A holiday in Sikkim to many normally means a visit to Gangtok, Nathula Pass and for those with a little more time, a stay at Pelling or a trip to the Yumthang valley – all terribly crowded with tourists during the season time.
But for those who want to beat the tourist rush and venture into the off-beaten path, there are many other places to see. The Pakyong area is one such destination. Tourists visiting the Rhenock and Aritar area from Gangtok can take the Pakyong route where there are much lesser-known but interesting places of interest which you will not find in any guidebook. Visitors can also visit these places en route to Gangtok from the Pakyong airport which is located a few kilometers from Pakyong Bazar. You can even throw in a few easy treks in your itinerary.
Pakyong has gently undulating hills in the range of 4000 ft to 5000 ft above mean sea level and a climate that is very mild and salubrious throughout the year. It is well known for its flowers like Orchids, Gerbera, and Gladioli which are supplied to the flower market in Sikkim and other places in the country.
The Karthok Monastery close to the Pakyong Bazar is considered one of the oldest monasteries in Sikkim. It is just 3 kilometers uphill by road from Pakyong Bazar. You need to take the road in front of the Pakyong Police Station. It belongs to the Kathokpa sub-sect of the Nyingmapa sect of Buddhism. The monastery has been completely renovated and retrofitted and looks as though it was newly constructed. Stop over for a few minutes to catch a view of the airport on the way to the monastery.
View Point & Cave, Bojaytar
A further 3 kilometers uphill from Karthok Monastery is View Point. Located within the Oasis of peace park View Point at Bojay Tar offers a breathtaking view of the theRanipul valley below. The viewpoint is located on the top of a small cave which you can explore after taking in the scenery.
Shivalaya is about 10 km from Pakyong on the way to Rorathang. It was established as a place of worship in 1872 when there was only a stone in the form of a Shiv Linga. Takara Chandrabir Pradhan thereafter constructed a small temple. Shivalaya is now a full-fledged concrete structure temple housing the statues of Lord Shiva and other Hindu deities. While all major Hindu festivals are celebrated at this temple, newly married-couples come here to seek blessings for nuptial bliss. There is also a Vedic Pathsalya(school) within the premises of the temple where Sanskrit and Vedas are taught.
Pachey Khani Kothi
It was the house of one of the Taksaris who were the official miners and earning huge profits from mining copper. What is unique about this wood and stone mansion is that it has 52 doors and was locally called BhavanDokhaKothi. It is private property but you can ask the caretaker to show you around.
Abandoned Copper mines
In the days yore, trading was done in Sikkim by barter. Towards the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Sikkim began minting its own coins. The Durbar of Sikkim authorized some businessmen to mint coins. This triggered a copper mining venture in Sikkim. Pakyong was rich in copper deposits and huge swaths of land were dug to mine the copper which was converted to coins. Later, copper was exported to minters called Taksaris. However, by the beginning of the twentieth century, the mines were exhausted of copper and it was no longer economically viable to further carry out operations. PN Bose Dy. Superintendent Geological Survey of India visited the mines in 1891 and wrote this about the mines in the Gazetteer of Sikkim compiled by HH Risleyand published in 1894.
The ore is got out by manual labor, with no machinery or even blasting being resorted to. The tools generally used are an iron hammer and an ordinary wedge or chisel (cheni), which is held by a strip of split bamboo twisted around it. Small picks are also sometimes employed
The lights used are torches made of thin strips of bamboo about a foot long, which burn for a minute. This necessitates the presence of two men, one to hold the light while the other chisels out the ore. by of strip of split bamboo twisted around it.
The caves which were dug still exist and can be visited: a reminder of the important role they had in the history of Sikkim. One cave is located in Packeykhani as depicted on the map.
For visitors interested in this part of Sikkim’s past, a day or two exploring the mines would be worthwhile. As the caves are not properly demarcated, it would involve interacting with the locals and asking for directions – a good way to get exposed to the way of life of the area.
National Research Center for Orchids
The weather of Pakyong is very conducive to the growth of orchids and it is no wonder that a full-fledged National Research Centre for Orchids under the aegis of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research has been established here. Propagation of local orchids, tissue culture, and development of new species are prime activities of the Centre.
Serendipity Private Museum
Pakyong has a rich history and was the hub of the mining of copper and minting of coins during the second half of the nineteenth century. The house of one of the minters also called Taksaris still exists in Pakyong Bazar. Named Serendipity, it is the home of a descendant Narayan Pradhan. The living room of this house which is about 180 years old has been converted into a museum. Visiting here is like getting caught in a time warp: there are artifacts on display that hark back to a bygone era. Postal stamps, coins, letters, photographs, statues, and other family heirlooms are placed in every space available in the living room. Serendipity is open to the public.
