Pelling of West Sikkim
The beauty of South and East Sikkim left us spellbound. But as they say, picture abhi baaki hai dost. We spent next few days exploring West Sikkim before heading north. Our first destination was Pelling. Pelling is a small hill town in the district of West Sikkim, India. Pelling is nestled at an altitude of 2,150 m (7,200 feet). The town is located at a distance of 10 km from the district headquarters of Geyzing and 131 km from Gangtok. In last few years, Pelling is gaining attraction of lot of tourists and is undergoing change from quaint little village to bustling tourist town.
One interesting fact about Pelling is its name. The founder of Pelling was a man called Freddie (Pelling) who arrived there during the time of the empire. He organized protection for the villager who lived under threat from raiders coming from the north who stole minerals from the mines there. Since then Freddie has become a local hero and as a token of their gratitude, they even renamed the village after him.
Singshore Bridge near Pelling
While traveling to Pelling, we made a halt at Singshore Bridge which is an engineering marvel. Singshore Bridge, with height of over 100 m and 240 m in length, is the highest bridge in Sikkim and the second highest bridge in Asia. The bridge is surrounded by lush greenery and beneath it is river Rangit. Before heading to our hotel, we found this small detour relaxing with breath-taking views.
Peaceful Daragaon Village Stay
Our stay was little ahead of Pelling about 10 kms north at Daragaon village home stay. We reached our stay at late evening. The property is quite beautiful and the host family (Mr. Shiva and his wife Radhaji) take good care of their guests. They provided us with delicious local food and the cozy rooms in one of their stone cottages. The minimalist-yet-artistic wooden furniture in the rooms, the sit-out with a rocking chair, the views of the mountains and the clouds makes it a perfect stay option.
Next day morning we went for a birding walk. One can just walk on sides of main road and can spot many interesting birds. A small boy joined us out of curiosity. Later he started spotting birds on his own and also unknowingly shooed away some birds in the excitement of showing them to us. Later we came to know from his father that he joins every group of tourists who go for a walk here. Interesting way to enjoy!
Rabdentse Ruins of Pelling
That day we went for sightseeing nearby there are Rabdentse ruins – the walking trail goes through a nice forest patch with chestnut trees. One can avoid going to caged birds section where many exotic pheasants are kept in large enclosures. Instead, like us one can spend that time spotting rare Himalayan birds in the forest patch.
After a 15 minute walk through the forests, we reached a clearing and the ASI (Archaelogical Society of India) board greeted us. The history of Rabdentse is equally interesting. Rabdentse was the second capital of ancient Sikkim, the first one being Yuksom. The capital was founded by the 2nd Chogyal of Sikkim Tensung Namgyal in the year 1670. The capital city survived almost a century that saw many royal conspiracies and attacks from foreign lands like Bhutan and Nepal. The capital city was finally destroyed by the invading Gurkha army and eventually, the capital was shifted in 1793. Today, only the ruins of the palace and the chortens are seen here now.
Pemayangtse monastery of Pelling
Our next stop was at Pemayangtse Monastery, one of the most famous and beautiful structures in the state of Sikkim. It derives a name from ‘padma yang tse’ or ‘sublime perfect lotus’.Founded by Lama Lhatsun Chempo, who himself planned and designed the monastery in the year 1705, it is one of the oldest and premier monasteries of Sikkim, Originally it was started as a small Buddhist establishment in the 17th century. It was During the reign of the third Chogyal (King) Chakdor Namgyal, Jigme Pawo, also believed to be the third reincarnation of Lama Lhatsun Chempo, rebuilt and extended it into the form of a big monastery.’
The monastery is situated in a very scenic location with the beautiful snow-capped mountains at the background. It has the three storied structure, on the top floor of the monastery there is a wooden sculpture depicting the Maha Gurus Heavenly Palace “Sanghthokpalri”. There is a small beautiful garden just outside the monastery which is very well maintained by the monks.The Cham dance is the main festival of the monastery which is performed by the monks wearing different types of mask and colourful costumes, it is celebrated every year on the 28th and 29th day of the 12th lunar month of the Tibetan calendar (February).
