For travelers to northeast India

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In fall 2003 I led a group through the Himalayas on our “Jewels of the Himalayas” program, Sept. 23-Oct. 17. Among places we visited in India were Darjeeling, west and east Sikkim and Kalimpong, then we entered Bhutan at the southern border town of Phuntsholing.

The road conditions in western Sikkim were particularly bad, with potholes and eroded roads that added much time to our road journeys from Darjeeling to Gangtok, the capital of the state of Sikkim. The worst stretch was from Darjeeling to Pelling. In late September the Indian road crews were busy repairing damaged roads on the main arteries, but many lesser-traveled roads would not be upgraded until months later. Roads in Pelling are repaired in winter (December-March) because the conditions are dry then.

Weather and bad roads notwithstanding, in Pelling the Pemayangtse Monastery, Sikkim’s second-oldest monastery, has been beautifully restored. It is well worth the long drive to see this magnificent monastery built in 1705. Don’t miss the large wooden sculpture of Zangtopelri (the heavenly abode) on the top floor. Additionally, the scenic drive to Pelling took us through beautiful valleys of rice and tea plantations worked by the Lepcha people, the original inhabitants of Sikkim.

Many improvements have been made in Gangtok this past year. The main street, MG Marg, is now closed to vehicular traffic from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m.; this change has greatly improved the air quality of the capital. Likewise, the one-way streets have eased the flow of traffic into town. Our group enjoyed evening and early morning walks in town free of diesel fumes.

The Lal Bazaar, Gangtok’s sprawling local market, has moved up one street east of MG Marg into a large white building on Tibet Road while the original location is being upgraded. Most of the produce merchants have their new stalls set up in the ground floor of this building, and it’s worth a visit to see the merchant wares and itinerant sellers of betel nuts and yak cheese. It’s also a great place to purchase saffron (about $1 for one gram). Once upgrades are completed, the bazaar will be shifted back to its original location.

The Museum of Tibetology closed for renovations on Oct. 2 due to some leaks discovered in an inner wall which threatened the valuable and irreplaceable contents. The ancient artifacts and documents were immediately moved to another location for protection. Travelers should check with their ground operators to see when the museum will be reopened.

In Darjeeling there was a dispute between the Darjeeling Gorklia Hill Council and the West Bengal Government which had forced the closure of the road to the Windamere Hotel (fax 910354-54043). As no vehicles were permitted to drive up to the hotel, guests needed to walk a block and a half to the hotel and then walk up the long, steep driveway or climb the 30-plus steps to the top.

This was a hardship for some in our group, not to mention the porters carrying baggage up to the hotel. Travelers visiting Darjeeling and staying at the Windamere should check to see if the street is still blocked. (It was still blocked at press time. — Editor)

In Kalimpong, travelers looking for unique Himalayan jewelry should contact Naveen Soni (mobile phone 9832017588) at Soni Jewelers on Ongden Road. Naveen has a superb collection of one-of-a-kind necklaces, rings and bracelets plus bronzes and thangkas.

KATHLEEN ZURICH FUNG, Far Flung Places, 1914 Fell St., San Francisco, CA 94117

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

In fall 2003 I led a group through the Himalayas on our “Jewels of the Himalayas” program, Sept. 23-Oct. 17. Among places we visited in India were Darjeeling, west and east Sikkim and Kalimpong, then we entered Bhutan at the southern border town of Phuntsholing.

The road conditions in western Sikkim were particularly bad, with potholes and eroded roads that added much time to our road journeys from Darjeeling to Gangtok, the capital of the state of Sikkim. The worst stretch was from Darjeeling to Pelling. In late September the Indian road crews were busy repairing damaged roads on the main arteries, but many lesser-traveled roads would not be upgraded until months later. Roads in Pelling are repaired in winter (December-March) because the conditions are dry then.

Weather and bad roads notwithstanding, in Pelling the Pemayangtse Monastery, Sikkim’s second-oldest monastery, has been beautifully restored. It is well worth the long drive to see this magnificent monastery built in 1705. Don’t miss the large wooden sculpture of Zangtopelri (the heavenly abode) on the top floor. Additionally, the scenic drive to Pelling took us through beautiful valleys of rice and tea plantations worked by the Lepcha people, the original inhabitants of Sikkim.

Many improvements have been made in Gangtok this past year. The main street, MG Marg, is now closed to vehicular traffic from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m.; this change has greatly improved the air quality of the capital. Likewise, the one-way streets have eased the flow of traffic into town. Our group enjoyed evening and early morning walks in town free of diesel fumes.

The Lal Bazaar, Gangtok’s sprawling local market, has moved up one street east of MG Marg into a large white building on Tibet Road while the original location is being upgraded. Most of the produce merchants have their new stalls set up in the ground floor of this building, and it’s worth a visit to see the merchant wares and itinerant sellers of betel nuts and yak cheese. It’s also a great place to purchase saffron (about $1 for one gram). Once upgrades are completed, the bazaar will be shifted back to its original location.

The Museum of Tibetology closed for renovations on Oct. 2 due to some leaks discovered in an inner wall which threatened the valuable and irreplaceable contents. The ancient artifacts and documents were immediately moved to another location for protection. Travelers should check with their ground operators to see when the museum will be reopened.

In Darjeeling there was a dispute between the Darjeeling Gorklia Hill Council and the West Bengal Government which had forced the closure of the road to the Windamere Hotel (fax 910354-54043). As no vehicles were permitted to drive up to the hotel, guests needed to walk a block and a half to the hotel and then walk up the long, steep driveway or climb the 30-plus steps to the top.

This was a hardship for some in our group, not to mention the porters carrying baggage up to the hotel. Travelers visiting Darjeeling and staying at the Windamere should check to see if the street is still blocked. (It was still blocked at press time. — Editor)

In Kalimpong, travelers looking for unique Himalayan jewelry should contact Naveen Soni (mobile phone 9832017588) at Soni Jewelers on Ongden Road. Naveen has a superb collection of one-of-a-kind necklaces, rings and bracelets plus bronzes and thangkas.

KATHLEEN ZURICH FUNG, Far Flung Places, 1914 Fell St., San Francisco, CA 94117