Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sikkim - Visiting the North East (Part-II North Sikkim)

North Sikkim – the land of Lepchas
View from Shinghik view point
Lepchas are the original inhabitants of the Sikkim. The Lepchas believe that they were lovingly created out of Mother Nature and therefore, they address themselves as Mutanchi Rongkup- Mother’s Loved Ones. As per the folk-lore of the Lepchas their first progenitors were known as Fodongthing and Nazaongnyo, who were created by the God from pure, virgin snows of Mout Kunchendzonga (Tibetian/Bhuita name meaning ‘mighty snowy peak’) or Mt. Kanchanjunga (Hindu name meaning ‘purest of pure’) or Kingtsoom Zaongboo Choo (Lepcha name meaning ‘bright auspicious forehead peak’). Also as per the Lepcha mythology, the chord of birth binds all the Lepchas to this holy mountain peak and as such the Lepchas worship this Kingtsoom Zaongboo Choo as their guardian deity. Lepchas refer to their language as ‘Rong-aring’ or ‘Rongring’ and falls under the Tibeto-Burman family of languages. Lepchas claim to have their own script but most of their ancient literary works, called ‘namthars’, are found recorded in Tibetan script. Another aspect of the spoken language of Lepchas is that it contains monosyllabic traits with liberal usage of unparliamentary words uttered as form of speech which is an acceptable norm amongst this tribe.
A bridge with prayer flags accross a mountain river

Like many other tribes in the Sub-Himalayan region, Lepchas belong to the Mongolian racial stock. The Lepchas have some similarities of culture and customs between the Lepchas and some tribes of north-east India like Nishi, Adi, Apa-Tani, Miri and Mismi. As per their folklore one of the famous personalities was a person called Turve who was a military genius and because of his steadfast efforts to save Sikkim from the outsiders (read Muslim invaders) he had been granted the title of ‘Punu’ which meant a ‘King’. Through his exploits he was able to forge a lasting unification between the Lepcha and the Limbu confederations. The traditional cloths of the Lepchas are woven in exquisite colour combinations and the dress worn by their men is called ‘Thokro-Dum’ (comprising of a short coarse pant) and the female’s dress is called ‘Dumdyam’ or ‘Dumvum’ (which comprises of a long flowing skirt).
One of the most important historical places in North Sikkim is known as Kabi Loang Tsaok where as per the recorded history the Lepcha-Bhutia covenant was solemnized in around 1592 between Thikoongtek, the High Priest of the Lepchas and Jokheboo-Boomsar, the first Tibetan intruder into Sikkim, where nine stones were erected to mark the place and held their sacred covenant –Laong Tsaok, meaning the erected standing stone. This place is situated around 18 Kms. away from Gangtok but being situated almost half a Kilometre up from road side, due to rains the road was overgrown with vegetation and therefore, could not be visited by me.
North Sikkim is still pristine example of untouched ecological bio-diversity at its best. The area is sprinkled with lush green hills with rivers gushing forth in its valleys below and sprinkled with spectacular water falls, interspersed with small settlements & a collage of Old resplendent Monasteries. Just before reaching Kabi Loang Tsaok, we passed through some pristine & verdant forests through which the torturous road passed through. Suddenly, just across a sharp bend, we came across the first glimpse of a small but picturesque waterfall, whose water was gushing just across the road. We waited to imbibe this moment to savor its delight at leisure.

A small water fall just before Phodong
After traveling another few Kilometeres we reached Phensong Monastery (24 Kms. from Gangtok) which is another eminent religious place in the northern part of Sikkim. The environs of the monastery are one of the most memorable sites in my journey as it was one of the first monasteries ever visited by me. Phensong Monastery was built in 1721 during the ruling period of Jigme Pawo and belongs to the Nyingmapa sect of Buddhism. Phensong Monastery is also home to many monks of the same sect who stay at the boarding just behind the main Monastery situated at some altitude above the Monastery.

Views of Phensong Monastery in North Sikkim
Our next stop was the famous Seven Sisters Waterfall’ which is situated at a distance of 32 Kms. from Gangtok. The Waterfalls offered and awe-some sight of bountiful mother nature at its best. The Government has made arrangements and set up a waiting shed and cafeteria where they can take a break and shoot pictures. A must see picturesque wonder.

View of the 'Seven Sisters' waterfall

The next stop came after traveling another half an hour when we reached the most famous Phodong Monastery (38 Kms. from Gangtok). However, this monastery was built by the Chogyal Gyurmed Namgyal somewhere in the first quarter of the eighteenth century in Phodong in North Sikkim. It belongs to the Kagyupa Sect and it is said to be the first Kagyupa monastery to be set up in Sikkim. It is famous for its exquisitely delicate mural painting and frescoes. It possesses the old mural paintings, however, these were covered at the time we reached there at around 11.00 A.M. in the morning. The Labrung Monastery is another half a kilometer ahead

Views of Phodong Monastery in North Sikkim
Having visited the Phodong Monastery and imbibed its grandeur in our minds we pushed ahead to reach our final destination for the day i.e. Shinghik. Just after passing through Mangan (district headquarter of North Sikkim – 65 Kms. from Gangtok) which is nondescript little Bazar (market) situated right on the Highway, we reached Shinghik which is another 4 Kms. away. This is also a small destination without any proper sign boards but the view from this point is really spectacular. One has to get down about 500 meters from the main highway to reach the view point through an array of cemented steps. The points offers 180° view of the valley below, separated by river Teesta, is seen a sloppy villages namely Lingdong, Barfok, Hee-Gyathang falling under Dzongu area, on a clear day the picturesque view of mount mount Khangchendzonga is also seen.

Views from the famous Shinghik view point
As the weather was inclement we did not proceed further. However, at the extreme northern end, the pristine Yumthang Valley boasting breathtaking scenic view with hot springs and alpine environment is situated and is a must visit spot for the tourists. There are a lot of tour operators at Gangtok who arrange for this two day one night trip and is best negotiated after reaching Gangtok rather than booking online.

(These above photographs are a glimpse from this ecologically pristine district - these are rivers Bakchu & Ratechu )

You can also view a small video -

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