How we spent two months in Sikkim with our guests from across India

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The Doi Host road trips are usually planned 2 months before the scheduled dates. Sambit and I plan each day on these trip months in advance. For those of you who are curious about how we manage it all, let me break it to you that we are freelance writers and photographers, and The Doi Host is our passion project. We take people on road trips, travel along with them, and try to make this journey a little more personal and local for everyone who joins us.

In the winter of 2018 we planned a series of road trips to North Sikkim. Our three trip dates were:

24 November to 1 December

17- 24 December

26 December to 2 January

Those of you who have travelled with us before know that we usually stick to going to places that have become our familiar turf over the years. However, on each trip we do not forget to give the guests a taste of something new suiting their interests. I wish to write about our experiences during the two months of travel solely because the ones who joined us on these trips had such varied interests and made each of these trips so extraordinarily wonderful for us. Not to forget, the few days we got in the middle of these trips were spent to reconnaissance for a trip in West Sikkim that holds a special place in our hearts.

Read more about Homestay Hop in West Sikkim and Darjeeling.

We arrived at Bagdogra Airport along with our guests on the 24th of November. For this first trip of the season we were joined by Riyanka, Pramit, Deepa, Pallavi, Tanvee, and Aditi. To our surprise we got such a creative group of people that they indeed gave us different perspectives to view this journey. On this trip, in between hopping places and spending a lot of time inside the car, they found time to step out in the cold and indulge in solitary activities as well. In Lachen, Deepa sat and painted this local school building giving it colours of her own imagination. Tavee went out for a walk, fascinated by the intricate window designs in North Sikkim, and sketched endlessly to bring these designs on paper.

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People who come on our trips do have their own share of quirks and this particular one can’t be forgotten. Riyanka and Deepa usually wear a saree on one day on every trip they have been on so far. Now when you ask me about the idea of wearing a saree to Gurudongmar at 18000 ft; it is UNTHINKABLE. But thanks to all the layers of clothes they wore, and the determination to do it all at 4 am in the freezing cold, they survived. Their excitement on the day was so palpable that I almost feel bad to have discouraged them in the first place.


I obviously cant list the day to day adventures of this feisty group, but I’ll let the photos do the talking.


Our home in between these hectic trips was Tag Along Backpackers Hostel in Gangtok run by our dear friend Manisha Sharma. In no time I was declared the official taster for all their experimental bakes, in return I would obviously help her with the day to day hassles that come with running a backpackers hostel. Tag Along is family, and Manisha made sure that I experienced the best of the local culture while I was there. I even attended a Losung Party (a Bhutia and Lepcha New Year celebration) at her friend Dr. Eden’s house. During these days in Gangtok I understood that in no other culture would you find such passionate dancers and musicians.

Post our first trip, Sambit and I went on an extensive journey to South-West Sikkim and Darjeeling for 10 days. We designed a homestay hop to West Sikkim that replicates the journey we took to Ravangla, Khecheopalri, Yuksom, Pelling, Martam, and Darjeeling. The most interesting part of this trip was the homestay hosts we met. Considering how passionately hospitable these hosts were, we decided to name this trip A Homestay Hop, a one of a kind unique experience of staying at local homes, and interacting with the hosts in order to get a clear idea of what life is like in these parts.

Click here to get to know our hosts on West Sikkim- Darjeeling Homestay Hop.

For our second road trip to North Sikkim we were joined by Romita, Rima, Anirban, Priya, Aishwarya, and Debapratim. Special mention for two facts here - Debapratim, who was the oldest and one of the most excitable on our trips so far. Secondly, we had a returning traveller, Romita. She had joined us for our Kinnaur-Spiti road trip earlier in August 2018. There have been guests who have come for two or more trips with us, and it’s so enthralling to see how these guests have loved the experience before and would love to give us a second chance. Thanks so much!

Due to excessive snowfall we could not reach Gurudongmar on this trip but we always try to tell our guests that it’s not the destination but it’s the journey that you must try to find joy in. I’m so glad they did. Here are the photographs from the trip.


Then came the time for the last and final trip. Now you may think that this would have been a tiring affair for the two of us but to be honest it was hardly so. We began our trip after spending an amazing Christmas at Tag Along in Gangtok. It kickstarted the trip with renewed enthusiasm and this time we were joined by two of our local friends Dorjee and Kunzo along with our guests, Pranjal, Renie, Riya, Pratima, Yatin, and Diptarka (Sambit’s cousin).

To give you a glimpse of the possibilities on this trip to North Sikkim here are photos by Renie who is an avid bird photographer and went out on several long walks to watch birds and sit still for hours to photograph them.

