Sunday, January 06, 2008

Nxt weekend you can be at ... Rinchenpong


If you are bored of watching the Kanchenjunga from crowded Darjeeling or Pelling, it’s time you headed for Rinchenpong. Far away from the bustle of noisy tourist spots, Rinchenpong was, till recently, a small village in the hills of West Sikkim, 6,000 ft above sea level.

None other than Rabindranath Tagore had spent a couple of days in this getaway in the 1920s. Rabindranath Smriti Van, the house where the poet stayed and enjoyed the scenic view of the Himalayas, is just 2 km from Rinchenpong bazaar. It is a major tourist draw and has been maintained well.

Rinchenpong, which is more popularly known as Silent Valley, is particularly attractive for those who like short hill treks. Jungles, orchids, a variety of birds and treasures of ancient Sikkim are the draws along the trail.

About 3 km from Rinchenpong bazaar is the Resum monastery. Located at the junction of three hills, this place of worship was built almost two centuries ago by a local lepcha and is still under private supervision. The place offers an excellent view of the mountains, especially of the sunrise from behind the Kanchenjunga.

A 30-minute walk through the jungle will take you to a popular tourist attraction of Rinchenpong — The Heritage House. The stone and wood construction, which came up in 1860, was used to host the British governor, a regular visitor. In the semi-darkness, the interiors reveal multi-cultural influences, including wall paintings and wood carvings of the traditional Tibetan school.

One of the oldest monasteries of Sikkim, the Gey-Sanga-Yangtze Gumpha, is also a walk away from the main bazaar. It houses a statue of Ati Buddha with a lady embracing him. This unique religious icon of the Nyingma sect of tantrik Buddhism symbolises the power of lust.

Rinchenpong is about 122 km from Siliguri. It takes about four hours to get there from Jorethang. There is a regular jeep service. The road has been extended 3 km to Kaluk, a small town that can also be reached through a memorable jungle trail. The vast openness of Kaluk and the panoramic view of the Himalayas can be a special treat.

Thursday is the local market day. People from neighbouring areas gather to buy and sell everything from bangles to baskets, turning the occasion to a festival. During the day, hundreds of Sikkimese crowd the shanty eateries and partake of hot momos and chhang, the local drink.

Both Rinchenpong and Kaluk has a number of luxury resorts as well as budget hotels.

Going

New Jalpaiguri is the nearest railhead. Buses and jeeps are available from Siliguri to Jorethang. Rinchenpong is a two-hour journey from there. Walking is the only way of travelling within the town.

Staying

There are several budget as well as luxury hotels in Rinchenpong and Kaluk. Most of the hotels have restaurants. Momo and thukpa are available in the local eateries.