The rain never stopped pouring down. The effect of monsoon seems stronger here in Sikkim and West Bengal regions of India. The road became muddy everywhere and there were landslides on the mountain road. I left Sikkim by a shared taxi towards the border of India and Nepal in West Bengal near Siliguri. Once I reached the last town for me in India near Siliguri, there was a guy quickly helped me out to take my bicycle from the rooftop of the shared taxi. He then offered me to take his rickshaw to send me to my destination. I politely declined the offer, telling him that I will just cycle to the immigration checkpoint which is very near. Then suddenly another guy came… took one of my bag and put it in his rickshaw. It all happened under the heavy rain and it was muddy everywhere on the road. Somehow that created the anger and it grew inside me but I tried to calm myself down and told him that I dont need a rickshaw, I can just cycle… while pointing my bicycle. I took the bag from his rickshaw and put everything on my bicycle. Suddenly I heard two voices shouting at each other and the next moment, I saw the two rickshaw guys started fighting… throwing punches and kicks to each other and tried to take each others down. It was quite embarrassing moment and I felt guilty at the same time because they were fighting because of me. In just a few seconds, the fighting became more tense and other people started to calm both of them down. People were laughing at them, telling them that they have no reason to fight because I was on bicycle and I dont need to ride their rickshaws. I then went to a nearby shop to wait for the rain to calm down.
After few minutes of waiting, it seems that the rain will never stop, so I just cycled under the heavy rain through the muddy road since I dont like waiting in the very crowded place. It was dirty everywhere on the road and the smell was really bad. Before crossing the bridge that separates India and Nepal, a police officer directed me to the immigration checkpost on the Indian side. It was very fast, took me less than 2 minutes and the officer stamped my passport and I was ready to leave India. I cycled through the bridge, getting a lot of attention from the locals crossing the same bridge mostly on rickshaws… staring at my bicycle. Once I crossed the bridge, there were another officers smiling at me while welcoming me to Nepal. The border crossing was so calm that I actually missed the checkpoint on the Nepali side. I kept riding until I reached a town called Karkavita. When asked around, they told me that I already passed the Nepali immigration checkpoint. It was 300m behind me. I was shocked and cycled back to the checkpoint right after the bridge. On the Nepali side, it took me another less than 5 minutes. This is the easiest border crossing I have experience in my whole life. The whole thing took less than 10 minutes! No hassle… no serious faces from the officers on both sides.
The rain still kept pouring in but once I crossed into Karkavita, I noticed that the road was much cleaner compared to the Indian side. Right after I get my passport stamped, there was a local guy smiling at me asking if I’m a Malaysian. He then speaks a language that is familiar to me. After listening to a few words, I started laughing when I realized he was speaking my mother tongue… the Malay language. He said he worked in Malaysia for 9 years and understand my language very well. He wished me luck on my upcoming journey in Nepal and then disappeared in the crowd. I didnt waste much time so I quickly get a bus ticket from Karkavita to Kathmandu which costs me around 1600 nepali rupees (~usd15) and will take around 10-12 hours to reach Kathmandu. At around 4pm the bus started to depart Karkavita. The road was good and flat… no bumpy ride like in Bhutan or India, the bus stopped a few times for some quick rest and dinner. I slept well through the night. The next morning, I woke up as early as 6am and realized that I was still far from Kathmandu. The bus supposed to reach Kathmandu 2 hours earlier at 4am. The bus passed through a long narrow road by the river and finally stopped for a very long time. There was a long queue on the road, filled with trucks and buses all the way until the far horizon. I didnt wanna ask what happened and I forced myself to sleep instead. It took hours until around 11am before the bus started to move again slowly. I then realized we were stucked for many hours because there was a major road accident. There was a tourist bus fell off a cliff into a river. I’m not sure if there was any casualties.
I reached Kathmandu at around 4pm, put all my stuffs on my bicycle and started riding to the centre of Kathmandu in a place called Thamel. It was tricky to ride through the bustling city of Kathmandu, with really bad traffic consists of cars, bikes, bicycles, rickshaws and pedestrians… but probably much better compared to Siliguri even Darjeeling. As usual, people are honking once every 2-3 seconds here and I found out 90% of it were unnecessary. After about some 30-40 minutes of riding through the city, I found the hostel that I booked in Thamel area in the centre of Kathmandu. The next morning I met a sherpa, Furi who runs a trekking company here in Nepal. His dad has been summiting the Everest for 15 times in his whole life, even taking Malaysian climbers with him. It looks like the dad’s strength runs through his blood. A serious face with a confident and firm handshake, I tried to study this man. He himself guided many Malaysian trekkers before and we have many mutual friends on facebook. I told him some of my rough plan in Nepal and glad that he’s interested to assist me on my adventure here in the Himalayas on the Nepali side and I got good information about travelling in Nepal from him. He also took me to the Malaysian embassy and I was so glad to meet my own people in the embassy, speaking my own mother tongue fluently.
