You read about the planning of trip and train journey in first post of the series. We sat in our buses at New Jalpaiguri railway station to move to Gangtok. New Jalpaiguri is the major railway station of Siliguri city in West Bengal state, and it is famous with the name of NJP. There are other stations as well in Siliguri namely Siliguri Town and Siliguri Junction but NJP is the one which has train connections with with all major cities of India. NJP is also famous for the originating station of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway narrow gauge train. One thing to note here is that NJP falls in Jalpaiguri district not in Siliguri although its part of Siliguri Municipal Corporation. Siliguri falls in Darjeeling district. New Jalpaiguri to Gangtok distance is 124 km and we have to cross Siliguri city to reach there. Siliguri is the major city in West Bengal and entire North-East region. It is the second largest city in West Bengal after Kolkata. It is the transit point for air, road and rail traffic to the neighbouring countries of Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, and also to the North East region of India. National Highway 31A connects Gangtok to Siliguri and it runs along the beautiful Teesta river, the lifeline of Sikkim.
We started our bus journey around 1:30 pm. Our bus has started first, followed by two other buses and one Tata Sumo. We were about to exit Siliguri city but suddenly our bus driver informed that there was some issue in the bus and one part need to be repaired. He confirmed us that it should not take more than 15-20 minutes. First we thought to wait inside the bus but it was very hot. Fortunately there was a small shopping mall in front of the repair shop on the other side of road. Most of our ladies department went there with kids to avoid the heat and enjoy the air-conditioner. But as usual there were shopping items in each hands when they return. Repairing of bus took almost an hour and we again started our journey around 2:30. We have lost valuable one hour due to this.
As soon as we left Siliguri behind it was green everywhere on both side of roads as the road pass through Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary. Few minutes later we could see the glimpse of hills for first time, but the hills seems to be very far. Gradually we were moving towards the hills and it started raining. Very soon we hit the Sevoke town and surroundings changed dramatically. For first time we saw mighty Teesta river as it was flowing on right side of the road. On left side of the road were hills. The view was very beautiful and everybody in the bus was astonished. It was hard to believe the change of surroundings so sudden. The road is not much wide at Sevoke but our driver was going very fast. At the time of overtaking we had a feeling for a moment that tyres were just on the verge of road. It was a mixed felling of pleasure and a mild fear somewhere inside our bodies. Now we were on hill road and Teesta was flowing deep in the valley. This was the time when people in the bus specially kids and women start feeling motion sickness. My wife was on window seat on the side of river. I warned her that she might also feel motion sickness as she did not have much experience of hill roads. But the scenery was so fantastic that she refused to change her seat and keep looking Teesta down in the valley. Within next 5 minutes she complained about the nausea and very soon she was almost unconscious for few seconds. By the time she become normal, we passed through the famous Coronation Bridge also called as Sevoke Bridge or Baghpool (Tiger Bridge) by locals . We did not cross the bridge as that road leads to Bhutan and Guwahati. Coronation Bridge is an arch shaped bridge. As I read on the web it was not possible to obtain support from the Teesta river bed due to the depth and current of water, so it was built as arch shape in 1941. It has been repainted recently in pink and yellow color and watching this beautiful bridge is a treat to eyes. We were already late so could not stop the bus to spent some time there, although we were wishing so.
As the bus was moving towards Gangtok on scenic NH 31A, we were enjoying the green hills, Teesta river running side by side and also the beautiful rainy weather. In between whenever we cross any village we could see people enjoying with firecrackers to celebrate victory of Mamata Banarjee. After sometime we take right turn to cross the river and now the river was on our left side all along the way. The road which we left straight goes to Darjeeling. I am not sure but I think there is a separate road to Darjeeling from Siliguri which is the preferred way. Very soon we saw a sign board indicating Kalimpong on right at a distance of around 10-15 km, I am not remembering the exact distance. Kalimpong is also a beautiful hill station. After that we cross the Melli town which must be the last town of West Bengal on the road. We were all waiting for the Rangpo, the first town of Sikkim, which was already scheduled for the midway halt. We hit Rangpo around 4:45 pm, two other buses were already there. Rangpo is at a distance of 91 km from NJP. There are a lot of roadside restaurants in Rangpo where we eat some snacks. We also had small photo session around the area. As we were many people it took us around one hour at Rangpo.
We started again around 6:00 pm and we have to cross almost 30-35 km to reach Gangtok. Daylight was decreasing gradually and it was complete dark by the time we hit Singtam. At Singtam we took a right turn towards Gangtok and say bye-bye to Teesta. Again some small river, may be tributary of Teesta, was flowing in the deep valley on right which continued in major part of distance covered. It was dark all around and we could see few tiny lights coming from the small houses built on the hills along the way. After some time we got the first glimpse of Gangtok as it was evident from lot of bright lights on the hills although it was not very close. Soon we entered in a city, which we first mistaken for Gangtok while it was Ranipool as we read on the signboards. In fact, as it was raining heavily at that time, I read Ranipool as Rainpool :). Gangtok was still 12 km from Ranipool. After waiting for few more minutes we finally reached Gangtok around 7:30 pm.
We did not know that one final hurdle was waiting for us before we reach in our hotel. As Gangtok is a hilly town buses can’t go on every road. Unfortunately our hotel was also on one of these kind of roads with steep ascent. So it was planned that buses will go only till bus stand and thereafter we will go in taxis. But there are two bus stands in Gangtok – first is Sikkim Nationalized Transport (SNT) for all government buses and other is private bus stand near Deorali just off the NH 31A. Due to some miscommunication our driver had taken us to Deorali stand while the taxis were waiting at SNT stand. The other two buses reach at the SNT stand and passengers in those were being transported first as I got the information on phone. Here the situation turned from bad to worse. We already had a room arrangement plan shared with the tour manager and also with our room arrangement team. As we were large party it was not possible to stay in one single hotel so the main hotel had outsourced some rooms to two other adjacent hotels for accommodating us. But somehow the main hotel manager had screwed up the whole room arrangement plan. One team member of room arrangement team was in one of other two buses and he had tried to control the situation. But I along with the head of room arrangement team were in the bus which was on wrong bus stand. We were awaiting helplessly for the taxis to arrive but to no avail. I was constantly talking on mobile with our room arrangement team at hotel and with our tour manager alternatively. But the situation was very bad at the hotel. We had made the room arrangement plan by keeping lot of factors in consideration but the hotel manager had changed it according to his comfort.
On the other side our bus driver was not willing to take the bus further as he was not aware of the way towards the hotel. We were standing there for almost 30-45 minutes. I managed to find a person at the bus stand who was aware of the way. He initially refused to come along with the bus as he was drunk according to him. I still remember his words and expressions – mera ye(food) bhi ho gaya aur wo(drink) bhi ho gaya, ab main kahin nahin jaaonga. But as our kids were feeling uncomfortable in the bus and the situation at hotel was not good, we somehow managed him to come along with us. The road was really having steep ascents on the way and was very narrow. But our driver was expert and in next 15-20 minutes we were at hotel around 9.00 pm. Although the situation there was looking in control by then, but some persons were not satisfied with their room arrangements. I just dropped my wife and son in our alloted room and in no time came back to handle the situation. We talked with hotel manager and our tour manager to match their room arrangement with ours. We had to shift few persons from this room to that room, from this hotel to that hotel. Finally with all things settled down, I came back to my room but not before spending around one hour on this. Then we take buffet dinner arranged in the hotel and went to sleep after end of a day which had both pleasure and anxiety.