Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Stop gap West Sikkim tour - 2009

Since we (Mohua and I) could not go to Ajanta and Ellora - we planned to go to Sikkim as a stop gap.
Obviously there is no train seat available. So we planned to go by bus. We got the ticket from Raha travels counter inside the main WBSTC Bus depot. Normally a ticket would cost you Rs 700/- per head if you book AC bus ticket. Otherwise it is Rs 350/- for Non AC bus. Normally bus fare for Volvo bus is around Rs 800 -950/-.
Forr Volvo bus online booking is possible .
Train fare(non AC) is however cheaper - around Rs 250.

Our bus left from Esplanade Bus depot at around 8.10 p.m.

SEPTEMBER 30, 2009

We reached reached Siliguri at 8.40 p.m. While I was travelling I was not sure where I will go in Sikkim. But after going through my book, in the bus, I have decided that it is better to go to West Sikkim - i.e. Pellling, Tashiding and Yuksom instead of going to Gangtok for the other main Zone of Sikkim (i.e. North Sikkim - for Yumtang) due to lack of time. North Sikkim being quite far from West Bengal will require more time to travel.
There is a "separate" bus depot for Sikkim - SNT in Siliguri which is basically opposite Tenzing Norgay Bus Depot. In fact the place where we got down (There is a booking counter for all the places of North Bengal and Sikkim) - the SNT Depot is basically 1.5 minutes walking distance. So I thought it is better to go there - since the competition will be more among the travel agents for the same route. In the mean time my friend from Siliguri called me to confirm this. But unfortunately there is huge rush for Sikkim, since I am inside a long weekend. No bengali worth their salt will stay in their house and deprive them of a great holiday !! So what is the bottom line? There is no bus available.All are booked. So we came out of the SNT Depot to look for jeeps diagonally opposite the depots (In fact there are 2 jeep stands side by side) . The rates which are Rs 175 normally, they are asking Rs 400!! Even that is not available for a small group like us.
Ultimately we got a jeep to go to Jorethang for Rs 250 per head. Anindya suggested that it is not a bad idea to halt at Jorethang since Hiley Varshey is nearby - which is a very nice place.
We reached Jorethang after 3 hours journey. Jorethang was really hot. Mohua said there is no point going to a hilly place - which is so hot. It is a very big hill town. We were told there is hardly any bus available to go to Pelling. Just at that point of time we met a group of 4 people who were going to Pelling with a similar fate. And there was another group of 3 people with similar intentions! Immediately I was able to convince them that "we can travel together and just follow what I am doing". After they were convinced, I immediately hired a SUV- Tata Sumo for Rs 1200 and we started our journey to Pelling!!! It is an idyllic town 2,085 m above sea level; it offers breathtaking views of the snow-capped Kanchenjunga, the guardian deity of Sikkim. The hill sides draped in Alpine forests are swathed in swirling clouds and bounded by majestic mountains. It is located 133 km from Siliguri and 125 km from Gangtok. The people are mainly of Nepali descent. Other ethnic groups include the Lepcha and Bhutia communities. Nepali is the most widely spoken language in the district.

Among all the hotels I saw I found real value in Garuda and it was a classy hotel with a great dining room where you can sit and relax and have a glass of beer. Their cook is from Calcutta Red Hot chilli Pepper of Calcutta. So the Chinese food is quite good. The room charge was Rs. 400/-(since this is a season time) with a view. Main part of Pelling looks like a hair pain - one part is called lower and the other part is called upper Pelling.

