A family trip to Sikkim was on the cards for a long. Covid postponed the plan by a couple of years. Post double vaccination took a sudden decision to book first-class tickets for Padatik express. An effort to compensate marred Durga Puja days amid social distance restrictions. What followed next was ten days of rollercoaster ride covering Gangtok, Pelling and Ravangla to reinvent the fun of a family trip. A two blog series to pen down the experience.
In the previous blog, I wrote about my detailed experience covering Gangtok sights and eateries.
Accommodation in Pelling
Days in Gangtok passed away like a wink. We have boarded our car for the next stop at Pelling in West Sikkim. The weather was improving, so I hoped to view Kanchenjunga from Pelling. Roads were in horrendous condition after the monsoon. It took us 6 hours to reach our hotel at Pelling. We arrived at Pelling on the day of Dusshera, most of the shops were closed.
Hotel Sonamchen is located next to the helipad at Upper Pelling. The hotel is known for its location, and vegetarians love staying here for the food. The rooms are rudimentary, with little to boast. The food was average, and the service was slow. However, the best part of the hotel is the view from its rooms.
We did stay on the top floor in rooms 405 and 406, and every morning we woke up with a panoramic view of Kanchenjunga. The balconies are large enough to relax and enjoy your morning cuppa.
Sights & Eateries of Pelling
The following morning after witnessing a perfect sunrise from our balcony, I decided to trek to the ruins of the ancient capital of Sikkim. Due to terrain difficulty, I went on the trek alone. The family planned to meet me at a point post completing the trek.
Rabdentse was once the capital of the kingdom of Sikkim. The ruins are 10 km from Pelling and 40 km from Ravangla. The invading Gurkha army destroyed the city in the 18th century, and today, its ruins stand as a sentinel of its regal past. As I passed through the gate of Rabdentse on the Pelling-Geyzing road, I found a trail through a forest of chestnut trees. Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) declared the Rabdentse ruins a heritage site, often referred to as India’s own Machu Picchu.
The old palace and monastery complex at the top offers a scenic view of the Kanchenjunga ranges. The northern wing contains remnants of the royal residence and an open quadrangle with three chortens where the royals would pray. A seven-foot-long marble slab lies where the locals go and offer prayers to date. The southern wing features a throne and is the religious complex where the ordinary people would pray and seek an audience with the king.
- For uphill, one may take the right-hand route from the fork.
- The right-hand route will take 15 minutes to reach the summit.
- The left-hand route from the fork is a mix of flat trails and uphill – it will take 30 minutes.
- Use the left-hand route for coming down.
- A pair of comfortable walking shoes is a must.
- There is no entry fee for entering the ruins.
- Timings: 8 am till 5 pm every day.
I came across a little hut on the way towards Pemayangtse Monastery. Lotus Bakery, a 41 years old derelict cafe, is Pelling’s oldest and maybe the only bakery. But still the cutest one in Pelling amidst the backdrop of the woods. The bakery is about 1 km away from Lower Pelling junction. I called my family to meet me at the bakery.
The bakery got freshly baked sweet buns, cookies, and cream rolls for our breakfast. Price starts from INR 10 only! Money raised helps fund the nearby academy for underprivileged children. A hidden gem and must try!
The Pemayangtse Monastery is one of the oldest and premier monasteries of Sikkim. The monastery is 10 km from Pelling and 40 km from Ravangla. The gompa gives a perfect place to relax in solitary and listen to the sounds of nature as one explores the 300 years old monastery. The site reflects the rich architecture and the unwavering faith of the Buddhist followers. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed here, but monastery’s every nook and cranny got a frame for photography.
On the 28th and 29th days of the 12th lunar month of the Tibetan calendar, corresponding to February of the Gregorian calendar, the monastery celebrates the Cham dance festival.
