On top of the world

THE TREKKING CAP­I­TAL OF IN­DIA, SIKKIM OF­FERS AD­VEN­TUR­ERS OFFTHE-GRID COUR­SES IN AD­DI­TION TO THE POP­U­LAR ONES

The Gulf Today - Panorama - - Contents - by Gau­rav Punj

Sand­wiched be­tween Nepal and Bhutan, the tiny state of Sikkim en­cap­su­lates ev­ery­thing that the Hi­malayas have to of­fer. From el­e­va­tions of 300 me­tres to 8,500m, from trop­i­cal to tun­dra, from thick forests to trans Hi­malayan cold deserts, there is a mind bog­gling va­ri­ety on of­fer.

Com­bine it with its fully or­ganic agri­cul­ture, hos­pitable lo­cals and a va­ri­ety of travel experiences from home stays and monastery vis­its, to wildlife sanc­tu­ar­ies and full- fledged treks and you have the first amongst equals in the en­tire East­ern Hi­malaya. More than 90 per cent of trekkers to Sikkim, how­ever, choose ei­ther the Dzon­gri/ Goecha la or the Sin­galila trails. No doubt they are both beau­ti­ful trails, but here are two other treks you could plan this year:

1. Barsey rhodo­den­dron sanc­tu­ary

A wildlife sanc­tu­ary ded­i­cated to just one species of a flower — Rhodo­den­dron. It has

600 va­ri­eties of it to be ex­act, but it’s a fas­ci­nat­ing sanc­tu­ary and pro­vides for some easy walks along trails car­peted with the red and pink flow­ers.

And you might just come across the elu­sive, near

ex­tinct red panda. You can set base at Som­baria, just out­side the sanc­tu­ary, and ei­ther do day walks, an overnight trek or even a full-fledged four-day trek across the sanc­tu­ary. Com­bine this trip with a stay in the beau­ti­ful Kewz­ing vil­lage, and you have an easy, won­der­ful Sikkim hol­i­day.

The trek: Op­tion 1 – A day walk in the sanc­tu­ary start­ing from the Hil­ley gate till Barsey and back (4 kilo­me­tre each way).

Op­tion 2 – Camp overnight at Barsey, ex­plore more the next day and re­turn by evening.

Travel responsibly: The home­s­tays in Kewz­ing are a sus­tain­able tourism ini­tia­tive by Kangchend­zonga Con­ser­vancy Com­mit­tee (KCC). You will get to stay with lo­cals in their homes, par­tic­i­pate in their daily lives, un­der­stand their con­cerns and strug­gles, and have a mean­ing­ful hol­i­day. All the homes get to host vis­i­tors on a ro­ta­tion ba­sis.

Best time to visit: For rhodo­den­drons in bloom, March-april; For trekking, Oct-nov

2. Thol­ung and be­yond – Land of the Yeti

The leg­end of the

Yeti has con­founded ex­plor­ers, sci­en­tists and nat­u­ral­ists for many decades. Be­yond the Thol­ung monastery in the re­mote North-west re­gion of Dzongu in Sikkim, on the edge of the Kangchend­zonga bio­sphere, lies a land where the leg­end of the Bon Manchi (the wild man) pre­vails, and the lo­cals be­lieve in it as much as they be­lieve in me and you. This is the land of Lepchas, the orig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants of Sikkim, now con­signed to a few re­stricted ar­eas with land rights.

The Thol­ung monastery is amongst the most sa­cred monas­ter­ies in Sikkim, and has in store a trea­sure of some of the most pre­cious Bud­dhist arte­facts and relics which are taken out once ev­ery three years for dis­play. The trek be­yond Thol­ung takes you to a beau­ti­ful but com­pletely un­touched high al­ti­tude meadow sur­rounded by snow cov­ered peaks from three sides, the play­ground of the Bon Manchi. The trek: Op­tion 1 – Trek from Dzongu to Thol­ung and back over two days. Roughly five hours each way.

Op­tion 2 – Trek to Tem­rong val­ley, be­yond Thol­ung. The stun­ning, com­pletely un­known Tem­rong val­ley lies a fur­ther two days walk from Thol­ung. To­tal trek du­ra­tion: 4-5 days.

Travel responsibly: Dzongu is an of­fi­cial re­serve for Lepchas of Sikkim, and an ini­tia­tive to pre­serve their indige­nous cul­ture. You get a chance to live with them and con­trib­ute to their econ­omy by buy­ing lo­cal pro­duce, hand­i­crafts and art.

Best time to trek: April or Oct- Nov

Dzongu val­ley is home to the leg­end of the Yeti (the wild man).

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