Varsey Rhododendron Sanctuary
It was about 4.30 in the afternoon. A milestone on the edge of the ditch said Okhrey is still 4 km. It has started to rain. It’s 9,000 feet high, and it’s raining. The bus windows have to be kept closed for the chilling cold outside. The hilly road in front is completely blurred and there is no visibility even 4 feet away. The bus is moving slowly with the fog lights on as it moves the rafts of the clouds.
My Darjeeling Mail arrived late in the morning at NJP. As a result when I reached SNT Terminus by auto from NJP, I heard that a car for Jorthang had left a while ago. So I took the next share jeep from SNT and it took about 3 hours to reach Jorthang. After getting down at Jorthang I discovered that the last share jeep from Jorthang to Okhrey has already left! The only option was bus and after lunch I boarded the bus to Okhrey. Even though it took a little longer time travelling by bus (about 4 hours), the journey was comfortable than the share jeep.
The bus drive was acquainted with Karma Sherpa’s home stay very well. So he dropped me off at the right place. I had booked Karma Sherpa’s home stay from Kolkata itself over the phone . The date was April 14. It was hot enough when I was at Jorthang and at least there was no need for winter clothes. But as soon as I got down from the bus in front of the Karma Sherpa’s Home Stay I was shivering in the cold.
I couldn’t feel the cold inside the bus as the windows were closed. Moreover there was no sign for the rain to stop. I became very anxious at the thought such continuous rain might destroy the floral beauty also for whom I have travelled such a long distance from Kolkata! Sherpa’s shop was just beside the road and his home stay next to the shop.
He came forward to greet me and went down the stairs with me to show me my room. This man I svery gentle in his behaviors. He also introduced me to his wife and son. His warm behavior and hospitality reduced my journey fatigue a lot. He sent a hot coffee in the hands of his boy to me. Entire family got busy in guest servicing. As soon as I entered the room, my mind was felt with joy. In front of me is an open mountain peak from the front porch.
Clouds were playing in between the distant blue hills. I couldn’t stand long at the veranda because of the rain. I came inside the room and enjoyed the view from the window how this beautiful hilly village in West Sikkim slowly moved from afternoon to evening. Meanwhile, the cold was piercing my bone marrow. Even after putting on heavy jacket & getting under the blanket on those clothes, I was unable to beat that chill!
There is a drink called Tungba in these villages of Sikkim. In extreme cold it keeps the body warm. This drink is made with millet. It is served in a beautiful bowl of bamboo with the head covered. The lid is leaked and a bamboo tube is attached to the bottom of the pot, which is used like straw. Separately, a flask of hot water is given, which is poured into a tungba and pulled through a tube. This is in the size of a lantern. Perplexed by the cold, I asked Karma to bring a Tungba for me. But after taking a few sips I felt this stuff is not my cup of tea. After a quick dinner, I took shelter under the blanket for the day.
The next morning Karma Sherpa took me to Okhrey Monastery on his own car.
Fortunately, the sky is clear today. This monastery is very beautiful on the hillside. Next to the main gumpha are two chortens. Next to it, a Buddhist prayer wheel and some white flags which are are fluttering in the wind. At the back side of the gumpha is the residence of the lamas. Then Karma Daju took me to Hilley. This Hilley is one of the entrances to the Varsey Rhododendron Sanctuary.
You have to trek about 4 km through the hilly forest to reach Varsey. Karma Daju assured me that he would come back before I return back from Varsey. March and April, these two months are the time for blooming of the rhododendrons. I started trekking by making a permit at the gate of the Sanctuary. A narrow one-lane road runs through the dense green forest across the Sanctuary. The density of the forest is so high that at some places sunlight is not able to penetrate the deep foliage.
As it was a gradual trekking route, I didn’t face much problem with breathing. After 30 minutes of trekking I found rhododendron. This bunch of red flowers is as if provoking me to climb higher and higher.
I got assured that yesterday afternoon’s fear in my mind about the flowers was not practical. The flowers did not fall in the rain. As I moved on, the number of rhododendrons was also increasing. I reached the table top of Varsey in about an hour and a half. Wherever my eyes are going, it looked as a beautiful world of watercolor painting around me. There are hills is covered in red, white and pink rhododendrons.
