6 States - My First Solo Trip

Some might say I’m not a true fan. I dont like to travel in sleeper class, and I avoid long journeys to avoid using the washrooms. But I still maintain that I love trains! So, when I had 4 days extra before my Sikkim vacation plan, I thought of a brilliant(?) plan. I would travel by train from bangalore to sikkim, spending one day each wherever the stop is and catch the next train at night.

My first obstacle was to find out if this was possible, given such short notice. I first tried for Bangalore-Vizag-Bhubaneswar-Kolkata route, which would give me a chance to cross over the gigantic Godavari delta… I got the tickets to bangalore-bhubaneswar train… but sleeper class. It was a 2 day journey to bhubaneswar. I was not very happy about it… next I tried to get tickets via hyderabad… to my surprise Hyderabad train was almost empty. I easily got tickets for Hyd-Vizag, Vizag-Bhubaneswar, Bhubaneswar-Kolkata. Kolkata-Siliguri train was already booked as a part of my prevĂ­ous plan.

This was my longest vacation plan ever. and my friend was supposed to join in Kolkata… so it was also my first solo travel, although for only first four days.

Planning a trip instantly makes me happy. I was proudly showing off my tickets to a friend. His jealousy made me even happier ;)

my tickets, six bookings on irctc in an hour! 


After a long wait, the day finally came. I hate packing so I usually delay it till last moment. But that doesn’t mean that I forget stuff. I usually have a checklist ready; and numerous trips in last two years have made me an efficient traveller.

I boarded the train from bangalore, Garib Rath. Why would they name a train like that? Given the train is fully AC and not very cheap, although the service is, compared to other regular trains!

Reached Hyderabad in the morning. Coming from pleasant Bangalore weather, Hyderabad was too hot. I had planned to meet my friends in Hyderabad and, If time permits, visit Charminar. But when I travelled from Secunderabad to Kondapur in the morning traffic, I decided not to roam around anymore in this heat! I spent afternoon at a friend’s place, met a few friends over lunch and rest of the day at Microsoft’s office. The hyderabad campus was much much better than Bangalore campus where I worked. I spent most of the time chit-chatting with a friend.

In the evening, I left for railway station. I was sleep deprived by now, slept in the cab.

I reached railway station very early, thanks to all the friends who told me to leave at least two-three hours before departure time. According to my friend, charminar was not very far, but I was sleepy and it was still hot in the evening, I spent most of the time in a restaurant right outside the station.


Vishakhapatnam 



I reached Vizag early in the morning. Station was crowded. As I stepped out, I got surrounded by auto-rickshaw drivers. I never thought Vizag would be so commercialized. One of the rickshaw drivers took me to nearby hotels. I took a single room.

After having breakfast at a nearby restaurant, I headed towards Kailasagiri. It is a small hill outside the city. There is a bus service and cable car to reach the top. I decided to take the stairs instead. It took around 20 mins. Although it was not too high, the sun made it difficult.

Rishikonda beach, as seen form Kailasagiri

It is a beautiful place, with an awesome view of the city and nearby Rishikonda beach. The place is very well maintained with gardens, cafe, juice points and a toy train. The main attraction is a huge statue of Shiva and Parvati. I roamed around for a while and took cable car while coming back.

Shiv-Parvati statue as kailasagiri

I totally forgot about the film city which was nearby, I came back to city and had lunch near RK beach. The restaurant was right opposite to the beach, it was an awesome place to sit and relax. I expected good seafood but was disappointed.

There was a marine aquarium and a submarine museum nearby. The museum was closed due to lack of power supply. The marine aquarium was ok. It was a small place, took hardly 15 mins, nothing extraordinary. It was still too hot to visit a beach so I chilled at a local pub nearby.

RK Beach

In the evening I visited the RK beach. Being in the main city, the beach was highly crowded. A few locals told me that the beach was rocky and dangerous, and claims many lives every year. Still people seemed to ignore the warnings.


locals performing some ritual, tried to talk to them but couldn't understand what was going on as they spoke  onlyOriya. I thought the little girl would be scared but she seem to handle it pretty well.
Child dressed as Mahatma Gandhi. These kind of street shows are not very common in India. I love the concept!
After dinner, I took my luggage and headed towards station. Since it was nearby, I walked to the station. The city was safe even late night.

Bhubaneswar




Next day, early morning , I reached Bhubaneswar. It was first time I stepped down in Orissa. I was happy to add one more state to my ‘visited’ list.

Bhubaneswar had a ‘small town’ feel to it. It didn’t look like a state capital. The area surrounding the station was underdeveloped.

