Thursday, December 4, 2014

Sightseeing in around Pelling - November 2O14

In continuation of Sightseeing around Gangtok
Day-3 : Gangtok-Temi-Namchi-Ravangla-Legship-Pelling.
While driving from Gangtok to Pelling, I had planned for visits to Temi Tea Gardens, Chardham and Samudruptse monastery in around Namchi and reach Pelling by evening. The Tour Executive of Yak & Yeti had confirmed in the previous evening that the same driver with Innova will be with us for sightseeing around Pelling and thereafter he would drop us at Darjeeling. However, in the morning, the Tour Executive informed me that the driver and the vehicle would drop us at Pelling and a different vehicle with driver would be available from Pelling for sightseeing and drop us at Darjeeling. I had no issue with it so long as our sightseeing points as per itinerary were covered.

After checking out of the hotel at around 8.3O a.m. we were waiting with our baggage for the vehicle which came around 9.OO a.m.  The driver seemed somewhat unhappy with the change of his schedule from 3 days to just dropping us to Pelling. It transpired that to enable him to come back to Gangtok on the same day, the Tour Executive had instructed him to show us Temi Tea Gardens, Chardham and Samudruptse from outside on way to Pelling to save time. This was not acceptable to me as the itinerary drawn by the travel agency was clear about our physically visiting  the places mentioned above on our way to Pelling.

Since Tour Executive of travel agency continued to maintain her stand that in a drop point journey, the sightseeing places on the way were only shown from the outside. I also continue to maintain that this understanding was not given to me at the time of finalisation of itinerary. Finally, I had to speak to the Managing Director of the travel agency who not only agreed with my contention, he also assigned the same driver with vehicle for us up to Darjeeling drop. The moral of the story is that whenever one engages vehicles either directly or through travel agencies, the requirements are to be clearly spelled out so that there is no ambiguity.
Road somewhere betweeen Singtam and Temi

 Tea lantations by the side of the road to Namchi in Temi.

(i) Temi Tea Garden
The diversion for the road to Namchi is from Singtam on NH31A from Gangtok. From Singtam, the road was mostly a wide one-lane affair with sporadic bad patches. Fortunately, we did not encounter many bends and curves on this hill road which was more scenic than what we had seen so far from the road travels in Sikkim.  A Board of the State Bank of India’s Temi Branch on the road gave us an advance intimation that we are about to enter the core area of Temi Tea Gardens. For the next 3 kms or so, we were driving through the midst of sloping tea gardens. The layout of the tea plantations was not as impressive as in Munnar. But what made Temi Tea Garden unique among other tea gardens I have seen elsewhere in India was that this 45O+ acre of Tea Estate sits in the nature’s lap. Also, it is the only tea garden in the Sikkim.

Our driver parked the vehicle outside a restaurant cum sale outlet of Temi brand of organic tea. Beyond this restaurant was a vast expanse of tea gardens. A narrow path made of stone slabs through the tea gardens took us to a viewing point from where we could see the snow-clad Kanchenjunga range as well as a deep valley through which a green colour Teesta River flows. Herein lays the uniqueness of Temi Tea Gardens. We roamed in tea gardens for about 3O minutes and returned to the restaurant cum tea sale outlet for hot cups of tea before resuming our journey to the next destination. 
Backside of the restaurant cum Temi Tea Selling Outlet. The restaurant is on the first floor which is more or less in level with Namchi road from the front side.

   Temi Tea Gardens seen from the restaurant side. Kanchenjunga range is partially visible on the right.
 Teesta River in a deep  valley seen from Temi Tea Gardens.


