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Thread: Along the Forgotten Trail-Silk Route-East Sikkim->Pedong-Rishi-Aritar-Zuluk-Jelepla

  1. #1

    Along the Forgotten Trail-Silk Route-East Sikkim->Pedong-Rishi-Aritar-Zuluk-Jelepla

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    Along the Forgotten Trail- Silk Route-Self-drive travel of East Sikkim [Pedong-Rishi-Aritar-Zuluk-Jelepla]
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    For centuries, traders and herdsmen slipped through Nathu La into the Chumbi Valley, a slice of Tibet between Sikkim and Bhutan. The gateway for muleback silk caravans — the other pass used was Jelep La which linked Lhasa to Kalimpong — it even ushered in the Dalai Lama in 1956 when he showed up on horseback to participate in the 2500th Buddha Jayanti celebrations.

    The trade was that of an open market. Most of the trade, especially from Nathu La, was done on the basis of cash transactions whereas the trade from Jelep La was mostly done on the basis of barter, even during the later days. The preferred currency for trade was the Indian currency but later on, post- 1950s, the Chinese dollar called “dyang” (1 dyang = Rs 3-4) gained prominence. It was a pure silver coin.”

    Well it all started with a promise and peldge not to travel after the recent fantastic self-drive travel of North Sikkim in April - the pledge being no more travel and save for Leh and Ladakh at end September. As such though son's school summer holidays were going on, I was sitting tight. Only a weekend tour was done to Kuldiha Forests, Orissa, and it was as usual very good too.

    But as fate would have it, I read up an article on the Silk route and some places in East Sikkim - places which most people of Sikkim themselves knew very less/nothing about. A route that is both historic as well as adventurous. A route that played up in my mind and but then as I thought of costs and a tour too so soon again, I just thought may be latter someday.

    But then as luck would have it, one of my friends call up and say that they are free for a week and wanted some good place to be holidaying and if I knew of some place like that. He was looking out some place in the hills and with most known places fully booked due to the summer holidays, he was helpless as to where to go. Well immediately I had this silk route places discussed and he was okay along with his wife.

    Now the good thing was that my budget has halved - the big problem now about the work situation. Found out that remarkably Airtel has mobile connection in almost all the places except one[Zuluk] and thus data-modem connection will help me manage my work front while on tour.

    With very few information with regards to those places, it was a journey that had a different aspect. A historical aspect as pedong-rishi-aritar-zuluk-jelep la formed the ancient silk route. Another fascinating thing about this journey was the fact that we were travelling in places and meeting people who have just about seeing tourists. As a result the interaction with the local population was fantastic and the entralling old time stories from venterans in Zuluk was and will be ever in our memories.

    We travelled as much possible in those days along the old Silk route, though some places were left we covered almost the whole of it. More importantly we did the loop to Gangtok via changu for which it is very difficult to get permit. The most common route from Gangtok is to Changu and sometimes when route is open to Nathula. But the silk route that it was, made us travel the opposite way around, from Pedong to Rishi to Aritar to Zuluk via Padamchen and Lingtam and then ownards to Kupup and the orginal Baba Mandir [Baba Dham] - which one will not be able to see until the route is done anti-clockwise.

    These places must be done around November or March-April months when the weather is absolutely clear with no clouds and/or with snow on the road - the vistas would be more fantastic, rugged, and absolutely enchanting.

    As usual, the Safari VTT-TMT took everything in its stride. Bad roads, rough roads, 4-5 hours of continuous 1st/2nd gear travel, waterfall crossings - any stranding on this route and it will take at least 5-7 days for extraction.

    The ride- Safari LX 2.2 VTT-TMT

    Thats it for the introduction, the journey breakup being

    Calcutta -Rishi [overnight journey] and staying at Rishi for 2 days
    Rishi - Aritar via Pedong and staying at Aritar for 2 days
    Aritar - Zuluk via Rongli, Lingtam Padamchen and staying for 1 day
    Zuluk - Gangtok via Lungthung, Nathang, Kupup, Tsongmo Lake
    Gangtok - Calcutta [overnight journey]


  2. #2
    Day 1 - Calcutta - Rishi [overnight journey - 770 km approx, 16 hours with 3 breaks.]

