Travel Bucket List: India – Sikkim Part 3

Tinkitam Rayong
Mount Kanchenjunga is the backdrop for the small village of Tinkitam Rayong which is the natural habitat of a rare species of orchid, the Paphiopedilum Faireanum or lady’s slipper. Unlike most wild orchids which grow on trees, this orchid is terrestrial and flowers in the months of October-November which is the ideal time to visit this beautiful place. Tinkitam is also where one can see a dormant volcano that one can come across during the trek from Dentham to the Tendong National Park. Close by is Sikkim’s only tea estate, the Temi Tea Gardens. The town enjoys a temperate climate throughout the year and is almost isolated with very little population. If one is looking forward to a quiet and relaxing holiday, this is the place to go to.

Namchi
The district headquarters of the South District and a prosperous market town, Namchi means the top of the sky. The town provides a beautiful view of the Khangchendzonga range and the Rangit valley. It is famous for the two gigantic statues, known as Samdruptse and Solophok facing off from opposite hillsides across Namchi which attract several tourists every year. Samdruptse is the world’s largest statue at 118 feet and is of the Buddhist Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche, the patron saint of Sikkim. Completed in February 2004, it is also said that the Samdruptse hill is a dormant volcano with myths saying that the Buddhist monks have been going on top of the hill and offering prayers to the volcano to keep it calm. Around two km from Namchi is the old Ngadak monastery and positioned on a hill just above the Ngadak monastery is the very striking Rock Garden which makes a great tourist attraction because of the several unique flowers and plants which blossom every spring. Namchi is also home to the Buxa Formation of Mamley, the stromatolite bearing Dolomite Limestones, which has been declared a national geological monument by the Geological Survey of India, for their protection, maintenance, promotion and enhancement of geo-tourism. Other important tourist sites include the Sherdup Choeling Monastery and the Dichen Choeling monastery. Near the town, Sikkim’s sole tea estate — the Temi Tea Garden is situated. In February, the Namchi garden hosts its annual flower show, the largest in Sikkim, with flowers of vivid colours. The prime attraction of this show is the display of exotic and rare orchids. One of the highlights of the town is the football stadium – the Bhaichung Stadium built by the Sikkimese government in honour of its most famous citizen, footballer Bhaichung Bhutia. Historically, Namchi was where Pende Ongmoo, the treacherous princess who poisoned one of the Chogyals of Sikkim, was caught and killed for her deed. Legend says her spirit still haunts the foothills of Ghurpisey. Summers are the ideal time to visit Namchi when temperatures range between 10 to 28 degrees Celcius.

Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary
Also known as the Varsey Rhododendron Sanctuary, the Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary is perched at an altitude of 10,000 ft and occupies 104 sq km in the Singalila Range in western Sikkim. It borders Nepal to the west and the state of West Bengal to the south across the Rambong Khola stream. The sanctuary has around 600 varieties of rhododendron along with other kinds of flora. It is home to the Red Panda and the Black Bear, rare Himalayan species. The rhododendrons bloom during March and April and the sanctuary can be reached from three points, Hilley, Dentam and Soreng with Hilley being the most popular entry point since it is approachable by road and Barsey is only a 4 km trek from this point along an undulating path shaded by different species of rhododendron. The hike from Hilley to Barsey Wildlife Sanctuary is a short trek of about 4 km. The route is easy and can be covered in 1-2 hours. The trail inclines gradually through the colourful Rhododendron forest. In the short walk, one will walk past many glacial streams. The slightly wider streams have wooden bridges over them. The forest explodes with a burst of colours with the pink and white flowers dotting the entire route. With changing landscapes, the grassy trail ascends and descends slightly and on the way, one gets to witness a beautiful view of the Kanchenjunga range which is the major highlight of the trek. A camping ground on the premises of the Guras Kunj is where seasoned trekkers prefer to camp overnight. A small trek to a nearby hillock can also be undertaken to witness a spectacular sunrise. Entry permit to the sanctuary is required to be taken from the wildlife check post at Hilley or the Forest Secretariat in Gangtok.