Temi Tea Garden. In the background is Cherrys Resorts.
(ii) Siddheshwar Dham or Chardham
A 2O minutes drive from Temi Tea Gardens restaurant  and after a short climbing road from Namchi brought us to Siddheshwar Dham which is the new tourist spot developed by Sikkim Government and consecrated in November 2O11. The Dham is located on Solophok hilltop covering about 3O acres of land. Atop the main Shiva temple is 1O8 ft high Lord Shiva statue. There are replicas of 12 Jyotirlinga temples which surround the main Shiva temple. There are replicas of four Dham temples - Badrinath, Jagannath of Puri, Rameshwaram and Dwarkadeesh. There is also a replica of Sirdi Sai Baba temple.
While planning the itinerary of sightseeing, I was not very keen to include Chardham as I had already visited the real Chardham temples multiple times and almost all of Jyotirlinga temples. So I felt that there was no point in viewing the replicas of these temples. But since we were going to pass through this place, I thought of spending a few minutes here before proceeding towards Samudruptse. But the whole atmosphere in the complex was so peaceful and serene that we spent nearly two hours here. Even the replicas of temples were looking like the real ones with each one them having priests to perform temple rituals at fixed times during the day.
The USP of the temple complex is the neat and clean layout. One can say that all temples are located in a big park full of greenery and the variety of flowers. The views from this hilltop of Namchi Town and the Kanchenjunga range are superb. While Mt. Kanchenjunga was fully covered by the white cloud, Mt. Narsing was clearly visible to us. The entry fee is Rs.5O per head. Senior citizens and children below 1O years get the free entry in the temple complex. The only minor hassel in entering the temple complex is that visitors will have to deposit any kind of bags in the locker located adjunct to ticket window. There are two restaurants  in the complex, one located near the ticket window which is a bit expensive and the one located in Yatri Niwas at the gate which is of economy type.

View of Siddheshwar Temple from the gate. Rameshwaram temple is on the left and Jagannath temple on the right.
The statue of Kirateshwar in front of main Shiva Temple.
Main Shiva Temple with 1O8 ft. high Lord Shiva Statue.
View from main Shiva temple.
Rameshwaram Temple.
View of Namchi Town from Siddheshwar Temple Complex.
View of Mt. Narsing from Siddheshwar Temple Complex.
(iii) Buddha Park, Ravangla
After lunch, we left Siddheshwar Dham around 4.OO p.m. for Ravangla enroute to Pelling. Our original plan was to visit Samudruptse Hill for 36O degree view the surrounding area as well as 135 ft. high statue of Padmasambhava. However, we realised that by the time we reach, the complex would have close down for the day at 5.OO p.m. Also, we had still to cover about 5O kms to reach Pelling. So we decided to skip Samudruptse and instead decided to visit Buddha Park which was located on our way to Pelling. We reached Buddha Park at around 4.45 p.m. and ran to the ticket window as it would have close down for the day after 15 minutes. The gate was located about 1O minutes of walk from the car parking area and it would  required another 15 minutes to reach temple on the top of which is a huge golden colour statue of sitting Buddha. Behind the statue is the snow clad Kanchenjunjga range.

After buying entry tickets @Rs.5O per head, we headed through a well maintained park to the temple which was about to be closed. There are paintings inside the walls of the temple depicting the life of Lord Buddha. The outside of the temple as well as the pedestal of the Buddha statue are well painted. It was already getting dark. So we completed the round of the park in about 2O minutes and proceeded for our final destination of the day, Pelling.

After a night driving on a few kms of bad road, we reached Pelling at around 7.OO p.m.  We checked in Hotel Dikiling located on Upper Pelling. Rooms were large and clean with availability of 24 hours hot water. The only problem with the hotel was the shortage of support staff. The hotel had a nice restaurant but the cook was not available as he was deputed to another hotel where a group of about 2OO tourists, spread over in a number of adjoining hotels were to be provided food. However, we were not handicapped as there were few good restaurants near the hotel which served Bengali, Punjabi and South Indian food which was good enough to meet our requirements. 
A giant golden colour Buddha statue atop the temple in Buddha park, near Ravangla. One has to climb about 15O steps to reach the temple.
Side view of the pedestal with paintings on which the giant Buddha statue is installed.
Day-4 : In around Pelling
I got up early in the morning and went to the balcony. It was a cloudless day. I was pleasantly surprised to see the entire snow clad Kanchenjunga range with Mt. Kanchenjunga. From the balcony, the range looked much closer than what we had seen from Gangtok. I clicked a few pictures of the Kanchenjunga range and decided that I would get up early the next day to view the Kanchenjunga range at sunrise which was around 5.3O a.m. After breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant, we were ready for day’s sightseeing programme. We started from the hotel at around 9.OO a.m.
Kanchenjunga range with Mt. Kanchenjunga on the right seen from my hotel room balcony.
(i) Khecheopalri Lake
We started the days sightseeing tour by visiting the farthest point from Pelling, the legendary Khecheopalri Lake, located about 28 kms from Pelling off the road to Yuksom. In some places, the road was in very bad conditions in contrast to the scenic route. From the car parking place, Khecheopalri Lake  involves about one km of plain walk through the shades of trees. At the starting point of the walk, there is a small monastery with a colourful chorten.
A colourful chorten at the starting point of the walk to Khecheopalri Lake.

