Tucked inside western Sikkim, about 40km from Pelling, Yuksom is a small town, better known as the first capital of Sikkim and the starting point for incredible treks to Dzongri and other places, including the Khangchendzonga National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Way back in the mid-17th century, three holy men entrusted to find a leader, arrived in Denzong or ‘the hidden country’ (Sikkim), guided by the ‘Five Treasures of the Snow’ or Mt Khangchendzonga.
Read: Head in the Clouds
The great lama, Lhatsun Chembo Namgyal arrived from Tibet in the north while the other two holy men arrived from south and the west. They waited at Norbugang—which was believed to have been blessed by Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche in the 9th century—to find the right man. Then when a learned young man named Phuntsok arrived from the east, the three lamas chose him as the leader. They performed many rites and crowned him as the king or Chogyal of Sikkim. Lhatsun Chembo gave the Chogyal his own title, Namgyal. This was also the time when Buddhism began to take root in Sikkim, patronised by the ruler. Since then, Yuksom or the ‘meeting place of the three lamas’ was the capital of Sikkim until it was shifted to Rabdentse near Pelling.
Read: Things to Do in Ravangla
Yuksom is often combined with a trip to Pelling, which is about 40km away. From Gangtok, Yuksom is between 130km and 150km depending on the route taken. There are shared taxis/jeeps available from Jorethang too. The Yuksom Secondary School roughly marks the entry to the town. Hotels, restaurants, shops and offices of trekking agencies are strung out on both sides of the main road as it winds though the bazaar.
THINGS TO SEE
Kathok Lake: It is said that water from this lake was used during the coronation ceremony of the first king of Sikkim. The lake nestles in the middle of an alpine forest. A narrow track goes down to the water. There are lots of fish in the lake. Usually, a bag of puffed rice is kept at the ticket counter and you may take a handful to feed the fish. The Kathok Mela (usually held in February) draws a large number of pilgrims from across the state.
Open: 8am to 4pm; ticketed entry
Coronation Throne, Norbugang: Cars go up to the base of the forested hillock containing the most important historical site in Sikkim. It was here that a learned young man named Phuntsok (also Phuntshog) from the east was crowned the first king or Chogyal of Sikkim in 1641- 42 by three holy men. The place is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India and has been declared a National Monument.
As you enter, there is a monastery like building with prayer wheels. Then you will see a huge chorten. Walk beyond the chorten and you will come across an east-facing stone platform with a triangular stone backrest. The area has been railed off. This is believed to be the coronation throne. Four seats or thrones are arranged in a staggered manner on the platform.
According to the inscriptions on the back of the thrones, the largest seat in the centre was for the great Nyingmapa Lama, Lhatsun Namkha Jigme, while the seat to his right was designated for Chogyal Phuntsok Namgyal. Seats to the left of the great Lama were for Kartok Kunto Zangpo and Ngadak Sempa Chempo. Painted images of all four with their names (written in English) adorn the thrones. Prayer flags flutter on both sides while votive offerings are placed in front.
The old pine tree over the throne is also considered holy. The footprint on stone near the throne is said to be that of Lhatsun Chembo. The chorten in front is said to contain soil and water from all over Sikkim and built to commemorate the coronation.
Open: 8am to 4pm; ticketed entry; photography allowed
A monastery has come up on a ledge below the Coronation Throne complex. The upper level of the monastery contains a large statue of Thangtog Gyalpo (1385-1464), a Tibetan monk also known as Chakzampa (maker of iron chains). He wears many hats including that of blacksmith, physician, architect, magician, etc. He is also credited with popularising a form of Tibetan opera called Lhamo.
Dubde Monastery: If you are keen on a light trek, then follow the worn trail from the Yuksom Public Health Centre (Yuksom PHC; off the main road coming from Yuksom Bazaar), cross a bridge to come up to a motorable road where you will find a signboard indicating the way to Dubde monastery. Otherwise, local taxis can take you as far as this signboard. From here it is a short but steep climb to the monastery past forested slopes. Stopping a couple of times to enjoy the view below can also be an excuse to catch your breath. You will come across an old fashioned chorten on the way.
According to local sources, Dubde (also spelled as Dubdi) Monastery was built in 1647 by the first ruler, Chogyal Phuntshog Namgyal, and reconstructed in 1723. The monastery and the Lhakhang stand in the middle of a landscaped garden surrounded by prayer flags. However, most of the time the doors remain locked. The monastery contains beautiful murals. According to locals, as of October 2019, it opens once in a while but nobody knows when. So try your luck.
Yuksom is the gateway to the popular Dzongri trek, an easy-to-moderately difficult trek depending on your level of fitness and hiking experience. This trek usually takes four to five days. Depending on your physical ability, you may also go trekking beyond Dzongri to Thangsing, Lamuney, Samity Lake and Goecha La. The trek routes pass through the western part of Khangchendzonga National Park. The trek routes are famous for their views of snow ranges, flora and fauna and pristine alpine lakes. There are trekking agencies with offices in Yuksom Bazaar who can arrange for permits, porters and guides, pack animals, ration, etc.
The best time to visit is March to May/early June and September to November/early December.
Read: Treks in Sikkim: Part I
This is the highest waterfalls in West Sikkim, according to the state tourism department. The waterfalls is 7km from Yuksom on the road to Gerethang. Initially, the water descends in a free fall and then travels over the boulders to flow beneath the bridge and continue on the other side as a stream. There was a small deck higher up but it has been destroyed in a landslide that hit the area (likely in September 2019). Adjacent to Phramrong, there is another waterfall, which, according to local villagers, was earlier hidden from view by the trees and has now become exposed.
This monastery complex is around 16km from Yuksom. The final stretch of the drive to the car park is past a thick row of prayer flags. From the car park, it is a gradual to slightly steep climb to this monastery said to be the hub of all the holy places in Sikkim. According to local pilgrims, the position was accorded to it by Guru Padmasambhava, who is said to have arrived here miraculously (in the 8th century) with his followers. Tashiding or ‘the Devoted Central Glory’ was founded in 1641 by Ngadak Senpa Chenpo Phun Tsok (one of the three holy men involved with the coronation). However, the monastery was renovated several times before being rebuilt in 1995.
Besides the main monastery, there are other smaller shrines on the premises, including one devoted to Goddess Tara or Kali. Another complex adjacent to the monastery has a number of chortens. A narrow path half way to the monastery leads to the Drakar Tashiding or the ‘white rock situated on the plateau of good luck’. At the ‘cave of longevity’ situated here, water is said to emerge occasionally, which is considered holy as it was blessed by Guru Rinpoche.
Bhumchu Festival held here, on the 14th and 15th day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar, is one of the biggest festivals of Sikkim. Bhum means a pot or vase and Chu means water.
The divine vase (associated with the memory of Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche) is filled with water from the Rathong River and kept in the monastery. It is brought out for public viewing during the festival and its contents checked by the lamas. It is believed that the quality and the quantity of the stored water is an indication how Sikkim will fare in the following year. If you plan to visit during this time, be prepared for a long walk up as cars are halted way below. Open: Daily at 7am and 5pm for worship. On select days of the month, it remains open throughout the day. However, there is no restriction on exploring the monastery premises.