A Home Away From Home

It was 81 days into the trip when we arrived at the doorstep of Wanchuk’s family’s house in Gangtok, the capital city of Sikkim, India. We weren’t sure what to expect, or where we would even be staying for the night, but our friend Wanchuk from Washington, D.C. had assured us, “Don’t worry, everything will be taken care of.”

Wanchuk’s mother, Pemla, greeted us warmly and showed us to a guest room she had prepared for us. She invited us to call her Amla meaning “mom.” As we sat in the living room while she made us some tea, glancing at photos of our friend in picture frames around the room, it was hard to hold back tears.

Although I hadn’t felt homesick yet, it occurred to me that you don’t realize when things are missing from your life, when you’re caught up in your daily routine.

Whether you’re simply distracted or accustomed to its absence, you don’t realize the impact…until that missing thing presents itself. A home cooked meal. A real bed and house to sleep in. The joy and comfort of being with people you know and love. Half way across the world, we had found a home away from home.

Wanchuk’s family’s house in Gangtok. Beautiful setting high up near the top of the city, with views of Mount Kangchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world.

Pemla treated us to a variety of authentic Sikkimese meals - so delicious! She is passionate about food, travel, and social work, amongst other things, and reminded me so much of Wanchuk.

Pemla is taking care of these two girls from less fortunate families. Here they are in the kitchen cleaning some rice.

Wanchuk's sister Chiphel showed us around town and took us to the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology. She has an adorable young son (also named Wanchuk!) and is engaged to be married soon. It was great to catch up with her.

Pemla took us around to all the local sites including the king's monastery, the flower show and handicraft center, and helped coordinate our travels through Sikkim. We found Sikkim very different from the rest of India, which makes sense as it was an independent country up until 1975 when India took over. Pemla also brought us to a local Tao center she is involved with (above) and explained that Tao is more of "a way of life." 

Tranquil Countryside at Martam

It's the most peaceful place you could ever imagine, surrounded by rice paddy fields. Pemla arranged for us to stay at Martam Village Resort for a couple nights. It was exactly what I needed at that point, having caught a cold and feeling really run down. The resort is owned by Wanchuk's aunt and uncle, whose daughter we also know from D.C. (Shenphen) and we got to visit with them later in Gangtok.

Here's the cottage we stayed in.

Kewzing Village Homestay

One of the highlights of our time in Sikkim was staying with Wanchuk's relatives in the small village of Kewzing. The family runs a farm and "homestay" accommodation, which is a great way to connect with local people and culture, and it's not just for students. (Check out Homestay360 and Airbnb.)

The house in the middle/back is 300 years old!

Our hosts, along with the father not pictured here.

The kitchen/dining area, with an old wood-burning stove - amazing! 

We sat at this little table and had the most delicious home-cooked meals including momos (dumplings). 

This was such a treat... the local millet beer. It actually reminded us of sake.

Farming the old-fashioned way.

And a pig!

The family cat and dog.

Pemla's father's monastery just down the road.

The town. It was like stepping back in time.

Wanchuk's aunt and uncle, in their house in town.

Mount Kangchenjunga eluded us for much of our time in Sikkim, but one morning in Kewzing we saw the mountains peaking through the clouds. When we caught a glimpse here and there, they barely looked real,  floating in the clouds so much higher than the other mountains. 

If you're planning on long-term travel, try to meet up and stay with people you know along the way. Try to incorporate a homestay. You'll get a true sense of the place, a feeling of home, and best of all, a very memorable experience.