A small town in South Sikkim, surrounded by forested hills, undulating valleys, and small villages,
A small town in South Sikkim, surrounded by forested hills, undulating valleys, and small villages,Ravangla is a perfect destination for those who wish to catch a glimpse of Sikkimese rural life. One of Ravangla’s prime attractions is the famous New Ralang Gompa, which has some beautiful sculptures on its premises.
The town plays host to the Pang Lhabsol festival in spectacular fashion every year in August or September, which is the best time to visit this place. The festivities continue for three days, culminating in the traditional Sikkimese Chaam dance on the last day.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
New Ralang Gompa
Thirteen kilometres below Ravangla, at Ralang, is the lovely New Ralang Gompa, officially 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. Every morning and afternoon, the monks can be heard chanting in unison.
The gompa is famous for its elaborate sculptures, and inside the main hall is a 30-ft statue of Sakyamuni Buddha. Every November, effigies are brought out for the Mahakala dance.
About 1.5km downhill, on the same road, is the Old Ralang Gompa, which is still active and more peaceful than the new gompa.
It was established in 1768, and is certainly worth a visit. The legend behind its construction goes as such: after the fourth Chogyal returned from his pilgrimage, the Karmapa performed a blessing or Rabney. During the ceremony, he threw grains from Tibet’s Tsurphu Monastery on the ground. The spot where the grains fell eventually became the site of the now famous Ralang monastery situated in South Sikkim.
The brand new Sakyamuni Complex is located at the edge of Ravangla town and is also sometimes known as the Buddha Park, probably because of the gigantic 135ft-tall statue of Buddha at the centre of the complex. The vastness of the space, and the stunning views it affords, makes for a serene spot worth a visit. The statue holds Buddhist relics donated by monasteries from all over the world, and the complex includes a medi-tation centre as well as a resthouse for pilgrims.
Yungdrung Kundrakling Monastery
About 6km away from central Ravangla towards Legship is the small but very interesting monastery known as Yungdrung Kundrakling, the only Bon monastery in Sikkim. Bon was an animistic religion that pre-dated Buddhism in Tibet, but has since been largely incorporated into the latter. Nevertheless, there are interesting distinctions in the sculptures and architectural style; for instance, the deities look slightly different and the prayer wheels here are turned anti-clockwise.
Borong and Ralong Hot Springs are natural hot springs that are said to have curative powers and is popular with many visitors to this region. Ralang Cha-chu is an hour’s walk away from the Ralang Gompa, while Borang Cha-chu is 7km away from Ralong, followed by an hour’s walk downhill. Both these hot springs are located along the banks of the River Rangit and can be visited from December to February.
The summit of Maenam, located 10km away, is home to a small shrine dedicated to Guru Rinpoche and affords gorgeous views, depending on the weather. The mountain’s position on the watershed between the river systems of Teesta and Rangit might lead to overcast weather that hides the dramatic horned summit of Narsing (5,825m).
Climbing up Maenam is a great day-trek option for those choosing to stay longer in the laidback Ravangla, and the 1,000m ascent should take no longer than four hours. It starts from the steps rising from the bazaar up to the gompa before it trails off the road that goes through a wildlife sanctuary; you might, if you are lucky, spot some wildlife here, including a variety of birds and the famous red panda. During spring, especially between March and April, the rhododendron display is quite spectacular.
The route through the forest can be confusing. It is advisable to hire a local guide, arranged by your hotel in Ravangla. You can also trek further from Maenam hilltop to Borong.
Damthang and Tendong Hill
Damthang (1,650m) is one hour away from Ravangla, and might be combined with the Maenam hike above. Opt to stay at Ravangla and plan your hike so you are back in time, since there are no appropriate accommodation options in Damthang.
Above Damthang, overlooking the South District headquarters of Namchi, there is a small, flat stretch of land at an altitude of 2,600m. It is surrounded by an ancient forest, and is known as Tendong Hill – this hill is a dormant volcano. According to folklore, the hill saved the Lepcha tribe from the ravages of the deluge when the whole world was flooded, reminiscent of the story in the Old Testament. Lepchas continue to pay homage to the hill.
Follow the main road from Damthang, heading northeast, and then take the trail via the forests of the Tendong Sanctuary. The view from the top is simply stunning, spanning the plains of Bengal up to the heights of the Himalayan ranges.
WHERE TO STAY AND EAT
Mt Narsing Village Resort (Cell: 09434026822; Tariff: ₹950–2,500 and ₹1,308–2,767 during high season) is 3km from Ravangla. It offers cottage-style rooms and great views. Hotel 10zing (Cell: 09733122491; Tariff: ₹500–700) is popular with backpackers. The friendly staff at this hotel is an added advantage.
The Chingthang Hotel and Restaurant (Cell: 09830119119; Tariff: ₹1,200–1,600) is near the post office. Another option is the Meanamla Hotel (Tel: 260666, Cell: 09830026233; Tariff: ₹1,750–5,500), centrally located near the main bazaar. The Kookay Restaurant is famous for Tibetan dishes, rice and curry, and Chinese staples.
Milk a cow, pull out a few radishes from the fertile soil and drain the honeycombs. Then reward yourself with a glass of tongba and watch the world go by. West of Gangtok, the village of Kewzing has opened up to travellers looking for a taste of this bucolic life.
The Bon Farmhouse in Kewzing (Cell: 09735900165, 09547667788; Tariff: ₹4,250–5,250) is an eco-friendly stopover, set in four acres of lush tea gardens and cultivated fields. You can also trek to the Maenam and Tendong hills, visit Tashiding, and angle for trout in River Rangit. They also offer a traditional spa treatment where the water is treated with medicinal plants, which cure body aches and pains.
When to Go March–May; October–November
Sikkim Tourist Information Centre, Upper Pelling, Near Girl’s Hostel, West Sikkim
Permits: W sikkimtourism.gov.in
Location In the South Sikkim District, situated at a vantage point offering views of several Himalayan peaks
Distance 64km SW of Gangtok
Route from Gangtok NH510 to Ravangla
Air Nearest airport: Bagdogra (130km/ 4hrs). Taxi ₹3,500–4,000. Take a taxi with a Namchi permit
Rail Nearest railhead: New Jalpaiguri (125km/3.5–4hrs). Taxi ₹3,500–4,000
Road From Siliguri follow the route to Namchi from where Ravangla is 22km/ 30–45mins (₹720–1,000) or shared jeep from the bus stand Bus Takes 5.5–6hrs from the Siliguri Bus Stand