Sikkim - Visiting the North East (Part-III South Sikkim)
South Sikkim – the land of big Buddha
A giant statute of Padmasambhava at Sandruptse
South Sikkim is the second largest districts of Sikkim after East Sikkim. The demography of the place reflects a predominantly Nepalese population followed by the Bhuitas. South Sikkim also boasts of some pristine undisturbed nature reserves. The Capital of South Sikkim is Namichi, meaning sky-high in local parlance, situated at a height of 5,500 feet. Since it is one of the first hills at a considerable height from the plains below, it holds a commanding view all around. The distance from Gangtok to Rabong or Rabongla (as it is called now) is about 75 Kms. and it takes about 2-3 hours time as per your schedule. We passed through some really picturesque country-side during this travel.
View of Hydel power plant across Teesta river - birds eye view
While traveling from Gangtok to Rabong or Rabongla (the local people explained that in their local speech, the word ‘la’ is used commonly, which means ‘yes’ and perhaps this connotation got linked to the original name and hence this misnomer), the road initially winds down to Rongpo township and after crossing over the Teesta river across the Rani pul, one enters the domain of South Sikkim District. The road thereafter starts its gradual ascent, passing through some lush green vintage forests & quaint little villages. Having passed the small market hamlet called Singthum, we reached Rabong, which again is a small hamlet, situated at a height of 7,000 feet. There are several hotels situated in the main market complex itself and many others spread across especially on the road leading towards Gaysling/Pelling (in West District). The weather at Rabong was pristine with crisp wind blowing and the surrounding views are enough to boost up the flagging spirits of any tiring soul.
A waterfall covering half of the hill side
View of the clouds moving ominously towards Rabong'la
One can visit many places after making Rabong as their base and the details of such places around Rabong or Rabongla are –
(i)Tendong Hill - Above Damthang overlooking Namchi is a small flat stretch of land at an altitude of 8530 ft. surrounded by lush green ancient forest which is popularly known as the Tendong Hill. Historically, this has been a place of recluse for Buddhist lamas who spend years in meditation admist the silent grandeur. Legend says that the Tendong Hill saved the Lepcha tribe from the ravages of deluge when the whole world was flooded - legend similar to Naoh's Ark of the Bible. Even today, the lepchas perform pujas to pay reverance to the Tendong Hill. It is said that the view from the top of the Tendong hill is something to be cherished and enjoyed as it spans across the plains of Bengal to the majestic heights of the Himalayas Ranges. Trek to Tendong from Damthang Bazar, is just about two hours of casual walk. However, due to rains and as a result of which dense overgrowth over the trekking path we could not make it to the top.
(ii)Temi Tea Garden - The one and only Tea estate existing in the State produces one of the top quality teas with a very strong flavour which is specific to it. The tea garden is spread out on a gentle hill slope originating from below the Tendong hill and provides a magnificent view of the valley below.
(iii)Meanam Hill -Meanam Hill towers is situated diametrically opposite to the Tendong Hill over looking the Rabongla bazar settlement. Situated at an altitude of 10,300 ft, the scenic view from this height is, stated to be unmatched in this part of Sikkim. It is said that on a clear sunny day, it is possible to see the plains of Bengal spanning across Kalimpong and Darjeeling hills in the South, right across to the Indo-China border towards the North. A short distance away is the legendary horn shaped ridged called Bhaley Dunga, a kind of rocky spur which juts out from the ridge top and remains suspended in the air above Yangang village. The trek to Meanam from Ravangla base takes about 4 hours and the 12 Kms. treks require assistance of local guides for trekking. From Meanam hill-top one has the option to take the gentle trek to Borong village or follow the more treacherous trails down to Yangyang village. However, due intense rainfall the availability of both guides coupled with treacherous climb and my small children dissuaded us from undertaking the treacherous climb.
(iv)Borong – Just below Meenam Hills is the small village or hamlet, facing the snow- capped mountains called Borong. A picturesque place with a beautiful landscape and magnificent view of valleys below is also known for its hot spring "Borong Tsa-Chu".
(v)Sandrupste – Sandrupste, which literally means ‘wish fulfilling well’ is situated 8 kms away from Rabongla where a statute of Guru Padmasambhava or Rinpoche which is 135 feet high has been installed. The Foundation stone for the site was laid by his Highness the 14th Dalai Lama. It is said that it is the highest statute of Guru Padmasambhava in the World and on a clear day can be viewed from as far as Darjeeling and is also said to be visible from most parts of Sikkim as well. However, when we visited the statute, it was under maintenance and was being re-painted.
(vi)Kewzing – Just past Sandrupste is a small market place called Kewzing on road leading to Pelling/West Sikkim. The place is more famous for its quaint old monastery known as the Bonn Monastery, which is only one of its kind in Sikkim, belonging to the Nyingmapa sect of Buddhism.
(vii)Ralong Monastery – This Monastery is the most significant and oldest monasteries of Sikkim which was built by the fourth Chogyal on his successful completion of pilgrimage to Tibet. It is situated 13 Kms. from Rabongla and looks similar to the Rumtek Monastery in its layout.