Helipad of Pelling
Next day early morning we started for we started our day with very high hope of getting a chance to see glimpses of Kanchenjunga peaks from the Helipad of Pelling. Actually, last night it rained continuously and morning and morning was cloudy. So, there was one percent chance of getting a chance to see it. Still we went ahead. Come-on, who will get to visit helipad otherwise in this trip! As you might have guessed by now, the Kanchenjunga decided to stay hiding beneath the cloud cover. It stayed like that till end of our entire camp. We could not see it from any of the viewing points after that. We enjoyed the breeze there. It was windy and chilly. Lovely atmosphere though, at the helipad. Later we took a short walk in the village. Major population here is of Limboo tribe. There are pretty good chances that you will come across many ‘Limboos’ while walking. Our local guide gave us information on the lifestyle and the plants that they use in day to day life.
Rimbi Orange Garden
That day we started for Yuksom. On our way, we visited Orange garden at Rimbi about 13 kms from pelling. Also known as Sewaro Rock Garden, Rimbi Orange Garden is a government funded orange garden. Along with orange trees, visitors can see some cardamom plants and some flowering plants here. It is well maintained and offers good views of the surrounding mountains.
There is Rimbi waterfalls about a kilometer from the garden which attracts many tourists. The garden attracts butterflies and hence we chose the garden. We got rare opportunity to spot Peacock butterfly which is not seen here in Maharashtra. They were mud puddling on the riverside. Mud puddling is a behavior most conspicuous in butterflies, but occurs in other animals as well, mainly insects. They seek out nutrients in certain moist substances such as rotting plant matter, mud and carrion and they suck up the fluid. Here they were liking salt from the wet soil. We met Mr. Sonam Pintso Sherpa Lama who is studying butterflies there and also helping in butterfly conservation. He showed us many butterflies like, red lacewing, Sikkim hill jazelbel etc.
After observing all these beautiful Lepidopterons (Orer of butterflies. Term explaining their scaly wings) we decided to visit Khecheopalri Lake. Located at a distance of 31 km from Pelling in West Sikkim, the Khecheopalri Lake is a sacred place of worship for Buddhists as well as for the Hindus. Khecheopalri means ‘heaven of Padmasambhava’, an 8th century Buddhist Master; and the lake is believed to be a wish-fulfilling lake.
The lake premises can be reached by walking for a short distance from the entrance. A small Buddhist shrine and a Stupa, with numerous prayer flags around, can be visited in the lake premises. A wooden boardwalk leads to the lake and visitors must remove their footwear before walking on it. Numerous prayer wheels are lined up along the boardwalk.
The magnificent Kanchenjunga Falls is around 16 km from Khecheopalri Lake on the way towards Yuksom. Falling from high rocks, it is a perennial waterfall and one of the major tourist attractions in West Sikkim. There’s a nominal fee to visit this attraction and you need to climb up a flight of stairs to view the actual falls. The water from the falls cascades down further into a pool and flows down steadily.
Need for responsible tourism
We saw one disturbing thing there. There are boards mentioning – ‘Remove shoes before going to the lake’. This is a place of worship. But almost all tourists crossed that board with their shoes on. We removed our shoes and went in. After all, locals have their sentiments towards this place and we must respect it. Even after looking at us removing shoes, some people still continued with their shoes. We requested others to please remove them. Many listened however, some literate but, uneducated people didn’t bother. That time I was wondering what must be making these people to behave this way? There was so much of peace in weather, people overall atmosphere of Sikkim, what make such tourists so adamant? Maybe, they have never tried to gel with nature and tried to find peace!
Well, let’s leave that for another blog. While we were done with Pelling, we were not done yet with West Sikkim. Our next destination was Yuksom, the biodiversity capital of Sikkim!