Apart from Pellining being the main city of Western Sikkim ,there are many other important destinations from where a traveller can explore even more ancient monasteries and the versatile geography of western Sikkim. YUKSOM is one of such village in the north most fringe of West Sikkim which not only forms an important base point for the famous Goechala trek but also has a rich historical background of ancient Sikkim when it was closely attached with Tibetan Buddhism. Yuksom was the first capital of the Sikkimese ruler in the 17 th century which was later shifted to Rabdentse near Pelling. Yuksom has the oldest monastery of West Sikkim called the Dubdi monastery situated deep within the forests. But before reaching Yuksom which is 35 kms away from Pelling ,the route has some important destinations with some exquisite landscapes which are must visit tourist spots for every traveller travelling to Sikkim.
As we started our road trip through the meandering roads towards Yuksom we crossed the village Darap which has recently become famous as an eco friendly village,with numerous homestays offering stunning views of Mt. Kanchenjunga peak.After that we proceeded to one of the most famous destination in West Sikkim known as Khecheopalri lake. Khecheopalri lake is situated in the village with the same name at an altitude of 1700 metres above sea level and is a sacred lake for the sikkimese people. The lake forms the pilgrimage site of the most important pilgrimage tour for the sikkimese people which consists of Yuksom,Dubdi monastery,Pemayangtse monastery,Rabdentse ruins ,the Sanga Choeling monastery and Tashiding. The local name of the lake refers to “Oh lady sit here” which refers to the footprints of Goddess Tara blessed by Guru Padsambhava. Hence due to the sacred history of the lake it is also known as wish fulfilling lake.
View of Khecheopalri lake as we enter the jetty.
There is a white stupa on the walking trail to the lake and a grey stupa just in front of the lake. Along with the symbols and prayers marked on the walls on the way to the lake it symbolises the religious sacredness of the place for both the Buddhist and the Hindus. The vicinity of the lake is marked with numerous prayer flags of various colours which adorns the beautiful natural scenery in a splendid way.
White stupa at the start of the trail leading to Khecheopalri lake.
A hike at the top of a mountain will take us to a view point from where we get to see the entire periphery of the lake which looks like the footprint of the local God Tara. Hindus also believe it to be the footprint of Lord Shiva who meditated in one of the caves of the nearby sacred hill. Now a jetty has been built marked by prayer wheels to lead us to the front of the lake where tourists may offer incense sticks and worship the sacred goddess of the lake.
Ancient Stupa just at the front of Khechopalri lake.
The lake is believed to be free from any leaves of trees as it is believed that the birds in the vicinity pick up the leaves which fall into the lake. The lake contains numerous fishes that thrive which can be easily seen from the jetty. The road to the lake is through dense Himalayan forests and one has to take a 10 min walk through the dense forests from the monastery at the starting of the village ,after which no vehicles are allowed. Shoes are not allowed in the jetty and tourists are requested to maintain silence which is a common ethic in each and every tourist spot maintained by the Sikkimese people.
Place of worship at Khecheopalri lake which can be reached through the jetty.
Numerous prayer flags in the premises of the lake signifying the sacredness of the lake to the Sikkimese people.
The native people living here are mostly of Lepcha origin whose main source of income is farming and shops for tourists. The influx of the tourists is huge in this sacred lake due to its sacredness and tourist travelling to Sikkim must visit this destination in priority to complete the religious circuit of West sikkim. Capturing the beautiful mountains and the pristine water of the lake in a frame is a must do activity for any tourist travelling to north east India and tourists must also include the adjoining stupas,prayer flags and the natural scenery in their frame as a memorable experience to remember.
Our next destination was Kanchendzonga waterfall which is situated at an hour drive before Yuksom just beside the Pelling Yuksom highway. The first stream of waterfall is a narrow one from where the local people has set up zip line adventure sports that is an added attraction for the tourists.As we walk further inside through the rocks we come across the main waterfall which is of much greater volume but lesser in height than other waterfalls in the rest of Sikkim. But the huge volume of water gushing down to the gorge below the highway is a magnificent attraction which allures every tourist visiting Pelling in West Sikkim.
