Round the corner Tavels: This was one of the agents who quoted based on my initial query for Sikkim trip on Travel triangle. Initially I was not too sure of the locations to be visited ...
so changed the itinerary a few times. While other agents kept providing me random itienaries on their own, rather than my requests, Mr. Amol from Round the Corner (RTC) frequently communicated with me to design an itinerary which was confortable and covered major locations while providing adequate rest beteen different travels. It must be noted that the hill roads and times indicated by google maps are grossly wrong - atleast in sikkim. The roads Google shows often are not motorable and times indicated are short by 2 hours. Trust the Driver and no one else. We had planned for Bagdogra-Gangtok-Lachen-Lachung-Gangtok-Pelling-Bagdogra.
Just 2 weeks before our trip, there was a Dam burst in upper Sikkim and major floods. After waiting for a few days to assess the situation, He called and we decided to change the itinerary to leave out the flood affected Lachen/Lachung and added Darjeeling instead.
Once the trip started, his colleague - Mr Progess Bhujel took over the coordination. He would call daily to check how we were doing, provide detailed plan for the next day, send driver details and also share tips about local attractions to see. On his own he would also arrange call to hotel at the destination city so that we could pre-order our dinner while were still in the car. This way we would have dinner ready by the time we reach the hotel, since most hotels stop taking orders by 8:30. Such care! The hotels provided by them were very good. They were no-frills hotel but the rooms and maintenance was excellent!. In Gangtok the room had a view of the entire valley. In Pelling Kanchanjunga was clearly visible from the room balcony from very close. We could see Sunrise over the peak right from our bed !, the same was the case with the hotel in Darjeeling. Excellent choice of rooms! Since we were travelling with kids he was more concerned about them getting motion sickness than were, but thanks to half tablet of 'Avomine' in the morning, neither my wife not kids had any problems. For the trip to Nathula pass, permits have to be made. He asked us to send a copy of our documents a week before the trip. So the permits were all prepared and ready when we came. So when we went to Nathula, the driver just stopped for 10 minutes at the permit office, picked up our permits and we were on our way - while we could see several other tourists and cars waiting anxiously and lining up for theirs. Good planning by RTC!
I don't know if it was intentional or not, but the Drivers and cars changed with each leg of the journey. I feel this was actually good - because this way the driver was not away from his home for too long and in some cases could go to his home at night after dropping us off at the hotel. The drivers and cars provided were also very good. The roads are narrow and curvy and ofen have space for only one vehicle. The drivers were polite, very experienced and would not show any sign of road-rage/un necessary overtaking. Instead would halt some distace away from the narrow spots to allow the vehicles coming in opposite direction to pass, infact even got down to help other drivers stuck on the road. We saw this civilized driving in most divers in Sikkim - which is a stark contrast to the crazy driving in Mumbai.
In one leg of our trip we had to go from Gangtok-Namchi-Ravangla-Pelling. While most of the roads in Sikkim are quite good and well mainted, The one from Ravangla to Pelling is bad and almost a big crater and landslide ridden dirt road right at the edge of the cliff. By the time we left from Ravangla it was already dark (it gets dark by 5:30 PM), but the driver was extremely skilled and drove through that road with great skill and even helped a fellow driver change his tire on the way!
Gangtok-Alpine Hill retreat. The Hotel is a simple, clean and well maintained hotel with a decent restaurant. The room provided had an excellent view of the entire Gangtok Valley. The staff was very attentive and courteous. The common areas were very aesthetically decorated and gave a feel of the Tibetian vibe. The Hotel is on a quite road a bit away from the main city center, but is still fairly well connected. Gangtok city itself is very beautiful with lots of tourist attractions. I will not list the attractions here - you can see them in other blogs. The city has well maintained roads and is very clean.
Pelling - Rufina Palm Bliss: The Hotel is a simple, clean and well maintained hotel with a decent restaurant. The room provided had an excellent view of Mt. Kanchanjunga from our room balcony from very close. It seemed not more than 50-60 km from there!. We could see Sunrise over the peak right from our bed! Pelling is a tourist city full of Hotels and restaurants, still very well maintained and clean.
Darjeeling - Sumitel Suites: This hotel is actually a part of mall by the same name. Its rooms, restaurant, lobby etc are spread across various floors of the mall. The Hotel is a simple, clean and well maintained hotel with a decent restaurant. The room provided had an excellent view of Mt. Kanchanjunga. Darjeeling city by itself was bit of a turn-off, possibly because we were coming from Pelling Sikkim which was gorgeous!. Darjeeling has narrow roads, excessive traffic, one way roads, haphazard construction and occasional piles of trash. The famous 'Toy train' was the biggest turn off for me. It was exhorbitant - Rs 1000 or 1500 per person depending on whether you choose Diesel or Steam engine. Frankly it doesn't matter. while inside the train you don't see the engine, and several trains travel together, so you can always take photos with steam engine of another train at the stops. Strongly recommend advance booking through IRCTC, else you may not get it at all - over the counter. The Train would surely have been excellent in olden days as it could travel along the mountain edges - BUT now there is rampant construction on either side of the railway track, so the Mountain/valley is hardly visible, there are shops almost touching the track. Sadly the Toy train experience has been reduced to a Kolkata Tram. Avoidable. We did not do the ropeway, possibly that may be better. The 'Tea garden' visit was just a 100 m walk on a trail littered with packets of eatables and some tourists taking photos in local costumes. For most other attractions, the parking is far off/ or have no parking, so one has to walk long distances - so not suitable for older parents. the attractions themselves are very good though, especially the Zoo and montaineering institute, tiger point.