Caravan Chronicles: Finding a lake, resilient people and fellow van travellers in Sikkim's Khecheopalri

  • While we refuelled with homemade rhododendron wine and fresh forest air in Okhrey, we decided to take the hard decision to send our van Luna all the way to a big dealership in Siliguri, to get her back in shape.

  • The two-hour journey to Khecheopalri was breathtaking; there were fewer cars and fewer people as the clouds danced a misty waltz.

  • We ran into Noam and Noam from Israel, who were driving a colourful Omni, and discussed what it is like to caravan in India.

Editor’s note: You may have heard the saying ‘the journey is the destination’, but some travellers actually put that philosophy into practice. Presenting, #FTravellers — on-the-road (or air/sea) dispatches from travel enthusiasts on long journeys.

The travellers we have on board this time are Ankita Kumar and Sharanya Iyer, the duo that makes up Caravan Chronicles' Season 2. They’re on a 30-day journey across Sikkim in a caravan rebuilt from a Tempo Traveller, which they call Luna.

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2 girls | 1 caravan | 30 days across Sikkim

Dispatch 4

In case you missed our first dispatch on Firstpost, where we introduced ourselves and Caravan Chronicles’ Season 2, here’s a quick brief – we’re Ankita Kumar (@monkey.inc) and Sharanya Iyer (@trulynomadly), two solo female travellers and bloggers who came together to take our blue caravan Luna on a 30-day road trip across Sikkim.

In this dispatch, we take you to the third destination we explored in Western Sikkim — Khecheopalri Lake. The lake and the idyllic little village it is located in gave us a pleasant surprise, a soulful connection — and many bloody toes.

If you've read the last two dispatches, you’d know that Luna was being quite the brat. A tyre puncture and a coolant leak that could not be fixed left her pretty wiped out in Okhrey. So while we refuelled with homemade rhododendron wine and fresh forest air, we decided to take the hard decision to send Luna all the way to a big dealership in Siliguri, to get her back in shape.

Without her around for two days, we swiftly moved on from the van life to the shared-transport life, as we made our way from Okhrey up to Khecheopalri Lake.

We hopped into a shared taxi at 5 in the morning and spent the next five hours squeezed into a 12-seater Sumo, sorely missing our van and all the breezy ventilation she graciously offered. There were no stops for a meal, so we loaded up on snacks. Once at Geyzing, we booked our next shared cab for Khecheopalri and walked about to grab a late lunch and explore the local market. We saw a massive festive procession of monks and dressed up women coming down the road from the local monastery and marked out the monastery for a visit on our way back.

In a sense, it felt good to have had this opportunity to become backpackers in Sikkim and test the ease of local transport in the state. We found it pretty simple to figure out the shared-cab network and timings, and the locals were ever-ready with information and smiles.

Another full-time traveler and now dear friend, Prakriti, who decided to join us for a day in Ravangala, was now well into a full week with us. It felt great to see her taking to the van life like a fish to water.

The two-hour journey to this small lake town was breathtaking. We felt like we were entering an entirely different, quiet side of Sikkim. There were fewer cars and fewer people as the clouds danced a misty waltz and parted dramatically to reveal the town.

 Caravan Chronicles: Finding a lake, resilient people and fellow van travellers in Sikkims Khecheopalri

The two days we spent there turned out to be so unexpectedly poignant and heart-warming. We went there to simply spend the day exploring the lake and learn about the mystical tales connected to it, but we returned with some of the most surprising and touching stories from the village above the lake!

As soon as we reached the main village square, we spotted a blast of colour and patterns on an Omni parked beside a local cafe. The blinds were drawn and there was nobody around, but could it be true? Did we just spot another home-on-wheels in Sikkim? In India? How could this bizarre coincidence be true!

We inquired with some of the locals and they instantly told us that the van belonged to two Israeli men who were staying at a homestay by the monastery. We hung around for a bit and had some Wai Wai, hoping they’d come out. But when they didn’t, we began our 30-minute hike to the upper village, hoping to meet them the next morning.

We stayed at the idyllic Lakeview Homestay, which turned out to be more of a pretty resort, but we didn’t mind the absentee host and spent the rainy evening indoors, battling leeches and having conversations and dinner over candle light.

Khecheopalri-3

The next morning, we set off on a walk to the local village monastery. It was shut and closed for the day, but the sense of abandonment and emptiness was strangely calming. We walked about, interacting with some of the villagers, when Kazi walked right up to us: a 70-year-old Bhutia woman who gave us a glimpse into the turmoil of her soul.

She told us she lives alone in the Gompa Basti, the lines on her face and the softness in her palms tell-tale signs of life's hardships and her resilience to push forward. "I live all alone. I don't have anyone. My husband died a while ago," she said with gestures and in broken Hindi, as tears spilled out of her eyes. "We're your daughters," we said and hugged her, assuring her as best as we could that she would always find friends in the travelers who pass by.

That morning with Kazi turned into one of the highlights of our entire journey through Sikkim. Meeting people like her is, to us, the essence of traveling. Somehow, it is only when we are on the move that we seem to be able to establish deep, seemingly everlasting bonds over only a few hours of togetherness. In Kazi, we found an affectionate grandmother who embraced us, cried to us and held our hands as we walked by her beautiful village.

We made our way back down to the lake square and finally ran into the owners of the colourful Omni — Noam and Noam from Israel. They were two friends who were planning on driving around India in their caravan called Butterfly. We spent the rest of the afternoon exchanging notes on caravanning in a country like India, which lacks camper van parks and other infrastructure, which aids the van life in the West.

We realised that it was still a whole lot of fun, only that the journey needed a few personal tweaks, such as catching a break, staying at a homestay or camping, eating with the locals, showing up at a doorstep to use the toilet, or when that couldn’t happen, just finding a spot in the wild, provided it was away from any source of natural water and, of course, prying eyes!

Khecheopalri-1

Meanwhile, Luna, who was making her way back to us, healthy and hearty after a check up in Siliguiri, reached us in the evening and we spent a fun hour giving Noam and Noam a house tour and marvelling at their own home in return. The villagers dropped by, and we took pictures inside the van with both the kids and adults.

This is when we realised that we really wanted to immortalise the people we met, in our memories and on Luna. We gave Noam and Noam some watercolour paint on their palms and had them leave their handprints on the back door. Soon, little Chuing followed and left her tiny, bright yellow handprints on Luna as well. Thus began a little ritual we replayed every time we met people who touched our hearts and brought us happiness.

We left Khecheopalri with Chuing’s child-like joy, Noam and Noam’s adventurousness and the entire town and lake’s warmth.

Stay tuned for more from Caravan Chronicles' Season Two on #FTravellers.

Updated Date: Aug 23, 2019 09:49:13 IST