Kecheopalri Lake was the next stop. The lake is 30 km from Pelling and 70 km from Ravangla. A considerable number of cars at the parking slowed the traffic. The 9.2 acres lake is believed to be a wish-fulfilling lake and the most sacred of Sikkim. The lake is full of fish, but fishing is prohibited here.
Numerous Tibetan prayer flags flutter in the wind, and one feel walked into a magical kingdom. Trek through a forest; en route, one can see rare flora and fauna. Prayer wheels along the wooden jetty lead you to the bank of Khecheopalri Lake. Avoid going during local festivals like Dusshera, or it will be overcrowded and not be able to go near the water. The lake has an entry fee of INR 10 per adult.
The last halt at Kanchenjunga Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen. The fall is 30 km from Pelling and 70 km from Ravangla. The perennial waterfall gushes throughout the year and cascades down from about a hundred feet. The roaring water falling down the hills and the cold, moist air makes a serene environment. A small staircase leads to the main waterfall against an entry fee of INR 20.
We reached back the central Pelling taxi stand for lunch and desperately looked for an eating option. Due to the Dusshera festival, all restaurants were closed. But we found Hotel Kabur, located at the Lower Pelling. It is one of the very first hotels in Pelling. The dining area is rustic, but we preferred the simplistic rooftop with a fantastic view of the Pelling city and mountain ranges.
After a tiring sightseeing experience, the chilled local beer energized us back. We ordered Chicken Thukpa, Chicken Chowmein and Chilli Chicken. The food is not extravagant as simple food was the order for the day. But cooked with love like home-cooked food. The hue of sunset during our late lunch created a magic moment. No, it was not my beer speaking. The memory is still deeply etched in our hearts. The owner is humble and soft-spoken feels like coming back again and again—a true hidden gem. Hotel Kabur also has decent accommodation options.
Following morning, we anticipated a long day ahead. Post completion of the sightseeing, we travelled to Ravangla. Again due to local festivals, there was not many breakfast option available aside from Havmor.
Havmor is a centrally located food joint for vegetarians. During breakfast pitstop, the rush is mainly for dosa, chole bhature, and pav bhaji. The quality is not satisfactory but high price. The kitchen is slow, and it is self-service. One may carry memento from the corner souvenir shop.
Pelling Skywalk was the key attraction of our visit. In November 2018, Sikkim got India’s first skywalk. The attraction is 10 km from Pelling and 50 km from Ravangla. The glass bottom skywalk overlooks the marvellous valleys and mountains. A long haul of the stairs with golden prayer wheels on both sides leads up to 137 feet tall statue of Chenrezig.
Once we entered, the place was packed with tourists. It was even harder getting our family picture. The skywalk’s hype and popularity were evident. It was a bad day for us, too sunny and hot. Valley and mountains were not visible due to haze. Try to come early morning when it opens.
- Skywalk is not for the fainthearted or anyone who has vertigo.
- Everyone must take off shoes and wear socks.
- The ticket price for tourists is INR 50.
- Timings: 8 am till 5 pm every day.
Sangacholing Monastery is one of the oldest monasteries of Sikkim. It was built in 1697 and later devasted in a fire. The monastery houses several ancient paintings, accessories, and clay statues from the 17th-century post rebuild.
The gompa is located on a hilltop at the rear of the town of Pelling. To reach the monastery, one must undertake 15 minutes uphill hike from the Skywalk. Even though not a vast architecture, the structures are geometrically serene against the stark landscape. The most exciting aspects were large stone stupas with golden tips on the compound that withstood the assault of time. The prayer hall entry is restricted to the Bhutia and Lepcha communities.
Accommodation in Ravangla
Cloud’s End Retreat
Ravangla is a small tourist town in South Sikkim at a 2 hours driving distance from Pelling. The hill station has basic facilities compared to Pelling. The Cloud’s End Retreat is nestled in the green hills and forest at the highway’s edge. The charming wooden cottages have an open terrace with a breathtaking view of the mountains around the clock. All rooms are well furnished and have an attached bathroom with hot and cold water supply, large screen television and internet.
