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  • Thu, 03 May 2012 21:01:01 +0000

    Rikisum – following the legendary trail
    PassionRikisum in the morning

    This was my second outing in the quest to embrace the nice and serene villages around the old silk route crossing Jelep-La. Always been enthralled by the mighty Himalayas, my interest was to explore ‘yet not so popular’ Himalayan parishes, stay with the locals and enjoy the serenity of the environment. After my visit to Zuluk in 2011, I was looking to get acquainted with other settlements around this legendary route. Vacations around New Year were just perfect to explore two more habitats around Kalimgpong and Pedong.

    My first destination was Rikisum (6400 ft), more of a stopover before my visit to Sillery Gaon. Near Pedong, it is a small settlement on the main road connecting Lava. Not so well known as its big brother Pedong, the woods of Rikisum have been able to avoid the high spirited crowds coming to Pedong, Kalimgpong and Lava. Not many places to stay, I was fortunate to contact Biru Tamang of Sillery Gaon, who arranged for two home-stay huts. May not be having the best of arrangements to attract much tourist, the place is cozy and comfortable for my one night stay. All the rooms are having attached bath with good service from the owner and his family. The tariff includes room rent with breakfast, lunch and dinner.

    It took around three hours to reach Rikisum. The home-stay huts are near the main road. The nice view of the pine forest with the clear blue sky is refreshing for poor city dwellers like me. The sunny day, the cold breeze, the hot cup of tea – a perfect start for few exciting days ahead.Being close to Kalimgpong, this place is well connected with Siliguri. December morning breeze greeted us at NJP railway station after an overnight train journey from Kolkata. Freshened up with a hot cup of tea and few snacks, we hurried into a SUV waiting for us. Main route to Rikisum is via Kalimpong. Alternately one can reach through Gorubathan and Lava. The scenic beauty on the way to Kalimpong has always fascinated me. As we moved on, the winding and swirling Teesta guided us away from the plains deep into the mountains. Being a very important highway connecting Sikkim, it is generally very well maintained. But this year we were not so lucky. A few months back, this entire region was shaken by a massive earthquake; effects are still visible on this route. While crossing Sevoke and then at regular intervals, the traffic was slow and sometimes testing our patience. The authorities were busy at work but at some stretches it would take months to get the roads back into shape.

    Enjoying the morning sunEnjoying the morning sun

    Recharged after a good lunch, we wasted no time to look around the place. The main attraction here is the hill top view of Kanchenzonga and the high Himalayas. The meandering road up the hills is motorable though we preferred the 20 min trek uphill. A bit tiring but I will definitely recommend it to young travelers. Though it was December still there were enough wild flowers and vegetation to draw our attention and slow us down.

    A Home-stay hut @ RikisumA Home-stay hut @ Rikisum

    There used to be an old British Bungalow at the top of the hill. Now only the ruins of it remains, a reminiscence of the British rule in India and the history of their invasion of the eastern Himalayas – the battle between the English soldiers and the King of Pedong. Locally known as the Bhoot (evil spirit) Bungalow, this was never maintained, mainly because of the local fable of the mysterious death of an English Lady on her first night at the cottage. A nice young villager was leading our way narrating us all the details of the place and its history.

    Kanchenzonga from Rikisum TopKanchenzonga from Rikisum Top

    During the return journey we tried a short trail which took us through the village. The settlement here is sparse and the people depend on farming and husbandry. Some of them are also engaged in different jobs in the nearby towns of Pedong and Algara. This trail helped us to look into the daily life and hardship of these poor but hardworking villagers. Eco tourism has started to flourish in this region and is providing them some hope for better future.

    WeedMacro of a Weed

    The day ended well. Not much to do in the evening, we had an early dinner together. Tired and exhausted, we preferred to get some good night sleep before the next day. My stay here was for one day, and I didn’t want to loose the opportunity of exploring the place in the early morning.

