South Sikkim :
South Sikkim district is best known as the spiritual or pilgrimage capital of Sikkim. It hosts a number of magnificent Buddhist and Hindu pilgrimage sites beautifully placed all over the mountainous region.
Take the word from Global Connection, no matter how many pilgrimages you have been to anywhere in India and abroad, a visit to South Sikkim will leave you awestruck!
A tour of South Sikkim should ideally start with Jorethang, 85-km from Siliguri. Jorethangis a tiny mountain town located on the banks of a gurgling Rangeet river at an elevation of barely 1,058 feet. A halt here is best for acclimatisation before one embarks on a voyage higher up.
The town is spread over the foothills with the Rangeet flowing below and the hills of Darjeeling raising their heads on the opposite side of the river.Jorethang’s most striking feature is the Akar Suspension Bridge at its western-most edge. Then, there is Green Park, a manicured park best for early-evening activity.
Maghe Mela, held around 14 January every year,is an interesting event at Jorethang to witness. It hosts a cultural expo by the Sikkimese community members, the Jorethang marathon, a traditional fashion show, traditional dance contests, hot balloon show, para-gliding, river rafting, and archery contests in a span of barley three-four days.
The next stop from Jorethang is Namchi, which can easily be termed the nerve of all the pilgrimage centres in South Sikkim. Namchi is at an altitude of 5,500 feet befitting its nomenclature which literally means sky-high.
In February every year, the Namchi garden hosts the largest flower show in Sikkim. The prime attraction of this show is the display of exotic and rare orchids. Then, Namchi Mahotsav, which is a popular cultural and food festival, is held in October when the entire area bustles with people.
Let Global Connection tell you that Namchi’s biggest attractions are the world's tallest statue of Guru Padmasambhava at Samdruptse hill and the Char Dhaam on Solophok hill top that houses the replicas of the four Dhaams that the Hindus revere the most.
As one sets out for Samdruptse hill, on the way will fall the Namchi Rock Garden. There are water-bodies, a gazebo, tiny arched bridges, rare flowers, slides and swings for children, benches to relax and soak in wonderful views of the surrounding mountains.
World's tallest 118 feet statue of Guru Padmasambhava, the patron saint of Sikkim, is located on Samdruptse hill. The legend has it that Samdruptse hill is actually a dormant volcano and Buddhist monks have been visiting the hilltop for ages and offering prayers to keep the volcano calm.
Char Dhaam is a superb pilgrimage cum cultural centre at Namchi that the Sikkim government has developed. An all-white 87-ft statue of Lord Shiva seated on the roof of a temple dedicated to him is the eye-catching central theme of this sprawling premises located on a clearing on Solophok hilltop.
There are life-size replicas of the four Dhaams or pilgrimages ~ Badrinath, Jagannath, Dwarka, and Rameshwar~ located on the premises. The first three Dhaams are dedicated to Lord Vishnu; the fourth one is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Hindus believe that a pilgrimage to the four Dhaams helps one attain salvation and emancipation. Hence, in a sense, the Char Dhaam at Namchi offers a scope to visit the four Dhaams all at one place.
There are also replicas of the “Dwadash Jyotirlingas” (the 12Jyothirlingas) of Somnath, Mallikarjuna, Mahakaleswar, Omkareshwar, Kedarnath, Bhimashankar, Viswanath, Triambakeshwar, Vaidyanath, Nageswar, Rameshwar, and Grishneshwar surrounding the statue of Lord Shiva. There is a grand statue of Kirateshvar Mahadev and a temple of Shirdi Sai Baba too on the campus.
Barely at a distance of 1-km is the Shirdi Sai Baba Mandir & Pilgrimage Centre.On the upstairs of the temple is a wonderful statue of Sai Baba placed on an elevated platform at the end of a huge hall. The hall with its blue decor, paintings,and sculptures of several deities on the walls is awe-inspiring.
It is best to spend a night at Namchi to soak in its serene spiritual ambiance. Global Connection is there to find you the best lodging equipped with all the modern amenities.
A journey 16-km down will lead to Tarey Bhir ~ a ridge top walk that offers a breathtaking vista of the surrounding mountains and the river valleys. The word 'Bhir' in Nepali means 'Cliff'. Here, along the top of the ridge, a 3-km stepped walk way has been laid out with a railing on one side that overlooks a gorge.
