It was day two of our stay in Gangtok, and we had planned a visit to the Temi Tea Garden to have our next big Sikkim Adventure. Our tour guide Phurba Bhutia drew us a rough map of our way towards Temi which was at a distance of 50 km.
Sikkim Adventure Two: Temi Tea Garden
Up to a point called Temi Tarku, it was all city and population. Markets, main roads, petrol pumps and all that. But afterward, which was an uphill journey, things quieted down all of a sudden. It’s the feeling you get when you take a wrong turn on a goat path thinking it to be a shortcut, only to find there’s not a soul in sight and the road is never-ending. Rather, it just got narrower and narrower and soon we found ourselves surrounded by woods. The kind of woods that grows on mountain ranges.
Temi Tea Garden is located about 7200 ft above sea level (Gangtok is at 5100 ft). Here’s what the journey was like. The road was less than 12 ft wide, and it was mostly non-concrete, rocky and full of potholes. Constantly elevating upwards and taking a sharp turn every 100 meters or so. So all you are doing is going round and round uphill. Every turn was looking exactly identical, I lost count after like the twentieth turn. Here I realized why they call the route to Nathula pass “The Silk Route”. Because the road to Nathula was indeed a silky smooth ride compared to this one. The roads there were wider, smoother, and with far lesser turns than this one. Here the mountains are even covered with tall trees and dense bushes, making everything seem dark and grim. And the waterfalls. Oh, we must have spotted at least a dozen waterfalls of all sizes on our way up to the Temi Tea Garden, some even passing right through the road. I remember mentioning to my co-rider, “Only Animals and Ghosts must be living here.”
Nathula pass was at a distance of 57 km, whereas Temi is only 50 km far from Gangtok. That’s what says the Google maps. In reality, the same two people on the same motorcycle took 2x the time and the effort to reach the latter. Needless to say, it got our Sikkim Adventure higher up a notch and made the yesterday’s big adventure to Nathula yesterday seem like a cakewalk. (or Silkwalk).
Temi Tea Garden is Heaven on Earth
On the very top of the garden, there is a nice little tea house where you can have refreshments and taste a variety of tea flavors. All the while treating your eyes with the Tea garden view from the window. Here you can also purchase the internationally acclaimed Temi Tea at much lesser prices. Next to the tea house is a cute little entrance to the tea garden. The weather here is cool throughout the year.
The beauty of this place can’t be put together in words. It’s like, you know the earth is round but yet it seems flat as far as you can see, right? Same here. It’s miles and miles of Green Tea fields, far as your eye can capture. The tea fields submerge with the foggy mountains in the background. And if you so happen to chase the far silhouette of the garden to what you thought to be the end, you will witness even more green tea fields far as your eyes could see. If you look up, the tea fields would merge with the canvas of the sky as the background. You can take a stroll all day long and never get tired. Here is a video of the place.
A Nightmare Comes True
Thankfully, heading down these mountains is often 2x faster, all you have to do is keep rolling while adjusting your brakes. So we did, everything was going as planned and we would have reached Gangtok before 4. And probably explore some other place in the city. The day was well spent and one more hour for the Second Sikkim Adventure to complete.
Now let me tell you about a nightmare that I dread being in. I never, I mean never want to be caught up in an isolated place while traveling with a girl. I dread being part of the horror stories we read in the newspapers.
Yet here we were. The motorcycle was slowing down, it was refusing to accelerate anymore. It was dying on us, in the middle of a jungle, on a mountain thousands of feet above the ground. It was cold as it was raining, and there wasn’t a soul in sight. NIGHTMARE.
I tried to avoid the unpleasant truth for long as I can, as we were moving very fast and I wanted to cover as much distance as we can before having to face the truth. But the truth caught up eventually and the motorcycle duly came to a screeching halt.
It was an intersection point. There was this second road going down in what seemed like the steepest slope I saw in all of Sikkim, leading to what looked like a depot for trucks at a distance. There were people there. Labourers, truck drivers, and repairmen. So we could either wait here isolated on the main road waiting for help, or we could go down this road and at least be among other people. So, unsure as I was, I slid down.
Now it had started raining to the point of needing an umbrella, which we luckily had with us. So we parked our bike a little further from the trucks. Then I tried starting the engine for like a hundred times. Autostart, kick start, all of it to no avail.
I noticed smoke coming out of the motorcycle engine. I put my hand on the engine and it was hot as hell. This must be the problem, a seized up Engine. Maybe cooling down the engine will help. Of course, we could have waited for the engine to cool down by itself, except it was almost 4 PM now, was getting darker and more due to the rains. A couple more hours and I knew we would be in deep shit.