One of the group (group of 4) members of the jeep (out of four, two of them are working in HDFC Bank in Haldia ) are staying in a hotel (owner is known to them, booked them from Calcutta) in the Lower Pelling (we are staying in upper Pelling), which is slightly more expensive than our hotel (but without doubt not as classy as ours). Next day we planned to make a day trip in Sikkim. Since they know the owner, it was easier for them to hire a jeep from the hotel for tomorrows city tour. In fact I impressed upon them it is economical for us - if we could travel together. More so, since they seemed to be a affable group. so Biswajeet called me to inform that they have almost booked a jeep from the hotel with the help of their friend. Being a seasoned customer, I told him that before you book, you should find out the rates from other agents outside their hotel to have an idea about the market rate. In the mean time I confirmed from my hotel that the rates are Rs 200 per day. So I went to their hotel to pay the money and talk to the travel agent. On reaching I got to know the rates are Rs 250 !!
So never trust your friends when money is involved – the old adage. In any case it was not Biswajeet's fault.(In fact there was no need to hire a full car - it is like "city tour by a bus" in any big city - you have to buy your ticket only)
OCTOBER 1, 2009
Any way next day we went for a city tour .We had an argument with the driver since they were not inclined to show all the places - they were supposed to show us, according to the chart displayed in front of the travel agents office. Ultimately we had to concede to them (However Biswajeet succeeded in paying lower [somewhat normal] the rates to Rs 225!).
We saw few falls including Rimbi falls, Khangchendzonga falls, Khecheoperi lake
(considered one of the sacred lakes of Sikkim. The lake remains hidden in the rich forest cover. It is believed that birds do not permit even a single leaf to float on the lake surface), Rabdense Ruins
( This was the second capital of the erstwhile kingdom of Sikkim after Yuksum and till the year 1814 A.D., the king of Sikkim had ruled the state from this place. The district was under the occupation of the Nepalese for many decades in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. After the Gorkha War, the district was returned to Sikkim.Today, the ruins lie hidden from the main road at a walking distance from the Pemayangtse monastery. It can be approached by following a footpath which branches off the main road. The scenic view from the top of the ruin scanning across deep valley to the mystic heights of Khanchendzonga ranges is something to be cherished and etched in memory, although the ruins per se had very litte to offer.) , Pemayangtse Monastery (Pemayangtse literally means 'Perfect Sublime Lotus'. This is one of the oldest and most important monasteries of Sikkim. Founded in 1705, this monastery belongs to the Nyingma-pa sect. The three-storied building of the monastery houses a good collection of wall paintings and sculptures. On the third floor of the monastery, there is a seven-tiered painted wooden model of the abode of Guru Rimpoche, complete with rainbows, angels and the whole panoply of Buddha and bodhisattva. In January/ February every year, a religious dance called 'Cham' is performed in Pemayangtse) and helipad. We had momo near Katcheporie lake.
After returning back to hotel we were planning to go to Yuksom and Tashiding by hiring a jeep , since there is no package tour for that. So we have to form a group. I met a nice Australian couple in our hotel , seating with Lonely Planet. I was also carrying LP. It appeared to me they were also planning a tour, which might coincide with our tour. So I told them about our plan - they agreed to join us.
Biswajeet and his wife was not sure whether they will go to that place - they were thinking to go back to Calcutta to participate in the Lakshmi Puja. However the other two wanted to stay back. The main problem was their train ticket was not confirmed till that time and it could not be cancelled since it was booked by an agent (who left for Delhi keeping his mobile off!!) through Internet. They had an argument over that and ultimately none of them went for the tour. So we were again short of a full group. i informed Rose and Matt(Australian couple ) that our plan is off!!
OCTOBER 2, 2009
Next day we walked from Pelling to Pem Yangtse Monasatery - the walk towards the monastery was really pleasant. We had some pastries and patties from a bakery neat the entrance of monastery.
Memorial service in progress
After staying some time in the monastery, Rose and Matt went to see Rabdentse ruins (which we saw yesterday) . On the way back we had a brief stop over at Public works department bungalow.
We went to the the second oldest monastery of Sikkim, Sanga-choeling Monastery - ridge above Pelling.To reach the Monastery one has to walk for 45-60-minute on steep hilly slope which lead through rich forests area - the route looks like a great wall of China from a distance. Unfortunately although we rested on the way, but still we could not make it to the top as Mohua felt exhausted. We returned our hotel.

In the mean time Jola called us to inform that she will be joining us from Kolkata by evening. She lost her camera and mobile on the way. After she reached we informed the Police and we were told she left the camera at the check post to enter Sikkim. She was joined by Amrita (She is a Bengali from Bhadreswar, working in Bangalore) she has come to Sikkim for a short vacation to an unknown place!
In the mean time I met a Bengali couple looking for a direction. Immediately I had a rapport with them and told them about our plan to go to Yuksom and Tashiding. They also agreed to make the tour since it will be economical for all of us.
OCTOBER 3,2009
In the early morning we went to the helipad to see the sunrise.
Next day we were joined by Jola, Pallabda and Mahuadi & Rose and Matt. to go to Yuksom and Tashiding.

