It was our last day in Pelling. Manish returned after finalizing plans for next day to reach Yuksom. We set alarm in the mobile for the early morning show of “sunrise on snow-clad mountains “, read a rare book on North-east India that was gifted to us by the owner of the hotel and went to bed around 8:30pm.
The show, as expected, was fabulous. Early morning we started for our Day Three in Sikkim. plan was to visit Darap village, Rock garden, Khecheopalri Lake and Kanchendjonga falls, on our way to Yuksom. Many tourist go to these places as a half day trip from Pelling on sightseeing tours.
Just after we crossed lower Pelling, a man asked us if we would drop her five yr. old daughter at her school in Darap Village. We happily welcomed his lovely daughter. Our driver smilingly asked little girl her name and some other kiddie’s things. It is a usual practice there to take lift in some vehicle going out on day tours to go to school at Darap that is 3 kms from Pelling. We dropped little girl at Darap. Darap is a small, beautiful hilly village.
We waved her good bye and got out to click some photographs and continued to our next destination- Rock gardens. It was actually a garden developed around the rocks scattered along the river. Driver was indirectly dissuading us from getting down up to river – which was at a climb down of 100+ stairs. We had already stressed at the time of finalizing the deal that we will take our own time and will reach Yuksom only by evening. When he found out that we were a little unhappy about it he simply said, “ You are here for traveling so your happiness is very important. Please go ahead with your plans.” His concern for us was something that we found everywhere. People welcomed us with warmness of their heart and went an extra mile to make our trip an unforgettable one. There were 50 or more tourists at riverbank and we took a fairly long walk to find some of ‘our’ place. Rachit was going mad – so many pebbles to throw in water, and he or rather we all wanted to swim, cross the river. It was flowing slowly and was shallow in May. And it was very clean. In fact, till now, we had not seen any plastic thrown anywhere in Sikkim. But we had no spare clothes; they were all up there in taxi. We allowed Rachit to throw pebbles as long as the time permitted and climbed up to move on. I would say this could be a very good place to spend a day, even with very young kids.
Next destinations on sightseeing tours were Kanchendjonga falls and then Kecheopalri Lake. By now our driver had found out our dislike for sightseeing tours and the crowd associated with it – so he proposed to take us to Khecheopalri Lake first. Along the way, he told us about himself- he was a Nepali, not from Nepal, from Sikkim. His surname was ‘ taksari’- his ancestors were the tax collectors. And then he showed us where Nepal was, pointing to some hill. But it was all hills and hills and more hills and that too merging in each other. He further tried to explain-“ There that is a hill at no. X from your left, behind that is another hill rising above the front one. You cross that hill and to left (or right I forgot) you walk down a little and there is a path going between the two hills to another hill and half of that is in Nepal and other half in India.” Now, that was a real challenge to locate that first No X hill among an indistinctive mass of hills for someone like me who forgets about the previous turn on plain roads as soon as a new turn appears. Manish was no better as every time there is a question of left or right, he has to imagine himself writing something to determine where is left and where is right. I envy these pahari people. They seem to recognize every hill like a standalone distinctive figure. And their sense of predicting about rain! Whenever we showed apprehensions about venturing out due to thick rainy clouds, they would reply- “Oh. It will rain only for 15-20 mnts/ it is not going to rain here, it will rain at XYZ/ it is raining heavily over that hill” And their predictions were always right. May be they can teach something to Met. Deptt. of Delhi.
So I was talking about the Lake. The Lake is on a detour on Pelling-Yuksom road from zero-point or Khecheopalri turn. It is an 11 km hike from here (Lake is at 2000M) up a moderately good motorable road. We were climbing higher and higher and at times it was scary to look down. Wherever you travel in W.Sikkim, some river or stream is always in sight. This time it was that same river in which we so desperately wanted to take a dip. I was dreaming of some tour that will trek along the river- to imbibe all that beauty of which we were just able to take a glance here and there. I was feeling a desire stirring up in my heart to trek in all those out of reach places and I found that Manish and Rachit were feeling the same. When I asked Rachit would he like to trek at those places, he replied, “Yes. But we will sleep in a hotel only”. He was afraid of sleeping in a jungle and I could understand. Kids have their own fears and pleasures. Rest of the journey we spent silently, admiring the nature and dreaming of going close to it.
We had to leave vehicle outside the entrance gate to the lake. There was a gompa that we did not visit. It was a short and beautiful walk in shadow of big trees to reach the Lake. Mr Taksari has already told Rachit about making a wish there at the lake, as it was sure to be granted. He was excited about all this wishing and its surety of being granted.
