It was not easy to get out of the blanket and the comfortable bed to drag myself to the attic a few paces away in the wee hours. But then I did not want to miss the view of the Himalayan snow peaks lit up by the first rays of the sun.
Perched at 5,576 feet, Rinchenpong, a tiny village in west Sikkim, may not be as high as some of its neighbours but it does offer a ringside view of some of the highest Himalayan peaks, including Mt Kanchendzonga, on a clear day. An unassuming village, it is a place for those who want to take a break from the frenetic pace of life.
The evening before we had checked into Yangsum Heritage Farm, located on the edge of the village. The 44-acre mountain farm, which consists of open mixed forest of pine, Himalayan alder, schima, chestnut, magnolia, rhododendrons, cherry and a variety of food and cash crops, is a world unto itself. Belonging to an aristocratic Sikkimese family, the farmhouse was built in 1833 and remodelled in 1966. Present owner Thendup Tashi and his wife Pema now operate a luxurious homestay facility here.
Accommodation was spread across a couple of renovated heritage buildings and a few new cottages, all built with polished wood. My cottage had a spacious deck at the back, which overlooked the crop fields and the distant forest. But what was most pleasing was the silence that prevailed here, occasionally broken by the chirping of birds and the wind blowing hard through the trees. The farmland and forests shielded the place from the outside world. The attic was attached to one of the old cottages.
As the sun rose, its rays glided over the peaks. The highest peak was daubed in a reddish tinge and then changed to gold. The golden hue slid over the lower peaks until all the snowy peaks were dazzling beneath a bright blue sky. Kanchendzonga, Kabru, Narsing, Pandim and Thinchinkhang had my utmost attention.
A quick breakfast later, it was time to explore this quiet little village. The bazaar or the market is the nerve centre. From here you can go on a trek to the Resum monastery. A steep uphill road leads to the 200-year-old monastery, partly through a forest. Since not many travel this way, it is best to take a local person for a guide. The hill top offers a wide view of the snow peaks. Russian artist Nicholas Roerich, who visited the place in 1924, has immortalised the panorama of the snow peaks in his paintings.
During the trek, make sure you visit an old Lepcha House that falls on the way and Poison Lake. The Lepchas are the earliest inhabitants of Sikkim. Although the house is rather shabby now, it is an indication of the architectural style followed earlier. It is said that the Lepchas in this area poisoned the lake, the only source of drinking water, to halt the marching British troops, in 1860. With many of the soldiers dying, the British beat a retreat. Today, the algae covered lake stands in the middle of a grove of alpine trees. A motorable road above the lake leads to an old but reasonably maintained bungalow belonging to the Roads and Bridges Department of the state government.
We ended the trek at the Rinchenpong monastery located at one end of a meadow encircled by pine and fir trees. Founded by Lama Sangdag Dorje in 1730, the monastery was expanded by Lama Rigdzin Thinlay Gyatso, who was born in Rinchenpong. There is a tall chorten with a golden tower behind the monastery. There is also a residential school for monks.
Rinchenpong is place to get away from the bustle and immerse one’s self into history, nature and calm. It had been a tiring day but the perfect break from city life, a day we wished we could relive again.
Getting there: Rinchenpong is easily accessible from Pelling (45km by road) and Legship (12km by road). Thus can be combined with a trip to Pelling. You may travel via Singshore Bridge and Dentam from Pelling on your way to Rinchenpong. Best time to visit is between November and April. Winters are cold and heavy woollens may be necessary.