I didnt stay long in Nepal, only 2 full days so I didnt really explore much of the city except the small area of Thamel and Chetrapati. It doesnt look so much different than any medium sized city in India, Hindu temples everywhere and I noticed there is a small muslim community here as well, probably from Jammu Kashmir area in Northern India. The smaller lanes in the city are filled with countless pedestrians and rickshaws and I saw much more tourists here compared to India. At some point, it feels a bit like in Bangkok or Hanoi. I put my bicycle in a safe place in Furi’s office together with my camping equipments, since I’m leaving the Himalayas temporarily to skip the raining season. The monsoon is finally here in the Himalayas and its been raining everyday here. I dont really enjoy cycling in the heavy rain everyday, so I decided to take a 2 months break and fly to Europe… to Slovenia to catch some blue sky and sunlight in the European summer… and stay quietly in a peaceful Slovenian countryside where I can calm my soul down so I can keep writing.
Yuksom is my last destination in Sikkim. Its a nice little village, quiet and peaceful. The people are gentle here. They take their time to exchange their smiles. The clouds are still covering the true landscape of Sikkim from my sight… yet it is still beautiful. I cant imagine when this place is lying under the clear blue sky, lit by the pale sunlight on winter time. I was still deciding whether to go for a week hiking here in the high altitude. I then visited the tourist information centre here and they said that there is no way now for me to hike the 5000m altitude trek here since I dont have a group with me. There was a group of 5 foreign tourists who are on their way here to Yuksom but that group doesnt accept outsiders to join them. So I just decided to spend my days here in Yuksom doing short hike in the village areas. I’ve done some hiking in Bhutan anyway and will plan to do it in Nepal too soon when the weather is fine again so its all good to me. It feels good that I have the freedom and flexibility and when one plan doesn’t work… there will be 10 more different options for me to choose from. My boots and my stove are always ready for work…
Now is time for me to take a good rest from cycling or any outdoor activities at the moment. It is now the beginning of Ramadhan, the holy month for the Muslims so I should give my full concentration now to it. One of my master used to teach me that a man can reach higher level spiritually by having a clear mind and pure heart. The combination of these two is so powerful that it can penetrate into everything like a sword. Men can achieve so many things in life with powerful mind and heart. Yet to achieve this we need to eliminate its enemy called “nafs” in Arabic, which refers to the self or ego. Nafs can penetrate into the mind and heart like the blood that flows everywhere within the body and one way to eliminate the nafs is hunger. Basically in the month of Ramadhan, the Muslims arent allowed to consume any food or drinks as long as the sky is bright, lit by the sun.
I enjoyed staying a few days in Yuksom, its quiet and calm but too bad I dont have enough cash to pay for the hotel here. It is just a small village with no ATM machine for me to draw more cash. The nearest ATM machine is in Pelling which will take me hours and hours of cycling through the big climb. So I decided to leave back to Gangtok by bus and spend my last days in Sikkim back in Gangtok, hoping that there is a place to stay. Its been raining most of the time now so I decided not to do any kind of outdoor activities for the time being but to concentrate more on writing and taking care of my physical body. Finally in my last days here in Sikkim Province, I started to make friends with the locals and learn more about the culture here. I forced myself to watch the local dramas and movies with the locals here and started to understand their entertainment by observing the way they laugh and facial expressions while watching it. I begin to understand their jokes and I find it very entertaining.