Many people on the trip experienced snowfall for the first time. I hope this trip to North Sikkim becomes a cherished experience for them. Pratima and Yatin were again second time travellers who had joined us for the Spiti trip earlier. FYI they are soon getting married and we hold some for this relationship as we have been told. How lovely is that!

Check out all the photos from this trip that consisted of the most high on energy folks we have had on this trip and who found ways to party at night even in a remote village like Lachen.


This trip season ended with a new year bash at Tag Along Gangtok. Throughout the trips we had our reasons to be high on energy, something we draw from our lovely guests.


























Meet Our Local Hosts For Sikkim-Darjeeling Homestay Hop

In February 2019 we will introduce our first team of local hosts to the travellers joining us. It has been an exciting journey for Sambit and I to travel to all the destinations on the South-West Sikkim and Darjeeling Homestay Hop and discover engaging locals who can help travellers find a window into their world.

We have tried to spot just the right hosts at these beautiful pitstops on our journey through the homestays of South-West Sikkim and Darjeeling. Local homes, local flavors, and most importantly the inspiring energy of the people of Sikkim are our highlights on this trip.

Click here for the Sikkim- Darjeeling Homestay Hop Itinerary

SO HERE WE INTRODUCE OUR HOSTS FOR SIKKIM-DARJEELING HOMESTAY HOP FOR THE FIRST TIME.

RAI FAMILY FROM RAVANGLA

Mr Sanjeev Rai and Mrs Priya Rai are our hosts at Ravangla. Their home at a quaint little settlement in the outskirts of Ravangla is a dream home for travellers. Amidst bamboo thickets and cardamom plantation, the hosts have designed a homestay around a century old ancestral home built by Mr Rai’s grandfather. His wife is quite a natural host and makes the homestay quite a warm and lively space. Mr Rai is an avid naturalist and absolutely loves to give a walking tour of his farm which has a collection of diverse organic local vegetation.

Rai Family from Ravangla

Rai Family from Ravangla


LIMBOO FAMILY FROM YUKSOM

Mrs Buddha Rani Limboo operates a family-run homestay at Yuksom. Her amazing family is her support staff and her home boasts of the great energy that only a home has. Her garden is her pride. We have tasted the juiciest pink raw cardamoms here. All meals come straight from the garden and we promise each meal to be a hearty one. At night under the starry sky, the distant lights of the Skywalk in Pelling shine bright making the perfect view from this home in Yuksom to end your day.

Limboo Family from Yuksom

Limboo Family from Yuksom

LATUP FROM KHECHEOPALRI

Latup Tsering Bhutia is our dear friend and guide at Khecheopalri who has transformed his home into a traveller’s den. He is an enthusiastic young man who knows all the hiking trails around his village like the back of his hand and would love to show people Khecheopalri, his home. In his backyard he has also constructed a wood fire oven, treating his guests with extremely delicious homemade pizzas. What more can we even ask for?

Latup Tshering Bhutia from Khecheopalri

Latup Tshering Bhutia from Khecheopalri

CHETTRI FAMILY FROM MARTAM

The Chettri family in Martam are essentially cardamom farmers. For those of you who don’t know, Sikkim is the biggest producer of cardamom in India. Amidst the farm and the apple orchards, the host couple run a small homestay. The family is also a part of a village collective that brings together enthusiastic and culturally aware youngsters who work to make Martam a tourism destination. Guests must not miss out on the interesting village walk in Martam conducted by a local organisation of village dropouts, creating a source of income for them.

Chettri Family from Martam

Chettri Family from Martam

JOSHI FAMILY IN DARJEELING

At the centre of the bustling town of Darjeeling, the Joshi family hosts guests at their beautiful home. Mrs Anjana Joshi is a great conversationalist and loves to tell her guests about the history of this town which they call their home. She and her daughter-in-law Sameera are amazing chefs who love to host guests for extravagant dinners, which you will be fortunate enough to have. Handsome, their lovely dog is everybody's friend. Their terrace also offers a complete view of the Kanchendzonga massif.

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Gratitude Diary: To The Girls Who Joined First

It’s been almost one year since Sambit and I began our dream project and actively started conducting trips to the places we love. In this past one year, those who joined us for these trips became friends of Doi and we’re glad they’ve all kept in touch. That’s always how we imagined it to be.

However, this post is to tell you all about something more precious. As I sit down to write this post today, I’m informed by Sambit that 5 out of the 6 guests on our first road trip to North Sikkim this winter will be girls.

