Trailing rhododendrons

Natural fiesta

Trailing rhododendrons

MYSTICAL:The Singba Rhododendron Sanctuary in Sikkim.

Unfortunately, I missed the bus and opted for a shared taxi which offered me the last seat to enjoy a bumpy ride along the Teesta river.

I was disheartened to know that the journey to the venue near Lachung in North Sikkim would take almost a day which meant that I would  miss the inaugural function of the Festival. I did not have too many choices so booked a front seat in a shared sumo to Lachung which was the only place to stay near the venue of the festival. Six long hours on winding roads and very high altitude of more that 10,000ft was an experience not to be forgotten.

Cultural diversity

The diminutive driver kept sharing stories about his little village and how a traditional village body called Pipan settled all social disputes and problems in the lepcha community of Lachung in North Sikkim. We somehow made it to Lachung by 5.30 pm when the cultural programme was about to start. It was a quiet hamlet with gorgeous hills and snow peaks all round. There was a frothing mountain river which cut across the heart of the hamlet and flowed by the side of the highway. Me and my fellow travellers were put up in a Hotel called Khangchendzonga Residency. It was a simple accomodation with basic and clean amenities.

The food was served at the dining hall. And later I pestered our driver friend to take me to the festival venue and  I finally got to see some beautiful group dances which depicted the rich cultural heritage of Sikkim. The harmony of co -existence of Nepali, Bhutiya, Lepcha and other local communities was graciously reflected in this performance. Next day, I took a quick morning walk around the village at 5.30 am and was amazed by the lofty mountains and wonderful golden sunrise that sparkled at the snow capped peaks. When we finally took off to the Yumthang Valley.

I was told by the driver that the rhododendrons greet you by the side of the road itself. He was right. There was a 12 km road stretch which had only rhododendrons in different hues flanking both sides of the road. It was a wonderful experience. I ventured out on my own for a  three km trek through the rhododendron forest where pathways were specially created for this festival.

The variety of biodiversity kept me mesmerised throughout my trek. Even though I was panting and huffing by the end of the trek there was some kind of contentment which was out of world. I remembered the lines of Wordsworth when he saw at a glance the daffodils. Complete ecstasy! Yumthang Valley was a sight to see! A sprawling valley with a bed of purple rhododendrons on soft grass, blue river flowing by the side, surrounded by snow peaks and green mountains, colourful tents, mountain bikers, trekkers, anglers and campers everywhere.

I was bowled over by nature once again. I managed to peep into a Lepcha museum near the valley which proudly displayed exquisite artifacts, antiques, traditional attire, equipment used to make tents during the British times and many such exclusive articles which belonged to the Lepcha community in the villages surrounding Yumthang valley. The local people displayed their rich, age-old history and culture in this exhibition which could be worth millions for the curators of art and culture in bigger cities.

The hospitality of the local people was immense and people really came out of their way to help you. I also noticed another interesting aspect of the local food stalls. The menu had many delicious food items which catered to both vegetarians and non vegetarians. I noticed a unique convergence of cultures where local people catered to the needs of the tourists for business without losing their authenticity be it in culinary dishes like momos and thukpa or their cultural identity.

After a wholesome bite of momos and butter tea, I moved back to Lachung and then to Gangtok. We entered Gangtok in the evening and just managed to escape a hailstorm which kept the city immobile for hours together. Many roads were also blocked due to this. After the wonderful Lachung, I also visited Gangtok’s orchid museum, red pandas at the local zoo and then ventured around all the hotels and cafes on MG road and its neighbouring areas to be able to make better choices for my next visit.

Here are this compulsive traveller’s tips. You can choose to stay at The Golden Pagoda and Maozigendry Residency. The Baker’s Cafe and Cacoa are amazing cafes which provide you with continental cuisine and wonderful coffee. Gangtok is also home to all other multinational brands for food. I enjoyed every moment of being there all by myself. It is that way quite safe place for women travellers going alone. My journey back to Guwahati was stretched by one day due to some trader’s strike but could make it in one piece after all and lived to tell the tale!

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