So I wanted to speed up the process. I found a water source nearby. Using a plastic bottle, I fetched water to pour on the engine to cool it down. Like I thought, the water instantly fizzled into gas as soon as it touched the engine. Such was the temperature on the engine surface. I must have gone to and fro fetching the water more than twenty times.
Then the engine seemed to cool down a notch or two. Still, no luck starting the engine. Finally, I went to one of them truckies asking for help. By the grace of God, they seemed to be good men. One of them checked our vehicle thoroughly and found the problem. Apparently, the engine oil had been completely dried up, the engine was running completely empty for the last couple hours. That too revving up on these mountain ranges. The motorcycle rental company had done a bad job in checking before renting. In any case, we are stuck up here.
That’s all the help those two truckies could offer, as they were repairing their truck themselves.
So we need engine oil for the bike. And we could get it in the nearest petrol pump which was still more than 12kms away from this place. If only we could get our bike to roll downhill to that point. But there were two problems. One. Now we have to go back to the main road which is, like I mentioned before, now at the steepest climb in all of Sikkim, nearly 300 meters of sharp 60 degrees uphill. And two. Even after getting back on the main road, it is not a downhill journey immediately, but a nearly 3 km uphill journey. Which is why the bike halted here in the first place.
A Hustle to Survive
So, I and my lady friend went door to door to every guy standing nearby. Men of all ages, and some kids as well. And requested all of them to lend us a hand pushing the vehicle for this 300 meters steep climb. We managed to get 2 of them agreeing.
Now the Honda CBR 250 is a heavy vehicle, 165 kilos of dead weight to be precise. We started pushing it uphill, me leading in the front with the handles, and both of them holding it from the rear end. One push, the vehicle didn’t budge, rather the rock under my shoes seemed to slide away. I looked back and the guys were only balancing the vehicular movement, not really putting any strength in pushing. Their faces were amused and seemed like they were enjoying this whole thing. So I was mostly on my own abilities.
To say it took all of my training, strength, and determination to get it to the top; would be an understatement. I had never done something so grueling and physical in all my life. I was cursing myself why did I slide the bike down to the depot in the first place. Those 300 meters, Man. The slope was too slippery with small stones.and my feet lost their balance several times, but somehow I managed to hold my ground. I was panting like a dog once I was on the top of the road again. The two guys were passing weird comments and asking me questions but all I was doing was panting.
Yet, there was no time for celebrations. We need a way to move the vehicle further some 3km or so. These next 3 km is not so steep like the last one, yet the bike will not drag itself. We parked the bike on the side of the road and walked to a nearby tea stall. The owner was a lady herself and she understood our situation. She called for help, a resourceful cabbie who arrived in some time. It was nearly 5 PM, the dark was dawning on us. My lady friend was exhausted too from all the walking so she sat inside the cab. The cabbie tied the bike with the thinnest piece of rope and asked me to balance for the next 3 kilometers as he drags the vehicle. That I did; or tried to do. Except you know, the road wasn’t exactly silky smooth. Only 15 feet wide pathway, and gasping freefall to the side.
Also, Pothole here, pothole there. One jerk from a pothole and bam, the rope broke. The cabbie was very patient, he was promised handsome remunerations after all. He got down and reconnected the ropes with some effort. But still, it didn’t last too long. It was almost dark by then and I didn’t want to waste any more time. So I suggested to hold the car with one hand and balance the bike with another. We gave it a try, and despite feeling like my arm is going to dislocate from my shoulders trying to pull this 165kg deadweight uphill, we finally managed to reach the sweet spot. The spot from which there is nothing but a downhill roll. The cabbie bid goodbye and left me and my friend to God’s mercy.
We covered the next 10 kilometers in under 10 mins, rolling down at a speed of 50kmph. We just wanted to come out of the mountains before it is too dark. Both of us were completely wet due to the rain, thirsty and exhausted. Sikkim had tested our physicality to the extremes. Finally, we reached the gas station. Put an engine oil. And couldn’t believe ourselves when the stupid piece of junk finally started up. We finally reached our hotel room at nearly 8 in the night.
The second half of the day was ruined to dust. But looking back, I couldn’t say if all of it was a bad thing. Sure, it was a nightmare, being stranded there all alone. But did we learn something? Yes, we did. Will we remember it all our lives? Yes, and in a good way.
And would we want to visit Temi Tea Garden again in life? Of course, we would, and on a motorcycle only.
Such was the day two of my Sikkim adventure.
So I thought I’ve faced the worst and survived. Boy, could I be more wrong? Throughout my stay in Sikkim, each day seemed like the most challenging one ever; only to be proved wrong the next day. Read on.Page 1 Page 2 Page 3