Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sikkim: Short Day Treks

Short Treks/ Day Walks There are a number of short one day and half day treks in Sikkim which are suitable for visitors who do not have the time to do the longer treks. 

1 Rabangla (2100 m) to Mainom Top (3200 m)
Time: one day Level: Moderate
Ideal Season: October to mid December and mid March to end May.
Location: South Sikkim
Getting there and out
By Road: The town of Rabangla is about three hours drive from Gangtok on the main highway that connects Gangtok with the district headquarters of West Sikkim Gyalsing. There are SNT bus services between Gangtok and Gyalsing, which leave in the morning (7 am) and go through Rabangla. The route would be Gangtok-Ranipul-Singtam- Temi Tarku-Rabangla. Alternatively, there are share jeeps from the jeep stand above MG Road and the Tourist Office. It is also possible to approach Rabangla from the other direction i.e. from Pelling or Gyalsing by taking a bus or a jeep- the time taken would be about two hours from Pelling and the route would be Pelling-Gyalsing-Legship-Kewzing-Rabangla. It is also possible to approach Rabangla from Siliguri by taking a bus or a jeep to Namchi (three hours from Siliguri), the district headquarters of South Sikkim and then taking a jeep from there (one and a half hours from Namchi). There are small hotels and lodges to stay at Rabangla, the best one being the cute Mt Narsing Resort with its wooden cottages. on the hillside.
Route: Walk through the main Rabangla bazaar past all the shops on both sides and follow the jeepable road for about 20 minutes. This is the road, which eventually leads to the Ralang monastery. The road begins to climb and after about 20 minutes there is a sign to the right proclaiming the entrance to the Mainom Wildlife Sanctuary. The trail now leaves the jeepable road and begins to climb steeply through the forest.. The four-hour steep climb along a well-trodden path brings the trekker to the top of Mainom, which towers above the town. During he spring season , especially March and April the rhododendron display is quite spectacular. On a clear morning the hill top has a view of the peaks of the Kangchendzonga range. The way down should not take longer than two hours.
2 Damthang (1650 m) to Tendong (2600 m)
Time : one day Level: Easy to Moderate
Ideal Season: October to mid December and mid March to end May.
Location: South Sikkim
Getting there and out
By Road : The town of Damthang is located fourteen kilometres away from Namchi, the district headquarters of South Sikkim on the Gangtok-Namchi (via Temi) road. It would be accessible from Gangtok on the Gangtok- Namchi bus or jeep service and the time taken would be about three hours. Damthang is also one hour away from Rabangla and so this trek can be combined with the Mainom trek described earlier. In fact, it is better to stay at Namchi or Rabangla and travel to Damthang to do the trek as there is no suitable accommodation at Damthang.
Route: Above Damthang, overlooking the South District headquarters of Namchi, there is a small flat stretch of land at an altitude of 2600 metres surrounded by lush green ancient forest, which is popularly known as the Tendong Hill. Follow the main road from the small town of Damthang heading northeast and then take the trail through the dense forests of the Tendong Sanctuary . Historically, this has been a place of recluse for Buddhist Lamas who spend years in meditation amidst the silent peaks. The view from the top of the Tendong Hill is something to be remember as it spans across plains of Bengal to the majestic heights of the Himalayan ranges.. The climb to Tendong takes about three hours from Damthang. Tendong is a fine viewing point: to the east is the Chola peaks, to the west Kanchendzonga and the Singalila range, to the north east can be seen the peaks of the North Sikkim plateau including Gurudongmar. The way down should take about an hour and a half.
3 Hillay (2750 m) to Barsai ( 3000 m)
Time : half day Level: Easy Ideal Season: March and April
Location: West Sikkim
Getting there and out:
By Road: The Barsai Rhododendron Sanctuary lies in the south west corner of the West Sikkim district., spread over 104 sq. km, across the razor sharp Singalila Range, which forms the natural international border with Nepal. Barsai is approachable from Hilley. Hilley is about an hour from Sombaria, which is about an hour’s drive from Jorethang. Siliguri to Jorethang will be about three hours and Gangtok to Jorethang about three and a half hours by share jeeps. It is not possible to reach Hilley directly from either Gangtok or Siliguri unless you book a full jeep. A Trekker's. hut exists in Barsai amidst the Rhododendron forests at 3, 000 metres commanding a glorious view of the Kanchendzonga Range. For tourists on a shoe string budget, dormitory facility with bedding is also available. The booking can be done from the Tourism Department, Gangtok or directly at Barsai if rooms are available.
Route: The bridle path from Hilley to Barsai heads due north along the Singalila ridge with views of the mighty Kanchendzonga right up ahead. The distance is around four kilometres and being a gradual climb should take about an hour and a half. It is possible to leave Hillay in the early morning and be back by lunch time but it is more interesting to stay at Barsai for a night to see the views and also enjoy the rhododendron forests. During March and April this part of the trail is ablaze with rhododendron blossoms and is a delightful day walk with stunning views.
4 Pemayangtse to Sangacholling Monastery
Time: half day Level: Easy
Ideal Season: October to May Location: West Sikkim
Getting there and out
By Road: The town of Pelling is about six hours drive from Gangtok. There are SNT bus services between Gangtok and Pelling, which leave in the morning (7 am). The route would be Gangtok-Ranipul-Singtam- Temi Tarku-Rabangla-Kewzing-Legship-Gyalsing-Pelling. . Alternatively, there are share jeeps from the jeep stand above MG Road and the Tourist Office. It is also possible to approach Pelling from Siliguri by taking a bus (SNT from the SNT Bus stand 11.30 am or a share jeep depending on the availability of passengers. The time taken would be around 5 to 6 hours. The route then would be Siliguri-Teesta Bazar-Melli-Jorethang-Legship-Gyalsing-Pelling. There are numerous hotels in Pelling and its is usually an acclimatization stop for a day before the Dzongri trek.
Route: This is a walk from Pemayangste to Sangacholling following the ridge, which joins the two monasteries. From Pemayangtse monastery follow the main road to Pelling which will take about half an hour of easy walking. The road is flat and on a good day there are brilliant views of the peaks right across the valley. From Pelling village walk upto the Pelling playing field cum helipad and then follow the trail on the southern side of the field. There is now a stiff one-hour walk upto Sangcholling. On a clear day the Darjeeling ridge can be seen to the south. To the north is visible all the peaks of the Kangchendzonga range as well as some of the most important monasteries in west Sikkim perched on the hill tops to the north and east, including Khechuperri, Pemayangtse and Dubdi.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Nikon D600: Normal Zoom Lenses

