The sleepy town of Ravangla is ideal for a break in the Himalayas. Located between Maenam and Tedong Hill at an altitude of 7000ft, this is the place to come to if you are looking for some quiet time. Khangchendzonga, Pandim, Siniolchu, and Kabru are just some of the majestic Himalayan peaks that are visible from various points.
A short walk from the main town square is the Buddha Park where a stunning statue of Shakyamuni Buddha stands towering above the landscape. Ravangla has several old monasteries and the holy cave of Shar Chok Bephu. 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. Or take a tea-tasting tour at Temi Tea Garden and explore the area’s cardamom plantations.
During winter, the higher altitude areas in Ravangla get snowfall. 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. Also look out for the Fire-tailed Myzornis. You can also go for long hikes or take short village tours to nearby villages of Tinkitam, Yangang and Barfung, Kewzing and Rayong.
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.
Sharchog Beyphug Cave, Sangmoo (5km)
Located in Sangmoo village, in a quiet, thickly forested area, this is one of the four Sacred Caves of Sikkim where Guru Padmasambhava spent some time in meditation. Around 1921, a lama of Kagyupa sect built a small monastery here. It also has three hermit huts, a rest house and a path that curves around the complex. It can get moss covered and slippery during (and immediately after) the rains. So be careful while making your way down.
Doling Monastery (6km)
Not too far from Ravangla is the Doling monastery — the old one and the new one are opposite each other. The old Doling monastery is a haunting and peaceful place, with faded prayer flags and a sacred lake that has many fish bobbing up and down. The fish (one of the eight lucky signs in Buddhism) are released into the pond as a form of worship. The monastery follows the Nyingmapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Look out for the footprints on stone — one of the deity Khanchengdzona’s horse and another of Lama Dorjelingpa.
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Ralang Monastery (13km)
About 13 km below Ravangla, is the new Ralang Gompa, also known as the Palchen Choeling Monastic Institute. Set up in the mid-90s, the gompa is home to about 200 monks of the Kagyu order. The gompa is famous for its elaborate sculptures, and inside the main hall is a 30-ft statue of Sakyamuni Buddha.
About 1.5km downhill, on the same road, is the smaller Old Ralang Gompa. Established in 1768, it is one of the most important monasteries in Sikkim following the Kagyu tradition. The old monastery was built in 1768 AD and legend has it that the 9th Karmapa, head of the Kagyupa sect, blessed the site of the monastery with grains of rice thrown from Tibet. The monastery hosts festivals such as Pang Lhabsol and Kagyed Chham — generally around August–September and the month of December. The Mahakala Dance takes place every year in the month of November.
If you feel up to it, hike to the monastery — it takes approximately two and a half hours from Ravangla market. Look out for Titanic Point after Ralang — it’s a rock that juts out, shaped somewhat like a ship. You can get a good view of the valley, and West Sikkim.
Borong and Ralong Hot Springs (25km)
If you have any aches and kinks to iron out, visit Ravangla’s two hot springs — Borong and Ralong, located within a distance of 7 km from each other. High in sulphur, the steaming waters are said to have excellent therapeutic properties. Ralong can be reached after an hourlong walk from Ralong monastery. Borong is 7km from Ralong, and a 40-minute walk downhill. You can stay in temporary tents and huts, but carry sleeping bags. Both are on the banks of the Rangit River, so you can soak in nature too. The area is also great for gentle hikes and treks. People from Sikkim, Nepal, Bhutan and other parts of the Eastern Himalayas have been coming to these traditional winter spas, spending weeks soaking in them. They are known as ‘cha-chu’ in the local lingo.
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Here’s a tip from a seasoned local: You have to do Sikkim’s three important hot springs in a cycle to get the maximum benefit — Borong first, then Polok, and finally the hot springs at Legship in West Sikkim. Or you can just do Polok and Borong. People come and camp for months to cure arthritis, gout, ligament injuries, back issues, skin diseases and even gastric problems. Temporary accommodation is available in the form of tents and huts. During season, stalls selling some
vegetables and basic provisions come up.
Best time to visit: From November-end to February. During the rains, the water source gets covered by landslides and water.
Watch out for this nail-biting hairpin curve on the stretch from Damthang to Ravangla. The road itself is rather picturesque, with lush forests full of birdcalls and cicadas. Putali Bhir is where there’s a sharp turn and a steep drop ‘straight to the river’ (as said by my driver). Locals say it’s haunted because of the number of accidents that have happened here. Please don’t even think of stopping to take a selfie here.
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Khando Sangphu Cave (77km)
This cave is near Legship, on the diversion toward Jorethang Road (about 4km before reaching Reshi). Park your vehicle and walk down towards the Rangit River (200m from the road) and cross it to get to the cave. You can also take a break at the natural hot spring — it has medicinal and healing qualities.
Teesta River Rafting
Drive down to Melli Bazaar from Gangtok for a taste of white water rafting on the Teesta. Both beginners and seasoned rafters are assisted by guides to ensure a safe ride. While rafting also takes place at Triveni, the most popular place for rafting on River Teesta is Melli, which is situated between the Darjeeling (in West Bengal) and the Sikkim border. While making your way down the river, you can get a different point-of-view of dense forests, and the valley.
Negotiating the torrents and foaming waters creates an unforgettable experience. You can take a long trip (about 7km in 25-30 minutes) or a short one (4km in 15-20 minutes). The routes for beginners and non-swimmers are gentle and easy without too many rapids. Swimmers and experienced rafters can get to opt more adventurous routes with which have more challenging,high-grade rapids.