One advantage that we got was that the waterfall volume increased due to the previous day rainfall for which we were able to capture a more beautiful gushing free flow of water in the vicinity of the mountains. The waterfall is perennial in nature so tourist can visit the waterfall in anytime of the year which proves the permanent importance of this tourist spot in West Sikkim.
As we proceeded towards Yuksom ,we crossed numerous iron bridges which are frequent here in the highways across north east of India. People of Sikkim adorn them with prayer flags which makes them look more beautiful with the background of the Himalayan mountains.We crossed the fast flowing Rathmong Chu river that later meets the Teesta river in the south of Sikkim and entered the quaint village of Yuksom through the meandering roads. The road quality is pretty good except some rough patches which is common due to the landslide zone of the Himalayas.
One of the many iron bridge over the mountain rivers. In this case the river was Rathmong Chu,just before Yuksom.
We checked into Hotel Red Palace which is situated 1 km uphill inside the pine forests of Yuksom bazaar. I must say this the best hotel in this small hill station that offers some out of this world views of the Himalayas from its premises. The hotel offers rooms starting from Rs 1600 which are wooden and spacious rooms ,each of them having wide angle views of the West Sikkim valley. Most surprisingly the Chenrezig statue of the skywalk in Pelling is visible from the hotel and the Mount Kabru peak of the Himalayas.
View from our room in Hotel Red palace.
The terrace of the hotel offering beautiful views of the mountains.
The hotel windows and the corridors are beautifully decorated having paintings of the tribal Sikkimese people on the white walls of the corridors. It has a cozy decorated sitting area in its reception and a library in the 1st floor. The restaurant offers delectable dishes which is situated in the basement. The most alluring part of the hotel is its open terrace that offers panoramic view of the Sikkim valley. The hotel is situated in a completely secluded place surrounded with pine forests and vast open grounds which are decorated with yellow prayer flags.
Hotel Red palace in Yuksom.
The terrace was an ideal place to have an early morning breakfast.
In the premises Stupas have been built where I think people come to offer prayers. The stupas are very common in this part of Sikkim perhaps due to the influence of Tibetan Buddhism since this entire circuit in West Sikkim has been derived from Guru Padmasambhava.
Stupas for worship inside the campus of the hotel.
The first tourist spot that we visited in Yuksom was the Norbugang coronation throne.The spot was previously a trekking route but now the spot is motorable through a cobbled road . The tourist spot has an adjacent monastery which has a huge statue of the Buddhist statue overlooking the Yuksom valley. One has to remove shoes to enter the sacred place of this monastery.
Monastery beside Norbugang coronation throne.
Views of the Yuksom valley from the monastery.
The coronation throne is more like a park which has a rich history dating back to the 17th century when Yuksom was the capital of the Sikkimese king. Here the king Lhatsen Chempo was coronated by three lamas and it was believed that when the king received the gifts from all the people of the area ,these were buried in the chortens that was build with woods and stones collected from all parts of Sikkim.The throne known as Norbugang is situated below a large pine tree which is now believed to be more than three hundred years old.The coronation throne which was built with stones is whitewashed now and decorated with numerous prayer flags all around. This sacred place is of high importance for all the Lepcha people residing in Sikkim and adjacent parts belonging to Tibetan Buddhism.
Holy park of Norbugang decorated with prayer flags
The coronation Place of Norbugang Coronation place.
Adjacent to this holy park there is a lake called Karthok which also derives it’s significance from Buddhism practiced by the lamas living in the area. The sanctity of the lake can be understood by the numerous prayer flags that fits in with the pristine green grassland and the surrounding mountains in the vicinity of the lake. I was even surprised to see the colourful orange fishes inside the lake that thrive on the algae and organic plants on the lake. The lake can be reached through by a meagre 50 metres walking through a rough terrain of rocks and roots but this little effort will lead us to a wonderful location of utmost natural beauty in this part of Sikkim.