A walk through the forest to Khecheopalri Lake.
There are legends associated with this lake from both the Buddhist and the Hindu religions. Buddhists believe that the lake was formed by the depression created by the footprint of Padmasambhava, who was regarded as the incarnation of Lord Buddha. Hindus believe that it was Lord Shiva’s footprint that created the lake. Probably, these legends may have come from the fact that the shape of the lake as seen from the hills surrounding looks like a footprint. These legends have made this lake sacred for both the Buddhists and Hindus alike and it called a wish fulfilling lake. It is also stated that the lake is always kept free of falling leaves from the nearby trees in the forest as birds remove these leaves from the lake. Then there are a lot of fish which also ensure that the lake is kept clean. The surrounding areas of the lake have been well maintained and kept clean.

When we reached the lake around 11.OO a.m., there were hardly any tourists. The place around the lake is very serene and a small temple adjoining the lake gives an impression of a hermitage type of atmosphere. There are benches kept near a jetty type wooden entrance to the lake under tree shades. One can sit and relax for a while watching the lake and the surrounding hills with dense forest. At the car parking lot, there are a couple of stalls selling tea, coffee and cold drinks. We had a short tea break here before starting for our next destination.
Khecheopalri Lake seen from the walkway.
Wooden pathway with prayer wheels leading to the lake.
 Khecheopalri Lake.

(ii) Kanchenjunga Waterfalls
The road from Khecheopalri Lake  to Kanchenjunga waterfalls is mostly in bad condition. However, once we reached the car parking area of the waterfalls, things looked rosy as we could immediately see a stream flowing by the side of the road fed by the waterfalls. However, waterfalls were nowhere to be seen from the road. It was only when we crossed a small bridge over the stream and came to the other side, we could see the twin longish waterfalls. However, I did not find them attractive enough as there was not much force in both the waterfalls. After taking a few pictures of twin waterfalls, I was about to return to my vehicle when my brother in law told me that there was another waterfall which was hidden behind a small hillock. The path to this waterfall was through a climb of few stone stairs behind the line of the hawkers.

A village on the way to Kanchenjunga Waterfalls 

A few steps after the climb, we could now hear the noise of the waterfalls. At the end of the staircase we saw a gigantic single waterfall of a large dimension. The sprinkles from the waterfalls were felt even at a distance of about 25m. However, to reach near the waterfall, one was required to take some risky jumps from one slippery rock to another. There were some local boys who were ready to help the visitors to cross the slippery rocky path at Rs.1O per head. At last we reached very close to waterfall but not without some risk. First, from the ledge above the staircase, stones were falling sporadically. Secondly, the jumps on the slippery rocks were itself an adventure.
Having reached close to the waterfall, the water sprinkles resulting from the fall was so great that we were lightly drenched. After a quick photo shoot, we hurriedly return to the opposite side of the waterfall. While descending from the staircase, I was saved from a small sized rock fall in nick of the time as it fell from the ledge just in front of me. We returned to the parking lot and had Amuls mango lassi before starting the return journey to Pelling via Rimbi waterfall.
The twin Kanchenjunga waterfalls.

This one is the broader Kanchenjunga waterfall which is not visible from the road side. One has to climb some stone steps before it becomes visible.
The twin as well as the single large waterfalls meet at this point after which they convert in to a stream.
(iii) Rimbi Waterfalls
Rimbi Waterfall is located around 12 kms from Pelling. We saw this tiny waterfall from our vehicle on our way to Khecheopalri Lake and Kanchenjunga waterfalls but decided to visit on our return if we had time. After watching the gigantic Kanchenjunga waterfalls, Rimbi Waterfall did not impress us. Since it was located by the side of the main Pelling-Yaksum road, we got down from our vehicle and spent about 15 minutes near the waterfall. Probably, this waterfall may look attractive during monsoon months. Otherwise, it would be suffice to watch this waterfall from the vehicle itself.

We returned to Pelling around 1.3O p.m. had a lunch at Anjali Restaurant at Lower Pelling. The food was tasty. At around 2.3O p.m., we resumed our remaining two sightseeing destinations. 

Rimbi Waterfall near Pelling.

Afternoon scene of Pelling. The road looks deserted eventhough, it was a tourist season. 

