Saturday, Oct 01, 2022

Reconnecting With Nature in Rinchenpong

Catch a glimpse of the Sikkim Himalayas that inspired Russian artist Nicholas Roerich to immortalize them on canvas

Himalayan snow peaks overlook Rinchenpong
Himalayan snow peaks overlook Rinchenpong Image by Uttara Gangopadhyay

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. Our curiosity was also fuelled by a friend’s recommendation of Yangsum Heritage Farm and their homestay. So we decided to round up our visit to west Sikkim with a couple of days at Rinchenpong. 

View from Yangsum Heritage Farm
View from Yangsum Heritage Farm Image by Uttara Gangopadhyay

Located on the edge of the village, the 44 acre mountain farm, which consisted of open mixed forest of pine, Himalayan alder, schima, chestnut, magnolia, rhododendrons, cherry and a variety of food and cash crops, was a world unto itself. Belonging to an aristocratic Sikkimese family, the farmhouse was built in 1833 and remodelled in 1966. It is now owned by Thendup Tashi and his wife Pema. 
Accommodation was spread across a couple of renovated heritage buildings and a few new cottages, all built with polished wood. Despite the rustic look – purposely maintained so that the buildings blended with the natural setting – the rooms were luxurious yet elegant from inside. 

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. We divided our stay at the heritage farm into exploring the crop fields, going for short treks inside the forest and taking a look around the village. 

There was an attic attached to one of the old cottages which seemed the best place to see the sun rise over the snow peaks. So I holed up there one day. In the pre-dawn quietness, it felt like a different world. 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 snow peaks were dazzling beneath a bright blue sky. Spread in front of me were Kanchendzonga, Kabru, Narsing, Pandim and Thinchinkhang.

Later we would see the ranges from the hilltop Resum Monastery just as Russian artist Nicholas Roerich, who visited the place in 1924, had seen it and immortalised the panorama in his paintings. The monastery can be reached by a short trek from the central market or bazaar.  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.

Old Lepcha House
Old Lepcha House Image by Uttara Gangopadhyay

During the trek, you may also visit an old Lepcha House and the 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 government bungalow. 

The homestay served a variety of dishes with vegetables from its organic farms
The homestay served a variety of dishes with vegetables from its organic farms

We ended the trek by descending to 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. 
Located at another end of the village was the fairly new Rinchen Choling Monastery, established by the Gurung Buddhist Society in 1996. It was erected over the ruins of an old Tshamkhang (a hut for retreat).

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.