Now that Nikon has launched the new full frame D600 priced ar $2099 (body only), many photographers who are presently shooting with DX bodies would be seriously considering an upgradation to FX. To help them make a decision with lenses, I am discussing some of the normal  Nikon zooms for an FX body both new and used.

Zooms with VR (Vibration Reduction)
24-85 f3.5/4.5 VR USD 600 New
This lens introduced in 2012 and sold along with the D600 for USD 2699 features VR and covers some of the most useful focal lengths for a normal zoom including 24mm. The lens is light, around 485 gms and could well be the first choice for a D600 shooter. For a review of the lens please do visit

24-120 f4 VR USD 1296 New
This lens was mated with the D700 as well as the D800 as a standard normal zoom. It's advantages over the 24-85 is a fixed f4 aperture and a longer zoom range upto 120mm. On the flip side, the cost of the lens is double so D600 shooters would have to decide whether the added cost is worth it given the benefits. This would be my No 1 choice if price was not a factor.  For a review do visit

28-300 f3.5/5.6  VR USD 1050 New
This is an all -in one zoom which would replace both a normal zoom and a tele zoom. Despite being a slow lens, it is well equipped and the results are surprisingly good! Use this one if you want to travel with just one camera and one lens. A good option for travel photography when weight and flexibility are at a premium! For a review of this lens please do visit

Zooms without VR

24-70 f2.8 ED G USD 1887 New
This is a professional grade short zoom with a fast f2.8 aperture which is likely to appeal to photographers who do a lot of low light work. However the weight 900 grams and price will be a deterrent to most but the performance and optical quality cannot be faulted despite the lack of VR. For a review please do visit

28-105 AF-D 3.5/4.5 USD 150-205 Used
This was a very fine normal lens in the film days and I used it extensively on my F3, N90 and FM cameras.  Nowadays available at a real bargain price  it is capable of giving excellent results on an FX body. Covering five important focal lengths, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm and 105 mm, it can be the ideal walk around lens! For a review please visit

24-85 AF-S 3.5/4.5 G  USD 300-350 Used
This  is the non VR version of the 24-85 and is a good lens at a very competitive price point. No longer available new, it is a good choice used (  For a review please visit

Friday, September 14, 2012

Bhadgaon Guest House, Bhaktapur

Taumadhi Tole from the roof of Bhadgaon Guest House
In the heart of Taumadhi Tole  with a breathtaking view of the Nyatapola Temple is the Bhadgaon Guest House. Started in 1997, the old building has 11  rooms with another 22 rooms in two annexe buildings nearby.

The guest house built in the Newari  style fits in beautifully with the rest of  the architecture of  Bhaktapur.
There is a rooftop restaurant from where the entire square is visible and a deluxe fourth floor room with a private balcony and a view to die for.

I stayed for a night last week at the guest house and was more than happy with the clean sunny rooms,  clean bathrooms with hot water and good meals. Most visitors to Bhaktapur come for the day but a night stay is most certainly recommended.

 For details of the Bhadgaon Guest House do visit or e-mail

Lobby of the Guest House

Rooftop restaurant of the guest house

Friday, September 7, 2012

Lonely Planet India

Lonely Planet, the iconic guide book company,  has recently set up an office in India and is producing a range of guides for Indian travellers. Some of their guides are already published and would be available in the  bookshops and on line web sites. I am presently working for them on the Nepal guide. Unlike the international Lonely Planet editions which pack information but few photographs, the Indian series has a lot of photographs in each of the chapters adding to the overall colour and flavour of the guides. So next time you are in a bookstore do take a look at some of the guides for the Indian traveller - Bhutan, Singapore and Thailand to name a few are already published. More information can be found on the web site

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Primulas and North Sikkim

Primulas bloom below the Lhonak La pass in North Sikkim

In the summer of 1987, I think it was late May, I walked with Brigadier Sidhu and Major B V Naresh of the Indian Army from Thangu in North Sikkim to the village of Muguthang in the Lhonak Valley. On the way, you have to cross the Lhonak La pass which was snow bound due to unseasonal spring snowfall. These primulas were blooming on a meadow just before the climb to the pass. Looking at them, I was reminded of R.L. Holdsworth's comments in Frank Smythe's book The Valley of Flowers which I reproduce here.

" All of a sudden I realised that I was simply surrounded by primulas. At once the day seemed to brighten perceptibly. Forgotten were all pains and cold and lost porters. And what a primula it was! All over shelves and terraces it grew often with roots in running water. At the most it stood six inches high, but it's flowers were enormous in stature and ample in number.... In all my mountain wanderings I had not seen a more beautiful flower than this primula....."

My sentiments as well on seeing these primulas bloom below the pass on that misty May morning with snow threatening! 

And since then for the last twenty five years I have been looking for a similar primula in the Himalayas but no luck so far! It was the most magnificent primula that I ever saw!


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