The Lake was visible only at the end of the walk as it was surrounded by dense vegetation and hidden in a sort of mountain bowl. It is also known as ‘Wishing Lake’ and is considered very sacred. Legend has it that if a leaf drops onto lake’s surface, a guardian bird swoops down and picks it up, thereby maintaining the purity of water.
We took our shoes off, crossed a wooden bridge lined on both sides by Prayer Wheels to reach at the waters of Lake. Water was crystal clear even at the banks. Colorful fish were clearly visible even when they were deep inside. It was pristine and peaceful.
One can trek from Pelling to The Lake (6 hrs), stay overnight at Lake (basic accommodation available), and trek next day to Yuksom (4-5 hrs).
We were told about excellent views of Mount Pandim from Khecheopari village and gompa but could not see, as it was cloudy (May is generally cloudy in daytime). Once outside, we took our lunch that we brought with us from Pelling and it was a good idea to do so, and descended for our next destination – Kanchendjonga falls. By the time we reached falls, we were tired of sitting inside taxi. We quickly came out of taxi to have a look at falls. It was a mountain length but a narrow streak of water. So I proposed to take a chai and get going. But there were some stairs going up somewhere that was not visible from road. As ever, I remained there because there was no certain goal and Manish went up to find out if there was something interesting up over there. Suddenly I heard Rachit shouting at the top of his voice-“ Mamma! Look! It is a big big thundering water fall”
I hurriedly climbed up. Oh My God! It was so wild up over there in mountains and a big thundering waterfall, And best part was that we could easily go right up to the point where it was falling on rocks with such a thunder that we could not hear each other even in earshot distance. Both father and son went right up to there and drenched themselves in flying water droplets. We remained there for 45 minutes or so and by the time we came down Rachit was all wet. Here we spotted Plumbeous water redstart.
After that I decided that we will not get down from taxi, else Rachit will catch cold. We were moving towards our destination in perfect solitude. The scenery was breathtaking, wonderful, and beautiful in its entire wilderness. Soon our wandering spirit took control of us forcing us to get out of cage. We roamed around for another half an hour and I made a promise to myself that once my little darling is old enough to trek for days, I would trek here.
By the time we reached Yuksom, it was about to rain. As soon as we entered the porch of Tashigang hotel, it started raining heavily. I wished driver would reach to Pelling safely.
Hotel was looking good. And especially the lobby was spacious and tastefully furnished. We had booking for super-deluxe room i.e. room with a balcony. Exterior of hotel had Tibetan color and architecture. Room was good and view from balcony was lovely. You just had to stretch your arms to reach out to those lush green mountains, at the foothills of which this hotel was situated. Heavy rains thinned down to drizzle and views of those mountains became fabulous. Peaks of the mountains were still covered with gray black clouds and rests of the mountains were visible engulfed in mist, making all this very sensuous.
Now what? What else? Manish went down for his ritual of gathering information to spend the beautiful evening. He came up and announced, “A guide and four foreigners (who were on their Tibetan/Buddhist trail) are going to ‘Coronation stone’ and they have also invited us.” How come people invite him so soon! I said no, only to be persuaded to say yes and all three of us were out.
In the seventeenth century there was a rift between yellow hat and red hat sects in Tibet. To escape that and to establish a Buddhist monarchy in Sikkim, Lama Latsun Chembo from red hat sect came to Norbugang where he met two other lamas. Coronation stone is the place where these lamas consecrated Phunstok Namgyal as the first religious king of Sikkim. The place where they met was later named as Yuksom meaning the meeting place of three superior ones.
That evening our first destination was the Norbugang Chorten, which is built with stone and earth from different parts of Sikkim. Latsun Chembo has buried offerings in this Chorten. Near this Chorten was Coronation stone. It was a small and simple stone throne of first Chogyal. It has four seats, three for lamas and one for the king.
In front of the throne there is a rock, having embedded in it footprints of Latsun Chembo. There is a huge prayer wheel in a room near throne, which was built in a way that water streams would continuously rotate it. While trekking we came across many such water driven prayer wheels. Some of these were still working and others not as water changed course over the years.
While returning back to hotel we stopped at holy Kathok Lake – I would say a puddlish pond.
It started to rain again and we rushed to hotel, ordered for the dinner. While talking to the manager we found out that it was Danny Denzongappa’s elder brother’s hotel. Suman brought our dinner and on our enquiry suggested for two low altitude trekking. He was a nice, polite guy. He agreed to accompany us for our next day’s trek.
Off we went to sleep.
to be continued …