Kabi Longstok
Kabi Longstok is located about 17 km from Gangtok and is considered to be a historical place because of the initiation of the Sikkimese history here in the early 13th century. There is an exquisite Buddhist monastery nearby as well as a library and garden with life-size statues of Bhutia and Lepcha, who were blood-brothers. It is said that it was here that a friendship treaty of brotherhood was signed between Khey Bumsa, a Tibetan chieftain and Tetong Tek, a Lepcha tribal chief in the 14th century. To mark the event and location, there is a huge stone pillar situated in the middle of the dense forest where the agreement was signed. The Thakurbari temple built in memory of the event is set in the middle of the forests. The best time to visit Kabi Town is from October and March with the wonderful ambience around.

Tendong Hill
Offering marvellous views of the southern Sikkim valley, Tendong Hill is situated at an altitude of 8530 ft above Damthang and close to the South Headquarters town Namtse. It can be reached only by trekking which starts from Damthang, and the trek passes through plush and thick green vegetation rich in rare flora and wildlife. Over 90 species of birds, Himalayan Bears, leopards and elusive Red Pandas can be found in this forest. From the top of Tendong Hill, one can get a panoramic view of the eastern Himalayas. Tendong Hill is an inactive volcano with a petite and beautiful monastery and a three-storied watchtower are on the top of the hill. The entire Singalila range in the west, Chola range in the east, part of Gangtok town, Nathu La, Darjeeling and part of the plains of West Bengal are visible from here.

Other nearby attractions include Char Dham, the Archaeological Museum, Gurudongmar Lake, Sanga Choling Monastery and Samdruptse Temple as well as the towns of Namchi and Ravngla. According to Lepcha folklore, Tendong Hill means an upraised horn and according to Lepcha legend, Tendong saved them from the great torrent, which submerged the entire world.

Aritar
Known for its natural and landscaped beauty, Aritar is located on the edge of the Himalayas and can be reached in about four hours’ drive from Gangtok via either Pakyong or Rangpo. Isolated from the rest of the state, on the far eastern border of Sikkim and bounded by Mt. Kanchendzonga, the region is characterized by lush forests, mountains and rivers. Lampokhari is one of the oldest natural lakes in Sikkim located at an elevation of 1,400 m and offers boating facilities for tourists as well. The Aritar Lake or Ghati-Tso is another nearby attraction, as are traditional villages and monasteries such as Lingsay. The Parbateyswar Shivalaya Mandir is a beautiful temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and is flocked by visitors, especially in the Hindu month of Saavan, around July or August. Serving as the abode of Nirmal Guruji or Kopchey Baba, Nirmal Dham serves as another major attraction of the region. It is situated about 5 km from Rhenock Bazar with a couple of waterfalls lying in the proximity including Lonely Falls or Kali Khola falls and Changey Waterfalls. Visitors may also stay in a British-built bungalow, built in 1895 located half a kilometre below the lake. This building is historically famous as it held Sikkim’s first treasury and the Sikkim’s police was also raised here. Love Dara is a low hill picnic spot in Aritar. The Evergreen Nursery and Ram Gauri Sangrahalaya can also be visited to enjoy large varieties of flowers and other botanical collections. Perched at an altitude of 6500 ft in Maity village, Mangkhim is a temple of the Rai people of Nepali origin. The Rai community assembles here twice every year for the celebration of Sakew, a religiously important day. Another village known as Hattipailay is situated nearby where elephant footprints can be spotted on rocks. This village is completely untouched by modernization and provides a beautiful serene environment.

