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Sikkim: Of cherry blossom-enveloped roads, mountains and more…

Our choice on the contrary was the more difficult, gravelly road — winding up and down the mountains and cutting across river valleys

Chandana Ghosh | Published 13.12.21, 02:12 AM
On the way to Temi, the heart of the blooms

On the way to Temi, the heart of the blooms

Suddenly the road in front of us disappeared. Clouds traversing the mountainous terrain enveloped our vehicle. On one side we were flanked by the tall-forested eastern Himalayan ranges, on the other side, it was a sheer drop into the meandering river. We were on our way to Pelling from Gangtok, the state capital of Sikkim. Both destinations are tourist favourites in the early winter months, when the weather is cool and pleasant, and you get a clear view of the Himalayas.

Located at a height of more than 5,000ft, road conditions in this hilly region typically determine the route you would choose to get to your destination. More often than not, to avoid bad road conditions caused by unpredictable landslides, you would tend to choose a longer route. Our choice on the contrary was the more difficult, gravelly road — winding up and down the mountains, cutting across river valleys and navigating sharp corners. We traded the bumpy ride for the picturesque breathtaking experience through the Himalayan mountains of Sikkim.


We had been lured by the fantasy of sighting cherry blossom in full bloom in Sikkim’s countryside — much like that of Japan— the country that is synonymous with the magic of these flowering trees, and draws attention from around the world. Hence, we had chosen the route to Pelling via Ravangla. It appeared that we were the solitary travellers on this lesser-known road, much in contrast to the motorway that connects Bagdogra to Gangtok. As we inched our way, shrouded in mist, sitting on the edge of my seat, holding my breath — sighting cherry blossoms soon became a faraway dream — and visiting Japan seemed to be a better option.

The road less travelled

The Temi Bungalow

The Temi Bungalow

Through the misty ride we could hear the continuous buzz of the cicada — their melodious racket along with the whirr of our diesel engine were the only sounds that broke the silence. At times, the sun’s rays gently brushed away the clouds from the face of the landscape, revealing the vivid colours of the vegetation, highlighting different shades of greens. It was like lifting away the shimmering drapes from the window, to provide a clear lookout. A variety of flowering plants punctuated the hills, spraying them in different colours — reds, yellows, violets, lilacs, you name it. The paddy fields ready for harvest stretched out in braided yellow patches, making a statement across the densely forested Himalayas. Embraced in the colourful beauty of nature in full bloom, the bumpy, rather treacherous drive, seemed well worth it.

The sighting

Everywhere you look, cherry blossom greets you

Everywhere you look, cherry blossom greets you

The winding road was intercepted with wayside streams and mountain goats nibbling away on the vegetation. Suddenly out of nowhere a group of villagers came hurtling towards us. Unnerved, we parked our vehicle. Solemn faced, expressionless they passed us by in a single file, carrying a wooden coffin on their shoulders. They were headed to the riverside, that seemed thousands of feet below, to perform the last rites.

Pensive and reflective, the travails of the local people preoccupied my mind and washed away my dreams of cherry blossoms. It was not long before our vehicle came to a standstill again. Shaking me out of my reverie.

We had crossed the small village by the roadside, ahead of us the road opened up. There was no hold up or vehicular traffic. I looked up, wondering.

Both sides of the road were lined with wild cherry blossom trees. It was a short stretch, the blossoms were not perfect pinks, the age showed in the gnarled branches that wore the buds. But it was clear that they had been there for years, standing tall, weathering many seasons gracious in their beauty, humble in their welcome.

I got out of our vehicle, and decided to walk down the “cherry blossom lane”. The sound of birds chirping, the gentle sway of the pink branches in the wind was enough to capture my heart.

We were entering Temi. The heart of the blooms.

Mountains and more

Misty mountain roads

Misty mountain roads

The tortuous road abruptly ended. The bumpy drive gave way to a smooth metalled road. We were engulfed in the greenery of the mountains. Terraced tea gardens flanked both sides of the road. The green looked greener against the drape of the blue sky. The terraced land raced downhill and the cherry blossom trees towered above them — like speed breakers — pink punctuations that broke the pace of the runaway hills.

Nestled in the midst of the blooms, further downhill, I could glimpse the bungalows. Neatly organised in white overalls and green hoods, unobtrusive and blending in with the landscape. The Temi Bungalow. Very English-looking, framed in the picturesque setting of the Himalayan tea gardens.

We made our way downhill, not quite believing that there were cherry blossom trees in our very own backyard, and that too in full bloom. But it did not end there. The manager in charge, Sangam, politely escorted us to the lookout of the Temi Bungalow. We were greeted with infinity at the other end. The clouds played spoilsport with the verdant greens. But they were unsuccessful in preventing us from glimpsing the silvery skyline — the snow-clad mountain peaks that played hide-and-seek.

On a clear day, the Kanchenjunga would beam back I was told. But then for a sighting of the elusive one needs to make an appointment with the “the mountain that one offers greetings to”, I guess; as I understood the deeper meaning of the name of the world’s third highest peak.

The quintessential cuisine

We were walk-in guests, which, of course, is unheard of in a place such as this. But that did not deter Sangam and his assistant Sonam. Hospitality took a new meaning as they accommodated our request for lunch while facing the mountains, under cherry blossom trees. They even whipped up a local fare comprising gundruk, khalpi, phagshapa and kinema. Not to mention the dal-bhaat, momos, jeera aloo and chicken curry that accompanied.

Later, I understood, local cuisine in Sikkim is hard to find, given dying traditions and the scarcity of local vegetables. Possibly a lavish city meal is far easier to come by — this was a discovery as we travelled through different places in south and east Sikkim.

Getting around

En route to Temi

En route to Temi

Sangam was in for a surprise when I later revealed to him that the Temi Bungalow was owned by a dear friend of mine, and the visit was no surprise. It had been planned post a lot of research. November is the time when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom — and it lasts for a very short window. One of the best places to see this is in Temi Tea Estate in Namchi, south Sikkim. Ravangla is another town close by that has lanes of cherry blossom. Though to catch their beauty in full bloom, you need a bit of luck. But in a place like this you are spoilt for options — mountain views, tea estates, winding roads along the Teesta, villages in wilderness, the enigma of descending clouds. And when you have had enough of that, you can curl up in the warmth of heritage bungalows and count the pink blossoms that beckon from outside your window.

Pictures by the author

Last updated on 13.12.21, 01:36 PM

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