Durga puja is a great festival for the Bengali. It is celebrated in the Bengali calendar month Ashwin (September/October). Every year my son would stay with me during puja and we both enjoyed puja, cooking and eating together. But in this puja ( October 2018) he was not with me as he was in abroad for his higher studies. So, I found staying in Kolkata alone during puja was absolutely purposeless for me. I suddenly thought that it would be the best way to spend the time in the interior of Himalayas. I searched for a place in North Sikkim which would be serene even in the time of Durga puja. Normally most of the people in Bengal get 3/4 days vacation during this period and schools and institutions remain close for at least ten days. So many people travel during this period. Sikkim being a nearby destination there remains a rush for Gangtok or popular places of Sikkim.
I found out the name Dzongu after a few days home work. It is a Lapcha village. Lapchas are the original native residents of Sikkim. The valley is a protected area and one needs to get permit from the local DC office to go there. As I planned for Dzongu I also planned to visit Gurudongmar lake because during my last visit to Sikkim I could not manage to go the lake due to heavy rainfall.
I boarded Tista -Torsha Express from Sealdah and reached New Jalpaiguri. Early in the morning when auto started plying to Shiliguri bus stand from the railway station I went to the bus stand and boarded a bus which was going to Gangtok. Buses ply regularly from Shiliguri to Gangtok every hour. I got down at Singtam and went to the taxi stand to get a shared jeep for Mangan. I reached Mangan Taxi stand at 1 pm. I found another shared jeep which would go to Dzongu. But there was no driver and no one could tell when the jeep would start. I also had to make permit for Dzongu and Lachen so I hired a taxi. The driver took me to the police station to make permit because DC office was closed then. The officer in charge inquired why I had been alone and then checked my documents. He gladly gave me the permit addressing me a brave lady. I reached Dzongu. As I did not have any previous booking and I did not know very well where to stay the driver took me to a home-stay at Paasingdang village.
It was a pleasant stay at Dzongu . I stayed there for 3 days. The home-stay owner helped me to get a taxi to go to Lachen. I could go by shared jeep too but I had pain in legs due to 10 km down hill trek from Tholung monastery previous day. I went to Lachen. I stayed in another home-stay there. I went to Gurudongmar by a Scorpio arranged by my hostess. It was a beautiful experience watching autumn colours of the trees on the way with Lachen river by the side. Weather was quite clear this time and I watched the magnificent turquoise blue lake.
From Lachen I got down to Mangan. I visited the Monastery of Mangan and Shinghik view point. Shinghik is a place on the way from Chungthang to Mangan. Then I came down to Shiliguri again by Sikkim Government bus and caught Kolkata -Shiliguri Volvo bus.
Lachen is a small village in North Siikim. People come here not only for its natural beauty, but also to halt one night here to go to the holy lake of Gurudongmar. I visited Lachen few years ago, but I could not reach Gurudongmar due to heavy snowfall. When I suddenly planned to visit Dzongu I thought I should try again to visit Gurudongmar lake. So, from Dzongu I hired a taxi which dropped me at Lachen.
I reached Lachen at 1 PM. I did not have any previous booking for accommodation. It was the season of Durga Puja, so there was a huge rush of Bengali tourists in Sikkim. Though Gurudongmar is not very much popular due to its altitude, many people do not feel comfortable at the high altitude of 17,800 ft, but still there were many groups of traveler. Not many hotels were there in Lachen, so getting down from the car I entered into a hotel which was in front of me. The owner was not there. A hotel stuff was there, he called up the owner. The owner was a young fellow. He said that his hotel was completely booked but he could accommodate me in their house. There was a home-stay run by his mother.
The home-stay was also booked but the lady somehow managed a room for me. We were of the same age. When she came to know that I have severe pain in my legs and knees, she massaged hot oil mixed with local herbs for a long time sitting beside the fireplace in their living room. It worked miraculously. I felt very much comfortable after that. A neighbour woman came there to talk to her. When she learnt that I wished to visit Gurudongmar lake next day, she arranged a Scrorpio car at a reasonable price for me talking to her husband. She was very young and never came down from the hilly region. She asked me lots of questions about my city, she was surprised to know that no one in Kolkata lived in wooden house. I had Sikkimese cuisine there cooked by my home stay owner.
Next morning at 5 o’clock I went to Gurudongmar lake and came back in the evening. A group of visitors from Assam was there, the lady of the home-stay was busy preparing food for them. Her grand daughter was helping her who came from Gangtok with her brother in law. Her brother in law was surprised to hear that I came all alone. He rebuked me for taking such kind of risk and advised me to come with someone next time. He eagerly arranged my return to Mangan next morning, and while leaving he warned me that if I would come with someone then only I would be accommodated.
Dzongu is a valley in North Sikkim. This is a protected area for Lapcha tribe, who are the original inhabitants of Sikkim. I had no previous plan for going there. I suddenly decided to plan a short trip during 2018 Durga puja vacation. During Durga puja millions of Bengalis go out for their yearly trips. Sikkim being one of the nearest and cheapest destinations, the rush is maximum there during this period. So I thought to choose a place that is a bit different and not so popular among common people. After taking opinions of few of my travel freak friends I got an idea how to reach there.
I reached New Jalpaiguri by Tista-Tosha express at 3 Am. I waited 2 hours in the waiting room of the station. At 5 o’clock in the early morning when auto rickshaw service started I went to Shiliguri bus stand by an auto rickshaw. I boarded a bus which was going to Gangtok. I told the conductor that I wanted to get down at Singtam, a small transit town. The driver stopped the bus in front of a small bridge on the highway and informed that I have to enter into the town to get a shared jeep for Mangan. When I reached Mangan Taxi stand it was 1 PM, I found a shared jeep for Dzongu but there was no certainty when would it reach there. So I hired a taxi for myself on condition that the driver would help me to get permit from the police station as the DC office was closed during Durga Puja.
There were few villages in the Dzongu valley. I had no idea which village was suitable for stay. The driver arranged a home stay at Passindang village for me. At night I had a nice authentic Lapcha dinner with 2 types of ferns cooked in two different methods, daal, and fried beef with 2 rotis. They were very tasty, I was hungry too, I enjoyed the meal very much. I slept quickly as soon as I went to bed with the symphony of cricket and the sound of the stream that flowed nearby. In the mid night when I woke up I heard that the chirping of cricket had stopped, instead there was sound of rain drops.
In the morning Dzongu looked mystic with clouds everywhere. After breakfast I went to Tholung monastery by the car of my home stay owner. They had black cardamom plantation field there. The monastery was small. There were few stupas. It was a long way which I had to come down by myself. Though it was quite tiring I enjoyed the picturesque and tranquil views of the villages of green Dzongu valley, river Tista, beautiful birds, butterflies, unknown wild flowers, quash hanging here and there in plenty.