News like this has always brought us a smile and we’re happy to tell you that this pattern is in fact not new to us.

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Around mid-August in 2017 when we were prepping for our first ever Doi Host trip, we were uncertain as who would be our guests. Our trips are not open to large group of friends or families. This leaves us with a niche clientele which includes solo travellers or friends travelling in a group of 2-3.

A mixed group of people enquired but to our surprise, it became an all-girls trip quite organically. Solo women travellers joined without many questions or much convincing. We noticed a similar pattern in the trips that followed. Although more men than women enquired for the trips, every single time girls outnumbered boys when it came to signing up.


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In an article on Vagabomb one year back featuring The Doi Host, we expressed something similar and we are glad it still holds true. Here we quote ourselves one year back.

“It has been the most exciting thing for us since the introduction of The Doi Host this August. On most of our trips we see women outnumbering men. If it means that we have the faith of women who are venturing out alone or maybe for the first time, we’re happy to be that platform."

Click here to read full article.

Reason for this trend? It’s quite obvious.

It was long overdue to say the least. It’s surprising to see that till now the number of women outdoors is still a minuscule percentage of the travelling population. I’m not talking about touristy destinations where families and friends travel over weekends. I’m stressing on remote areas, tough to reach and hard to enjoy. As a woman travelling alone I’ve been through the awkward scenarios of being the only girl in a train compartment, the only girl in a taxi, the only girl in a mixed dorm and even the only girl traveller in a village.

I assessed that it was only obvious that so many girls joined when we first announced The Doi Host trips; because, for a change, this gave them a solution to the difficulties of travelling alone in this country and move on from that oft-asked dreaded question, “What are you doing here alone?” We as hosts travelling with them is another added benefit since it’s a more hassle-free travelling experience for people choosing to go on a vacation without friends or family.

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There’s strength in numbers.

When we travel in a group with a majority as women, it gives me immense satisfaction to know that we successfully surpass so many unnecessary questions, answers, and encounters that can make travelling stressful for women. Of course, there will always be a part of me that will celebrate women who choose to travel solo, but it’s a joy to know that The Doi Host is part of a solution that gets together exciting female travellers from across the country who bond over a shared passion for travelling.

I can’t forget to mention the superb boys who joined us on these trips and made the trips memorable for everyone else. Girls choosing to travel with us for a second time is as much a compliment to us as it is to their co-travellers.

We would like to thank the FIRSTS!

All those girls who first signed up for these trips and helped us spread the word - Ira, Shivangi, Pooja, Sreshti, Saumia, Preeti, Pooja, Krithiga, Anjali, Mansi, Anusha, Samiksha, Surabhi, Romita, Pratima, Vaishali - it will be difficult to name everyone here. You know who you are and it’s been a delight to know you! You chose us when we started and we didn’t have a brand reliability and a solid history to show you. What gave us even more confidence was that some of you chose to travel with us for the second time too. It makes us often wonder that we must have done something right. Thank you. You helped us stick to our core values as a brand and help us empower women outdoors. We’re grateful to you all and we hope you had a great time!

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We’re happy to announce that in 2019 we look forward to organising all girls’ road trips to the destinations listed on The Doi Host. We hope to see some of you there!

If you like this article, share it, spread the word, and be a part of some incredible adventures with The Doi Host.

Photo Gallery: Collection of Moments from Road Trips to North Sikkim 2017-18

These are photographs from one of our favourite destinations, North Sikkim. The collection has photos from trips conducted by The Doi Host during December 2017 and February 2018. The trips started from Bagdogra where we picked up our guests from the airport and embarked on an 8-day long road trip via Gangtok, Lachung, Zero Point, Lachen and all the way to the frozen Gurudongmar Lake.

All photographs are taken by Sambit Dattachaudhuri.

Life Meets The Lens

Guest post by Vikram and Apoorva who have curated a unique experience called Life Meets The Lens, in Kandbari, Himachal Pradesh.

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Remember your Biology textbooks that you glanced hurriedly through just a few days before exams? We all remember being repulsed by the endless diagrams and the life processes explained in those textbooks. But we also remember having rejoiced in awe on spotting a mother bird feed its newborns in a nest, or when we peeled open a pea covering only to find a caterpillar, or even when we spent hours following an ant trail?

Life Meets the Lens is all about creating many such joyful moments to experience the abundance of life that our planet is gifted with. We have always been told that the number of living creatures found on our planet is so huge that it is almost beyond belief; but how many of us have stopped to observe even a tiny bit of this huge abundance?

