South Sikkim: Aakash Mehrotra soaks in the sights and sounds of a verdant valley surrounded by an army of ageing pine trees

Think of Sikkim and the images of snow clad peaks, terraced rice fields, lushly forested hills, misty clouds setting in the deep valleys, whispering falls and mesmerising cascades come before your eyes. Sikkim is a painter’s dream — a beautiful landscape sketched by the Creator. With these thoughts, we set out for this land of peace and tranquillity. All along our way, we are accompanied by the majestic River Teesta storming its way through the heavy boulders; its thunder cry adding to the noise of the traffic of NH 31 — the only road that connects Sikkim with the rest of the country. This first tryst with Sikkim is very much like treading between the familiar and the alien. We are yet to reach Gangtok, our destination, but we can already feel a connection with nature and the rhythm in the lives of people. Journey from Bagdogra to Gangtok covers a myriad of landscapes.
After five hours of being on wheels, we reach our hotel — Welcome Heritage Denzong Regency — a sprawling old heritage property. The old building displaying Sikkimese architecture glows as the clear blue sky shines over it. The feeling of tradition in the air adds to the priceless moment.
A quick shower later we go straight to the restaurant – Gyakho. The Sikkimese dishes like doku, sukamayo, peng and shang are as tasty as their names are difficult.
The next day entails a long trip to the capital of South Sikkim — Namchi. Before I set off, I get up early in the morning and soak in the beauty of the local guardian of the city, the Kanchenjunga, the third highest peak of the world, while sipping a cup of green tea procured from the tea estates of Tami, an area I am to visit during the day.
Soon, we take to winding roads etching into the steep mountain slope, the constant gurgling of River Rangeet, chirping of birds in the woods around us. The unspoilt mountain air is filled with the fragrance of flowers covering the deep valleys; every turn shows some unique colours of the unexplored South.
South Sikkim is quite new on the tourist road-map and is in news for some man-made marvels. Our first stop is the tea estates of Tami. Tami tea gardens were established way back in 1960s by the then Sikkimese Government under the last King, Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal. We learn from our driver that the tea produced here is a rare combination of liquor and flavour and fetches some of the highest rates in the international market.
Just a few turns ahead is Damthang Biodiversity Reserve — a unique blend of village tours, soft treks, and bird watching trails — a small but complete package for an easy day out.
Little ahead is Namchi. Our first stop in this beautiful town is the ‘wish fulfilling hill’. This hill — Samdruptse — hosts the highest statue of Guru Padmasambhava, venerated as the second Buddha in the Tibetan culture. This 135 feet high statue has been considered a major cultural heritage of the State and is visited by a huge number of devotees. Samdruptse hill is a dormant volcano and the legend says that the Buddhist monks offer prayers to keep it calm. The hilltop offers a view of Namchi town, Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kanchanjunga and eastern part of Nepal from different angles.
The statue is no doubt an engineering marvel but something more inviting awaits us. Namchi has recently been in news because of a very innovative cultural- cum-religious centre — Siddheshwar Dhaam. Called ‘Chaar Dhaams’, this is situated at a distance of just 5 kilometres from Sandruptse. A facsimile of the actual four dhams of the Hindu religion, this cultural site brings the four pilgrimage sites of India to a single destination. The dhaam also houses the 108 feet high deity of Lord Shiva with replicas of the 12 ‘jyotirlingas’ enclosing it that and an elegant mock structure of ‘Shirdi Dhaam’.
The site is a real eye-catcher with a grand gallery displaying Sikkimese art and a lush green garden festooned with fountains at different levels.
We soon head off for Gangtok. With cool breeze slapping our face, we yet again soak in the sights and sounds of nature. The place is like a hidden dream.