    It was still dark and nippy. The strong winds of December were ready to test our endurance. We started to trek up the hill to witness the first light over the mighty Himalayas. The wide open space on the top presented a nice view of the mountains, though the bushes around the place were very annoying while taking photographs. Gradually the morning sky started changing its colour, the snow capped mountain awakening from their slumber, Mt. Kanchenzonga unhurriedly removing her veil giving us the first glimpse of the morning. The fragrance of the morning, the view of the massif and the vastness around started transforming the whole region. Slowly the surrounding hills of Pedong, Kalimgpong and Sikkim were getting visible. The view of the Himalayas from this place can challenge if not exceeds the view of more well known tourist spots of Loleygaon and Rishop.

    Morning @ Rikisum topMorning @ Rikisum top

    The morning also provided enough food for photography; not only the mountains around kept us involved, but the ruins and the shrubs engaged us for quite some time. It was getting late, time to return back to the huts for breakfast and then to our main destination of Sillery Gaon.

  • Sun, 23 Oct 2011 12:08:11 +0000

    Zuluk – Hamlet on the forgotten trail
    Night at ZulukNight at Zuluk

    I came to know about this little known Himalayan village of East Sikkim from a friend of mine, who visited this place last year. This was a popular night stay for traders before crossing historical Jelep La – the old silk route to Lasha, Tibet. For last few years Zuluk (altitude: 10,000 ft) is once again getting popular as an offbeat tourist destination. The place is well-connected by road and can be very easily reached from Gangtok, Siliguri or Baghdogra. For people like me staying at Kolkata or nearby, it can be a good weekend destination. Or this can also be part of your tour plan to North or East Sikkim. There are no hotels in Zuluk, but home stay cottages are available and it is worth staying very close to the simple and kind-hearted villagers. The best way to visit this place is to contact some local villager who can arrange for a stay and help you to plan your travel to nearby places. The person I contacted was Gopal Pradhan, who arranged for the stay and pick up and drop to NJP railway station.

    My journey to Zuluk started from Sealdah in Kanchankanya Express after a couple of weeks’ planning. It was mid April and Kolkata was getting ready to embrace the coming hot summer months. I was looking for a remote place to get away from the hot and humid weather of South Bengal and enjoy a couple of days in the unknown.

    It took around 6 hrs from NJP to reach Zuluk through Rangpo and Rongli. A special permit is required as this village is very near to Indo-China border, so always bring your passport or any other identification document. After arranging the permit from Rongli, it was a very nice one hour drive up to Zuluk, uphill through the narrow but smooth winding roads. It got colder as we gained altitude and slowly high pine forest gave away to grass and small bushes.

    Lady at KupupLady at Kupup

    We reached Zuluk late afternoon. We were shown a home stay hut and were greeted with hot refreshing tea. The rooms do not have all the modern amenities but are warm and cozy enough to enjoy. All the rooms are having attached bath and room heater is also available at night. There were few other tourists staying at nearby similar accommodation, most of them bird watchers and avid nature lovers.

    View from LungthungLady at Kupup

    It was cold outside with grey clouds and fog slowly covering up the nearby hills. The weather seemed to be deteriorating, so we preferred not to venture very far from our place. Zuluk is a small village with not very fertile soil and extreme weather conditions. Farming is difficult here. There are greenhouses constructed which helps in growing vegetables throughout the year. It is a pleasure to walk around the place, mix with the locals, visit the nearby temple and to see the changing colors of the evening on the Himalayan range.

    Evening at ZulukEvening at Zuluk

    Nature has bestowed its resources in and around Zuluk. It is quite common to get a view of a Monal Peasant or a Blood Peasant. It has a high diversity of Himalayan fauna. One can also come across different small animals native to this place. In fact while strolling around our cottage, we got a sight of a Himalayan Weasel capering around the nearby valley. This is not unnatural to this place; later on I heard that many tourists had similar luck of coming across an adventurous Weasel or a Martin. With better luck, one can also see a Red Panda in the high hills.