We saw Khangchendzonga falls and some other falls which we saw yesterday. But the best falls of the place is undoubtedly Phamrong falls - from the condition of the staircase you can make out that not many tourists go there.
First we went to Yuksom ( Yuksom,1780 mt, about 35 km from Pemayangtse, was the first capital of Sikkim. The real adventure begins from here, as it serves as the base camp for unforgettable treks into the wilds of the mountains since it is the last motorable point for the popular trek These high altitude alpine treks take you through fairy tale landscapes, dense Rhododendron forest to heights of about 12,800 ft. at Dzongri or to Goe Chala (via Dzongri) at a height of 18,000 ft. , awe inspiring Mount Khangchendzonga will be the accompany the trekkers during the journey. Khangchendzonga National Park in Yuksom is another place of attraction for wild-life animals and birds. It is the first capital of Sikkim where the first Chogyal of the kingdom of Sikkim was consecrated in 1641 AD by three learned Lamas. The Norbugang Chorten nearby still has the evidence of the consecration ceremony in the form of stone seats and a footprint of the head lama on a stone. The name `Yuksom` means the meeting place of three Lamas. ).
After that we trekked to a ridge just beside this place to see beautiful view of mountain ranges. We had some tea on the top. After some point Mohua stopped accompanying us since the road is too steep for her! She waited for us in the road.
The we went to Tashiding. Tashiding Monastery lies at a distance of approximately 19 km to the south east of Yuksom. Perched on top of the hill rising between the Rathong River and the Rangit River, it provides breathtaking views of the scenery below. Tashiding Gompa of India dates back to the year 1717, which coincided with reign of the third Chogyal Chakdor Namgyal. It is located on the site blessed by the great Guru Padma-sambhava. Built by Ngadak Sempa Chembo (one of the three wise men who consecrated ceremony of the first lama), Tashiding Monastery belongs to the Nyingmapa order. The main temple of the monastery was rebuilt some time back only. It stands encircled by traditional buildings, chortens and mani (stone plates).Mani stand inscribed with the sacred Buddhist inscriptions, like "Om Mane Padme Hum". The numerous stone plates is hallmark of the monastery and it is the work of the master craftsman, Yanchong Lodil. The chortens, preserving the relics of Sikkim Choygal and lamas, stand at the far end of the complex.
After this we finsished our jorney and it was time to go back to hotel. The tour was really cheap and the cost was only Rs 2000 for the whole day - which is much chepaer than previous day's tour. On the way Mohuadi entertained us with Rabindra sangeet.
OCTOBER 4, 2009
Today all of us were suppose to trevel together to Siliguri. Although we were supposed to take different jeeps, I managed to swap the jeeps and we were clubbed in the same jeep!! Only Amrita had to sacrifice since I could not swap it (being one seat). After reaching Siliguri Jola left for Darjeeling and all of us took some rest in Tukuda's house. Amrita,Pallabda.Matt and Rose had lunch (Biryani)near Tukuda's house (1 minute) . It was apparently quite good.
Then we left for Calcutta in two different buses. Matt purchased the bus ticket from Darjeeling. Anindya somehow managed to get the bus tickets for all of us ( including Pallabda,Mohuadi and Amrita) although there was huge rush, through his friend!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Guptipara - Hoogly - a real treasure

Guptipara is the home of Bengal’s first community Durga puja, the place where first branded Bengali sweets graduated from makha sandesh (sandesh mixture) to gupo sandesh (a variety of sandesh pieces), and the birth place of legendary folk singer Bhola Moira amid terracotta temples. It is located around 75 km from Kolkata on the Bandel-Katwa railway line.
The place can be visited on a day trip. There are several places to eat
We (Jola and I) left for Guptipara by Katwa Local, which leaves Sealdah station at 7.45 a.m. You have to wait at the main hall of the station, to to look at the electronic screen to know the platform no. of the train (from which it leaves). From Howrah it takes less time. For more details see erail.in
The train was quite empty. The Katwa local takes about 2 hours 10 minutes to reach Guptipara. Then we hired a van rickshaw (instead of cycle rickshaw from the station) for Rs 120. It was settled that he will show us the terracota temples, place where first community Durga Puja took place, river bank.

While going towards the main temple complex , we saw one small temple, an old old zamindar (Mr. Sen) house and a garden house of them. The town is quite neat and clean , unlike what you associate with a normal town which are near Kolkata. We also saw the famous Charriot /Rath of Jagannath and Subhdra just beside the temple complex.

The main main temple complex houses 4 Vaishnava temples — Chaitanya, Brindabanchandra, Ramchandra and Krishnachandra — which offer an interesting mix of Bengal’s temple architecture.
The temples were constructed in different periods.
Chaitanya temple
The Chaitanya temple, built by Bishwar Roy in the mid-16th century, is the oldest. The temple consists of 2 thatched hut-shaped structures. The structure was adorned with some of Bengal’s earliest terracotta carvings, but they didn’t survive the march of time.
Brindabanchandra temple
The 60-feet high Brindabanchandra temple, built in 1810, dominates the temple complex. The aatchala temple doesn’t have terracotta(burnt clay) work but that is compensated by the colourful paintings on both the outer and inner walls. The Brindabanchandra temple is flanked on the left by the Ramchandra temple and on the left by the Krishnachandra temple.
Ramchandra Temple
The ekratna (single pinnacled) Ramchandra Temple was constructed in late 18th century by Harishchandra Roy, the king of Seoraphuli. It may be called the most elegant temple in the complex. The single-storey temple with an octagonal turret contains rich terracotta work on the walls and the turret. The carvings depict war scenes from theRamayana, royal processions, voyages and glimpses of everyday life.

