Taraloka Motorcycle Tour 2019



March 19

After a few travel days, we arrived in Gangtok last night to be welcomed by the girls of the Sikkim Happiness Home.  After waking up to sunrise on Kanchenjunga and some milk tea, we will venture out for a practice ride around Gangtok.


From Teni:

After a late breakfast at The Coffee Shop on MG Marg (Mahatma Gandhi Road), it was time for a practice ride around Gangtok. We suited up and got familiar with our bikes before firing up our fleet of Royal Enfields and taking to the left side of the roads. Traffic in the city includes: pedestrians, bikes, motos, autos, dogs. Navigating out of the city and on to the open roads took some serious mental effort. Once out of the city we rode up in the mountains and visited Ranka Monastery, where we had the amazing opportunity to witness the monks chanting. After a cup of chai near the monastery, we were back on the road to the city for lunch at Snowlion. We spent the evening with the girls at the Happiness Home where we were treated to an amazing dance performance and then a fun dance party. We had a tour of the home, games, and dinner before a hard goodbye. We headed back to Mintokling Guesthouse for a much needed rest with our heads, hearts, and stomach full and eyes and legs heavy.




March 20

Today was our first full day of riding - thirty minutes of chaos getting out of Gangtok and then a curvy quiet ride through the mountains to our lunch in Mangan, a small town overlooking the Teesta River gorge. After some egg curry, rice, and dal, we wound our way up the switchbacks and mud puddles on a misty ride up to Lachung. Cold fingers were met with warm milk tea at Gyatso’s hotel at 9000’



March 21

Six of the Taraloka girls (Palmu, Dechen, Pema, Tsering Pema, Rinzing, and Yangchen) are from Lachung, a small town in north Sikkim near the Tibetan border. As our riding gear was drying on the roof, we explored Lachung on foot. A short walk brought us to the home of Palmu’s grandfather. Tibetan Buddhism and eighty-four years of compassionate life are evident in his welcoming smile and heartwarming laughter. Tea with him is enough to create a wonderful day.



March 22

After wake-up tea, breakfast, and warming up the Royal Enfields, we enjoyed a sunny ride out of the snow-capped mountains and down to a bridge over the Teesta River. The bridge marks the entrance to Dzonghu, a restricted area and home to the Lepcha people. A few of the Taraloka girls are Lepcha - which helps us get permission to trek and stay in this wonderfully obscure Himalayan area. A very challenging ride on two wheels or a bumpy ride in the jeep brought the group to the starting point of the trek just outside of Tingvong. Just a few miles up to our trekking hut and much-needed food and sleep.

From Matt:

Our day started high up in Lachung to fantastic weather. After a quick breakfast of oatmeal and cereal, we loaded our bags day packs (packed for trekking and very full) and took off. Compared to the last tiem everyone rode, the conditions were incredible: bright, warm, and sunny. Most of us had prepared for the day with the bitter cold of the previous day in mind and had to shed layers. The ride to Mangan was pleasantly uneventful and ended with samosas. The destination of the day was Chana, within the Dzonghu region of North Sikkim. This restricted access region is home to the Lepcha people and requires special permits and Lepcha sponsorship to access. Few people make it here. This is where the adventure started. As per Tim’s recommendation (no short legs allowed) the gals piled in the jeep and the guys continued on motorcycles up the most desperate road I’ve ever seen. As steady rain at the start created sticky mud bogs that grabbed tires and slid them this way and that. Leaving the mud behind meant climbing up, up, up the valley on a road that clung to the mountainside for dear life; the steep switchbacks and bouldery path indicated it’s lack or concern for us. We bounced up the rain slicked, mud addled, rock riddled road for two hours of survival riding. I must have gone down ten times before reaching the trail head for the trek. Although mercifully short, the hike to our mountain hut for the night was wet and steep. Dinner followed the leech checking routine and all of us quickly went to sleep in our rustic abode nestled in the cardamom plantation high in the Himalayan jungle. We knew we had another full day of adventure under our belts.



March 23

Today was a slow and beautiful eight mile walk over Lepcha bridges and through rhododendron forests to the village of Tholung, a pilgrimage site for local Buddhists.


From Nancy:

Until now, we have ridden into the unknown. Today we walk. Our seven kilometer hike follows a pilgrims path to Tholung and its monastery. While rising a few thousand feet in elevation, it is a pleasant walk through tropical forest with plant life rivaling what is seen in science fiction movies. Through the foliage there are glimpses of white, blue, green, and always the sound of the rushing water. We emerge from the trail to face the Teesta. After being sheltered by the canopy of the jungle, the tree barren and boulder choked riverbed is a humbling site. Hundreds of yards wide with hundreds of boulders of all shapes an sizes create a rift between the forest edges. This will be filled when the monsoon rains come in May. Today, a smaller vein of aqua marine water courses through the rocks. Crossing is accomplished by traversing a wire and wood swinging bridge a hundred feet long. We see this structure as an engineering feat - simple - functional - repairable - no weight limit signs - no notes of caution. You are in India. Proceed at your own risk.

The remaining thousand stone steps heading up the mountain take us past waterfalls, scenic vistas, through rhododendron forest and finally to Tholung. Filtering in one by one in varying states of fatigue, we anxiously await our favorite words “Tea is ready.” followed closely by “Lunch is ready.” The warm mushroom soup is consumed with gusto. We convince ourselves we are satisfied and sit back to contemplate the view. Our thoughts are interrupted by a plate of egg sandwiches appearing from the kitchen in our hut. A humble preparation of crustless white bread with a fried egg in between. The excitement is palpable - egg sandwiches at 9000’. This truly is a sacred place.




