Cycling Gangtok-Rumtek: The 6 tonne Boulder and the Green Heaven

Kunchendzonga: As seen from Gangtok

  

Did Neil Armstrong really land on the moon or was it a Hollywood styled stunt on a grand scale by the NASA? Was James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King, a US state actor? The answer depends on which side of the conspiracy theories you stand. Generally I do not believe in these theories and dismiss them with disdain.  

But then I landed in Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim- a Northeastern state of Indian sovereign land bordering China, Nepal and Bhutan and had my opinion re-evaluated. I had come to Gangtok to explore the beautiful Sikkim and then ride my mountain bike to the Changu Lake, which is a clear water lake at 12,400 feet and then to Nathu La pass at 14,100 feet, which is the volatile India-China border.  

Much to the delight of the conspiracy theorists, president of India was visiting Gangtok the same day and she was supposed to go to Nathu La on a chopper. So far so good. But then how do you explain that a 6 tonne boulder comes crashing on the Gangtok-Changu Lake-Nathu La road and obliterates the road for a good 100 feet and triggers a landslide so big that the road to Nathu La remains closed for seven more days? I tell you everyone is conspiring against the cyclists these days.  

My last ride to Tiger Hill was all misty and cloudy, but at least there was a ride. Now, the 6 tonne boulder was lying right on my way to glory and the state machinery was too busy with the president to remove the boulder!  

So, when I was drinking my steaming cup of tea sitting in the nice lawn of our cozy hotel run by a really nice and educated couple and watching the Kunchendzonga and had resigned the idea of biking, Mausmi came up with a plan B. She suggested I ride to the historical Rumtek Monastery, some 28 km from our hotel Bamboo Grove Retreat. Immediately I was into my elements again.  

The plan was simple. Start from the hotel and take a 16 km downhill ride to Ranipool situated at 2800 feet and climb up to Rumtek Monastery at 5800 feet through a local road in next 12 km. Thus making it a 28 km ride one way with a 3000 feet climb.  

I started from the hotel pretty late, around noon time and hit the National Highway 31A. It was a 16 km all downhill to Ranipool. Gangtok to Ranipool is continuous urban environs in the mountainous landscapes with lots of traffic. Though the surface quality was excellent, the downhill ride was treacherous as I was negotiating a hell lot of traffic.  

Thankfully my ordeal with diesel fume spewing traffic ended at Ranipool as I took a hard right to the local village road towards Rumtek. With a drop of a hat the scenery changed! Gone was the mad traffic of NH 31A, this was an enchanting local road with clear views of mountains from all sides and fabulous greenery around me.  

Road to Rumtek from Ranipool: A world away from the heavy vehicular traffic

  

Frankly speaking, I was still a bit disappointed of not being able to ride up to the Nathu La pass and the Changu Lake, but I had no idea that in next few km what I was about to experience would be a ride so high on scenic treats that all the disappointment would be eaten up by the awesomeness of the virgin beauty of Sikkim’s landscapes.  

The weather was excellent for cycling. It was cool, the sun was playing hide and seek with the clouds and a nice cool breeze was blowing. Every time the breeze picked up a bit, I would hear the rustling of the leaves and a soothing scent of fern flowers would refresh me.  

A few switchbacks later I saw the first village on the route. It was as if someone has made an oil painting on a huge canvas. There were a few school kids standing on the road and they cheered as I went by. A few of them ran with the bike for some time and gave me fives while I rode and they ran!  

Village kids: They were very inquisitive and would run with me for some time asking my name and giving me fives

  

A little further on the route I stopped for taking in a few gulps of water and caught an interesting sight. A few hundred feet below was a playing field with was now no more than a muddy water bed, owing to rains and there was this football game going on! The kids would kick the ball and throw themselves in the mud. It was good to see some football being played rather than cricket, which seems to have captivated the nation’s imagination.  

Football match in mud and water: The best taste of childhood

  

The muddy football match reminded me of my childhood days and I started the climb again, very much refreshed. The climb was pretty steep. I was supposed to climb 3000 feet in 12 km with an average gradient of 8.5% It was quite a climb in many places and the surface quality was patchy. It was great in some places and it was just mud and slush at some other.  

As I climbed higher, everything changed around me. First, Mausmi and my parents caught up with me in their car. They had started almost half an hour later than me.  It was their first opportunity to see me scaling on my mountain bike. Second, the weather changed and it become a bit overcast. However, I was feeling great and kept climbing at a fair clip.  

Climbing the beautiful Sikkim roads

  

Sikkim seemed very different from any other place I have been so far. The place is very wet and receives 3600 cm of rainfall (i.e. 40 times that Delhi receives, 18 times Bangalore and Pune receives) in a year and therefore the surroundings are always lush green.  

Lush green Sikkim: The average rainfall here is 3600 cm a year!

  

Coming from the dirt and grime of Kolkata, the greenery seemed really welcoming and soothing. The breeze was laden with the smell of fern flowers and orchids. It was a quiet surrounding and I would hear bird calls all the time. Ocassionally a vehicle would break the mesmerizing silence but then quickly the magical environs would redeem themselves.  

A little further on, I saw another quaint village. The prayer flags would announce the habitation from a good distance. This was a typical Sikkimese village with its economic base firmly on agriculture. I saw the farmers tilling their fileds in what looked like a straight out of the fairytale backdrop.  

Farmers tilling field

  

More pictures of the step farming

  

And there was a magnificient green house too! The field was manicured so well that it startled me. There is no better place to see step farming than Sikkim!  

The Green House

  

The vegetation on the route was also markedly different from what I had seen before. There were a lot of bamboo groves all the way along the route and orchids grew freely everywhere.  