It’s like a mountain lady dressed up in her festival attire. Varsey is at an altitude of 10,000 ft. Sky is still cloudy.Some of the trees are covered with the flowers in such a way that leaves are also not visible.
The mountains seem to have engaged itself in the game of colors. The mountains in front are in a combination of green and red. And the distant mountains are buzzing through the clouds with a bluish tinge.
If the sky is not cloudy, Kanchenjunga can be seen from here. Of course, I did not expect to see Kanchenjunga in the month of April. Guraskunj is located in this Rhododendron Sanctuary and my destination today is till that point. Rhododendron in local dialect is called “Guras” and from that came the name Guraskunj, which is actually a resort on the top of the hill. With prior plans and booking you can stay in this Gurasakunj.
I was stuck in this flower valley for several hours in an inexhaustible attraction of nature. I perceived Varsey with all my senses. Eventually it started to drizzle and I decided to descend down from the hill. It took lesser time while climbing down. When I reached the gate at 3.20pm, I saw Karma Daju waving at me from a distance.
As if one of his relatives had conquered Everest…the expression on his face was somewhat like that! These people of the hills can really make an outsider feel so close to them and that also so easily. It is not possible for me to go anywhere else today, obsessed with this heavenly beauty at this moment. I came to Karma’s home stay and simply relaxed in the veranda of the room with a mug of coffee.
I enjoyed the setting sun’s disbursed colors getting scattered through the clouds over the mountains, which painted my heart too with those heavenly colors. In that twilight of the day I went out to stroll a bit in the sweet little village of Okhrey and after returning back ended the day by gazing at the twinkling of stars in the distant mountains at night.
Today is the third day. After having breakfast at 9 in the morning, I said goodbye to Karma Sherpa and left for Burmiok. A local Sherpa drove me a little way in his car. From where he dropped, I got a share jeep for Burmiok. Bermiok and Hee are called twin villages. These two twin villages are at an altitude of 5905 feet. I had already booked Amarjit Babu’s hotel from Kolkata. This Bengali gentleman is very friendly. He is the owner of Hotel Silent Valley . The roof top dining hall of this hotel is really worth mentioning.
Large glass window panes adorn the hall on the hill side and gives an open view of the hill from there. After lunch I went out on the hilly road. Small roads along the hill and a few scattered houses adorn the the Bermiok hill. This is this Burmiok village. There is a custom in this village that on the day of roofing of a house, the landlord or housewife feeds all the villagers. In a house in the village, I saw that the roof casting festival is going on today.
Walking down the hillside in the mild cold, it was nice to mingle with these simple people. There is a school somewhere in this dreamland whose presence was exactly like the soft light falling on the slope of the mountains… a football match going on in the field in front of it. A few neat and clean wooden houses scattered somewhere and the glimpse of absolute peace on the faces of its inhabitants sitting in front of that house amazed me a lot. Everything here seem like an imaginary world coming straight out of a an artist’s brush.
The small village really gave a feel good factor. I went to the village market before evening. In addition to the various daily necessities shops, there were several flower shops also.
Evergreen female shopkeepers of those shops seem to be the members of the family of those flowers. I booked a car parked near this market for the next day. Back in the Silent Valley, I spent the evening chatting with Amarjit Babu about the story of the mountains. After dinner I plunged into the stillness of the quiet valley in the night and called it a day.
The young driver arrived just in time with his Alto in the morning. I went out with him for today’s sight seeing and set off for “Chayataal”. After driving for a while, there was an uphill ride. Circling the mountain we reached Chayataal. The hide and seek of sun & clouds seem to be engaged in a never ending game! The word “taal” is the local term for “lake”. This lake is at an altitude of 6000 feet. The fusion of the shadow of the mountains and the shadow of the sun from behind the clouds on the water of the lake have a beautiful soothing atmosphere.
There is also a temple beside the lake. I saw my driver was busy picking some edible herbs from the lake. There is also a guest house in Chayataal. I spent some time in the shades of the trees and then headed for our next spot, Sirijunga.
At around 11.20am my driver dropped me at the spot from where I have to descend down by foot to see Sirijunga Falls.There are stairs along the slope of the hill. And I started to climb down without wasting time. I looked back and saw a villager walking down the same street with a huge basket on his shoulder.