March 24

Sunrise in Tholung is spectacular. The tiny village is surrounded by snowy peaks and waterfalls that descend from the snow to the dense jungle below. The down hill hike took us back to the point we left our Enfields. A challenging descent ended at our luxurious homestay in the Lepcha village above the Teesta River gorge. The day ended well with hot showers, incredible food, and the kindness of our Lepcha hosts.


From Mark:

Waking up in Tholung was an amazing experience. After a challenging hike up the afternoon before (at least it was challenging for the older and less in shape members of the group….Jaime and I!) we were rewarded with crisp air at 9,000 feet and snow capped peaks surrounding us. The following morning I was sitting outside the hut, drinking milk tea as I watched the sun came up and I began to reflect on how lucky I am to be in such a beautiful and remote place of the world were very few other people have been. I made a personal vow to hold on to this moment and this entire trip to revisit later when the world we are returning to in a few days becomes stressful and disconnected from the serenity I feel here.

After breakfast we packed up and headed back down the mountain. We were able to back track the two previous days hiking in just a few hours. After a crossing the Lepcha bridges and the rocky river bed stretch again, we had lunch at the hut were we slept on the first night up and were soon back at our fleet of ragged but dependable Royal Enfields. We were all tired and hot but there was one more adventure between us and the hot showers at Yerbong Guest House. The road to navigate down the mountain was muddy, rocky and in many places seemed not more than a cattle trail. The Royal Enfields proved again their ruggedness although it was not without casualties. There were several spills and bruises among the group and Matt bent his foot peg on a rock. My experience, however, won the prize for the day as I somehow managed to wrap the gear shifter around a rock and disable the bike. We had to abandon the bike to be picked up later and shuffle riders to get down the rest of the way. When we reached the Guest House, I was exhausted, muddy and hungry but the hosts were so welcoming it was not long before we were all relaxing with milk tea after showers and reflecting on the adventures of the day. It felt as if we had two or three days worth of adventures packed into the last twelve hours.



March 25

We left our friends at the Yerbong homestay in Dzonghu to wind our way up the mountain, down the mountain, across the Teesta, down the river, and back up the mountain to Rabungla - the home of Ralang monastery.  A beautiful ride on actual pavement ended with a misty descent down the curves to Ralang monastery.


March 26

Enjoying warm and sunny days in the mountains sometimes requires enduring cold and rainy days.  After suiting up and saying goodbye to the monks at Ralang monastery, a cold rain began just as we fired up the Royal Enfields.  When we arrived in Namchi, we were soaked from riding through knee high mud puddles and our fingers were numb from the cold of higher elevation - nothing milk tea cannot fix!  By the time we left Namchi, the sun was out and we had glimpses of Darjeeling before descending down to our oasis by the Rangit river.


March 27

Today we shifted gears and exchanged our motorcycle helmets for rafting/kayaking helmets.  After a visit to Legship monastery, we paddled the Rangit river gorge - sunshine, perfect water level, and curious people not used to seeing rafts and kayaks on their river.



March 28

Our last day of riding was spectacular - curvy village roads to Jorethang and curvy nice roads on the way up to Darjeeling.  It was difficult to say goodbye to the Royal Enfields as we pulled in to the Tibetan refugee center in Darjeeling.  These durable motorcycles served us well in the mud, dust, water, and pavement!






itinerary


March

15 - depart USA

16 - arrive Delhi - Lutyens Guest House

17 - Delhi - Lutyens Guest House

18 - flight to Bagdogra - jeeps to Gangtok

19 - Gangtok

20 - ride to Lachung 

21 - Lachung

22 - ride to Dzhongu - trek to Changa

23 - trek to Tholung

24 - trek to Tingvong

25 - ride to Rabungla - stay in Ralang Monastery

26 - ride to Jorethang

27 - Jorethang - rafting

28 - ride to Darjeeling - Andy’s Guest House

29 - Darjeeling - Andy’s Guest House

30 - jeep to Bagdogra - flight to Delhi - Lutyens Guest House

31 - evening flight home



Packing list - Sikkim 2019

BAGS:

___daypack – You will use this for the trek and as a carry-on.

___large bag – everything but your carry-on/daypack should be able to fit in this bag. Waterproof is advantageous, but not mandatory. Backpack straps are nice as well. This bag will be strapped to the top of a jeep from Bagdogra to Gangtok.

GEAR:

___ water bottle – Nalgene bottles are nice.

___ headlamp

___ alarm clock/watch CLOTHING:

___rain jacket – water-proof

___sleeping bag - at least a 30 degree bag. If you get cold easily, you might want something warmer.

___down jacket - Our trek will reach 9,000’ We will stay in mountain huts, but the temperature will be around freezing at night. It will also be sunny and warm while walking…. with leeches:)___t-shirts x 3 - at least one should be non-cotton

___midweight long underwear top

___midweight long underwear bottom

___long sleeve sun shirt

___long pants x 2

___warm hat – fleece or wool_

___socks x 2 non-cotton pairs – Smartwool socks make your feet happy

___waterproof hiking shoes – boots are too heavy and bulky unless you just love them. ___sunhat

___sunglasses

___sunscreen

___towel

___hand sanitizer – small bottle for your pocket

___Kleenex travel size toilet paper


OTHER STUFF:

___book

___passport

___spending money – If you are a serious shopper, you might spend $200. This really depends on how many gifts you want to buy for people at home. I suggest bringing cash and hiding it well.

___camera – Digital is easiest. You should bring an extra camera battery or charger and the cord for connecting to a computer. You could also not worry about pictures and let me document while you experience.

MOTORCYCLE GEAR:

____ helmet - Gyatso will provide helmets for everyone - You are welcome to bring your own, it is just bulky.

____ riding jacket

____ riding pants (optional but nice if you have them - Carhartt pants work as well)

____ gloves

___sunglasses