The homemade rustic Chicken Pakora, Fried Rice, and Chilli Chicken was a perfect lunch with a view. For booking and Sikkim travel plan, one may call Mr P Sarkar at +91 8452877767.
The morning started with breakfast in the ground floor cafe of the hotel. Today planned to drive till Samdruptse above Namchi town in South Sikkim is 20 km from Ravangla and 60 km from Pelling. The place has the 45 meters statue of Guru Padma Sambhava. The gilded gold statue glitters with gold when the sunlight falls over it, perched at 7000 feet.
The hilltop offers views of Namchi town and the vista of the magnificent Kangchenjunga amongst the richly forested hills under the blue painted sky. I have never seen so many prayer flags in one place. Buddhist place prayer flags to bring good luck on this wish-fulfilling hill.
Ralang Monastery has located 10 km from Ravangla and 58 km from Pelling. The original monastery is situated 3 km from the present location. The way to the old monastery is quite tricky and requires trekking. For easier accessibility, the new monastery was built in the year 1995. When we reached, the construction and renovation were in full swing; hence, we only explored the exterior part.
Ralang Monastery has an extensive collection of paintings and thangkas that reflect the opulence of Buddhist art. Cham dances are also organized every year, on the 15th day of the seventh month of the Buddhist calendar and the 29th day of the tenth month of the Buddhist calendar. The Mahakala Dance takes place every year in November.
The Buddha Park is also known as Tathagata Tsal. The park is 1 km from Ravangla and 50 km from Pelling. It is a sprawling park with a 130-foot (40 m) high statue of the Buddha as its centrepiece. The gorgeous statue of Sakyamuni Buddha can be seen in all parts of Southwest Sikkim. It is an alluring park for visitors to enjoy greater peace with spacious pathways for soothing strolls and picturesque surroundings. Kids, too, enjoyed the theme fountain in the park. The park is open from 9 am to 5 pm against an entry fee of INR 50.
Temi Tea Garden
The final morning in Ravangla means the last day of the Sikkim trip. The day planned to drive 30 km from Ravangla to Temi Tea Garden. Temi is Sikkim’s solitary tea estate, yet one of the best in the world. Temi Tea Garden is a Government-run estate started in 1969. The tea estate has a plantation area of 440 acres that lay over a sloping hill in the southern part of Sikkim. The next-door neighbour Darjeeling may be famous for its tea, but Sikkim, too, produces world-class organic tea.
Sikkim – an organic state
We found roadside stalls or sacks directly selling corps by local organic farmers on the way back from the tea garden. Sinki is a traditional Sikkimese dish is made from radish and fermented for a month-long. Sinki can stay fresh for a year and is ready to be used in stews and soups. It can also be used as a pickle and eaten with parathas and other dishes. Similarly, Gundruk is prepared from fermented leafy vegetables.
Sikkim is India’s first organic state. In Sikkim, one of India’s least populated states, with just 10 per cent farmland across 70,000 hectares. Sikkim merely uses 8-12 kgs. per hectare of chemical fertilizers and pesticides compared to the national average of 90 kgs. per hectare.
A ten-day Sikkim trip covering the Eastern, Western and Southern parts of the state ended with memories to cherish for a lifetime. From Temi Tea Garden, we left for the night train at NJP with a hope to come back soon to one of India’s cleanest states.
How to reach Pelling
By Air: The airport nearest to Pelling is about 160 km away in Bagdogra. You can hire a shared taxi or a private vehicle to Pelling from the airport.
By Train: The nearest railway station to Pelling is about 152 km away in New Jalpaiguri in Siliguri. The station is well-connected to major cities like Kolkata and New Delhi.
By Road/Self-Drive: Tourists rolling in from nearby places like Siliguri, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kolkata prefer to drive to Pelling. The roads are well-maintained, except in a few patches.
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