We left Gangtok for Pelling on an overcast morning. Jeewan Alam, our driver turned out to be a loquacious and feisty young man, full of life. As we drove to Pelling in West Sikkim, Jeewan Alam talked about life in Sikkim. Jeewan has two elder brothers in the armed forces, one posted in the North Sikkim mountains and the other with the Assam Rifles in Assam. He too wanted to follow in his brother’s footsteps, but his mother intervened, asking him not to go fighting to distant borders and stay with her to care for her in her old age. Jeewan, thus became the owner and the driver of this Tata Sumo, which he had bought second hand. He loved the car, was very proud of it and lavished good care and attention on it through out our travels with him. In addition to the Tata Sumo, he also owned a Mahindra Bolero, which was also being used as a taxi and was driven by a friend of Jeewan.We again drove along the Teesta, and as we went down the mountain from Gangtok, the sun came out, the clouds vanished and our hopes of seeing the Kanchanjunga, in Pelling went up. We crossed the border at Rongpo and entered the hills of West Bengal, followed the Teesta to where it met Rangeet and than traveled along the Rangeet, in West Sikkim. Rangeet forms the border between the turbulent hills of West Bengal and the peaceful surrounds of Sikkim. Jeewan has a deep rooted sense of disquiet about the hill folks of the neighbouring Darjeeling. He believes that most of them are aggressive good for nothing sorts, who come into Sikkim only to create trouble. We went past Melli, Jorethang and Legship, from where we started our ascent to Gaeyzing and finally Pelling.
Pelling is situated on a ridge atop a forested hill facing the Kanchanjunga. As we had driven up from Legship, clouds had again rolled in and completely enveloped Pelling. We reached Pelling late in the afternoon, had lunch and decided to rest in the hotel.The next day we set out early in the morning for Yuksom, the ancient capital of Sikkim. Jeewan promised to show us the countryside, en route. Our first stop was the Rimbi waterfalls, located 12 kms from Pelling. The water of the Rimbi river falls down a steep hillside completely covered in green into an inviting
pool and then flows into a stream. A small hydel power plant is situated on the left bank of the Rimbi river and provides power to Pelling and other nearby villages and towns.The department of tourism in Sikkim has developed the Sewaro Rock Garden on the banks of the river Rimbi. The park is beautiful with wildflowers growing everywhere in abandon, the Rimbi river flowing by majestically and the hills completely covered with lovely forests on either side of the park. Somehow, the place reminded me of Pehalgam in Kashmir. We walked along the swiftly flowing river, watching an indigenous tribal fishing, by fording the river and throwing his small net in a wide arc. As he drew in the net, he would let go of the smaller fish and only take the bigger one as his catch.
Returning from the Sewaro Park, we headed for the famed Khecheopari Lake. The lake is situated at 6000 ft and is considered to be holy. Legend has it that many years ago, the lake was a grazing ground full of thorny nettles. The Lepchas used the barks of these trees for medicinal purposes and once, while a Lepcha couple sat peeling off the bark , they witnessed two huge Conch shells hitting the ground with tremendous force. The ground than shook violently and a stream of clear water emerged, which engulfed the entire surrounding area, thus creating the
lake. The lake has since been recognised as the abode of ‘Tshomen Gyalmo’, the chief protective nymph of the dharma and blessed by the goddess Tara. The walk to the lake is through a winding path in the jungle alive with beautiful wild flowers, ferns and huge trees standing erect and proud. The lake itself is hidden behind colourful prayer flags and a long jetty allows pilgrims to reach out to the lake. As we walked up to the lake, we had pilgrims carrying incense sticks and other puja paraphernalia, jostling with each other. Right at the end of the jetty, the devout prayed and offered ‘prasad’ to the lake, which was quickly gobbled up by a school of fish, thrashing about in the lake.
We left Khecheopari Lake by early afternoon and it had started drizzling. Sikkim’s roads are prone to sudden closure because of landslides and Jeewan was worried about us being able to reach Yuksom and return to Pelling by the evening. On our way to Yuksom we had one more scheduled stop at the Kanchanjunga Falls. After witnessing our excitement at the Rimbi Falls, Jeewan had been hinting about the Kanchanjunga Falls being far more exciting. The name itself conjures up images of the water coming down from the snowcapped peaks of the great mountain and I must say on seeing the waterfalls, we were left speechless. The main falls are hidden from view from the road and we had to walk about 500 m to view the spectacular waterfalls, a huge wall of roaring water crashing almost vertically from 150 m or more, surrounded by dense foliage and moss covered stones. We also noticed that for some reason we were alone at the falls and even the tea shops around the picturesque spot were shut. We soon discovered the reason-the word had been passed along that the road to Yuksom had been closed because of landslides and thus other tourists had already returned to Pelling.
As we thought about this unexpected turn of events, Jeewan sensed our disappointment and chipped in by saying that “let us carry on towards Yuksom and we will return only if we found the passage completely blocked”. We quickly clambered aboard and once again set off. About 10 kms ahead we ran into the landslide. The stretch of the road about 1.5 kms long looked like a sea of mud with a huge gorge on one side. A gang of workers were busy trying to make the road passable but they were clearly no where near finishing their task. Jeewan decided to wade into this. With his foot firmly on the accelerator, the car lurched ahead with a vengeance and skidded dangerously. Jeewan kept pressing ahead, struggling with the car, trying to keep it on the straight and the narrow. I do not know how, but we did manage to shoot through the slush and found the macadam once again. We all lustily cheered for Jeewan and his boyish zeal to show us around his Sikkim and continued to Yuksom, the first capital of Sikkim.
To be contd.
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