    The planning for the route was discussed with Mr Sebastian Pradhan, owner of Rishi eco-tourist huts just by the river side [Rishi river - it forms the border of West Bengal Kalimpong-Pedong side and East Sikkim]. For accurate location do refer to the map at page 1 and the resort is mentioned by Rishi Khola.

    Mr Pradhan has been a pioneer in putting forth tourist places like Pedong and now his full energy is on making Rishi a good relaxing tourist spot for nature lovers. With the days and iteranary discussed with him and the map printed out, it was all go now on our Friday night for the overnight journey to Rishi via Siliguri [approx 750 km].

    As usual on the NH34, a night journey is the faster journey and we started from Calcutta around 830 pm. The journey was again [like April N Sikkim tour] done all through NH34 as the road is now absolutely a pleasure to drive on, other than the fact that all big vehicles [trucks and buses] ply at nighttime as this road become frighteningly congested during day time. This time we did encounter much higher night traffic but still was in Siliguri by 630 am with a 2 stops at Krishanagar and Dalkhola.

    Though the original silk route was through Kalimpong, Alagarh and then Pedong and then to Rishi for the Sikkim side, we went through Rangpo side as I was feeling tired and did not want to go through the morning traffic of Kalimpong town. Just as one crosses Rangpo gate, the signboard comes up showing Gangtok towards the left side but nothing it says about the winding narrow road that goes to the right side. This is the absolutely lesser known road which is in very bad condition for the first 4 km and then it becomes okay till we reach Rishi, the place by Rishi Khola [river].

    The narrow road that goes right of Rangpo, desolate and very less travelled

    Rishi eco tourist camp located down from the main road to the river bank

    The trail goes down to the river bank but full of loose pointed rocks and boulders. The road down to the river bank again is quite steep and with bare rocks a careful drive has to be done

    Thats the parking point as the trail has been washed away by flash floods due to heavy rains of Aila just few days ago. Safari VTT is parked on the Sikkim side.

    Its then a short trek along the river and crossing the newly made very temporary short bamboo bridge.

    The eco tourist camp on Sikkim side

    After a 16-hour no-sleep journey, connect to the internet via Airtel modem to find some work is there, tired to the bone but then the remaining daylight hours goes off working - only free by evening. Wife and kid of course explore the place corner by corner. So, for me, the first day is just goes like that and full tired I go to sleep by 830 pm.

    Last evening snap for the day by side of Rishi Khola


  3. #3
    At Rishi, East Sikkim, for 2 days

    Rishi Ecocamp had been till recently the only place to stay at Rishi, a very small village by side of Rishi river. This ecocamp is run by Mr Pradhan and really the "eco" tag is for both ecology and economy for this staying place. The backdrop is the dense forests that come down to the river side and with a tariff of Rs 350 per head per day [lodging +fooding] it is of course quite economical and plus of course the refreshments budget goes up and no one's complaining.

    However there is a much better staying place [in terms of proper rooms, not made of bamboo or having thatched roof] just somewhat ahead on the river side also that costs around Rs 1000 for staying and fooding extra.

    But then we liked this place much better as it had a natural surrounding plus it is biggest USP was that machan. From evening till late night, just relax over there, listening to the gurgling of water and refreshments served over there - it is relaxing beyond imagination.

    Rishi Eco tourist camp - by the river and against the backdrop of the thick forest

    The always "very temporary" bamboo bridge. Do remember the Rishi ecotourist is at West Bengal side, though the place and village proper is of Sikkim. Safari was parked at West Bengal and we resided at Sikkim.

    Living rooms or lets say quarters - night time for sleep you hear the creaking insects inside the bamboo but then who cares!

