Yuksom – Gateway to Kanchenjunga
After visiting Pelling, we headed to Yuksom which is aptly known as gateway to Kanchenjunga National Park. Situated at an altitude of 1780 meter, it is a very small and peaceful town in North West Sikkim and was the state’s first capital. Situated at the head of Khangchenjunga National Park, it is the largest Protected Area in Sikkim, and at starting gate for the trekking trail to Mt. Khangchendzonga. At Kanchenjunga National Park one can choose from many treks such as Tashding, Dzongri and Goecha La. Amongst these, Goecha La (Kanchenjunga base-camp) is the most popular one. Naturally, Yuksom is quite popular amongst trekkers. In fact, we were surprised to see more foreign nationals than Indians. I guess all of them were heading to Goecha La. We visited this place as part of our nature camp. Hence, we were absolutely focused on local biodiversity and of-course local food. Our stay was at Yak Homestay which is run by a lady named Phumpi. While here, her son Ugen provided us the vehicles for entire trip and drove our vehicle.
History of Yuksom
Yuksom was the first captial of kingdom of Sikkim. Yuksom literally translates as “meeting place of the three learned monks”. According to the legend, three monks from Tibet chose Phuntsog Namgyal as the first King of Sikkim in the year 1642 AD. They gave him the title Chogyal, meaning “religious King” or “the king who rules with righteousness”. The Chogyals rules for about three centuries.
The town is part of Demazon (valley of rice), the sacred landscape consisting of four religious sites which have been blessed by Guru Padmasambhava and which are considered to be the four plexuses of the human body, in which Yuksom represents the ‘third eye’.
Yuksom – Biodiversity Capital of Sikkim
Yuksom has aptly titled the biodiversity hub because of its bio-diversity hot-spots and the tremendous efforts put by the people of Yuksom to preserve and maintain its ecological balance. The festival is arranged by the Forest Department of the Sikkim Government. The objective of the festival is to create awareness among the people of the villages to conserve cultural and natural heritage. The festival is attended by a huge number of villagers, Indian as well international tourists. There is a pictographic display (puppets, paintings, photographs etc.) in the fest which highlights the natural bio-diversity of the topography, the cultural heritage, consequences of deforestation and the importance of the preservation of the biosphere. It is a great way to know local culture of the region.
How to reach Yuksom
We drove from Pelling to Yuksom as part of our nature camp to Sikkim. But travellers can visit Yuksom directly as well. Travelers arriving at Bagdogra airport can reach Gangtok and catch taxi to Geyzing from there to reach Yuksom.
The cheapest and most preferred way to reach is via railways and shared taxis. The nearest railway station is New Jalpaiguri (NJP) which is nearly 150 kms from Yuksom. NJP is well connected to major Indian cities (New Delhi, Guwahati, Kolkata etc.) via railways.
From (Sikkim National Transport) stand at Siliguri which is close to NJP, you can catch a taxi for Jorethang. And from Jorethang you can get a taxi for Yuksom. Also, from SNT stand you can catch a taxi for Geyzing and then another taxi from Geyzing.
Getting around Yuksom
The entire town is small enough to be covered by walking. One can walk to a place named Helipad which provides stunning view of the town. The other places to visit around are Kathok lake and monastery, Dubdi monastery, Tashiding monastery and Norbugang Chorten.
Yuksom has sacred lake named ‘Kathok’. It is considered as the soul lake of Lama Kathok Kuntu Zangpo, who pioneered in introducing Buddhism to this beautiful land. Our driver said that Kathok is considered as male lake and Khecheopalri is considered as female lake. We were glad that we got a chance to visit these two lakes in a day. Then we visited Yuksom Kathok Wodsal Monastery. Very near to Kathok Monastery is the coronation site, which is known as the ‘Norbugang Chorten’.
Then we went to Dubdi monastery also called as Yuksom monastery. It is considered as oldest monastery in Sikkim and was established by The Chogyar Namgyal in 1701. The literal meaning of Dubdi is ‘The treat’. It was also known as the Hermit’s Cell after its ascetic founder Lhatsun Namkha Jigme, who along with two other lamas from Tibet met at Norbugang near Yuksom and crowned Phuntsog Namgyal as the first King or Chogyal of Sikkim at Norbugang Yuksom in 1642. One can also see coronation throne nearby.
Next day we went to Tashiding monastery. It is located in the forest at lovely location. On the way we saw many birds and after reaching there, we got to see Pied Crested Cuckoo. Our driver Ugen took us on small trek behind this monastery as he wanted to show us their cremation place. We took this opportunity for birding and got to see a nuthatch from a very close distance. That time I realized we are good nature observers! The bird was very near to us, at about ten meters distance and at the eye level. He was looking for the food and seemed to be so busy that he didn’t notice us or at least didn’t bother our presence.
Yuksom – few travel tips
- There are fewer ATMs (we could not find any) in Yuksom. Hence it is prudent to carry cash
- Most of the hotels are run by locals and hence they are more homestays with limited luxurious amenities
- It has great local food to offer.
- Yuksom locals take great pride in promoting eco-tourism. As responsible traveler, we urge to maintain cleanliness and promote sustainable tourism.
That concluded our stay in Yuksom. Tashiding monastery has a hall of huge prayer wheels. We prayed for good sightings and good weather as we were headed to Northern Sikkim next day. I also prayed for safety of all my participants.