We left Darjeeling and drove through tea country to the Teesta Bazaar.
The small towns on the main Siliguri – Gangtok road, all have the word ‘Bazaar’ attached to their names.
This is because the main streets of those towns are where the villagers bring their extra fruit, vegetables or grains, to trade at the local markets.
We drove along the Teesta River and when we entered Sikkim, we had to register at the Sikkim Police Check Point.
We were heading towards a small village in Sikkim called ‘Turuk,’ which is located on a narrow dirt road off the beaten track.
At the Melli Bazaar just at the gateway of South Sikkim, we started climbing up a gravel road full of potholes.
No other cars were in sight and it felt good to leave all the smoke and noise of the crowded city behind us.
We reached Turuk Kothi, a heritage home and our guesthouse for the next couple of nights.
The host and his wife came out to greet us.
They had prepared a lavish lunch for us, using all the fresh vegetables from their kitchen garden.
Their beautiful grounds had large trees, fruit trees and wonderfully manicured lawns.
It felt as if we were transported to another world…
Our room is a cottage on their lovely grounds, with a separate living room and a comfortable bedroom.
The main house was built 160 years ago, and it has comfortable sitting areas and a large dining room in which they served our meals.
It was obvious that they were happy to have guests staying with them, and not only for the supplemental money.
Their children have grown up and left the house, and it seemed like they wanted the company and the sense of purpose.
We were told that their main source of income was Cardamom.
The estate was surrounded by acres of Cardamom plants, that produce hundreds of kilograms of Cardamom seeds per year.
Cardamom fetches a hefty sum of money in the global spice markets, and it grows without much need for care, fertilizing or watering.
This whole region of south-western Sikkim is wonderful for growing Cardamom, and many families supplement their incomes by growing it.
It felt so restful to be at their beautiful estate…. as if time had stood still… and the air was filled with the fragrance of wild flowers and bird song.
We took a tranquil sunset walk on top of a sharp-edged ridge, called ‘Cliff Taray Bhir.’
From that high vantage point, we could see the Teesta and Rungeet rivers, flowing 4000 feet below us.
On the mountains opposite us, we saw the city of Kalimpong perched on the saddle between Durpin and Delo hills, and the city of Darjeeling seated on the Lebong spur.
The sunset was glorious and the clouds resembled dragons and butterflies….. Sikkim is known to have hundreds of species of butterflies….
The next day, we decided to visit the Namchi bazaar.
Namchi is a bigger town, where on two opposite mountaintops, sit two major religious sites.
One mountain top is dominated by a statue of Lord Shiva, surrounded by a big Hindu temple complex.
On the other mountaintop, called Samdroptse, there is a wonderful Buddhist monastery, and above it a 135 foot tall statue of Guru Padmasambhava (Rinpuche), the Buddhist patron saint of Sikkim.
The Hindu temple complex resembled a theme park in Disneyworld.
It was almost too colorful and too rich visually, to be a place of worship….
But this is how religion is treated in India.
There is no sterility or grave silence required….
Religion is part of everyday life, and not something that is put above the people in the heavenly sky….
If you take your shoes off at the entrances to the temples, and do not photograph inside the shrines where it is not permitted, you pretty much can do everything else.
The statue of Lord Shiva towered high into the blue sky.
A multi-headed cobra sat above him and a snake was wrapped like a necklace around his neck.
The complex was filled with small temples, which were actually recreations of real Hindu temples across India.
Those who live in Sikkim and cannot afford to make long and expensive spiritual pilgrimages to visit those temples around India, can come to this complex to worship.
We spent a long time photographing the different temples (only on the outside) and in one temple my jaw dropped to the floor, but I will write about the gods that I saw inside it in a future post.
Guru Rinpoche was under reconstruction, with bamboo scaffolding all around the statue.
It gave him a look that resembled Gulliver from Gulliver’s Travels, when he woke up and found himself tied down by the Lilliputians.
The Buddhist monastery on the same mountain was a highlight.
The main temple hall was beautifully decorated, and painted with wrathful and peaceful deities.
There was another temple hall, where we conversed with the presiding Lama.
He showed us the temple, told us about his spiritual training and his meditation regime, and he spoke about the founder of the temple.
Next door, in a small shack, the local monks were creating butter and wax sculptures, for an upcoming puja.
We observed their work as they patiently mixed wax with color, kneaded the butter and formed it into flower petals between their fingers, and added them to the sculptures.
Visually, this has been a very rich day of sightseeing.
I have taken in so many intriguing sights and there was so much to admire and to relish…
Before we went back to the quiet grounds of our guesthouse, we took a walk in the local market in Namchi Bazar.
Most of the shops were very simple and sold only the few items that the locals can afford and have an interest in.
The quiet of our cottage in our heritage guesthouse, was a striking contrast to the busy temples and crowds.
Our cottage was poorly lit, because electricity is still not a very stable thing in India, and the fuses in the older home were weak and fickle.
As a result, our living area was a bit cold.
The warmth of our hosts, made up for everything that was not perfect.
They did our laundry, brought us speakers so we could play classical music from my iPad while we lay on the sofa in our living room, and read our books.
We had dinner with our hosts who did not sit to eat with us, but stood around the big dining table, and every time we finished an item our plates they filled our plates with more.
They told us they will miss having guests around… But that at least their son was back home for awhile.
That night Jules kissed me and said:
“Goodnight my darling… And do not steal the blankets, or I will freeze to death…”