My friend Arnab and I decided to spend three days in the lap of Himalayan nature to enjoy the peace and serenity i.e. absent from our daily lives. We left Kolkatta by the Howrah-Dubrugarh express on 14th November, 2012 (day after Diwali). As we neared New Jalpaiguri the next morning, the Kanchendzonga peak was clearly visible from the train that cheered our spirits.
On reaching New Jalpaiguri, we went to the Siliguri bus-stop (7 km) by auto and booked a Sumo for Rs.1400/ for Kalimpong, a distance of 68 km. I requested the driver Lalu to take us to ‘Bish-mile’ (‘20 miles’– such is the name of stops on mountain roads). He agreed for an extra payment of Rs. 500. By then I had already called our host at Sillery village, Dilip Tamang, who said he would be sending a Sumo to pick us up from the juncture of Kalimpong-Algarah-Pedong road and Sillery road.
3 km before Pedong, ½ km ahead of ‘Bish-mile’ along the Kalimpong-Algarah-Pedong road, a rocky off-shoot road takes a sharp elevation through lush green forest. A trek of 4.5 km took us to Sillery Gaon (village), a still lesser known though fast-becoming-popular serene destination. Locals adoringly call New-Darjeeling. Although the road is motorable the drive resembles more a galloping horse-ride. It is more enjoyable to trek through dense forests and the company of birds.
We reached Sillery after a grueling car ride but Dilip Tamang’s warm welcome, smile and Namaste made us forget what we had just endured. We had to climb a few boulder-steps to reach Tamang’s Nirmala Resort, a beautifully decorated Home-Stay in posh green colors as you will see in the photo gallery.
It was 2pm yet the sky was clear, a rarity in Himalayan tourist ‘seasons’ but not at this time of the year. Sensing a good photo opportunity we got busy with our cameras.
We took a walk in the village and had a most enjoyable experience amongst cheerful people.
That day was the festival of “Tika” where people apply Tika on each other’s foreheads, wear garlands, sing and dance. The Tika festival is similar to the “Bhaifota” festival of Bengalis, Bhai-dooj in Maharashtra and Tika in North India.
What we missed at home we got here. The villagers included us in their songs and dances.
There is another part of the festival. Young villagers form groups and visit houses singing/chanting the name of God. The owner of the house serves them with fruits and gives some money. There is a similar festival in rural Bengal known as “Ghentu-Puuja.”
We returned to Nirmala Resort in the evening after watching a spectacular sun-set from the forest just below a school at the bottom of the village. Dilip Tamang cheered us with the announcement that chicken curry would be served for dinner.
“Sillery” derives its name from a plant that grows in abundance in the region. This area is also well known for its Cinchona Plantation. The British introduced it in this region, as a source of Quinine, for treatment of Malaria.
This village houses around 30 families. Felling of trees and basic agriculture was once a way of life of the villagers, but eco-tourism is the new found alternative source of livelihood that would perhaps overwhelm the traditional one in near future.
Eco-tourism is a collective brain-child of the villagers, and the result is Home stays in many a houses. There is no permanent electricity supply in the village, however, work is on and electric posts and wires have already been installed – that would no doubt provide comfort to villagers and tourists but the unimaginative placements of prosaic electric posts and the commotion of wires have heavily compromised the beauty of the village.
At present, the owners of Home-Stays ensure generators from 6 pm to 9.30 pm (extendable on request) other than providing candles and kerosene lamps at night. Tourists have no problem charging their mobile phones or camera batteries.
The main attraction of the village other than its pristine greenery is the open north with the towering Kanchendzonga and Macchli-Puchhare peaks and mountain ranges as far as the eye can stretch.
The location of the village is very interesting. If one stands facing north, beneath the sloping village is Rishi river - the other side of which is Sikkim. To the left is Nepal, and beyond the Sikkim mountains is Tibet. Gangtok can be seen in front as also the international airport under construction. What a view it would be to see the flight land there! The new airport is scheduled to be completed by 2015. One has to be a bit patient for that.
You can do three interesting short treks from Sillery - Silence Valley, Damsang Fort, and Ramitey View Point – other than spending quality time in the lap of nature.
Ramitey view point is a 1.5 km trek from Sillery Gaon. The ‘kacca’ road is also motorable. The view point is undoubtedly one of the most vantage locations in this entire region with a spectacular view both the Kanchendzonga above and Teesta River below.
This view point offers the longest view of the meandering Teesta river through the valley with its 14 bends, and also the confluence of Rishi river and Teesta rivers besides a panoramic view of Himalayan ranges with the crowning Kanchendzonga. The entire region from Teesta Bazar to Majhitar is visible from here on a clear day.
The next place of interest is Damsang Fort. Built in 1690, it was the last home of Lepcha King- Gyabo Achuk. The Lepchas lost the fort to the Bhutanese and finally passed to the British after the Anglo-Bhutan War of 1864.
Nothing much remains of Damsang Fort today. The inevitable course of history and the earthquake of September 2012 have left only simple remnants.
Those interested in bird watching would find this place interesting. A little beyond the Damsang Fort is the Hanuman Top with a sculpture of Hanuman. A nice bird’s eye view of Kalimpong and its adjoining areas is sure refreshment.
Good bye Kanchendzonga, for now.
“I WILL BE BACK.”