We reached Yuksom late in the afternoon, quite famished and Jeewan quickly drove us to a hotel, where we ordered lunch. While the lunch was being prepared, we decided to go up to the Throne of Norbudong, the site of the coronation of the first ‘chogyal’ (king and spiritual leader) of Sikkim. The Throne of Norbugang, witnessed the crowning ceremony of Phuntshog as the first king of Sikkim in 1641 AD. The ancient throne today stands with in a rubble enclosure, facing East and comprises of four stepped seats. The largest of the four seats, right in the centre was for the great Nyingapa Lama Lahatsun Chembu, while the seat to his right was for the chogyal.The other two seats were for kartokpa lama Sempa Chembo and kartokpa lama Rigzig Chempo. The throne is sheltered by a huge pine, which stands like an enormous sentry guarding the throne.We wandered around the Throne of Norbudong, explored the chorten nearby and rotated a huge prayer wheel. The yellow and white prayer flags fluttered in the breeze and we felt a wonderful peace enveloping us.
Yuksom is also at the head of the Kaziranga National Park and the trek to the base of the mighty Kanchanjunga starts from Yuksom. Thus, Yuksom attracts trekkers and mountaineers from across the world. It is an enchanting village surrounded by lush forests and high mountains, with wild flowers growing everywhere. Had we researched this trip better, we would have certainly stayed a couple of nights in Yuksom. We returned, had lunch and with a nagging dread for the landslide we had encountered earlier, we left Yuksom.
As we once again approached the 1.5 kms stretch of road, which the landslide and the rains have converted into a veritable bog, we girded ourselves up. Jeewan said a small prayer and we plunged into the mud, with Jeewan flooring the pedal and the car zig-zagging its way across the slush. We would have hardly covered 500 m, when we got stuck, with the rear wheels of the car uselessly grinding in the mud. The harder Jeewan tried to extract us from the bog, the deeper we appeared to be sinking.
Fortunately for us there was a gang of workers who were around. While on our way up to Yuksom, we had seen them at work trying to fix the road. Now with the sun going down, they were done with a hard days work and were squatting by the roadside smoking and chatting. Seeing our predicament they offered help. About half a dozen young men tried pushing us out of the rut. Jeewan would floor the pedal, while these young men would try to push the car out. We tried this for over half an hour, but with little luck. Finally in a bid to increase the weight at the back of the car we all piled in from the back-door, and some of the lads on the road jumped on to the car’s rear, while others pushed hard with Jeewan pouring all the car’s power, we zig-zagged our way out of the mud. We all breathed a big sigh of relief, profusely thanked the boys, without whose help we did not stand a chance.
On our way back to Pelling, I could not help but wonder at the generosity and spirit of these native people, who after a day’s toil did not think twice of helping people like us in distress. None of them ever flinched from joining in knowing fully well that this was an arduous task and that they would soon be covered with mud and will have to wash again. Not only did they come for help, they did so with grace and a great deal of laughter and fun. As they waved us on, they were all smiling at a job well done. Wonderful people.
The next day, our last in Sikkim, again dawned overcast with the clouds swirling on the streets. Any hopes of catching a glimpse of the Kanchanjunga receded. We headed off towards the Pemayangtse Monastery, located 3 kms above Pelling. The monastery was established by Lama Lahatsun Chembo and is considered to be one of the oldest monasteries in Sikkim. We climbed up to the monastery amidst yellow prayer flags dancing in the mist. Pemayangtse Monastery contains rare Buddhist artifacts, the walls are covered with fine murals, old sculptures and ancient scriptures adorn the first and the second floor of the monastery. On the top floor we saw a magnificent wooden structure, a seven tiered depiction of the heavenly palace of Guru Rinpoche. The monastery also afforded a beautiful view of distant hills, flowing streams and the ruins of Rabdentse, the second capital of Sikkim.
Tensung Namgyal, the second chogyal of Sikkim and the son of Phuntshog Namgyal, shifted the capital of Sikkim from Yuksom to Rebdantse, which is located on a significant spur, within a thickly forested valley, South West of the Pemayangtse Monastery. Wewalked about 1.5 kms through an enchanting forest to reach the ruins. The walkway gradually slopes upwards and the ruins are close to the top and are immaculately maintained. A dividing wall clearly highlights the areas used by the royals and the ones meant for lay religious ceremonies. As we explored these ruins, we could not help but notice their beautiful environs, surrounded by a dense jungle, a beautiful valley below us, distant hills beyond the valley and clouds flitting around us. Suddenly the sun broke through and it drenched everything in such bright light that we found ourselves squinting. The three Chortens, inside the royal quarters right on the edge of the hill stand proud and erect and one could clearly see the monastery higher up on the opposite hill. Rebandtse remained the Sikkimease capital till 1780, when it was attacked by the Nepalease. The chogyal Tenzing fled to Tibet and it was only in 1793 after the Sino- Nepalese treaty was signed that his son Tsudphud Namgyal returned to rule Sikkim once again. He decided to shift the capital to Tumlong, further away from Nepal and thus gradually Rebandtse turned into these ruins.
Since we still had half a day left, Jeewan decided to drive us to the Singshore suspension bridge, which is located near Dentam some 25 kms from Pelling. The bridge is an engineering marvel and connects two densely forested hills. It is over 100 m high and spans, without support over 20o metres. The bridge affords a breath-taking view of the hills with waterfalls everywhere. As we stood on the bridge we could feel the wind in our hair, the thrill of being suspended high up in the air between two magnificent mountains and it was magical. We had delicious momos at the food stall adjacent to the bridge and decided to climb up further to the village of Uttarey, beyond which lies Nepal. The ride to Uttarey was wonderful and the village itself is a tranquil hamlet. We were running out of time and had to return to Pelling by the evening. Thus, we descended quickly to the Singshore bridge and drove over it on our way back to Pelling.
The next day we departed Pelling early to catch our flight at Bagdogra. Jeewan saw us off at the airport. All of us carried wonderful memories of Sikkim, a land of great grandeur, unspoilt and virgin, full of kind and gentle people. We did not get to see Kanchanjunga, but then it is a fickle mountain and one can not do anything, if it chooses not to reveal its secrets. We would in due course return to seek the mountain’s blessings at a more opportune time.