I started to realized that India is somehow complicated yet very interesting country. It is so rich with culture with layers and layers and customs and traditions. One of the most complicated thing in their culture is the caste system within the society. I learned that they classify the people with layers of castes, from the highest level all the way to the lowest one. In the countryside, the lower caste cant even touch the food or enter the kitchen of the higher caste family. It gets even more complicated when it comes to marriage and other bigger things in life. Maybe, like in many other parts of the world… the new generations are beginning to make the change and started to resist the old tradition and customs but it wont be easy since these traditions have been practiced for probably thousands of years. From my observation, it is like a war between the older generations and the new generations, where the new generation is trying to make changes while the older generations are still trying to keep the tradition alive. This is happening everywhere now in the modern world, from the brown people of the Pacifists all the way nomadic people far north in Central Asia. But in India on the other hand, theyre still quite strong in holding the tradition compared to the rest of Asia.
While keeping in mind that tradition or way of life is totally different than a religion, I observed that their customs and tradition has actually a lot to do with their main religion here… Hindu. Here in Sikkim, I managed to witness a ritual “Puja” led by an old man who understand and speaks fluently in Sanskrit. It looks so complicated to me, it took almost the whole day to perform the Puja, using so many instruments yet it was very colourful. Almost everyone in the small village took part of the Puja… giving thanks since one of the child here has finally recovered from a sickness after years of struggling. There are so many things to learn, I always have this sense of curiosity and the most importantly, I always have this question… why. I always ask why for everything that happens… I always want to know the reason behind everything… reason within reason… secrets behind everything.. and the secret within secrets. There is unseen for every seen things and I want to see it all… with my eyes and the heart. The local people here told me that, Sikkim is just a small part of India.. and it doesnt even show the real India yet. There are so many states in India and they are all have different characteristics and uniqueness. I have to travel to each of these states to be able to understand the true India. This is only the beginning.. the introduction. To me, I havent even travelled in India yet, this current journey is just a small adventure through the Himalayas. One day I will travel in the real India and I think cycling is definitely not a good option to travel within this one of the most populated country in the world. Cycling through a chaotic traffic in dense big cities, inhaling the dust, being honked every second, dodging rickshaws, cars, bikes and pedestrians is definitely no fun at all. One day I will backpack in the real India and it will take probably a year to complete to really understand this vast land and its people.
After a good rest in Ravongla, both my body and mind feel fresh again like new. I felt energetic… out of the oven. It was a good rest in Ravongla, I finished reading 2 books and got a lot of ideas. I kept seeing the same view from my hotel room for days and days and wondered what is beyond those hills. So after a few nights, the sun started to shine again early in the morning, giving a good energy and light to the surrounding landscape… as in the universe is telling me that I should get back on the road and roll my bike beyond to the next valley. I had an early breakfast, where I requested the hotel manager to prepare my breakfast as early as 6am so that I can start rolling my bike when the morning sky is about to give birth to the sun. Once the sun started rising on the eastern horizon, I started to roll on the road.
I already understand the pattern of riding here in Sikkim. The road is never flat, Sikkim is made out of countless hills. The first 20km was all riding down, I just let the gravity pushing me forward all the way to the river in Legship. After crossing the bridge at the river, there was a welcome sign entering west part of Sikkim in Legship. Then the road started snaking uphill… high above. I had to climb up again gaining roughly 300-400m in altitude. It seems forever and the battle of fighting the gravity took me hours and hours. I took countless stop until I reach Geyzing. I wanted to take a rest and stay in Geyzing but it seems that the hotels in Geyzing are all right at the road side and its very noisy, since there are many trucks and lorries passing by, with some construction going on nearby. So I kept going, climbing further uphill and the rain started pouring in. It was only about 10 kilometers more to another small town called Pelling but the distance feels like crossing a continent since I was too tired and exhausted from the big climb. It took me almost 2 hours to cover that few kilometers uphill pulling my fully loaded bike fighting the power of gravity and the pouring rain. Once I reached Pelling, I was wet and tired… and I look like a fish.
It was a challenge to find a place to sleep in Pelling since it was swarmed with local tourists from all over India. It was crowded but I was lucky to find a small hotel at the roadside owned by a man from Kalkota who is an adventurer himself. Hes a hiker and gave me a room with a small price and also some useful tips for me to hike in Nepal since he’s a regular hiker in the Himalayas on the Nepali side. I stayed a day in Pelling with the intention to hike around the areas but too bad the rain never stopped so I just stayed a day there. The next day it was still raining but I decided to just keep riding under the rain early in the morning. The hotel owner got up early just to prepare breakfast for me. Such a nice guy, wishing me luck and kept snapping my pictures while I started pedalling out of Pelling.