Bamboo groves are everywhere and so is greenery

  

By now I was nearly 4500 feet up and almost half way to Rumtek. Then suddenly the sun disappeared and it started to get windy and misty. I was still climbing well and was soaking in the suroundings.  

The flag masts and prayer flags announces an upcoming inhabited area, neat huh?

  

A quaint Sikkimese village

  

The road was also very interesting. It would wind up as any mountain road but had many-many-many bridges. It rains a lot here and therefore the place hosts numerous streams that have to be negotiated and thus the bridges. The bridges also looked straight out of the wonderland and some of them would sway while you went over it.  

Bridge over the stream. This one swayed a lot.

  

One more bridge, see the steep climb ahead

  

At 5000 feet mark came the drizzle. I have never enjoyed rains in my life and tend to press the panic button with the slightest drizzle but strangely the light pitter-patter seemd greatly enjoyable! It also added a different relishing dimension to the greenery around me. It added a glistening effect to the shades of green.  

For a change the drizzle did not seem so painful....

  

The rains added a coat of gloss over the greenery

  

Notice a whole new shade of green in this pic. What a backdrop!

  

Every village looked like a place where you can sit idly with a cup of steaming beverage and enjoy the maginificient riot of green. Of all the places, one house seemed at an enviable spot. How I wish to stay at places like these rather than the boring brick and mortar dwellings!  

That is my kind of property, a small romantic wood house overlooking the green hills

  

And that would be the view from the balcony.....eh?

  

Finally I reached Rumtek. It was a smooth enjoyable climb on a very respectable gradient. I stopped at a tea joint where locals became very inquisitive about my bike and I patiently answered all their queries.  

The Rumtek Monastery was still a little further and it was on a back breaking incline. The last half km of the circuit gained in excess of 200 feet, akin to a 13% grade climb. I reached the top out of breath but very pleased.  

Reached Rumtek Monastery....one of the oldest monasteries in Sikkim with a great view

  

Inside view of Rumtek Monastery

  

The stats for the ride were as per the following:  

Stats of the Gangtok-Rumtek Cycling

 

Distance 28 km (one way)
Time on Saddle 2 hours
Starting Altitude 5600 feet
Finishing Altitude 5800 feet
Total Climb 3000 feet
Average Gradient 8.5%
Highest Gradient 15%

The downhill was a painful affair as suddenly the rain picked up. In no time it went from an enjoyable rain to a torrential downpour. Within minutes the streams that were previously running shyly became ferocious beasts running violently and at many places running rudely over the road.  

After sometime I decided to call it quits and packed up my bike in the car as we drove towards Gangtok. Back on the NH 31A at Ranipool, the effect of the rain became nightmarish. The whole route was now a mega car park as the roads metamorphosed to a brown murky stong current infested stream. The drainage was overwhelmed and the gushing current swept large rocks and stones that made the highway very dangerous. And then it srated hailing- cutting the visibility to dangerously low levels. Finally, we reached our hotel and the hot tea felt like the most amazing drink one can have.  

The torrential rains along with hails and overflowing drainage system changed the character of the roads

  

However, these did not register into my system at all. I was still in a kind of mesmerized state; still trying to come to terms with the sweeping beauty of the green rolling hills, its quaint quiet villages, bird calls, scented flowers, cool breeze and a spectacularly scenic route.  

Surely Sikkim is an enchanting place and a great place to do mountain biking and I am sure- I am coming back here again. After all, the 6 tonne boulder would not be there forever and there is enough beauty in the offering, for this was really a ride through the green heaven!  

Me and my Trek 4300: That is a good team I guess

  

manasij ganguli  

manasij.ganguli@gmail.com  

+91-9874544003  

[Photo Credits: Mausmi, my wife 🙂 ]

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11 Responses to “Cycling Gangtok-Rumtek: The 6 tonne Boulder and the Green Heaven”

  1. Richardson J. Says:

    Great write up and dude what a place! Congrats for the trip!

  2. Amit Paliwal Says:

    That’s a wonderful experince….waiting for more rides 🙂

  3. Srikanth Perinkulam Says:

    Incredible – As always! Liked the V course in your stats – Taking in all the pollution in the down slope and breathing in the thin air as you climb up 🙂

  4. Saurabh P. Says:

    Loved your narration and pictures. Seems like you had loads of fun despite the conspiracy of Govt. of India to prevent the maverick bike rider from gaining access to classified regions of the country :-p
    Sikkim is really quite beautiful though I have only been able to soak in the beauty in pics as my trip there was torpedoed by the Gorkhaland agitators. A fellow BITian is also from Sikkim (Thinley), so next time you pay a visit you can meet one of the brethren 🙂
    Keep up the tempo!!

    • manasij Says:

      Did not know that Thinley was from Sikkim, otherwise I might have made an effort to connect to him. I believe the Gorkhaland has a very strong case and the sooner they get their demand the better for everyone. It is a great place and I highly recommend you to visit it.

  5. Marcus Santiago Says:

    Hey it’s me, Marcus from Facebook. This is a spectacular, breathtaking post, thank you for sharing! 😀

  6. Vinni Says:

    Very nice post and good pics too, i can imagine what a experience it must have been. I had a similar experience last year when i did the Jalori pass cycling trek.

    Keep up your good work.

    Cheers!

    Vinni

  7. Greg Says:

    Great post man! I’m totally digging the blog and the incredible photos! You are definitely blessed to be able to ride your mountain bike in that area of the world!

    • manasij Says:

      Hey Greg,

      It is indeed very beautiful and very untouched.
      It is a charming cycling destination.

      Manasij

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