Monday 23 February 2015

Rikisum - A tryst with Kanchenjungha

We had reached Rikkisum, the third stop in our trip and had settled in at the Sana home stay for the night - Family trip to North Bengal - Part I - Forest and Mountains

This was the first time we were staying at a home stay, a concept rapidly developing in these areas and promoted by the tourist department. Locals are provided funds for development, to host tourists at their own homes. Though at Sana, the personal touch was lacking. It was far more commercialised and it just felt like another stay in a hotel. The prices for home stay are on the higher side. Unfortunately at Sana, the services and facilities were more on the lowest end, very basic at the best. There wasn't any attempt to counter the cold, I am talking about temperatures hovering around freezing. The bathrooms had openings to keep them well aired and at the same time freezing. They were without any hot water though supposedly the water heaters had been provisioned for. The voltage in the rooms weren't high enough to support heating and we were out of electricity for a considerable duration, the reason being cited were the roadworks and the back up generator failing. It is one thing to being close to nature. But when you are being asked to pay for the facilities, in an area with limited accommodation - this feels like being cheated. We attributed all these to the remoteness of the location and did not want to spoil our holiday fretting about it either. A couple of our exasperated fellow lodgers even cut short their stay.

However, what the place lacked in facilities, it made it up in its natural beauty and peacefulness.

Day 4 - It's Christmas

No one apparently knew the timing of the sunrise and without internet neither did we. The locals convincingly told us we should reach the spot by five in the morning. So, we were up by half four and were perched on the ruins of the haunted bungalow by five, in pitch darkness and glad it was winter - time for our cold blooded reptile friends to hibernate. The lights from distant villages flickered along with the stars. It was a clear night. The sun wasn't to be out till quarter past six, so the one hour till the sky became lighter was spent with some quality star gazing. A few more people from the home stay joined us a while later, but it was still a few of us and we had the whole place to ourselves. The new arrivals decided to light up a fire. Though very smoky at first, it actually turned out to be a good idea as the wait in the cold took its toll on my niece.
And then the magic begins, one you never tire of watching again and again.

The sky becomes lighter and the first faint white outline of the range appears from the dark - as if proclaiming it was always there covered under the blanket of a moonless night. As the sun makes its grand entry, the dark blue sky above the range starts to dissolve into a golden hue. The gold descends, graciously as we wait for the breathtaking moment. The first ray touches the tip of the cold white peak, its warm glow transforming into pink and then into the golden crown. The crown then softens and melts over the whole range enveloping it in gold satin. This is a view worth waking up for, waiting for, braving the cold and never gets old.
Still intoxicated by the experience, we were the last to leave the viewing point. We made a tea stop to warm up before we returned to our home stay for breakfast. The plan was to go out for some sight seeing around Rikkisum.
The sun was out and bright as we packed into the vehicle, setting off for Pedong. Though, we left the road leading to Pedong on the right and made our way towards Algarah. We would be coming back the other way, the road we left behind. A glorious Kanchenjungha kept us company through the journey of about 30 minutes, whenever the view opened up between the trees. We went past Ramdhura, another popular home stay location. The view of Kanchenjungha is unrestricted from here, the range rising majestically over the vast Teesta river valley. These places are located on the same hills which appear in the photographs taken from Rikkisum, on the distinctive double humps - definitely the place to stay on the next trip.
We stopped at Jhalsa bungalow for some photographs, though very restricted by the trees and hills.
The caretaker asked us to go down the path for a better view point couple of bends later. The detour was worth it. Perhaps this is one of the best views of the Teesta river valley along with Kanchenjungha.
Our next stop was at Pedong to visit the monastery, the oldest in the region, Over 300 years old the frescoes are an interesting visit. As it turned out, there are three monasteries on three levels. The oldest one at the bottom, a much newer one built a few decades ago at the top and the newest one currently under construction in the middle level. Unfortunately, the oldest monastery was closed and there wasn't a soul around to let us in.
Our next stop was Cross hill. This is what Wikipedia says about it 'Another highlight of the town is the Cross Hill, placed by priest Fr. Augustine Desgodins in 1882 AD on his way toTibet. In the Tibet Mission a lot of Evangelists lost their lives or never came back from Tibet. Fr. Augustine Desgodins in due memory of them erected a cross at a vantage point facing Tibet directly with a hope that someday the evangelists may return. It is considered to have miraculous powers and is a pilgrimage site for the local Christians. The Cross Hill is located at such a point wherein the view of the facing mountains is magnificent. From here one can get a glimpse of Tibet or now the The peoples Republic of Chinese border. It is a perfect sunset point.'

We did have a good view of the mountains but did not wait to see the sunset. Though we left intrigued about the sunset point since the sun appeared to be setting behind the hills. Maybe it is better during summer months when the sun takes a more northerly path.
What followed after was a desperate search for the ruins of the Damsang fort. This is the only fort in Darjeeling area built by the Lepcha kings over 300 years ago. The locals seemed oblivious to its existence. After a lot of questioning around, we eventually managed to find an approximate location, but it needed a bit of trekking through forest land. So we dropped the idea of visiting it.

As we got back on our way to Rikkisum, we passed a rocky path going up that leads to Sillery gaon, another upcoming tourist destination.
We returned just in time for lunch.

The afternoon was spent in the balcony soaking up the weak sun. The wind chill was severe and as soon as the sun moved towards the horizon, we huddled back into the room.
We were surprised by a knock on the door in the evening. The home stay had arranged for a small Christmas celebration and had come over to invite the guests as well. It was a pleasant evening with some beautiful singing by the locals. A short clip from the evening

Next day, we would be starting for Chatakpur - a place that would be the best experience of our trip. Keep tuned...

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