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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

The butterfly kingdom

July 13, 2008

Malini Shankar, mogli@satyam.net.in
Newindpress (India)
July 11, 2008 21:26 IST

Sikkim is cheaper than many other destinations in India. I finished a
9-day tour, which included a 2-day stay in Darjeeling and three
flight tickets, by spending just Rs 28,000. Going there as a
backpacker means you can finish sightseeing in and around Gangtok's
Ten points -- the Tibetan monasteries, The Town, the Waterfalls, the
Ropeway, Hanuman Tok and Ganesh Tok, Zoological Gardens, Sharmista
Gardens, Botanical Gardens and Tashi view point -- in two days.
Thereafter, you can make a day's trip to Namchi to see the golden
statue of Guru Padma Sambhava. On a clear day, it is said that one
can even view this golden statue from Darjeeling. The construction of
an inspiring Shiva statue is progressing opposite the golden statue.
Once completed, there will be a ropeway connecting these two
mountain-top statues.

When you go to Sikkim, make sure that you take the road from Rangpo
to Gangtok. Ths spectacular stretch can give you an opportunity to
see the deciduous rain forests that skirt along the River Teesta.
Enroute to Namchi, I would vouch for the Singtam route that lets you
sail through cloud-covered valleys of tea estates. Blue mountains
with snow-covered peaks will enthrall you constantly. The
Kanchenjunga range is visible almost everywhere in Sikkim.

On the way to Namchi, I was driven through sprawling tea estates
where altitude sickness had admittedly knocked me off my senses and I
was in deep slumber missing out on the beautiful misty clouds that
had so kindly entered through the window of my car to kiss me on my
birthday. The mist played hide-and-seek with me as I watched the
white Buddhist prayer flags at the border of the tea estates.

The lush green forests, and the small rivulets, the seductive green
bamboo shoots, the sparkling water falls, gurgling rivers, timber
cropped houses are all reminiscent of Switzerland but with lots more
life, with lots more verve in its soul. The hot, spicy noodles, momos
and thukpas are the special delicacies here. Sikkim is the only place
in India which hosts almost all varieties of butterflies found in
India. At least 700 odd varieties have been documented in Sikkim alone.

North Sikkim, the largest district in the Himalayan state, hosts the
Kanchanajunga Biosphere Reserve. It is also a cold desert and has its
own unique ecosystem. It is in these higher altitudes that Sikkim
boasts of the famed red panda and the elusive snow leopard. This is
also Yeti country but there is no way that we can get any official
documentation of the equally elusive snow-man notorious for
kidnapping the ailing teenagers. The ropeway over Gangtok is very
affordable unlike the helicopter. It offers some spectacular views of
the pine forests in the valleys. Sikkim is a small state and it can
be covered in seven or eight days. So if you want to take a
soul-searching break from your urban routines, try this Himalayan country.

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Fact file

A helicopter service is available from Bagdogra airport at Rs 3,000
per head. A taxi will cost you Rs 1,400. Indian, Jet Airways,
Kingfisher and Air Deccan offer connection flights to Sikkim. A
helicopter ride over the Kanchenjunga range will cost you
approximately Rs 63,000. Share jeeps are far more affordable costing
the most Rs 150 from Siliguri and Rs 125 from Darjeeling. Contact
Sikkim Tourism (Ph: 03592-222634/ (0) 9932788124) or log on to
www.incredibleindia.org for more information.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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