    The absolute enchanting machan by side of the river, from evening to late nights that was our adda & thek

    Dining room!

    View from the machan, the tin roof houses seen at a distance is the only other resort. Much more spacious rooms as opposed to this one where we stayed - this was more rudimentary and rustic

    The second day's activity started with very early morning rise and we trek to the jungle where we spot quite a few birds - absolutely refreshing.


  4. #4
    Rishi, East Sikkim, Day 2 contd.

    After that invigorating jungle trek to feel the forest and along that watching those colourful birds, it was now time to accompany Mr Sebastian Pradhan to Rongli via Rhenock for getting the permits - issuing authority is SDPO Rongli.

    On towards Rongli for getting permits done through SDPO Rongli - this road is along the original silk route that goes to Zuluk and Kupup.

    At SDPO office at Rongli

    Small town of Rhenock, where the photocopies were done of the permit

    As i return see my son waiting anxiously - for a bath in the clear crystal waters of Rishi river

    And then it just relaxing among the clear waters

    Found myself a good spot and we are in the waters for a good 3 hours with refreshments brought to the spot by eco camp boys.

    And in the end get up for late lunch but not before I took a zero-pack pose

    The evening we again trek to the forests and spot a few birds returning for the day. Night time was as usual by that fantastic machan, and gossiping among ourselves.

    Thereby ends day 2 at Rishi and next day we leave early for Pedong, i.e. backtrack from where the silk road goes used to go through, with the plan of seeing some sights of Pedong and then off to Aritar following the original sik route. Mr Pradhan, again the gentleman that he is, accompanied us to show Pedong and went uptill Aritar, just to accompany us. He is very well known in these parts due to single-handedly managing the fledgling tourism of these regions.


  5. #5
    Day #3 Pedong and surroundings.

    Pedong (pop. 19,000 est.) is a town on the ancient Silk route that connects Lhasa to India via the Jelep La pass. It lies twenty kilometres east of Kalimpong on the way to Lava at an altitude of 1,240 metres (4.071 feet). The town which is located on a ridge, commands a panoramic view of the Kanchenjunga and the Himalayan mountains. The town is divided into two parts, Upper Pedong and Lower Pedong. Pedong lies on the historic Silk Road that connects India to Lhasa via the Jelepla Pass.

    Near Pedong are the ruins of Damsanggudi, a fort built in 1690. Built by the Lepchas it was at the centre of the long standing feud with the Bhutias. Later, it was used to ward off the forces of the British East India Company. After the Anglo-Bhutan War of 1864, the fort fell into decay. Another highlight of the town is the Cross Hill, placed by priest Augustine Desgodins in 1882 on his way to Tibet. It is considered to have miraculous powers and is a pilgrimage site for the local Christians. St. George's School is one of the famous boarding schools in the region. So many different nursery schools are in high competition with their best efforts for the better education systems. Different villages as Sakyong, Kasyong, Dalep, Kagey, Upper Menchu, Lower Menchu have surrounded this place with their different beautiness of nature. Pedong monastery is another visited location, established in 1837.

    So on day#3 after a good breakfast it is now time to go first to Pedong, ie, go backwards so that we cover the silk route from that town itself and also see some of the different places of Pedong. And who else but Mr Sebastian Pradhan himself accompanying us and as we found out he is very well known in these parts due to the untiring efforts in devloping Pedong and its surrounding places.

    Along the silk route to Pedong

    St. George's Higher Secondary school is one of the most famous school of Pedong. Started by the Roman Catholic priests during the pre-independence days.

    On towards Silent Valley --> 6 Km. from Pedong bazaar on the way to Ramitey. A small forest area with a grassy land of quietness

    Mr Pradhan collects an orchid from the forest for his ecocamp

    On towards Ramitey top: 6,400 ft. 10 Km. from Pedong bazaar. Jeep road thru the dense forest. Breathtaking panoramic view of the rivers all around and Kancenjunga. Longest view of Tista is available only from here.


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