Zuluk
Also known as Dzuluk, Jhuluk or Jaluk, Zuluk is a small hamlet located at a height of 9,400 ft on the rugged terrain of the lower Himalayas with amazing views of ice-capped mountains, deep gorges, dense woods and sparking streams. An emerging tourist destination, Zuluk was was once a transit point to the trade route between Lhasa in Tibet to Kalimpong in West Bengal on the ancient silk route. The route was in use even a few decades ago and was commonly used by traders travelling to Tibet through Jelep La as an overnight base. The route started from Kalimpong and passed through Pedong, Aritar, Dzuluk and Jelepla to Chumbi valley in Tibet. Since Zuluk is located in a restricted area, it can be visited only after obtaining proper permits from the officials. A special Line Permit is required to visit Zuluk which can either be obtained from Rangli or Gangtok. Foreign nationals, especially from Pakistan, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh would need to obtain a permit after writing to the Ministry of Home Affairs in New Delhi.

Perched at an elevation of 112,000 ft, Thambi View Point is known for its 32 zig-zag turns or hairpin bends. It is also one of its kind with so many turns in the Himalayan range. The highlight of the vantage point is that it offers surreal views of the sunrise from the peak of the Kanchenjunga and from here one can also try to locate the original Silk Route. Kupup Lake, locally known as Bitan Cho, is a high elevation lake at a height of 14,000 ft above mean sea level. It is also called Elephant Lake as it is shaped like an elephant. There is a Yak Golf Course nearby that is the highest in the world. The Yak Golf Course in collaboration with Kupup Lake organises an annual water polo game which is a grand event in the area. The lake stays frozen from January till May. Around 4 km from Zuluk lies Lungthung where one will find lush green tea estates, glossy green meadows and rugged mountain edges. About 4 km from Lungthung is Tukla which is known for the Battle of Tukla. In 1903, a special British force led by Lt. Col Francis Younghusband marched through here to attack Tibet which began the brutal war. The trail or the road from Tukla bifurcates into with one leading to Nathang Valley and the other leading to the Old Baba Mandir. Nathang Valley is the hub of homestays and hostels. The Adi Baba Mandir is a popular shrine that is enshrined by saint Baba Harbhajan who died at the spot after he fell off riding a horse. It is a revered religious spot visited by both locals and Army personnel. Menmecho Lake is situated a little farther away from Zuluk and can be reached after an hour’s drive. Nestled in between the mountains of Jeep la, the lake is derived from the river Rongpo-Chu.

Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary
The Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary is a wildlife reserve about 40 km east of Gangtok. The total notified area of the park is around 124 sq km and is linked to the forests of the Neora Valley National Park of West Bengal as well as forests of Samtse and Haa in Bhutan. The area that comes under this biosphere has been declared in 1999 as a wildlife sanctuary under biogeographic province category 2C. The Pangolakha range in the east separates Sikkim from its eastern neighbouring country Bhutan, whereas it is linked through forest patches to the south with the Neora Valley National Park in West Bengal. Some high-altitude lakes are present there, including Lake Tsongmo, which acts as a biodiversity hotspot for migratory birds. The Rangpo and Jaldhaka Rivers are the major rivers originating from the nearby lakes, which occur in this sanctuary. This wildlife sanctuary supports a large variety of species since it falls at the junction of the Palearctic realm and the Indomalayan realm.

Pelling
A small, beautiful hill town, Pelling is nestled at an altitude of 7,200 ft and about 131 km from Gangtok. With the influx of tourists, Pelling has become the second biggest tourist destination in Sikkim after Gangtok. Located 10 km from Geyzing and 130 km from Gangtok, the main attraction is the breathtaking sight of the Khangchendzonga and the neighbouring peaks. The famous Pemayangste monastery is less than a kilometre from here.

Places to visit in and around Pelling include the local monasteries, rock garden, waterfall, the holy rock of Rani Dhunga, the imposing double-pronged Kanchenjungha Falls, the archaic quaint Singshore Bridge, the Changey Waterfalls, and the Khecheopalri Lake holy to Buddhists.

