Silk Route :
Ever wondered why the Great Wall of China was built? Well, one of the reasons was to ensure the protection of the Silk Road that connected the East of the Globe to the West.
In Sikkim, a tourist can avail of an opportunity to traverse through the Indian portion of the historical Silk Road with a stopoverarranged by Global Connection at lush green valleys and mountainous hamlets.
The Indian portion of the Silk Road, popular as Silk Route starts from a port on the Bay of Bengal at Tamluk in East Midnapore and then moves northwards to Siliguri and to Kalimpong hill.
As regards the Silk Route tourism, the journey starts from Kalimpong, with the first halt some 20-km away at Pedong. It’s a small mountainous hamlet characterised by ascending and descending road every now and then, lush green surroundings, wildflowers by the roads, and a great view of the Mt Khangchendzonga.
Near Pedong are the ruins of Damsang Gadi, a historical fort built in 1690 by the Lepchas, who are the original inhabitants of Darjeeling Hills. Let Global Connection Siligurishare a fact ~ DamsangGadiis the only fort in Darjeeling Hills. It was home to the last Lepcha King ~Gyabo Achuk.
The Cross Hill at Pedong is another major attraction. In the Tibet Mission, a lot of evangelists lost their lives or never came back. In 1882, Fr. Augustine erected a cross at a vantage point facing Tibet with the hope that someday the evangelists may return. The Cross Hill offers a magnificent view of the mountains and one can catch a glimpse of Tibet border.
Sangchen Dorjee Gumbais a monastery built at Pedong over 300 years ago during the Bhutanese rule. It provides historical insight into the history and culture of the place. It has fresco paintings on the inner walls of the main chamber depicting Tantric Buddhism. The vibrant Gumpha Dance (Chyaam dance) or the Buddhist Mask dance is held here annually.
After winding up the stay at Pedong, the journey will continue through the mountainous road with waterfalls and dense forests standing on either side in greetings. Some 16-km travel will lead to Reshi Khola~ nature’s paradise on the banks of a mountain stream.
Reshi Khola derives its name from Reshiriver that flows negotiating and jumping its course through rocks. Astay, arranged by Global Connection, in the homestays next to the gurgling river, offers a memorable experience and a bath in the milky white river rejuvenates the soul. The forest on the other side of the river is home to exotic Himalayan birds and is a hotspot for birding.
As the journey resumes on the Silk Route, after some 10-km drive, it is worth to deviate on a downhill road for about 4-km to reach Aritar. It is famous for the boot-shaped Lampokhari Lake, aka, Aritar Lake located at an altitude of 4,600 feet.
While at Aritar, one can go boating in the lake with sunlight sneaking through tall trees on all sides offering a mesmerising sight.
Aritar is home to an old British dak bungalow built in 1895 by Sir James Claude White, the first political officer of Sikkim during British rule. Sikkim’s first treasury started functioning from here and also the Sikkim Police was raised on this premises.
Parbateyswar Shivalaya is holy pilgrimage site located at Aritar. Thousands of devotees throng the temple in the month of August.
There is also an ancient Buddhist monastery of the Kagyuapa order at Aritar. The monastic arts reflect in its traditional architecture, carved and painted murals. At nearby Hattipailay village, one can see elephant footprints on rocks.
An uphill drive from Aritar and you hit the Silk Route again along the twisting and turning road. A few minutes break at the tiny markets and hamlets is a must as the road gradually climbs to higher altitude. Keep your eyes and ears wide open to catch glimpses of rare birds and listen to their chirping.
The next halt is Dzuluk or Zuluk, a small hamlet located at 10,000 feet on the rugged terrain of the Himalayas. Dzuluk was a transit point to the historic Silk Route and is famous for the zigzag view of the road that it offers.
Tourists need a special permit to enter Dzuluk and Global Connection there to do the needful. Dzuluk has a handful of homestays and a camp of the Indian Army. Even in peak summer, it witnesses scattered snowfall. A night-halt here is a must for acclimatisation before the journey further on the Silk Route.
Next lies the journey through the famous zigzag road, whose 30 hairpin bends fascinate a traveler. The road continues to climb up in a circuitous movement along the ridges of the mountains.
The first break comes after 14-km at Thambi View Pointat an altitude of 11,200. It is named after an engineer of the Indian Army who played a vital role in the construction of the zigzag road. Because of the fascinating view of Mt Kanchenjungha that the spot offers, Indian Army has erected a small platform on a side of the road for tourists to relish and click pictures.
Some 10-km from Thambi View Point will lead to Knathang or Nathang Valley ~ a vast clearing of nothingness on the top of the mountain. Located at an altitude of 13,500 feet, it is home to traditional yak herders who settled here from Tibet.
The valley is devoid of trees. It is an endless stretch of grassland, surrounded by high mountains. It makes Nathang Valley appear out of this world. The valley assumes a golden look when the grass dries up in autumn, in the rainy season it gets carpeted by while shrub-likeflowers; and in winter it remains buried under snow as deep as 5 feet.
There’s a monastery, a temple, and a small bridge over a streamon the fringes of a village. Some 5-kmawayis the famous Eagle’s Nest Bunker that offers a 360-degree view of the entire range of Mt.Khangchendzonga, West Bhutan, Tibet, and the Bramhaputra river meandering across in the horizon. View of the sunrise over Mt Khangchendzonga here is a major attraction.
There are a handful of homestays at Nathang Valley equipped withnecessary amenities and Global Connection is there to help tourists book an accommodation in advance.
Saying good bye to Nathang Valley and moving further will lead a tourist to the Old Baba Mandir or the bunker that martyred Indian Army Captain Harbhajan Singh used. As a courtesy to tourists, the Army offers hot drinking water to everyone. In the freezing cold, it is probably the best charity that can come your way.
Some 2-km away lies Tukla Valley ~ the site of the fierce battle between British Indian soldiers and the Tibetan’s who had invaded the area and built a 2-km long wall overnight. The invaders had to back out following the offensive by British Indian soldiers. Now there is a war memorial here that commemorates the soldiers who died in the Battle of Tukla.
Another 4-km journey on the road will take the Kupup Lake, nestled at an altitude of 13,066 feet. Because itresemblesan elephant, it is more popular as the Elephant Lake. It is surrounded by high mountains and valleys devoid of vegetation. It is from a spot near here that one can catch a view of Doklam ~ the bone of contention between India and China in the recent times.
A travel further on the Silk Route will lead to the Baba Mandirand Tibet via Nathu La. Thus it is called the historic or old Silk Route that was operational much before the highway from Gangtok was built.