Caravan Chronicles: In Sikkim's Okhrey, lessons in making rhododendron wine and taking life as it comes

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.

***

2 girls | 1 caravan | 30 days across Sikkim

Dispatch 3

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’ll take you through Okhrey, one of our favourite locations in Western Sikkim which we visited during the second week of our journey.

 Caravan Chronicles: In Sikkims Okhrey, lessons in making rhododendron wine and taking life as it comes

Reaching Okhrey

After a peaceful few days in Ravangla, time slowed down even more as we made our way to Okhrey. The landscapes were lush and verdant, with raindrops trickling down Luna’s windowpanes in late April. We drove past the town of Legship where we had lunch at a small local shop. The woman who ran the shop and her daughter served us our fresh thalis with a delicious local fern sabzi called ningro. This would go on to become one of our favourite dishes on the journey.

Multiple stops and seven hours later, Luna snaked through progressively hilly terrain to enter Okhrey after sunset. Once there, we lost our way and went right past the village towards Barsey. Google Maps had failed us, and we were on a road in pitch darkness, with no locals in sight.

'Ping!' beeped the phone all of a sudden. Network returned for a few short minutes, during which time our homestay host reached out to us and decided to come pick us up and show us the way back.

But the prospect of getting lost didn’t really bother us. We probably would’ve just parked by the side of the road and slept inside Luna until the next morning — just one of the many perks of having a home on wheels!

A different way of life

Once at the Lali Guras Homestay, our host welcomed us into the warm kitchen and dining room for some hot black tea and respite from the cold summer night. Over a hearty meal of rice, dal, chicken and vegetables with the yummiest tomato pickle we had ever had, he told us about how the region is popular for its Rhododendron Sanctuary and gave us a tasting of the Rhododendron wine they made and sold at home.

Okhrey-3

As the red, heady wine warmed us, we asked if we could learn to make it too. And just like that, we made a plan to learn the process the next evening. We had arrived not knowing anything about the place, but over a meal, we had unravelled our plans with our friendly host.

We looked at his lovely family who spoke to us about life in their beautiful village. They seemed not be bound by the trappings of city life. No timetables, no set routines, no dismay over changing plans. Their stories were about taking life as it comes and surrendering to it completely.

okhrey-2

In search of the rhododendron

The following morning, we woke up to see Okhrey in all its daylight glory. A big prayer wheel rotated outside our homestay as we watched the mountains around us, mysterious in the early morning mist.

We set off to the Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary and hiked through the forest all morning, wishing we’d made it there a week or so earlier before the rains, to see the rhododendrons in full bloom. Despite that, there were still many patches full of the red flowers. We walked around for three to four hours in the silence of the forest, pierced by the occasional bird call. We chanced upon a couple of magical clearings under canopies, sunlight peeking through, and yet again, it struck us how different it felt to not be aware of time and just give in to the present, without worrying about the future and the idea of 'What next?'

Refreshed and calm after our time in the sanctuary, we headed back for lunch, but Luna had other plans — a tyre puncture in the middle of nowhere.

It began to drizzle as we went through the painstaking process of removing the spare tyre and getting the old one up on a jack. A car came up behind us, but had to wait for a good 30 minutes before it could pass. The driver and the people in the car came out to help us without the slightest sign of annoyance or impatience. Perhaps patience flourishes when time ceases to become the master of you. And in these parts of the country, the people were nothing but kind and accommodating, even when they were inconvenienced.

New tyre finally in place, we made it back to have lunch and spend the afternoon playing with our hosts’ twin niece and nephew. In the evening, we hiked up the hill to go flower picking for our wine making session. “The pink and blue rhododendrons are poisonous, just pick up the red ones," our host said. We picked up the ones that were still bright and alive, and left behind the droopy ones which had fallen prey to the rain.

okhrey-1

From there, we walked further up to the old monastery just as the sun began to set. The main monk, an adorable old man, met us on the way and walked up with us for the evening prayers. We sat inside the small monastery and heard him chant his prayers, suspended in time and feeling the energy run through us.

After receiving his blessings and a sip of the holy water, a local family that lived on the monastery premises invited us in and served us some coffee! It was a pleasant surprise after days of being on a chai diet.

We walked back in the dark and made it back to our homestay to wash and clean the flowers, pluck out the petals, discard the stems and boil the remnants over a stove. This mix was then transferred into a jar, which, in a year or so, will be ready for consumption as wine! It seemed fitting to learn about and participate in the process of winemaking at this warm homestay, which is named Lali Guras after the red rhododendron.

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

Updated Date: Jul 08, 2019 15:55:56 IST