Krishnachandra temple
The Krishnachandra temple was constructed in 1745 during the rule of Nawab Ali Vardi Khan and is also in the aatchala form. All the temples stand on elevated platforms and are interconnected by narrow, arched passageways.
The heritage of Guptipara is not restricted to its temples alone. The place was a stronghold of Vaishnava culture. Even today, residents observe Rash, Dol and Rath festivals with great enthusiasm. Rath Yatra is Guptipara’s biggest festival. The Guptipara rath, one of the tallest in Bengal, covers the longest distance after the Puri rath. A day before Ultarath, a festival called Bhandar-loot is held here.

Bengal’s first community (Jagadhatri) puja was organised in Guptipara when some men were stopped from taking part in a household Durga puja. Twelve(12) of them formed a committee and organised a barowari (baro means 12) puja. There is, however, some debate about the year the puja was started.

While coming back from the temples, we went to the garden house and then saw the Sen's(Zamindar) Puja. (We also saw the place/temple where first community/Barwari puja started, which is near that place) .The puja we saw there is quite interesting. We suddenly saw number of Honda City cars parked outside the place. It is quite unusual site, in a place like this. We chatted with that family and had some prasad (including gupo sandesh.Guptipara is a great place for those with a sweet tooth. The place is famous for gupo sandesh, considered by many as Bangal’s first branded sweet). We got to know that the family is origianally from Bangaldesh. Since the family has become quite big, the responsibilty of the puja is bestowed on the families in a revolving manner. In other words same family does the puja every fourth year . For other years it is the responsibily of other group of the same family. The family is no doubt, quite prosperous.

Guptipara is also the birthplace of kabiyal (folk singer) Bholanath Nayak, popularly known as Bhola Moira, who was defeated by the legendary Antony Firingi in a musical duel.But there is hardly any trace remains of Bhola Moira’s birthplace.
Then we went to the ghat/river bank. We hired a boat for Rs 30 (it is basically a fisherman's boat) and he showed us his day's catch while boating. We returned after a boat ride of 20-25 minutes in Hoogly river.

Then we went back to the station. We skipped our lunch, since the prasad we had at the puja pandal was enough for us. From the station we took a train which goes upto Bandel in an hour. From Bandel we took another train to Naihati and from Naihati we are back to Sealdah.

The following link for pictures : http://picasaweb.google.co.in/bomadg/GuptiparaHooglyWestBengalIndia#
(source : Most of the informations are from writings of Rangan Dutta - in The Telegraph )

For more pics click here

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Durga Puja 2009 - Mesmerizing Pandal hopping

I must say Durga Puja this year was really very special. My friend from Poland, Jola , came to
Kolkata to see the Puja.

We were suppose to leave for Ajanta Ellora on Sasthi i.e. 6th day on 24th September 2009. Today we went to Kumartuli to see the "Potter's Colony". Most of the galleries were empty since the idol has been shipped or in the process of shifting.

In some of the studios artists were giving final touches.

On 23rd , on Panchami we met the guy with the longest moustache in Kolkata while moving around Kolkata!

On Panchami night ,we started our Pandal hopping by hiring an AC Mahindra and Mahindra SUV(@Rs 2000, which is quite low as per Puja standard. During puja it can go upto Rs 3000 - Rs 3200! We got the booking thanks to Upal's (works in M & M) client who is into car rental business (Khokan 9830 37 70 73 - from 9 p.m. to 6.30 a.m.) . We were supposed to leave at 9 p.m. , but ultimately we left at 10 p.m. thanks to great sense of timing by some of our group members! Our group consists of 9 people - Didi,Baba,Mohua,Babu (Mohua's borther) , Jola, Ms Chanda and her 2 sons. We had a great combination . Babu knowing all the lanes and by lanes and I am an expert on the artists of Kumartuli and the great Pujas! We saw creme de la creme of Kolkata Pujas.

I.We started with Keyatala Puja which is part of CESC Telegraph True spirit Puja. The theme was Kalighat Pat.

II Our next stop was 95 Pally , which is on the right side after getting down from Dhakuria bridge. They made an amazing fort based on Ajmer fort - Lakshmi Vilas Fort.

