Located between Maenam and Tedong Hill at an altitude of 7,000ft, Ravangla (or Ravongla) in South Sikkim is dotted with pretty villages surrounded by alpine trees, and jaw-dropping views of the Himalayas. The mighty Khanchengdzonga acts as the backdrop, and Pandim, Siniolchu, and Kabru are other major peaks that are visible from various points in the area.
The name is derived from the Bhutia language. ‘Ra’ means wild sheep, ‘vong’ translates to a rearing place and ‘la’ means a pass. The town, located at the base of Maenam hill, has winding undulating roads leading to the small market where you'll find hordes of jeeps and other transport vehicles. Ravangla is the transit point to destinations in South Sikkim.
From ancient monasteries to holy caves, tea tasting to trekking, there's lots to do here.
Things To Do
Constructed between 2006 and 2013, this vast complex with manicured gardens features a 130ft statue of Shakyamuni Buddha consecrated by the Dalai Lama. The statue marks the 2550th birth anniversary of Gautama Buddha. The Buddha here is depicted in the Dharmachakra mudra symbolising the Wheel of Dharma, which was set in motion when the Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath’s Deer Park after attaining enlightenment.
This park is also called Tathagata Tsal or 'place of enlightenment'. About 60 tonnes of copper and some 4kgs of gold were used for the statue built in the repoussé technique, one of the oldest metalworking practices in the world. It’s quite a climb to the statue and temple inside. But the intricate murals and paintings inside are worth the effort. The statue looks stunning when it is lit up after sunset.
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You can spend quite a bit of time here, exploring the walkways, gardens, and enjoying the valley and mountain views. Piped music playing mantras and chants adds to the ambience. The site is within the complex of the centuries-old Rabong monastery.
Close by is Ralang Monastery, another key religious place for Tibetan Buddhism. You can also walk to the Cho Djo Lake located within the complex.
The park is about a kilometer from Ravangla town, so you can make this into a day outing. Make sure you are wearing sensible shoes when you visit because you will be doing a lot of walking and climbing.
The complex has several small eateries where you can recharge with cups of hot tea or coffee, plates of alu-dom and roti, steaming momos or Maggi-Wai Wai bowls. They even have a cosy cafe serving excellent, locally produced coffee, fresh doughnuts and cookies.
Ticketed entry. Timing 9am-5pm.
There are battery-powered vehicles inside that can take you around. Ask for one at the ticket counter — you have to pay for the ride though
Bon Monastery, Kewzing
This is one of the only two Bon monasteries in India (there’s another in Himachal Pradesh). Until the advent of Buddhism, Bon was the religion of Tibet. Their founder Lord Tonpa Shenrab has a prominent position in Bon culture. The monastery at Kewzing is built in an Indo-Tibetan style, and is decorated with paintings of deities, and the Bon Buddha. It is around 6km from Ravangla along the Ravangla-Legship route. Timings 8am-5pmMangbrue Monastery
About 2km from Kewzing bazaar is Mangbrue Gompa which follows the Nyingmapa sect of Buddhism. Look out for the ruins of bunkers and outposts from the 19th century, when an invading Bhutanese army had used this as a strategic location.
Temi Tea Garden
Next-door neighbour Darjeeling may be famous for its tea, but Sikkim too produces world-class organic tea at Temi Tea Garden. Established in 1969 by the state government, the 453- acre area also has cardamom plantations, cherry blossom trees and enchanting views of Khanchendzonga. You can book a heritage stay at the Dak bungalow here and take a flashback trip to the days of the Raj. It has a glass verandah overlooking a poppy garden where you can enjoy a cup of Temi and some snacks.
You can also sign up for tea tasting or view the tea-making process, and pick up packets of garden-fresh tea. The road to the factory is lined with a beautiful array of cherry blossom trees — it’s best to come here in the winter when trees are in full bloom and the snow-capped mountain ranges are clearly visible.
Forays into Nature
You can trek to the Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary, home to the Red Panda, and the Himalayan black bear. And go on village tours to Lepcha and Bhutia villages of Tinkitam, Barfung, Kewzing. Bring along your binoculars, as the area is also a bird-watcher’s paradise. If you are lucky, you may spot the Satyr Tragopan (Tragopan Satyra), a rare species of pheasants found in the Eastern Himalayas. Or the Fire-tailed Myzorni.
October to November is the best time to visit Ravangla. The weather is chilly but pleasant, and the views clear. Many food and cultural festivals are held during this time. In the summer, March to June is a good time to visit.
Located between Pelling and Gangtok, Ravangla is well connected by a state highway to other major towns in Sikkim. It is about 65km south of Gangtok and 120km from Siliguri in West Bengal.
Nearest airport: Bagdogra airport in Siliguri is an international airport with flights connecting to major cities such as Kolkata, New Delhi, Mumbai etc. A cab from Bagdogra to Ravangla (144km/4-5hrs) costs about Rs3,000 and a share taxi is around Rs200/pax.
A helicopter service exists between Bagdogra and Gangtok (35mins) but whether it's operational is dependent on the weather.
Nearest railhead: New Jalpaiguri (NJP), Siliguri serves as an entry point to Sikkim, and the rest of Northeast with trains like the North East Exp, DBRT Rajdhani, AGTL Sundari Exp, and Mahananda Exp connecting to cities such as Delhi, Agartala, Guwahati, Kanpur, and Patna.
From NJP, you can take a taxi (140km/4.5 hrs) for about Rs3,000.
Where to Stay
There are several decent hotels around the market square. And the town has a choice of excellent homestays which offer clean rooms and lip-smacking food.
Ravangla’s main market area has a couple of shops which stock the usual prayer flags, fridge magnets (showcasing Buddhist masks or local monuments and landscapes), door and wall hangings with the eight Buddhist symbols of good fortune, local dresses, and bags and pouches in Sikkim’s trademark hand-woven designs. Some also sell products from Nepal - we loved the handwoven backpacks with hemp motifs.A better place to pick up gifts and souvenirs is the Buddha Park. They stock everything from curios and silk cushions to organic produce like chimphing (a kind of flower that acts as a spice), organic yeast, black cardamoms, packs of Temi tea, locally-made rice noodles, and organic ghee and butter in the prettiest jars. They also have hand-knitted woollens, dresses and tops made with the local silk-like fabric.
If you are a foodie, and like to cook, keep a lookout for the streetside shacks here which sell local, organic produce. You can pick up anything that is in season — from bunches of fiddle-headed fern, fresh local cheese (chhurpi) wrapped in fig leaves, fiery red dalley khorsani chillies, nakema (a pretty lavender-coloured bud), juicy rukh tamatar (tree tomatoes), and bottles of tangy rhododendron wine.