From Pelling, its another some 20km of riding downhill until reaching a river again before one last climb to my last destination in Sikkim which is Yuksom. I came across many waterfalls here along the road with many cars taking tourists parked at the roadside. Once I stopped to admire those falls, the crowd who surrounded the waterfalls came and started to surround me… probably interested to know about where I came from. Some of them even started to speak Hindi with me, mistook me with a local and said that I look like local Sikkimese. I then played along with them, creating a story that I’m actually a Sikkimese from Gangtok and my name is Tshering but I moved to Malaysia since I was very young and has learned the way of the Malays. I completely forgot to speak Hindi language except I know how to say Namaste. They were shocked and they believed me!… until I told them I was kidding and they started laughing. After crossing the last river before Yuksom, the road climbed gradually and isn’t so steep and some parts are even flat so I rode faster to finally reach my last destination here in Sikkim before Yuksom.
I spent a good few nights in the quiet hotel in Ravongla. Its a good location, about half a kilometer away from the Ravongla town centre so its quiet, clean and peaceful. This is the first time since I’m in India that I had a really quiet night. I don’t hear sound of vehicles here but instead I hear the sound of wind, rain and birds. Once in a while, I hear the sound of children playing from the distant… such a peaceful place and I felt so relaxed. I then decided to take a few days rest in this hotel and read my books. Oh yes, I do bring books on my bicycle. Most bicycle tourers carry as light as they can so they can go fast but me on the other hand, I like to call the road as my home. So I prefer to go slowly and have all the things I need.
While staying in Ravongla, I finished reading two books and also had time to continue writing my own book. Its raining most of the days here especially in the afternoon, so I usually wake up as early as 4am and start hiking to nearby villages here as early as 5am. I just do short hike here every morning for 2 hours max, so that I can come back to the hotel by 7am for breakfast. The rain usually started pouring in as early as noon so I just stayed inside my hotel room reading and writing. Besides the quietness, I also get a good view right from the window of my hotel. I asked the owner to give me a room on the top floor and he agreed. When the weather is in good mood, I can get lucky to see the majestic Himalayan range standing tall on the Sikkim side here from my window. I can imagine how beautiful this region is if I come at the right season. When the blue sky appeared once in a while, the whole thing suddenly look very beautiful to me lit by the sunlight. The range of the snow mountains look so near, probably in West Sikkim or even Nepal.
After spending sometime in the countryside of Sikkim, I begin to understand its people. Sikkim is a small area surrounded by Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. So the population here varies, its a mixture of Bhutia, Nepali and Lepcha who came from all over Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal. The major language here is Nepali but it seems that there are many other languages spoken here like Dzongka, Bhutia, Lepcha and god knows how many other languages exist here. It is also unique to observe the locals here who seems to me like they came from totally different nationality but live in a same village. The religion here is also somehow unique to me, like a mixture between Buddha and Hindu. Theyre mostly Buddhists here but the Hindus who are the Nepali descendants are also living the Buddhist way of life… which I find interesting here. People living in the village here in Ravongla are just like any other villagers in the world, they walk and talk slower… looking at their faces showed me that they take things easily in life. The centre of Ravongla is nothing more than a street of shops and hotels… which only takes me less than 3 minutes to walk from end to end.
Finally after almost 2 years, I managed to get my 2 wheels rolling on the road again. I still remember, the last big climb I did with my fully loaded bicycle was the Tor Ashuu pass in Kyrgyzstan, where I climbed for days and days from Jalalabad in the south, passing by Suusamyr valley of the Tien Shan. After the pass, it was a nice rolling down, where I was pushed by the gravity all the way to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Since then, I stopped travelling on bicycle. I started to get bored and wanted to try something new, so I went to Finland to learn skiing from the Finns about a month. I then returned to Kyrgyzstan with a complete gear of forest skis and enough knowledge of cross country skiing. I then explored the Kyrgyz mountains on my skis for the whole winter until the snow finally melts, then I continued exploring the rest of the mountains with 2 mountain horses. It was hell of an experience, I even came across the face of death when I was almost attacked by a big pack of wolves in Naryn region. Luckily those hungry and nasty wolves, about 20 of them were chased away by Taigans, a fierce Kyrgyz dogs. But while gaining those exciting experience of my life, I lost the muscle group needed to pull my heavy bicycle through the high mountains.
