The moment I stepped within the town limits of Ravangla, a hilly green fragrance pervaded my nostrils, filling up my senses with a kind of uninhabited and wild longing... to be free and in the midst of nature.
In 1994, I had caught a fleeting glimpse of Ravangla, also known as Rabong, situated in south Sikkim, through the misty windows of my Jeep as I hurtled towards Gangtok from Pelling in west Sikkim. Because of adverse weather conditions and many stopovers, it took about 12 hours to reach our destination. Well, that was 20 years ago.
While driving through the hilly terrain I happened to make out a few shapes of trees and buildings in the fading light as I was passing Ravangla. I still remember that I had felt a pleasurable chill as I promised myself that I would come back later to explore this sleepy hamlet.
But the demands of daily life pushed back the image of Ravangla into the far recesses of my mind and I almost forgot all about it! Years later, I came across the town in a documentary... and I was in Ravangla the next week!
Ravangla is situated 7,800 ft above sea level, and you'll feel a chill even in the month of June as the waning daylight suddenly vanishes from the azure sky and darkness envelops the town in a mysterious shroud.
There are a few hotels in this town; more in the market area, but you would do better if you move away from the humdrum and walk down Kewzing Road to find yourself several guesthouses and resorts of the quieter sort, with their own restaurants and orchid gardens.
Among places to see, there is the recently opened Buddha Park, which has one of the biggest and tallest Buddha idols in this part of the world. The park was inaugurated by the Dalai Lama last March. One should also visit the only tea garden in all of
Sikkim, Temi, a 40-minute drive from Ravangla.
Another must-visit is the Ralong Monastery, also known as the Palchen Choeling Monastic Institute. The biggest monastery in Sikkim, it's a spectacular example of typical Tibetan architecture. The exterior and interiors in bright yellow and red are sure to take your breath away. The exquisite Buddha idol and rare paintings are equally stunning. Most of the offerings here are candy and chocolates, and I received chocolates as prasad from the lamas.
The annual chham (masked dance) called Pang Lhabsol attracts many tourists to this place.Taste the local brew, chhang, and enjoy momos, thukpa and shabalay in the local shops. Liquor is very cheap in Sikkim as it is a non-taxable item in this state. If you happen to be there on a Sunday, visit the local church on the 14th Mile.
Come back with loads of moist, green memories and that unforgettable whiff of mountain air.
GOING: You can fly to Bagdogra, take an overnight bus to Siliguri or a train to NJP. Then go to the Sikkim Nationalised Transport stand on Hill Cart Road, the main artery of Siliguri town. From there, you will get buses and cars to Ravangla, which is 120 km away.
STAYING: There are a good number of hotels, resorts and guest-houses to choose from.
As published in The Telegraph, Kolkata, April 5, 2015
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