Next an half an hour drive in the direction of the helipad of Yuksom will lead us to the oldest monastery of Sikkim called Dubdi monastery.The road to the Dubdi monastery is extremely rough and patchy through dense forests. From the motorable road one has to trek uphill for 400 metres to reach this ancient monastery. The trek is through dense jungle and extremely steep so be careful to hold your breath and keep your time to reach your final destination. The monastery is situated in a completely isolated place and most of the tourists come here to spend their time in solitude.
Trail path to Dubdi monastery.
The monastery in local language meaning the retreat was established by the first king of Sikkim in the year 1701 .The monastery has a beautiful architecture which contains ancient manuscripts and the three statues of the lamas who established Yuksom as the first capital of Sikkim in the 17 th century.Relevant to it’s historical importance the monastery is situated inside deep forest providing astounding views of the Himalayas in the background. The monastery is a must visit place in West Sikkim to understand the significant life of the monks who still practice Tibetan buddhism and lead their exclusive life dedicated to Buddhism.
After that we proceeded towards Siliguri and on the way we decided to visit Phamrong waterfalls as our last destination in this circuit. Phamrong waterfall is situated deep into the forests ,7 km from Yuksom on the highway towards Tashiding. This is the highest waterfall of Sikkim and the splendid view of the gushing waterfall flowing down from the Himalayas can be captured from a bridge just on the front of the waterfall ,adorned with prayer flags.
For travellers seeking to get a closer view of the waterfall one has to trek around 200 steps after which there is a view point.The trek is a little bit scary as the steps are almost damaged and one has to cross some precarious terrain of rocks and boulders.
Steps to main view point of Phamrong waterfall.
The pathway is through dense jungle but after some 15 minute of hard work one gets the delightful opportunity to spend some precious moments with the alluring scenery of the mighty waterfall. From here one gets to capture the waterfall in their photo frame from different angles and admire the greenery of the surrounding Himalayas.
After my short stay in West Sikkim I returned back through the same route via Jorethang to Siliguri taking back beautiful memories of the most religious circuit of Sikkim. I missed the Tashiding monastery which forms the last town in this heritage Buddhist circuit of the 17th century history of Sikkim as I was short of time. But I would advice every traveller to follow this route and spare an hour in Tashiding to complete the entire circuit. Tashiding monastery will fall on the same route so it will be quite easy to plan accordingly while completing the itinerary of West Sikkim. It is also advisable to stay for another day in Yuksom as after my numerous adventures in the Himalayas I found this quaint village as one of the most scenic and cleanest village in North East of India. The hill station provides some stunning views of the Himalayas and is also an important gateway to the enigmatic Kanchendzonga national park.
On my return journey to Siliguri as I crossed Tashiding I saw the Rathong Chu river meeting the Rangit river which then further flows down and meets the Teesta river into North Bengal. The iron hanging bridges with numerous prayer flags we’re common in these river crossings which reminded me of the ethnic mountain people living their life in these mountains. The view of the gorges from these bridges with the natural sound of the gushing waterflow of the river water through the rocks are always the best memories to cherish after a trip to the mighty Himalayas.
A hanging bridge just after legship built at the confluence of Rathong chu river with Rangit river.
While returning one can have lunch in Jorethang which as mentioned earlier is one of the main city in Sikkim where backpackers can easily find shared taxi from the taxi stand to different parts of Sikkim as it is a major public communication hub.
With this I conclude my journey of West Sikkim but do keep following our blogs as West Sikkim doesn’t end here. West Sikkim has more hidden treasures in the further west which I will explore in my next trip to Okhrey and Uttarey ,surrounding the Varsey rhododendron sanctuary.