Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sikkim - Visiting the North East (Part-IV West Sikkim)

West Sikkim – myth of the flying monastery
Lush green countryside
The main tourist attraction in West Sikkim is Pelling which is situated at a distance of 125 Kms. from Gangtok and 65 Kms. from Rabongla. Having started from Rabongla early in the morning, the road started descending steadily. After getting past many small hamlets & villages and negotiating some badly worn out roads, running parallel to the river Rongit on which a hydro-electric power plant has been constructed, we entered the West District from Legship. Legship is a small township famous for the Kirateshwar Mahadev Mandir which his a temple dedicted to Lord Shiva. Mythologically, this place is associated with the Mahabharata and the legend goes that Arjun undertook penance on the spot and pleased with this Lord Shiva appeared before him adorned as a ‘Kirat’ (Hunter) and hence the name.

Views of the famous Kireteshwar Mahadev temple in Legship
Having got past Legship the road again started to ascend and gradually we gained height with each passing curve. An hours’ drive brought us to Geyzling which is the Capital of West District and on the main road itself there is a big school called the St. Mary’s Convent School (which reminded me of my school days – school with same name but at Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh). After getting past Geyzling we reached Pelling, which is situated at an altitude of 6.800 feet above sea level. Situated on a ridge, this pristine hill station offers some picturesque views of the valleys below. Pelling is also touted to offer excellent view of Mount Kunchendzona, however, due to rains & clouds we could not get any such views. Pelling is the ideal station in West Sikkim to make ones base for visiting other smaller destinations around it like Yuksam (1 hour drive), Khecheopalri Lake, Uttarey, Bikshthang, Tashiding monastery etc., as it offers all kinds of services starting from boarding & lodging to transportation etc.
The most important spots in Sikkim is the Pemayangtse Monastery which is situated at an height of 2,085 m high ridge and can be reached by car after negotiating a very steep uphill climb. It houses a 17th century Buddhist Monastery, which houses excellent murals on the ancient shrine’s walls and ceiling and there is a wooden model of a heavenly palace as revealed in a dream to the founder of this monastery, Lhatsun Chempo. It is a three storied structure filled with wall painting, sculptures and antiques. On the third floor there is the ‘Zandog Phalri’ - an amazing seven tiered painted wooden model of the abode of Guru Rimpoche, complete with rainbows, angels and whole panoply of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. The model was built single handedly by late Dugzin Rimpoche. The monastery houses 108 monks of pure Tibetan lineage who are chosen in a manner that they do not have any kind of physical deformities and thus, only they can enjoy the title ‘ta-sang’. The name of the monastery means the ‘Sublime lotus’ is the premier monastery of the Nyingmapa sect of the Tibetans/Bhutias and the locals believe that the Monastery made its appearance by flying down from the Heaven.

Some photographs of the famous Pemagyaste Monastery in West Sikkim near Pelling
Just after driving down from Pemayangtse one reaches Rabdentse, which was the second capital of the erstwhile kingdom of Sikkim after Yuksam. To reach the spot one has walk down a few hundred meters from the main road through a walkway which grazes past a tourist lodge situated right on the road side. The scenic view from the ruins edge is breathtaking and the locals say that it offers one of the best views of Mt. Kunchendzonga.

After descending back to Legship, one passes through one of the hot springs on way towards Naya Bazar called the ‘Reshi Hot Springs’ which is situated on banks of the Legship/Rangit river. The reach the sulphur hot springs which boast of medicinal properties, one has to walk about 800 meteres down from the main highway by crossing a pedestrian bridge over the river. The springs are also considered holy as one of the four holy caves, known as ‘Kadsong Phu’ meaning ‘cave of occult fairies’ is located here.

View of Reshi hot water springs

The Legship river
The road meanders along the Rangit River and having imbibed the natures’ bounty & vintage scenic feast all around we gradually wound our way back towards Siliguri. We had been forced to cut back our sojourn because of the strike call given by the Gorkhaland hoodlums which spoiled our well chalked out program, halting it midway. Having past Melli which is the last point or border between West Bengal & Sikkim, our driver Phurba stepped over gingerly over the bridge across river Teesta.

View of Rongit river - the valley across is Darjeeling (West Bengal)

I would like to pay a tribute to this humble soul who was an epitome of humanity, a true gentleman in letter & spirit. I had met Phurba Tamang in Gangtok and had been recommended by the hotel owner Sh. Pradeep Choudhury of Hotel Tenancy. Not only was this person attributed with a very pleasant & handsome look but was a very polite & humble soul. He took pains to ensure that we had a look at every nook & corner we visited with him with a pleasant personal touch. As the trouble for Gorkhaland in Darjeeling had already started brewing while we were at Gangtok, he encouraged us to stay on and assured us that he would make all efforts to ensure our passage upto Siliguri. Accordingly, when he dropped us at Rabongla and handed us over to another driver known to him as Lindup with the assurance that he would complete the rest of the itinerary with him and he would drop us off at Siliguri. However, this driver decided to play truant and due to worsening law & order situation informed us that he would not be able to drop us at Siliguri at any cost. Rattled by this breach to trust, I rang up Phurba at night and like a true ‘Knight in shining Armour’, Phurba Tamang was there at Rabongla early in the morning to pick us up the next morning in his taxi . Not only did he take us to Pelling & surrounding areas but ensured that we safely reached Siliguri township risking his own life for this endeavor. I pay my humble the heartfelt tribute to this gallant person from the core of my heart on my behalf as well as that of my family, who not only made the journey possible but memorable as well. Long live Phurba(s) of Sikkim!

Phurba Tamang with my kids

Watch video of this destination below -

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