We believe that in order to be able to understand life in all its glory, one first need to develop a strong sense of real first hand observations. One can appreciate the delicate beauty of interdependence of all living creatures on each other only when one witnesses all of this first hand. Through Life Meets the Lens, we wish to create a shared space for people to explore biodiversity and natural ecosystems. The idea is to create a community of nature enthusiasts who will come together as often as possible to explore and understand how life prospers in diverse forms even in the tiniest corners of this planet.

Daily hikes to the jungle, technical observations, specimen collections, microscope observations and many interesting group activities form the routine of these retreats. We explore and try to understand life through experiences, observations and dialogue. We also discuss many Life Sciences concepts such as creation and evolution of life, habitat, food, defense mechanisms, ecosystems etc. This unique retreat uses photography as a medium to spark conversations around Life on earth. Participants use their cameras to document and share their observations with each other.

We have also set up a small museum which is open for participants to visit and explore our collection which includes hundreds of little things from the forests around - dead insects, bones, skulls, seeds and so much more!

Vikram with the participants at the museum in Kandbari.

Vikram with the participants at the museum in Kandbari.

Our Location

Our retreats happen in a beautiful hamlet called Kandbari nestled in the heart of the Dhauladhar range of Himalayas. The village is 12-14 km from the town of Palampur in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. Surrounded by water streams and dense forests, the location offers a perfect spot for biodiversity explorations and is the starting point of many treks to the deep forest. The village and the surrounding areas are home to hundreds and thousands of species of flora and fauna. It is a traditional mountain village with rich cultural values.

Vikram showcasing his collection during the workshop

Vikram showcasing his collection during the workshop

RETREATS AND WORKSHOPS

We conduct 3-7 days retreats for people from non-scientific background who have little knowledge about the natural world but are still looking forward to get to know it better. Usually, these workshops are offered to individuals who are 15 years and above.

We also conduct workshops for schools. Most of the biology, including biodiversity, is still taught through books and series of endless diagrams. Studying Life Sciences within the four walls of the room with textbooks being your only guiding point can drain any love for the subject that could have been experienced if studying it in nature. We believe that Life Science needs to be brought to life by taking it out of the realm of the textbook and be taught in the outdoors. For this, we conduct many engaging workshops for school teachers and children.

Besides this we also offer workshops to parents who might love the idea of exploring the natural world together with their children. It gives parents and opportunity to connect closely with their children and children also get a wonderful opportunity to explore natural science as one of the viable academic options for future.   


Aprrova with the participants at the workshop

Aprrova with the participants at the workshop

TRIP PRICE

We charge Rs 5500-7000 per participant for three days which includes workshop fee, equipment -collection box, observation lens, forceps, and gloves, stay and food (3 meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner).

THE IDEA

Well, the idea is to build a community of people who will learn to care about nature and all life forms in it. We talk a lot about conservation these days, without fully explaining the events that have lead to us talking about the need for conservation. We feel that people do not find themselves directly affected by the disappearance of different species on this planet. Nor do they understand how their own indirect actions have lead to the depletion of populations of other life forms. Before, we explain people the repercussions of their actions, it is also very important to create a love-bond between humans and other living creatures.

Collection of biodiversity at the museum in Kandbari.

Collection of biodiversity at the museum in Kandbari.

Our Team

Life Meets The Lens is an initiative of a self-trained naturalist Vikram, and Apoorva who has always been a nature-lover at heart.

Vikram, 30, is an avid Life Sciences enthusiast and an equally passionate photographer. He has spent over a decade trying to capture the glory of life in everything from the movement of ants to the dance of the bees, from the blooming of flowers to the wings of the birds. Although he has an undergrad degree in Botany and a Masters in Human Genomics, his love affair with biodiversity began when he was a little child. Born in the Himalayan town of Palampur, Vikram spent a great deal of his time as a child in the forest collecting seeds, dead insects, stones, skulls and bones of dead animals, feathers, mushrooms and everything else that he could sneak into the house without being caught. Today his collection has grown so overwhelmingly that we have now started a museum to showcase the rich diversity of the Palampur region.

Apoorva, 27, on the other hand, has spent most of her life so far in the chaos of big cities. A new world opened up before her when she left her job as a marketer and moved to Palampur almost two years back. She experienced a new life in the mountains, and lived closer to nature than ever before. She now believes that one can learn more about life and self if one spends more time observing the invisible forces of nature. She has an undergrad degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Masters in Business Administration.

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/lifemeetsthelens/

Workshop video: https://youtu.be/wp8QaiAOkA0