    A night at Zuluk - View of the army campView of the Army Camp

    Our enthusiasm was short-lived as it started raining followed by a short hail storm. We were forced to sit at our hut and worry about our luck for the next day. In the evening, we met Gopal-ji and planned for the next day’s trip. He informed that early morning trip to Thambi might not be possible due to heavy snow fall. Better option was to go up after breakfast; by then the roads would be back into operation. Slowly the weather improved and the night was clear and starry. I was able to get some excellent snaps of the village after dinner.

    Zig-zag road of ZulukZigzag Road, Bhulbulaia

    Next day, we started around 9:00 AM after a nice breakfast. Going up the meandering road, it started getting difficult to move due to the heavy snow fall of last night. It was a struggle to reach Thambi (altitude: 11,200 ft) but with help of the local people we were able to move on up to Lungthung (altitude: 13,000 ft). Kanchenzonga was hiding behind the clouds but the view of the nearby snow covered hills was marvelous. ‘Bhulbulaia’, the view of the zigzag road from Thambi is worth to mention. This is quite unique to Zuluk; the picturesque view of complete road starting from Zuluk, passing through the lower hills up to Thambi.

    The complete area around Lungthung, higher up from Thambi is controlled and patrolled by Indian army. Passing through the army barracks, ammunition camp, bunkers and various artillery, we moved towards Kupup. There is also a nice ice-hockey field at Lungthung.

    Army camp at LungthungArmy camp at Lungthung

    The journey after Lungthung was comfortable as the army already cleared the snow in this sector. The condition of the roads in this area is very good as regular maintenance is done by BRO. Moving forward towards Kupup; we got a nice view of Gnathang Valley. According to locals this place grooms itself like heaven in summer. Nature decorates the place with variety of flowers including very well known Rhododendron and Magnolia. It is said that there is riot of colors once the snow melts. We moved on and reached the Old Baba Mandir, the memorial of Late Baba Harbhajan Singh, a very sacred place for the army. It is worth to mention that people coming from the Gangtok side, generally do not visit this temple but a new one constructed much later by Indian army.

    Old Baba MandirOld Baba Mandir

    Passing the temple we got a nice view of Bidan Chu Lake, popularly known as the Hati (Elephant) Lake because the shape resembles that of an elephant. This sector of Sikkim is blessed with three beautiful lakes, Bidhan Chu, Menmechu and Tsongo. Bidhan Chu comes first following the highway from Zuluk. It is located at Kupup (altitude: 13,500 ft), the highest village in this region, well-known transit point during the silk trade between India and Tibet. Nice handicrafts and pottery are still available in this small locality. Now, this place is also in the world map due to Yak Golf Course, highest of its kind in the world. Moving forward towards Nathula, we got a glimpse of the next major site, Lake Menmecho. A jeep track is available to reach the banks of this nice serene water body.

    Old Silk Route - Roadside shop at KupupRoadside shop at Kupup

    The same road continues to Gangtok. The later half of which is very popular and frequently visited by tourist on their travel route to see Tsongmo Lake and Nathu La. But our plans were to get back to Zuluk for another night stay.

    Bidhan Chu Lake near KupupBidhan Chu Lake near Kupup Sunrise from Thambi viewpointSunrise from Thambi viewpoint

    Next day we returned to NJP, but not before we had a nice view of sunrise from Thambi viewpoint. We even went higher up to Lungthung for a complete view of early morning over the Eastern Himalayas. Zuluk also had something more for us; a nice view of a Monal Peasant while going towards Lungthung from Thambi. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera ready to take a snap.

    Mt. Kanchenzonga fron LungthungMt. Kanchenzonga from Lungthung

    Zuluk is an abode of peace. It can be visited throughout the year. January to March is very cold with heavy snow fall. This place also gets a lot of rainfall during the rainy season. April to June and October to December are best season for tourists. It is an ideal destination of somebody looking for a break from the city life and be in a place, serene, quiet and closer to nature.

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