He has his Nepali hat on his head. His existence seemed very suitable in the middle of the young green hill and forest in the backdrop. At each turn of the road, different watercolor frames are waiting for my lens to be captured. Somewhere in the middle of step farming over the hills I discovered a small hut. And somewhere at the very last edge of the hillside, there is a dream house surrounded by a garden.
No words are perfect to describe that beauty. After descending down quite a bit I found a wood warehouse.
I discovered a rocky road next to the warehouse. Asking the localites I realized that I could have come to this point by car as this road is approachable by car. However, I did not feel sad about it because I witnessed an extraordinary form of nature in the 300 steps that I have covered few minutes back. But after that what they said, startled me a lot. As far as I’ve come, it’s not even 25% of the waterfall road! This point is the end of this village. The next part of the journey will be completely mine alone. I will not get any help from anyone after this point.
The game of counting the stairs has now blown off from my head by that time with the thought of next 75%. If I succeed to climb down to the last point, on returning from there I have to climb up so many steps and this thought itself created an emtiness in my heart. However, there is no point in backing up as I have already started the journey. First of all, I called the driver and told him to come and stand at this point after an hour (so that I can at least save 25% of ascending in my return journey). I carried on descending. It’s like a stairway to the underworld. It seemed a never ending journey.Anyway,I finally arrived at the ultimate point of Sirijunga Falls.
Sirijunga was one of the famous preachers of the Limbu community. This waterfall is named after him. The waterfall falls from a height of about 250 feet, the source of which is the Kalej Khola river and the Rishi Khola river.Next to this waterfall is a natural cave called Sirijunga Cave. I could clearly imagine how terribly beautiful this Sirijunga would be during the rainy season. Overcoming the fear of my own mind, I found that I would have missed out such a wonderful place if not I climbed down till this point. The upward climbing was a real tough one. But the joy of winning that battle overcame that hardship and brought me to that wooden warehouse. The driver has arrived there already by then.
After that drove to Sirijunga Yuma Mangheem. This temple holds many information and memories of Sirijunga. The Tibetan rulers of that time absolutely disliked this propaganda from the Limbu community . Finally one day Sirijunga was tied to a tree and killed with a bow and arrow.
My next destination is Bermiok monastery. Like other hilly monasteries this monastery is also beautifully decorated and colorful by nature. The windows and the entrance to the monastery were very attractive.
We got up a few more turns from Bermiok monastery and reached the Singhabahini Mahakali Temple. In the hills it is not common to see such a large Kali temple.
Today is my last night at Bermiok. After dinner I sat in the roof top dining hall of Silent Valley for a long time and enjoyed the beauty of Bermiok village that’s painted on the canvas of a starry night without clouds. I got up in the morning, had breakfast, said goodbye to Amarjit Babu and Bermiok and left for Jorthang. The experience of these four days in the lap of the mountains remained in my heart forever.
Best Time To Visit:
For getting the full bloom of the rhododendrons March & April are best months.
How To Reach:
You have to reach NJP station first. From Sealdah trains are available to NJP. From NJP take auto and reach SNT terminus from where buses and share jeeps are available for various parts of Sikkim. There is no direct route car for Okhrey. From SNT take share car for Jorthang. Jorthang is a junction point of Sikkim from where buses and share jeeps are available to almost all parts of Sikkim. From Jorthang take share jeep or bust to Okhrey.
Where To Stay:
At Okhrey: Karma Sherpa’s Homestay – 9933730484
At Bermiok: Silent Valley – 9831833588
Places To Visit:
- Okhrey village
- Okhrey Monastery
- Varsey Rhododendron Sanctuary
- Bermiok village
- Sirijunga waterfalls
- Sirijunga Yuma Mangheem
- Singhabahini Mahakali Temple
Hi! I am from Kolkata, India. Travelling and photography is my passion. As I love landscape photography most, travelling goes hand in hand with it. Since my matriculation days I started travelling. I have also penned down a book on my travelling which is available in Amazon in the name of Ghuranchandi – Part 1. Whatever travel experiences I have, I have shared those in my blog in the form of travel stories.