Go all the way to the end or edge of the cliff for a stunning view of the surrounding which is 3,500 feet deep. Down below is the confluence of rivers Teesta and Rangeet; on one side of the confluence lies the Darjeeling and Kalimpong hills.
A 16-km upward journey from Namchi is Chemchey at an altitude of about 6,500 feet. The village is home to the Institute of Himalayan Centre for Adventure & Eco-Tourism. It has a sprawling campus covering 21 acres land on a gentle hill slope and is worth a visit. A visit will make you abreast of the adventure activities and eco-tourism such as mountaineering, rock climbing, mountain biking, trekking, paragliding, white water rafting, trekking, skiing etc.
Done with Chemchey, the next stop is Temi ~ the only tea garden in Sikkim known all over for the finest brew it produces. The garden is owned by the Sikkim government is spread over 210 hectares area on highmountain slopes.
Unlike the tea gardens in the plains, there is hardly any shade tree at Temi as the weather here being mystic, the tea bushes do not require protection from the sun. As you move through the metal road with lush green tea bushes on either side, you cannot help but get lost in the mystic ambiance.
To cash in on nature’s bounties, Temi tea garden authority has now embarked on an organised tourism activity. It has developed two suits next to its factory that offer a magnifcent view of the sprawling garden and the mountains.
In addition to this, Temi has in its network several homestays located in the villages in and around the garden. Some of the homestays, despite located in the midst of the forest, have infrastructure and facilities akin to upscale hotels. Global Connection is there to facilitate a stay in the homestays.
While at Temi, apart from a stroll through the tea garden and a visit to the factory to witness tea production, one gets a chance to do paragliding and float over the lush green tea garden. Then, almost from everywhere, you get a clear view of Mt Khangchendzonga.
Tucked at a higher elevation at the farthest end of Temi tea garden is Tarku. At an altitude of 6,000 feet, Tarku hides inconspicuously amidst the verdant green tea plantation. Either spend a few moments explore the serenity or stay put in a resort or homestay to soak deep into the seclusion.
An upward travel on some 24-km from Tarku will lead to Rabong or Ravangla. Located at an altitude of 7,000 feet, Rabongis the starting point for the trek to Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary.
Mt Khangchendzonga, Mt Pandim, Mt Siniolchu, Mt Kabru are just a few of the major peaks that are clearly visible from Rabong. Upper parts of Rabong experiences snowfall during the winter. During the months of April–May the place is surrounded by many flowers including orchids and rhododendrons.
But the prime attraction of the place is TathagataTsal, a Buddhist pilgrimage spread over 23 acres sprawling campus. Years ago, there used to be small mountain lake at the site but it gradually dried up.
Making best use of the site, Sikkim government developed the TathagataTsal. It has a towering 137 feet sitting statue of Buddha located at the far end of the sprawling park land. It is the tallest metal statue of Buddha in the world and its face is coated with 3.5kgs of gold.
The most striking aspect of the weather here is that it gets covered in mist every now and then. This makes the Buddha statue appear and disappear from sight as one walks through the park. The accompanying chilly wind adds to the charm.
Below the Buddha statue is a temple with outstanding wall murals narrating his journey from Siddhartha to Gautam Buddha. Time spent in the temple instills spirituality in a visitor ~ even if for the time being.
After Rabong, ascend another 17-km and you will land up in a picturesque village facing snow-capped mountains. It is Borong, an enchanting place to dwell amidst nature.
Borong’s soothing aura and ambiance attract nature lovers from across the globe. One can catch an eye-popping sight of the snow-covered Mt Khangchendzonga, Mt Narsing, and Mt Pandim from the window of the homestays here. Global Connection has been helping nature-loving tourists with accommodation and travel to this tiny paradise for years now.
While at Borong, one can visit Fatam village, Vanjan Valley, Barmeli Bridge, Ralong Monastery, and Borong Monastery. Another interesting site that can be reached through trekking is the hot water spring BorongTsachu.
It is not the end of South Sikkim as yet! Some 15-km from Rabong is Sikkim's flagship Skywalk at Bhaleydunga in Yangang village. The skywalk is under-construction a op the rocky spur of Baleydhunga at a height of 10,102 feet.