A few kilometers from Pakyong Bazar and perched on a hilltop, this Nyingmapa sect Monastery revered by the locals. One should visit the monastery just before the Loosongfestival in December when it becomes live with Masked dances and reverberates with the sound of trumpets, drums and cymbals. It is also the perfect location for catching a majestic view of the surrounding areas.
Yaakten & Jhandi Dara
A few kilometers away Pakyong Bazar is Yaakten a delightful village with seven or eight homestays. Homestays here charge between Rs 800 to Rs 1000 per person on twin sharing with all meals included. Yaakten is the take-off point for the trek to Jhandidara. If you want to make the best of your stay here, then you should commence your trek early morning while it is still dark.
The climb is moderate on a bridle path and in about an hour you reachGarhidara the highest point of this trek at an altitude of about 6800 ft. A three-storied concrete watch tower is located here but it has been surrounded by tall trees and therefore you cannot get much of a view. Just adjacent to the watchtower is an altar with small statues of the Hindu deities Ram, Sita, and Laxman.
There is a plan to construct a temple here. During Ram Nami (ChaiteDasai).which falls in the month of April, this area becomes live with worshipers from surrounding areas Temporary shops, mostly eateries sprout up here. A gentle downhill walk of about half a kilometer on a ridge reaches you to Jhandidara. Nestled on top of the spur of the hill, it offers a commanding view of the Khanchendzonga range in the west; Jaluk, Jelepla, and Nathula in the east. In the southerly direction, the towns of Rhenock and Rongli can clearly be discerned.
The eastern sky slowly lights up and the snow-clad peaks become crimson and then glistening white. As the sun rises, the crowns of smaller mountains are brightened up one by one and then slowly the probing rays enter the deepest of the valleys and the gorges revealing verdant forests soaked in hundreds of shades of green. The walk downhill back to Yaakten takes a little less than an hour.
Machong, Loosing & Rolep Area
Pakyong to Machong is about 25 kilometers taking about an hour to cover. Machong again is the home to a famous monastery belonging to the Nyingmapa sect. Another place worth visiting is Loosing which is about 10 kilometers downhill from Machong and on the banks of the Rangpo River. If you like you can stay in one of the homestays and spend time fishing, swimming, and walking around. From Loosing you have to drive back uphill to Machong and continue to Rigep now famous for a newly constructed Makhim temple belonging to the Rai community. If you have time you can participate in the puja which is held twice a day: 6 am and then 6 pm.
A further 5 kilometers away is Chochenpokhari. Until a few years ago a beautiful lake existed here but over time the water drained away resulting in a dry basin. This notwithstanding it is still very picturesque and presents an awesome sight. The paddy fields around the lake present a stunning vista changing colors from deep green during the monsoons to a golden hue in autumn. Just about half a kilometer above the road is Dhungkaney a small cave that is sacred to the Buddhists. The next destination is Rolep which is about 10 kilometers away.
Rolep like Yaakten has many homestays on the bank of the river Rangpo Chu. The river is teeming with trout and other aquatic animals – an ideal location for fishing. Rolep is the take-off point for the Baudha Dham also called Takuney by the Buddhists and reaching there involves a 3-kilometer trek. The path is lined mostly with maple, magnolia, and oak trees. Butterflies of many hues flash like living jewels dancing from flower to flower. The first two kilometers are characterized by a gentle climb. Stretches of the path pass through deep gorges and along cliff slides which hardly receive any sunlight. You also encounter large patches of cardamom fields. After an hour you reach the confluence of the Changu Khola and the Gnathang Khola. After negotiating a footbridge across the Gnathang Khola the steep one-kilometer climb to the cave commences.
All of a sudden the facade of the cave adorned with prayer flags becomes visible through the thick foliage. It is believed that Guru Padmasambhava visited this cave and Buddhists rever it on the same footing as Taksam in Paro Bhutan. Hindus also come here to worship Lord Shiva The looming structure in fact consists of three stories. The ground level has a cave about 8 ft high and 15 ft wide with a depth of 10 ft. Small statues of Lord Shiva and Guru Padmasambhava have been placed in the cave. The second level has a cave with a narrow entrance that opens into a natural hall that is used as a meditation hall. At the roof of the cave, a triangular depression in the rock led to the formation of a small pond. Legend has it that if the water in this pond dries, it foretells a bad omen for the state. The walk back to Rolep takes about an hour.