Thursday, February 27

Dzongu – a Lepcha Ecotourism Village in Sikkim

 I read about a village dominated by Lepcha community an year and half back in a travel forum. An offbeaten himalayan track in northern parts of Sikkim, left untouched by sticky travel agents by grace of its unmetalled roads and no hotels enroute. Lush green valleys populated with water streams gushing down the mountains abruptly .These cues were enough to visit Dzongu and meet Dupden.
Hanging bridge over river Teesta .
Dupden lives in Tingvong village in Upper Dzongu.  He is an active member of local eco-tourism team, an initiative taken by the Sikkim government and runs a homestay along with his wife Chuday on those guidelines. At present there are about a dozen of homestays that are in operation, combining both Upper and Lower areas of  Dzongu .
It was nine at night when we reached Tingvong. From Dikchu Bazar(13 kms before Mangan) it took one and half hours to cover about ten kilometers of kutcha road. This stretch of road reminded me of the bumpy caterpillar ride that I used to enjoy as a toddler. As we parked our car we found Dupden, eagerly waiting for us with couple of torches and a big smile.  He greeted us folding his hands, wrapping warmth around in that cold.Since Amavasya (no moon night) was nearby it made the night rich, complementing zillion of stars to sparkle in the sky. It looked like the sky draped her in a black muslin shawl with the brightest of white polka dots on it!
Due to powercut, Dupden had arranged a candlelit dinner for us. He first offered us 'Chee' in a bamboo mug with a straw (also made out of bamboo) followed by local foods in his kitchen cum dining area .
Chee is an alcoholic beverage, made from fermenting millet locally at home. Usually, accompanied with snacks or meals, and part of local food habit.
 Chee and local sweet biscuits Khabze.
We were not the only guest at Tingvong , we met another young couple from Kolkata who had arrived a couple of days back and were planning to leave next morning.  They told us that the homestay has got a spectacular view of Mount Pandim from its backyard. And it is worth waking up early to see the sunrise. As always, a disclaimer was attached ‘If the weather is clear’!
I was motivated enough to put on the alarm, but, the day’s tiredness had put fetters on my eyes and I missed the rise.
View of Mount Pandim  from the backyard of  homestay.
We saw the Bengali family whom we met previous night was leaving for Mangan. They were waiting for the jeep that regularly leaves the village at 7:30 in the morning. We bid them good-bye and hiked uphill. Our destination was Kusong village and our guide was Passang , Dupden's nephew. Passang is a high school student, studying at a local school near Mangan. He is friendly and an inquisitive teenager. He had also helped us reaching Tingvong from Pheedang check post , while we were on our way to Dzongu . 
A girl from the village carrying her brother on her back.
As we were heading towards the village monastery, the walk was getting tougher due to steep road.  The technique was to breathe deep and look up. My partner being an acrophobic was getting nervous with every step he was climbing up. Finally we reached Tarling Monastery, from here Kusong village starts. We were already exhausted and hungry by then and therefore decided to head Dupden's house for a sumptuous breakfast.
A chorten in Tarling Monastery.
Other than dark green landscapes and mighty streams of  Rongyoung Chu, Dzongu is famous for its Cardamom plantation. Almost every house has a farm for its cultivation . Avocado and Lapsi (a hill fruit) trees are also grown in this part of the state. Our next destination for the day was Lingthem Monastery.
The road to Lingthem was worse than that of Tingvong. Our car Tavera got stuck twice in mid of the road due to viscous mud . As Dupden claims the stretch to be an adventurous ride, indeed it was.  The slope of the valley had been converted to terrace farms for growing rice and other paddy crops. 
On the way to Lingthem Monastery.
We reached Lingthem by 12:30 in the afternoon and the monastery was closed by then, so we spent some time sitting on its courtyard. Passang took us to a house next to it where locals were celebrating monkhood of a nun. She meditated for three months inside a cave in lower Dzongu. We were welcomed with chee , Hit beer and khabze. Hit beer is owned by Indian actor Danny Denzongpa and is manufactured in Sikkim. The beer is very popular throughout the state and is cheap too. Khabze is a fried honeycomb shaped snack item which is sweet to taste. We resisted sipping the beer, but had crunchy khabze along with luke warm chee. Another highlight of the tour was cherry blossoms.  As expected the trees were in full bloom during first week of November and was treat for which my eyes were starving. 
Cherry blossom near the monastery.
 We then went to a hot spring nearby , since it was a Sunday the spring was preoccupied by women and kids from the village. The tempting hot water made me sit there soaking my feet.The water had some magical minerals which instantly relaxed every muscle of my tired feet. It was already half past four in the evening and we were yet to see  Lingzya waterfall. The surrounding was getting quieter and cold, so we stopped at Rukshyout (Tingvong) waterfall instead and called it a day. The water was freezing , I felt icicles were piercing my left foot as it touched the boulder beneath. We couldn't stand there for more than five minutes. Meanwhile, Passang gathered some dry leaves and wrappers to lit fire that saved us from hypothermia. 
Tingvong waterfall.
With the fading light of dusk we decided to return at Dupden’s nest. The evening then was spent in adda  and followed by dinner. Next morning I woke up early to see the sunrise and its rays touching Mount Pandim. By nine we were ready to move to our next destination Dzuluk in East Sikkim. Finally, Dupden and Chuday bid us adieu by wrapping a Khada (white scarf ) around our neck . 
Hanging bridge over Rongyoung Kyoung river .
  1. We booked the car that picked us from NJP Railway station for 3000 per day.
  2. Tingvong Homestay had charged INR 1200 per person per day for an API plan.
  3. Entry to Dzongu requires a permit which homestay owners can take care if required.
  4. There is no ATM in the area. Nearest one is at Mangan . So carry enough cash.
  5. Mr. Dupden Lapcha – +91 9593783043 (Tingvong Homestay)
  6. Mr. Banabash - +91 9832368745 (Driver)  
  7. There are a few homestays in other eco-villages too. A detailed information is here .        


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