Rabdentse was the second capital of the former Kingdom of Sikkim from 1670 to 1814. The capital city was destroyed by the invading Gurkha army and only the ruins of the palace and the chortens are seen here now which is close to Pelling. The Pemayangtse Monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in Sikkim which is close to the ruins. Built in 1705 and located in Pemayangtse, about 2 km from Pelling, the monastery was founded by Lama Lhatsun Chempo and built as a three-storied structure. The monastery depicts paintings on its walls and statues of saints and Rinpoches, deified on various floors. Darap Village is a small village about 7 km on the way to Yuksam mostly occupied by the Limboo tribe. The Rimbi Waterfall is located about 5 km from Darap en-route to Khecheopalri. It is the oldest in west Sikkim constructed in the early 70s during the reign of the last Sikkimese King. There is the Sewaro Rock Garden here which is complete with rocks, pathways, pools and manicured gardens. About 18 km from the Rimbi River and about 28 km from Pelling lie the Kanchenjunga Falls, said to be one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Sikkim and is normally active throughout the year. Situated on a ridge above Pelling and overlooking the famous Pemayangtse Monastery, the Sanga Choeling Monastery was built in 1697 and is considered to be one of the oldest monasteries in the State. A new attraction near Sanga Choeling is the gigantic 137 feet statue of Chenrezig or the Avalokitesvara and a transparent Sky Walk made of glass that leads to the statue. It was opened in November 2018 and since then it has attracted significant footfall. The Singshore Bridge located around 26 km from Pelling has a height of over 100 m and 240 m in length and is the highest bridge in Sikkim and the second-highest bridge in Asia. The Pelling Helipad is about a km from the police check post which lies in the centre of Pelling. The short walk to the helipad is a pleasant one that offers an amazing view of the Kanchenjunga and its mountain ranges.

Yuksom
A historical town about 100 km west of Gangtok and 40 km north of Pelling, Yuksom was the first capital of the Kingdom of Sikkim established in 1642 by Phuntsog Namgyal who was the first Chogyal of Sikkim. The coronation site of the first monarch of Sikkim is known as the Throne of Norbugang and is near the Norbugang Chorten. Situated near the Kanchenjunga National Park, the village provides access to the base camp of Mount Kanchenjunga. The Chogyal established the first monastery in Sikkim, at Yuksom known as the Dubdi Monastery in 1701, which is part of the Buddhist religious pilgrimage circuit involving the Norbugang Chorten, Pemayangtse Monastery, the Rabdentse ruins, the Sanga Choeling Monastery, the Khecheopalri Lake, and the Tashiding Monastery. For the Bhutia community of Sikkim, Yuksom has special religious and cultural significance because of several famous Buddhist monasteries and historical monuments as well as an ancient Gorkhas Village. Yuksom means the meeting place of the three learned monks and comes from the three monks who came from Tibet and selected Phuntsog Namgyal as the first King of Sikkim and gave him the title Chogyal. Yuksom is also one of the sacred landscapes known as Demazong which means a valley of rice and are four religious sites blessed by the Guru Padmasambhava, which are considered to be the four plexuses of the human body, and Yuksom symbolically represents the third eye. Buddhism was introduced to the state from Tibet as early as the 9th century. In Tibet, the struggle for power between the Yellow Hats and the Red Hats led to the latter migrating to Sikkim and converting the mild-mannered local Lepchas to Buddhism. In the 13th century, relations between Sikkim and Tibet were cemented by a Brotherhood Treaty signed between the Lepcha chief Thekong Thek and Tibetan prince Khe-Bhumsa at Kavi, in north Sikkim. The best time to visit Yuksom are during the summer months.