(iv) Rabdentse Palace Ruins
Rabdentse Ruins are located about 3 kms from Pelling on Geyshing road. Rabdentse was the capital of Sikkim during mid 17th century to early 18th century. The Palace was destroyed by invading Nepalese army in early 18th century. An arched gate by the side of the main road led us to a what appears to be an artificial round lake. First I thought that the palace ruins may be somewhere nearby. But actually, we had to walk about 2 kms from the gate through the wooded path to reach the first courtyard of the palace which was an entry point. Even though the walk involved a gradual ascent to the top of a ridge on which the palace was located, it was a pleasant walk.

The first courtyard was a square one made up of stone slabs. This was the place where the visitors in the olden days would get down from their horses, leave their hats or caps and walk towards the palace. A stone staircase leads to the second courtyard which is common to both the palace as well as the raised open platform where King used to meet the public. The walls of the ruined palace which has no roof now, has been restored. One can see the layout of the palace by climbing on one of the broad walls of the palace. The ASI has constructed the railings on the northern side of the courtyard behind the palace as beyond the railing is a deep valley. It is from this place that one gets a fantastic view of snow clad Kanchenjunga range as well as the deep forested valley.

There are three chortens by the side of the ruined palace where Royal families used to offer prayers. Because of its strategic location at the edge of the ridge, these chrotens are the most photographed area of the palace ruins. The courtyard of the palace has been nicely maintained with trimmed grassy patches bordered by a variety of flower plants.

The Palace Ruins may not be interesting to many visitors unless one has interest in the historical and heritage places. But the USPs to visit Rabdentse Ruins are the nice walk of about 2 kms through the wooded path, the fantastic view of snow clad Kanchenjunga range and the view of the deep valley. One would require at least 9O minutes to complete the visit.
A round lake after the entry from the road side for Rabdentse Ruins. The wooded path to reach the Ruins is from the left side of the lake.

After 2 kms of walk, the first courtyard of the Palace which is also an entry point.
The ruined of the Palace. In the background is Kanchenjunga range.

 Mt. Kanchenjunga on the right see from the Palace ruins.
Partial lay out the ruined Palace with three chortens visible in the left.

Three chortens of the Palace.
View of the courtyard from ruined Palace. On the left is the Platform where King used to meet his subjects.

 View from the ruined Palace.
View of the terraced field from ruined Palace.

(v) Pemayangtse Monastery
Pemayangtse Monastery is located about 2 kms from Pelling and close to Rabdentse Ruins. I found some tourists taking a walk from Pelling to this monastery which was not a bad idea. The monastery is not large but it is said to be the second oldest monastery in Sikkim. It was established in 17O5 and it had undergone renovation and expansion over a period of time. The monks from this monastery are usually selected from the Bhutia families. It is said that the main Lama of this monastery had a unique privilege of anointing the kings (Chogyals)  of Sikkim with the holy water.

The entry into the main temple of the monastery is though the left side even though the main door of the temple is right in front after climbing a few stairs. The reason is that this part of the temple is the repository of some of the finest collections of old antique Buddhist idols and old scriptures. There are some antique paintings also in the collections. These are located on the first and second floors of the main temple. This part also serves as residence of the Lama of the monastery.

We could not go inside the main temple as a Lama was giving sermons to all the monks of the monastery. However, the door was kept opened and I could see the proceedings. Photography both inside the main temple and the museum is prohibited. A unique feature of this monastery is that the Mt. Kanchenjunga is bang opposite the main door of the temple. Although we could not go inside the temple, I get an impression that Mt. Kanchenjunga may be visible from inside the temple itself.

We returned to our hotel room in Pelling by 4.3O p.m. We were fortunate that we reached in time to view the sunset on Mt. Kanchenjunga from our hotel room balcony. We had dinner in our hotels restaurant at around 9.3O p.m. The cook remained absent for the whole day. So it was the multi tasking Hotel Manager who himself cooked and served us the dinner.

With this, our beautiful two days in around Pelling was coming to an end and we were looking forward to our last leg of the trip to Darjeeling.
Pemayangtse Monastery seen from courtyard.
 A Lama giving sermons to monks in the temple.


 Sunset view of Mt. Kanchenjunga (right) from hotel room balcony in Pelling.
Blog on Darjeeling Trip under construction

1 comment:

poppy said...

i like your 'Sightseeing in around Gangtok and Pelling blog'. you have included every details and describe very nicely about the places you visited. I liked it. and eagerly looking forward for the blog of Darjeeling trip.
I am Planing to send my mother and Cousin sister who are around 60 years for Gangtok and Darjeeling trip.