Momos & spent about 30 mins to regenerate ourselves. Next stop would be Siliguri.

At 9.40pm we started for Siliguri through Teesta Bazaar which is about 18 kms from Kalimpong. The road towards Siliguri ran parallel to the banks of the river Teesta. We felt the sad leaving the heavenly atmosphere behind us. At about 11.40pm we reached Siliguri medical college at Bishwas uncles house which is 70 kms from Kalimpong for a well deserved rest.

 

Happy Rolling….

 

 

Three Cheers for Rolling Wheels

HIP HIP….

 

Travelogue by Tirthendu Dey