Khecheopalri Lake lies 26 km from Yuksom and is popularly considered as a wish fulfilling lake. It is an important highlight of Yuksom-Pelling Trek. The lake is also famous because leaves are not allowed to float on the lake as they are picked up by birds instantly whenever they see a leaf floating on it. The Tashiding Monastery is considered an important place for Buddhists since it was built by the Buddhist Master, Guru Padmasambhava. It has been built with traditional Buddhist architecture and contains various artefacts. The best time to visit this monastery is in February/March when Bumchu Festival is held, which is an auspicious festival for Buddhists. Located 3 km from Yuksom, the Dubdi Monastery, which translates to The Retreat, is also known as the Yuksom Monastery. It is situated on a patch of green land and the interiors of the monastery have been designed beautifully. It houses ancient artefacts, structures and Buddhist symbols. The Kanchendzonga National Park lies 34 km from Yuksom and is considered to be one of the best national parks in India. It is home to various animals, like the Snow Leopard, Sloth Bear, Himalayan Black Bear, Red Panda and various other Himalayan creatures. Although it is open throughout the year, this tourist attraction sees maximum in the months of April-May, when the weather is good for safari and maximum species are spotted. The royal complex of Tashi Teenka was constructed when Yuksom was the capital of Sikkim. It is built on a ridge, thereby giving the tourists a proper view of the entire city. The Norbugang Coronation Throne complex is of religious and cultural importance because this is where the Phuntsog Namgyal was crowned as the first Chogyal of Sikkim. The site has a prayer hall, a prayer wheel and a stupa. The complex also has a holy lake which is called the Kathok Lake. The Katok Monastery is located opposite Katok Lake and is very famous for conducting religious ceremonies. It is open throughout the year and can be visited anytime. The Biodiversity Festival is celebrated at Yuksom by the Forest Department annually to create awareness to conserve the cultural and natural heritage of the region. There is a pictorial display in the festival which highlights the natural biodiversity of the topography, the cultural heritage, consequences of deforestation and the importance of preservation in the biosphere.

Ravangla
Ravangla, Rawangla or Ravongla is a small tourist town at an elevation of 8000 ft located in South Sikkim and lies between Pelling and Gangtok. It is the starting point for the trek to the Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary. It’s name is derived from the Bhutia language where Ra means wild sheep, vong translates to a rearing place, and la means a pass. Ravangla has phenomenal views of high-forested hills and rolling valleys marked with village huts and lies at the base of Menam hill, providing shelter to a small hermitage on the edge separating the Teesta valley from the Rangit valley. Ravangla provides breathtaking sights of the Kanchenjungha along with its sister peaks of Pandim, Kabru, Sinialchu and many others. Each year, in August or September, Ravangla plays host to the Pang Lhabsol festival. 8 km on way to Damthang is the Rayong sunrise viewpoint that provides a beautiful view of the first rays of the sun falling on snow peaks. The nearby Lepcha and Bhutia villages of Yangang, Tinkitam, Kewzing, Barfung & Bakhim are perfect for short village tours. There are a few ancient monasteries around Ravangla namely the Bonn Monastery, the Ralong Monastery, the old historical market of Kewzing, along with few mysterious caves are the major tourist attractions of this town.

Also known as Tathagata Tsa, Buddha Park is the main attraction in Ravangla. As the name suggests, this park features a striking 130 feet high statue of Gautam Buddha as its centrepiece. This massive park is part of the Rabong Gompa which is a 100-year-old religious complex and a significant pilgrimage centre. Inside the park, there is a huge prayer hall and a museum meditation centre which is open to everyone that depicts the life and journey of Gautam Buddha. The park is open from 9 am to 5 pm and entry fees for Indians are INR 50, while foreigners need to pay INR 100.

The New Ralang Monastery which is located around 10 km from Buddha Park serves as the occasional residence of the Gyaltsap Rinpoche and is the home to around 500 monks. The major attraction here is the two-storey high shining Buddha statue, considered to be one of the highest monasteries in Sikkim and the paintings and thangkas displayed here are highly valued. The monastery is open from 8 am to 5 pm daily.

The Old Ralang Monastery is a small structure situated close to the New Ralang Monastery, flanked by traditional Bhutia homes and well-manicured little gardens. The Sikkimese consider this as one of the most sacred places and is open daily between 8 am to 5 pm daily.

The Ralang Hot Water Springs is a sulphur spring that is a brisk 1-hour walk away from the Ralang Monastery and is very renowned world over. The gushing hot water bed is located in a small pool.

At an elevation of 6700 feet, the Rayong Sunrise Viewpoint offers a spectacular view of the Chola and the Sangalaila Mountain ranges and is one of the most famous tourist spots in Ravangla. It is advisable to reach the place by 5 am to catch the view of the rising sun.

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