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Sunday
, September 22, 2002
Travel

Smitten forever by scenic splendour of Sikkim
Sanjeev Sharma

LIFE as a tea planter, for more than a decade, meant living amidst natureís choicest places in valley of Assam and beautiful Dooras. One tends to like the hustle and bustle, dirt and grime of city lights. Coupled with this is the constant craving for the mere sight of a concrete jungle and blaring noise of unmanaged traffic. But I planned this occasion otherwise. I was to take on mother nature face to face and the destination was Yoksom, one of the lesser-known districts of exotic Sikkim, not a very well-known tourist destination.

How to get to West Sikkim

Air: The nearest airport is Bagdogra, which is approximately 146 km from Pelling. Regular IA flights and private airlines link Bagdogra with all major cities of India.

Rail: The nearest railhead is Newjalpaiguri, about 147 km from Pelling.

Road: The state-run Sikkim Nationalised Transport plies regularly from Pelling and Siliguri, takes about six hours. Regular jeep taxis ply on this route.

Yoksom is Sikkimís west district, not only the most enchanting but also the most sacred place, in the Eastern Himalayas. It was here in 1641 A.D the first Chogyal (king) was consecrated by the three great lamas at Yoksom. Itís the first capital of erstwhile kingdom of Sikkim. It gets its name after the three great lamas (Yokómeeting of lamas and Somóthree). Dubdi Monastery, Sikkimís oldest monastery, is also in this district, these were reason enough for me to put my rucksack and head towards Pelling.

Six hours of a nerve-wrecking drive from Siliguri, with a friend, who thought it was mandatory to throw up at every sharp turn, we arrived at a sleepy hamlet Pelling. Every where we could see only dense mist which made it difficult for me to manoeuvre my good old dusty (as I fondly call my gypsy). It was dusk by that time and we settled for the Nauru Gang resort situated on western side of hills, barely a minuteís walk from the hamlet.

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Sikkim is truly Godís own abode
Sikkim is truly Godís own abode

The hotel staff (with almost closed eyes and never-ending smiles warned us that if we desired to watch Mt. Kanchendzonga then we must get up early. So we called it a day and retired early. I was startled by the wake-up call, it was 3 a.m . an unearthly hour), the staff (same smiling faces) drew the curtains from window, I stood there speechless (my eye balls must have popped off), it was the most breathtaking spectacle I had ever witnessed. It was Sikkimís protective deity Mt. Kanchendzonga and its lesser peaks. It was so close that I was foolish enough to try to reach for it. It appeared as if it was basking in the early dawnís vermillion rays of sun and only its peaks were illuminated by the glorious sun. I must have gaped at this bewildering spectacle of nature, speechless for hours until the same ever-smiling staff announced that breakfast had been served.

Besides the awesome view of the mountains, this district is extremely rich in biodiversity. It has a mind-boggling array of flora and fauna and the valley abounds with numerous orchids, primulae, rhododendrons, marigolds anthuriems and cherry to name a few. The exotic aroma of large cardamoms wafts along mist-laden hillsides, that are home to musk deers. If you are lucky (that we were) you can see shy Red Panda quickly crossing the road. Innumerable butterflies flint among the verdant woods, lending colour to the rich hue of greens, Sikkim has perhaps more than 500 species of butterflies. The pride of flora of Sikkim are its rhododendron forests varying from touring giants of lower regions to dwarf variety found above the snowline. The delicate flowers are variegated from blood red to pale lilac to brilliant white.

As we strolled around the hamlet, we discovered that every one had the same never-ending smiles on their facesósame as the resortís staff. People were very friendly and almost in every household there were momos, thupka and home-made chang (local brew) served in bamboo mugs at affordable rates. One such joint was an example of hospitality, they were generous enough to throw open their living room since we had ladies with us beside serving up lip-smacking hot momos with chang and brandy with tato (hot) pani. The hill people were so simple and untouched by the negativity of city life.

Monasteries in Sikkim house rare, ancient thankas
Monasteries in Sikkim house rare, ancient thankas

Pemayangtse monastery is just 2 km from Pelling. It was established by the great saint Lhatsung Chenpo and belongs to the Nyingmapa order. This monastery houses some of the rare thankas hundreds of years old, very well-preserved, A must see is the zandok, which is a masterpiece of wooden sculpture depicting the different realms in Buddhism. Sangachorelling monastery, also one of the oldest monasteries of Sikkim, is situated on a ridge above Pelling. The road to the monastery is quite a quite a trek and it is fully covered with deodar forests. The air carrying the fragrance of the deodars is so refreshing that all huffing and puffing you did while ascending the hillock was worth every bit. Tasiding Monastery is one of the most sacred of all. Built in the 18th century by Nadak Sempa Chempo, one of three great lamas, it is believed that a mere glimpse of this majestic gumpha would cleanse all sins. Just below the Pemayangtse Monastery, lies ruins of Rabdentse, the second capital of the kingdom of Sikkim which is another archaeological heritage. Rabdentse lies atop a small hillock with an ancient masonry and crumbling stone walls narrate a silent story of the past. On the way back to the resort, we met a group of men practicing archery with bows and arrows with precision.

At the Kesheopalari lake, one is closest to nature
At the Kesheopalari lake, one is closest to nature.

The next day we were on the way to Khesheopalari lake, 14 km from Pelling, it takes around two hours due to the narrow road. My friend puked his guts out on the way. Apart from that, the drive was enjoyable as we witnessed country life, small girls waving at us with the same big smiles. The lake is such a tranquil spot that there was not a sound and one could almost hear oneís heartbeat. Khesheopalari, surrounded by a dense rhododendron forest, is a sacred place for the Sikkimese people and it is believed that this lake possesses the power of wish-fulfillment. As legend goes, there is never a ripple on the lake and even if a stray leaf of a tree falls, birds donít let them fall on the lake. As a matter of fact, I didnít see any ripple on the lake. We camped there for the night. Fluttering sounds of hundreds of prayer flags tied by the devotees, sounds of a nosy animal inspecting our camp for leftovers, a skyline covered by clouds and fogómade it a beautiful experience. I was at that point of time closest to the nature, never had I experienced such close proximity to wilderness. The result was immense tranquility and peace of mind.

The next day, with a heavy heart, we bid adieu to this land which was indeed blessed with the rich and natural heritage, truly a jewel of Gods. Memories of those never-ending smiles on peopleís faces, fluttering prayer flags, prismatic view of Mt. Kanchendzonga and of course the lip-smacking scrumptious momos will take me back to Godís own abode again and again.

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