This time I wanted to avoid rickshaw drivers and find a hotel myself. So, I ignored all the suggestions. I successfully averted their attack and came out on the main road. I visited one hotel and suddenly one of them came after me, “sahab hum dikhaate hain”. Ahh, I was frustrated by now. He took me to a few hotels, I refused all his suggestions. Finally, he left.

I got a room nearby, it was ok. At 600Rs, Bhubaneswar seemed costlier than Vizag. Probably due to Konark and Puri nearby.

There was not much to do in Bhubaneswar. It was very hot, and I didn’t want to travel to Puri. It was difficult to find breakfast in the morning. After some searching, I found a south indian restaurant.

I looked through wikitravel and found nothing except temples. I decided to visit the zoo.

The zoo was located around 20km from the station. Spread over 990 acres including a lake, wow!  It was too hot by the time I reached there. I directly went to the cafe since I was hungry. With temperature reaching over 45 degrees, It was impossible to walk around. I spent a few hours trying to sleep under a shade.


The zoo does provide some options for photography

The ginormous place had nothing exceptional to offer. I liked that the animal enclosures were big, giving them more space to walk around. The lake was quiet and boring, with very few birds around! I came back by evening. A day wasted!

My train to Kolkata was early morning next day. Finally I got a chance to sleep properly.

I boarded the train early morning. It was a short, 6hr journey to Kolkata. Slept most of the time.

Kolkata




I reached kolkata around 1:30 pm. My friend had already reached and booked a room, awesome.

The first thing I noticed as I got down on the station was traffic jam, of people! Howrah station is busiest train station in India [1] , with around 1000 trains arriving every day.




It was hot as hell outside. Hooghly river was right across the road from station. I wanted to spend more time there, but It seemed impossible in the heat. I quickly reached hotel and washed clothes for the rest of the trip.


Howrah Station as seen from Howrah Bridge

In the evening, we decided to explore the city on foot. We crossed the Howrah Bridge and walked to Victoria Memorial. Kolkata can easily be called the smoking capital of India. It seems, almost everyone smokes, even in public places. And the shocking part was, most of them were youngsters and students.

We walked around in and around the market area. Visited “Peter Cat” the most praised restaurant in online reviews. Food was good, but didn’t seem to stand up to the hype.

By the time we were done with dinner, the market was closed. Kolkata looks even more majestic at night. Old buildings, broad roads, paved footpath, The city has a “Mumbai” feel to it. I liked kolkata.

Many things which u will not find in rest of India, u will find them in kolkata. Road trams, hand pulled rickshaw, buses so old, u’ll fear they may fall apart any time.

Walking back via Howrah Bridge, we were wondering how it was allowed to walk on the bridge. We stopped for a while right when a police jeep stopped in front of us, and accused us of trying to jump. After some time he let us go. Laughing, we came back.

We had one more day in Kolkata - not enough time to visit Sunderbans. Although a lot was there to visit in Kolkata, but not in the scorching heat. We decided to go to the science museum instead.

It was a big campus, one day isn’t enough to visit all the exhibitions. Strangely, in the evening, it turns into lovers park. Couples can be seen in every corner, with no regard for the people nearby. We left for railway station in the evening.

Sikkim

Next morning, we reached the New-Jalpaiguri station. Weather was pleasant. After breakfast, we took a shared cab to Gangtok. 

Most of the people in the cab were tourists. A family from Kolkata, a guy who came for business purpose, and two girls from Mumbai. We talked about our plans of North Sikkim and possibility of sharing a cab with them.

Road condition was very bad, but the route was scenic. We stopped for lunch in between, local food, momos and thukpa. It was delicious. Little did we know, those were the best momos we were going to get in Sikkim.

After around 5 hours, we reached the Gangtok taxi stand at 4 in the evening. Most of the hotels were pre booked, so it took us some time to find a decent place. The farther you go from MG road, the cheaper the hotels are. Sikkim, as any other tourist destination, is expensive. With an average room for ~1000 Rs.

We took a walk on the MG road in the evening. It was a beautiful place. Vehicles were not allowed and there were benches by the divider, where tourists and locals would hang out. Locals seemed relaxed and laid back. No one in a hurry for anything. Student hanging out in groups. Their uniforms would rival party wear dresses elsewhere in India.


We talked to a few tour operators for North Sikkim tour. Gurudongmar lake and Zero point were our priorities. It requires three days to visit the two places. We met with our new friends and decided to hire a cab. It was much better than going in a shared with 10 persons. Dawa, our tour operator took care of all the arrangements and permits.

Next morning, four of us left for Lachen. Weather was cool and pleasant. Road conditions was good initially, but deteriorated gradually. The route was full of waterfalls, with some streams flowing on the road. The roads were prone to landslides, and we had to stop several times for road to get cleared of boulders.


