Kaluk and Rinchenpong travel guide
Mountains of Sikkim are one of the most beautiful in the world. Situated in a remote part of that mountain are the twin hamlets of Kaluk and Rinchenpong. If you love the mountains and jump at the joy of seeing the snowy white peaks of the Himalayas, then it cannot get better than this. This place offers a majestic view of the mighty Himalayas. On a clear day you can see more than 10 peaks, including the fabulous Khangchendzonga (we soften it to Kanchenjunga).
Kaluk Rinchenpong mountains
It was the month of October, we were on our way to Kaluk from Siliguri in the jeep I arranged earlier. From the Sevoke bridge if you take right, you will enter the mountains of West Bengal and if you continue straight, you will go towards Sikkim. The jeep sped towards the looming hills in front of us, which gradually faded away in the mists. You can reach Kaluk/Rinchenpong by road only. The nearest railway station is New Jalpaiguri (113 Kms) and airport is Bagdogra. The shortest way would be via Jorethang, a bustling hill town. As we crossed the Teesta and went towards the hills, the air became cooler and the scenery greener. It's wonderful how the vegetation changes in the mountains. Another interesting fact about the Eastern Himalayas is that all the major tea gardens are located in the West Bengal part. Sikkim is endowed with only one tea garden.
We left the company of Teesta and went on, then found the beautiful River Rangit for company. It's like an emerald flowing with its green colour. Our driver decided to take a shortcut, through a place called Zoom. And we literally zoomed up. There were nearly 45 degree hairpin bends that took us to above 5000 feet within 20-25 mins. From there the road was only "jeep able" and we were rattled like a box full of coins.
At last we reached Kaluk after an arduous 3.5 Hrs drive. There are many resorts in Kaluk but only one hotel. We chose that hotel as it fitted our budget (Rs 800/day) and the food was really good. The specialty of the hotel is the rooftop restaurant, from where the view of the snow capped peaks is majestic! Imagine, lazing around in the restaurant sipping a piping hot cup of tea and in front of you the mighty Khangchendzonga range basking in the sunlight. If you have a higher budget and prefer to stay in a little more serene and classy surroundings, you can opt for the resorts. They also have a splendid view.
The snow clad peaks were lost away in mists, but still the view was amazing. There was a small temple in the hill above and some Buddhist prayer flags fluttered in the cold air nearby. We eagerly looked at some red objects kept in the sun. Initially we thought that they were cherries, but when we had a closer look, it turned out to be red chillies! The hill in front was Geyzing and opposite to that was Pelling, another famous tourist spot with a magnificent view. The hotel was situated on the road a little distance away from the village on the road, which spiralled away to Rinchenpong. All the resorts are located below the hotel, on a spiralling road going to a village down below. We just sat on the table-top restaurant and enjoyed the view, occasionally sipping a cup of tea.
The next day morning we woke up at 5 AM and waited for the sun rise. We frantically hoped that the mists will clear in the morning. It was still dark when we heard a beautiful whistling song coming from a nearby tree.
Looking closely, we saw that it was a hill mynah singing away joyfully. It cannot be expressed in words how sweet the bird sang. Soon a flock of them joined in a chorus and we could see the first rays of the sun lighting up the sky.
Golden glow on snow peak
Slowly the magic began. First we could see the snow peaks as grey walls standing in front, then suddenly the colour started changing! It became from light golden to bright red, with the first rays of the sun touching the snow. The view was so amazing, that for a moment we forgot everything. Slowly the sun was rising and the colors of the peaks were changing. We could see around 10-11 snow clad peaks glittering and glowing in the sunlight. In the morning, when we came up to the restaurant for tea, we could still see the peaks, but this time sparkling white.
Snow peaks far away
We planned to take a jeep and visit the nearby tourist spots. The most remarkable were the Singshore hanging bridge with a 1000 feet drop and the hanging city Dentam, which was literally hanging over a valley with slopes of terraced fields. Below flowed a small mountain stream. It looked like someone plucked a city right out of a fairytale and placed it here.
Singshore hanging bridge
Our jeep driver suddenly told us to roll up our window glasses as he came near a waterfall. The specialty of this waterfall was that it splashed directly on the road from the hill top above, creating a kind of shower. He took the jeep below that, switched off the engine and waited for 5 mins till the car was washed clean. A natural car wash!
The roads of West Sikkim are generally so bad it's preferable to take a jeep instead of a small car with low ground clearance.
Next day we planned to walk to Rinchenpong to visit the local monastery there. It's only 3 Kms from Kaluk. The road to Rinchenpong is very beautiful and scenic. After reaching RInchenpong main square, we took a right turn towards the monastery. It was around 1 Km from there through a forested road. When we reached there, we felt that it was really worth it. In front of us there were rows of prayer flags on both sides of the road ahead leading to the smallest and cutest monastery we have ever seen! There was a ground in front of the monastery where the kids were playing. The small huts where the monks lived stood out to the edge looking down to the valley below. In all, it was magnificent!
Guide map of Rinchenpong
There were many places for sight-seeing here but we decided to enjoy the serene surroundings of the monastery and go back to Kaluk. While returning we were really hungry and went to a local restaurant to get a taste of the local cuisine. Usually most of the restaurants in the Eastern Himalayas serve momos and chowmein, but it was special here. The pork and the chicken momos were awesome and we really indulged in them.
The last day before coming back, we planned to go to Ravangla, which was around 2 hours from here via the Temi tea estate, the only tea garden in Sikkim. It falls on the way to Ravangla, on a diversion. There is also a beautiful Orchid garden on the way to Temi, but Orchids flower only in the March-May season and there was nothing to be seen there in October. The tea garden was fabulous with a magnificent view of the neighbouring hills. If you go down along the tea garden, you can also buy some fresh tea from the factory outlet.
When we were reaching Ravangla, a magnificent snow peak was towering in front of us on the horizon. From here there is a splendid view of the 2 peaks, Kabru and Siniolchu, which the local folks sometimes call as Khangchendzonga as people are more familiar with that. The view was straight taken out from an oil painting with the white snow clad mountains towering over the lush green forests.
The final day when we had to come back, we decided to make it more interesting and adventurous by rafting on the famous Teesta. The rafting starts at Tarkhola in Teesta bazar. There are 2 options that you can take. One is the 8 Km stretch and another is the 11 km stretch. We took the 8 km one as we didn't have much time in hand. The boat fare per person was around 350 Rs and the maximum capacity of a boat is 10 persons. If you are more adventurous, you can reserve a single boat for 3500 Rs, but it's a little risky if you are few in number, as the balance is not as good as the 10 person option. There are also camera men standing near the booking counter, offering to take the photographs for a hefty sum. We therefore asked our driver, for an extra sum of course, to take our photos as we flowed with the river. The experience will definitely last a lifetime! The rubber boat jumping and gliding upon the rapids and then suddenly moving smoothly along a quiet stretch of the river.
After the rafting was over, we were all wet and shivering. If you decide to go rafting, remember to keep an extra set of dry clothes. There's no changing room or washroom near the river. The nearest will be Siliguri, around 32 Kms away!
We reached Siliguri after about an hour and a half, to board our bus for Kolkata. We were clearly sad by the looks of all of our faces. Only if some good things never come to an end!