We skipped the Babu Bagan [BB] Puja to avoid standing in a queue.
III Then we went to Jodhpur Park Puja. (We covered it [BB] later and was simply mesmerizing) Normally you have to stand in a queue for 20- 40 minutes to see the puja. Since it was Panchami, it was a cake walk!

The theme was Zamindar House


IV Then we went to see the puja of Selimpur Palli. It could not live upto the expectaction. The idol was quite interesting though - showing the evolution of Durga from Vishnu,shiva and Brahma

V Then we went to see the puja at Nashkar Para in Selimpur. Since the roads were blocked we had to take the Jadavpur PS flyover to reach the Puja Pandal.

The theme of the puja was bioscope - whith pictures of filmstars and Directos of yester years inside.

Vi, VII, VIII While coming back we saw the puja beside the cemetary. Then we took the left turn from Boudir Dokan near Sandip's house to go to Santoshpur Trikon Park and Santoshpur Lake pally. They are simply jaw dropping. We even met the artist Susanta Pal at Santoshpur Lake pally

Santoshpur Trikon Park

Santoshpur Lake pally.

Then we decided to go to Haridevpur to see the famous pujas there. It is truly unbelieveable to say the least. However, while going towards Haridebpur, we saw some beautiful pandals .

IX 41 Pally on Mahatma Gandhi Road

X Ajeya Sanhati

These two pujas are just out of the world....

XI , XII Then we went on to see Putiari Pally and Pallimanga Samity (both in Haridebpur), near a bylane of Ajeya Sanhati both of them are very near to Dipan house.

Pallimanga Samity

Putiari Pally

XII Then we started moving towards Behala by taking a left turn from the bridge and took Karunamoyee Ghat road - BL Saha Road- Santosh Roy Road to finally reach James Long Sarani. We went to See the Puja organized by Shristhi. It was really interesting. By that time it is 3 .30 p.m.

We had to drop our office colleague at their Behala residence. On the way we some other nice ones too. After dropping them at their residence we lost our way and wasted some time. Then we went to see Adarsha Pally on Biren Roy Road. We planned to go to Behala Nutan Dal's Puja and Suruchi Pally. Since Didi was getting late so we had to skip it for the time being. We dropped Didi at her Prince Anwarshaw Road residence and went to see the puja on Prince Anwarshaw Road - they made Jorbangla of Bishnupur. Then we took the flyover near Garihat Police station to reach By pass and went to see famous Kasba Bosepukur Talbagan and Kasba Sitala Tala. Both of which are great work of art. But the one at Bosepukur would have been even better if we went their in the evening or night (when we reached their it was early morning), since the effect of light was very important in that one, to appreciate. Then it was time to return home and we reached home at around 7 a.m.

By 10.15 am I am back to office.Today, Sasthi, being last day of office it is very important for me to go there. But even after 2.5 months our tickets (waiting list 29,30) were not confirmed.
I was dissapointed. Baba took Jola to Gopa mashi's house and show her the puja of Tridhara.
So I decided to see the Durga puja in best possible manner!

On Sasthi we made a walking tour to nearby places like Hindustahn Park, Samaj Sebi,Ballygunge cultural etc.

On Saptami we went to Sunil Nagar,Bondel Road, Mudiali,Shibmandir.

On Asthami we went to Guptipara to see the first community Durga Puja of West Bengal. It is written in a different section of this blog. http://sourabhdg.blogspot.com/2009/11/guptipara-hoogly-real-treasure.html

On Navami morning we(Jola,Didi and I) went to see Rajdanga Naba Udayan Club, which won Asian Paints award with Didi's car and once again saw Bosepukur's puja. Since Didi was getting late, we dropped her residence and we went to see Suruchi Sangha and Behala Nutan Dal. Near Behala Nutan Dal I saw my office colleague Chandranath.

On Dashami morning we went to Jagadishpur's puja near Gariahat (puja of Baba's maternal house in Jagadishpur of Bangladesh). We met Dalkaku - he shown us some of the pictures of their(Thakuma) house in Bangaldesh , where this puja originally started. The name of the school is still in the name of Thakuma's father. He was the first judge over there(?).Mohua did her customary sindur khela there.

Around 2.00 p.m. I left with Jola to see the amazing pandal of Babu Bagan. It was so good that Jola actually thought it is real. From there we went to Babu ghat to see immersion. Jola danced with one of the community puja members. It was real fun.

In the evening we saw bhasan/immersion near our house.

On Ekadashi we went to Sikim and Jola left for Sundarban.

To know more read the Sikkim tour!

Chronological order