Landslide on the way to Lachen

We stopped at a few waterfalls on the way. Water was freezing cold. Driver would get impatient every time and ask to get back early. We spent rest of the time chatting and playing games.



We reached Lachen late night. Home stay was arranged by our guide. Rooms were huge with basic amenities. It was very cold and we were tired. Quickly slept after dinner.

Next morning around 4am, we left for Gurudongmar lake. It was cold in the morning. Road conditions were bad. The lake is at 5227 m altitude. As we climbed up, the pressure kept on decreasing. At one point, a packet of chips popped open automatically due to low pressure outside.


almost ready to pop!

Soon, we reached the lake. The terrain is such that lake is not visible from distance. Its as if it suddenly appears! And I didn’t exactly understand what I was looking at initially. I was expecting deep blue water something of the likes of pangong-tso. But instead I saw this,

Frozen Gurudongmar lake!

The lake was completely frozen! With snow clad peaks all around. It was the first time I was in front of a frozen lake.

Many people had to leave because of altitude sickness. The air pressure was around half of pressure at sea level. I had a mild headache.

We found a spot where ice looked strong and stepped on the lake. It was an amazing feeling. Tried ice skating but it was not smooth enough. Took a lot of photographs on the lake.


The ice near the shore was transparent and weak

People were shouting trying to warn us, but after some time many of them also joined. After some time, when sun came up, ice started to melt near the shore. We got off the ice and took a walk to the other end of the lake.

We left for Lachung in the afternoon. The return journey was not so smooth. Road conditions were worse than ever. The driver was behaving erratically. It was like some wire got loose inside his brain. He would suddenly start chewing on the steering, Then try to rest his head against it and sleep. Kept changing songs on the stereo for around 15 mins. We had to continuously talk to him to make sure he’s alright.

Late evening, we reached Lachung. It was very cold. The hotel arrangements were pathetic. thin blankets, dirty bedsheet, tiny bathroom, and to top it all roof leaked as soon as it started to rain.
Since we were tired and awake since 4am, none of it seemed to bother. We slept soon after dinner.

Early morning, we left for Zero point. Its a beautiful valley between snow clad peaks. spent a lot of time there playing in the snow. I’ll let pictures do the talking.


the layer of snow was 1-2 feet at some places!



We reached gangtok late night. It was very quiet and peaceful. After haggling at a few hotels, we got a decent place to stay.

Since I had only one day left, it was not possible to visit Nathu-La. If done properly, it requires at least 15 days to visit major places, I had only five.

The trip was coming to an end. I had to catch a train to Guwahati in the evening from New Jalpaiguri. One thing that we haven’t tried was chhaang, the local drink. So, we found a restaurant which served local cuisine. Chhaang is served warm, which was surprising for me, in a bamboo vessel, filled with mustard seeds. It has a very strong, tangy flavor. And u can get high very easily on it.


chhaang!

Parted ways with new friends after lunch, with a promise to keep in touch. I left for New Jalpaiguri. My friend continued his journey for another 15 days. I really wish I could have continued with him to the rest of North-East India.

I reached Guwahati early morning. My flight to Bangalore was at 4 pm. I spent some time near the Brahmaputra bank, and then trying to find a place for breakfast. The market wasn’t open yet. After talking to some locals I found a place - Brown Bean cafe. The manager was very friendly. After chit chatting with him for some time. I left to get Bhut Jolokia.

He had given me the directions to the market where I could find it. Bhut Jolokia or Raja Mircha, is the hottest pepper in the world. DRDO has done extensive research to weaponize it [2].

I reached the Ulubari market. People were very friendly. The chilli was sold in a bunch of three. Probably because no one bought more than that at a time.

chili vendor at Ulubari market

I bought just six, not a big fan of chili. What happened when I took them home, is a topic for another post!

My trip ended in Guwahati. It felt sad to have come so close and miss out on Tawang, Kohima, Shillong, probably Manipur. I traveled solo for four days. It was a very different experience. Travelling solo teaches you a lot of things. You have to get bored at times. You cannot visit some places since they are too expensive to travel alone, some, cause they are not very safe. On the flip side, you can spend as much time at any place you like. When you are alone, you actually enjoy the place, rather than talking among friends. I made a promise to myself to plan more solo trips. Expecting to evolve as a traveler and looking out for more fun and more adventure. ;)

Somil Bhandari

Somil Bhandari, A programmer, traveler and an amateur photographer. Loves adventure, hates stagnant life. Always looking out for something new.

1 comment:

  1. you have written it nicely. Its a little lengthy, try to cut it down into multiple posts

    ReplyDelete