One of the best bits of the trip had to be the view we got of the mountains as we flew into bagdogra. Any of you who have flown will know that you look out of the window and see a blanket of boring cloud below you and blue above you. This was no different apart from the fact that the mountains were sticking through the clouds!
The expedition started as soon as we de-planed as the orchids were growing at the side of the road, a long drive with many stops meant that we saw lots of orchids.
We arrived in Gangtok in the evening and checked into the ‘Hidden Forrest’.
Day 2 was Sunday, but that didn’t stop a select few kids from seven schools in the Gangtok area attending school for a ‘Celebration of orchids and conservation, enterprise and international collaboration.’ For me this won the prize for best day as it was so well planed and a brilliant event that was a lot of fun!
We played games ranging from ‘Human Knot’ to ‘Octopus’ and went on a ‘Nature Walk’ to put the UK Nature walks to shame (yes, we went into the jungle)!
As if that wasn’t enough for one day we went for a quick look around the local orchid show. It had a lot of hybrid Cymbidiums and bad lighting so no photos worth uploading!
On day 3 we had an appointment with His Excellency, the Governor of Sikkim so were all rather excited. That wasn’t until the afternoon, however so we went for a drive! Sikkim is one of the few places where you can just drive, stop, and see orchids just at the side of the road.
We then went for a look around Mohan’s Greenhouses. Mohan Pradhan is our contact in
Sikkim and without him this trip wouldn’t have happened. He is as much of an orchid enthusiast as we are and this showed by his collection of plants!
On day 4 we were due to head slightly west of Gangtok to the Fambong lo reserve, but not before a helicopter flight around Gangtok! We planed to fly on day 3 but it was so misty in the morning that we couldn’t fly.
After our 15 minute flight we headed to the ‘log hut’ at fambong lo. I put log hut in inverted commas because it wasn’t! It was described as a log hut but we called it a ‘Cabin’! It had power (most of the time) and beds as well as kitchen and toilets in separate buildings!
The first night in Fambong lo was the worst weather of the trip. We could barely hear ourselves think and the candles added to the mood!
I woke up on Day five to Lauren and Simon (the adults on the trip) calling something about mountains. We all stumbled out of our rooms, put on shoes and, still in pajamas, went to see what the fuss was about – and we were soon glad we did! The most amazing panoramic view of the mountains including Kangchenjunga at 8,586m!
Day 5 was our first day of trekking in the mountains. We started at the cabin at 2100m and trekked (slowly) towards the ridge at 2500m. Altitudes are important on this trip for three main reasons:
1) We were in the Himalayas so can go up and down a lot in a day.
2) We were researching biodiversity with altitude
3) I like to emphisise how high we were in comparison with the UK’s Highest mountain Ben Nevis at 1,344m!
Day 6 consisted of a long drive north to Lachung. This was the only time where Mohan left us as he didn’t have the relevant permits to get into north sikkim!
Once again Ganden, our guide, described the accommodation as a ‘Log hut’ but we corrected him with the word ‘House’! We were amazed at how close the mountains looked, and also how cold it was!
This was the highest we were staying at 2800m. We were all instructed to take altitude sickness tablets in the evening ready for what came next day!
Snow! On Day 7 we traveled north and up to the Yumthang valley at 3600m. This was the highest we went in the whole trip and was easily high enough for altitude sickness. Though none of us experienced extreme altitude sickness some of us got out of breath by running short distances.
It was amazing to be trekking trough the snow – in India! The snow was knee deep in places and Lauren did the most amazing comedy fall where she ended up wedged between two trees and a rock!
While in yumthang we went to the local hot spring. This is rather rudely described in the lonely planet guide but Simon, Lauren and me went for a dip anyway and enjoyed it!
Day 8 consisted of one nine hour journey from Lachung to Ravangla. This was broken up slightly by many orchid stops and several tea stops along the way. On arrival at the ‘Mt Narsing Hotel’, Ganden pointed out of the window said “Those are the huts you’ll be staying in!”, at which point we explained that in the UK, such a ‘hut’ would be described as a ‘Luxury Shalet’!
We had two days in Ravangla before we left Sikkim and headed for Darjeeling, the first of which we spent trekking along the Maenam trekking trail.