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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.