So after almost a month trekking in Bhutanese mountains and got myself lazy in Darjeeling and Gangtok, I finally freed my bicycle out of the bike box again. Installing the racks and the wheels, putting enough pressure on the tyres and fixing every other thing on the bike in my hotel room in Gangtok. I then held the handlebar tight, imagining myself rolling along the road again after for so long, rocking the Himalayan roads. I woke up early in the morning, did some final preparation, had early breakfast, saying goodbye to the hotel owner and finally, hit the road while it was drizzling gently. Getting out of Gangtok was quite slow, since there were so many cars in such a small road. But it was only for a few kilometers, after passing by another town called Ranipool, the road started to become calm and I was rolling down fast. It was a good rolling down from Gangtok to Singtam which is about 20km. After Singtam, it was flat until I passed a bridge to cross a river. Once I crossed the river, I started to hear lorries from up above. The road then started to become steep. The first big climb started for me right after Singtam.
At first I was cycling uphill steadily, fighting the gravity on the long endless climb. But slowly, I started to feel the burden… I became slower. The road was so steep and it seems endless. I was hoping that the muscle memory would do its magic, since I stopped cycling for a long time. After about an hour of climbing, I realized that I only climbed less than 8km. There was still long to go. I started to take a break once in a while. The higher I climbed, I found myself taking rest more often, the gravity seems stronger, pushing me harder. But its good that sometimes jeep taking tourists passed by me, and local tourists waving at me shouting “the very best luck… only for you!”. That made me smile and giving extra energy for the climb. It reminds me of cycling in Tibetan plateau many years ago, only that time they said it in different language, “Jia you!” in chinese. The battle of mind and body was going on inside me. My body wanted to stop but my mind wanted me to keep going. After many hours on the road, I finally reached a small nice village called Temi. I decided to take a rest there in one of the cheap hotel by the road. The owner is a nice guy and helpful. He loves the bike so I let him roll the bike while I took a good rest in the hotel.
The next day I decided to take a good day rest and explored the tea garden in Temi. Temi is very famous of their tea, they say, Temi tea is one of the best in the world. Not surprising to me, since I always heard that Indian tea is the best. The tea produced here is in high demand by international market. I probably used to drink it, since its available in many places in the world. And often, the tea produced here is called Temi tea. You probably should go to your kitchen and check the tea that you have in your kitchen’s cabinet now… it is probably the Temi tea… and here is the place where it came from :) Once I reached the tea garden which is very near the hotel, there were many local tourists visiting the garden. It was a big one, probably the biggest tea garden I’ve ever seen. It goes as far as my eyes could see down below… such a beautiful view. Walking around the tea garden while it was covered with clouds, is amazing.
There is also a tea factory where I got to see the process of the best tea in the making. It is a quite big tea factory with many workers, I guess majority of the people who live here in Temi are involved in the tea industry here. A local here mentioned to me that majority of the tea here are being exported to Germany first before being distributed to everywhere in the world.
The next day after having early breakfast, I began to climb again on steep road. This time, I stopped after only half an hour of climbing. I was tired but the view was amazing. I finally could see the alpine mountains far in the west… beautiful! The weather was good and my eyes could see far under the very blue unpolluted sky of Sikkim. When I took a rest at some viewpoint, the locals started to surround me and studied my bicycle. The most usual questions I got were where I came from, am I travelling alone and whats the price of my bicycle. I didnt want to create much attention so I just said that my bike costs less than 200 dollars… hoping that they know nothing about the bike and didnt realize the rohloff system Im using for my bike. It took me hours to climb until almost noon where the road became flat again once I reached another small village called Damthang. So far I came across very helpful people here in Sikkim. Everyone showed me the correct direction to my destination with a smile carved on their faces. I even came across the hottest policewoman I’ve ever met here in Sikkim. Looking at her makes my heart melts… turning it into liquid in seconds, so I quickly looked away before it turned into gas…
After Damthang, there was one last climb, a small one before the road finally goes all the way down to about 2100m altitude towards Ravongla. It was a sunny noon, the weather was quite hot and I was sweating all over during that last climb. It was great again once I rode under the shade in the forest area, where it reminds me a lot of Loch Lomond in Scotland when I was cycling in the UK many years ago. Once I reached Ravongla I stopped in a nice quiet hotel located outside about half a kilometer away from the centre of the town. I was greeted with a smile by the hotel owner, who let me to stay in a very comfortable room with a nice view of the surrounding mountains… and he gave me a good discount since Im coming with a bicycle and a solo traveller… and because he said Im charming… hehe…