Trust me, in Sikkim, you desire nothing more than clear views of the Kanchenjunga range. From the time one arrives in Gangtok, one can feel the pull of this snowcapped, lofty range. You wake up in the morning to capture the orange hue of the rising sun over the mountains and in the evening the yellow of the sky as the sunsets. To get even closer and personal to Kanchenjunga, I added Pelling to my Sikkim itinerary. And not just the views of lofty Himalayan snow peaks, forest trails and ancient ruins, colorful monasteries, and a laidback lifestyle makes Pelling, a pleasant attraction.
I boarded a shared taxi from Gangtok to Pelling which takes five hours. It was a tiring journey taking hops at some major towns of Sikkim. A major part of the journey was along the Teesta and the Rangit rivers, offering some splendid views of the valleys and small hamlets set amidst the deeply thicketed forests. It was almost evening when I reached the Pelling stop. In the first look, Pelling looked lackluster with squat hotels springing at every end. The silvery mountain views seemed the only saving grace. And that it was almost evening when I reached there was nothing much to do except for taking a stroll around the town. It didn’t take me long to realize that the weary stretch of the hotel around me was surrounded by deep woods. And one can with ease take a hike on the steep slope along with the gnarly trees lending audience to the faintest of sounds in the natural kingdom seemingly magnified in the studied silence of the stretch.
With every step, I discovered the ineffable charm of Pelling – the solitude, the kindness in the smiles, the crisp, clean air, the mesmerizing views from every turn, and a promise of finding new things in two days. I did not have a list in mind for Pelling. I wished to wander along and discover some parts of this appealing town.
I set off early the next morning to a modern addition to Pelling’s horizon, the 98 feet high statue of Chenrezig (Avalokitesvara) – believed to be an embodiment of compassion. A steep half-hour walk brings you to the place popularly called the Skywalk. The statue towers over a sprawling complex with the main attraction of the complex being the Skywalk area. And the views from the Skywalk are so pristine. Next to this complex is housed a 17th-century monastery, the Sanga-Ngang Choling (pronounced Sangacholing) monastery. To me, the real catch was the walk from the Pelling town to the Skywalk, and as I walked downhill multitude of thoughts came into my mind. I felt wrapped in the refreshing charm of the place.
Grinning like a child I entered a tearoom as I came back to the town. Over momos and tea, the owner of the shop convinced me to go to Darap, a village eight kilometers away from Pelling town. With absolutely no plan to stick to, I readily said yes and set off for the village.
Darap was what Pelling could never be – free from all the billboards, and its infectious rustic charm. The comfortable one-storeyed houses often doubling as homestays had open spaces and a mandatory kitchen garden. I felt a certain intimacy in the village – the giggles of the children as they went about their wintery afternoon games, the hospitable yet curious smiles of the locals, and the youth in the village assembled in some balconies or at tea-shops sharing stories and their lives. Everything sort of overlapped – different ideas and frames mixing in unison.
It didn’t take me much time to blend into Darap’s rhythm. And even if my stay was to be short I wanted to feel every inch of Darap’s life. Its exquisiteness and that charming melange of colors and emotions had deeply touched my heart. The cab driver took me around the village, to the verdant rice fields leading to the cardamom plantations. He took me to a small hilltop with a local shrine at the top. The shrine was a pit stop for travelers and traders to pay homage to before starting on a business journey.
By the time we hiked down, it was late and I wanted to stay in the village for the night. And however, that would have meant changing some plans for the next morning but I was keen to breathe in the stillness of the place. There was poetry in that silence. I walked through the village. Most had gone indoors now. We sat down to catch on a conversation over tea and momos. The local kid started sharing some of the places he used to call his hiding place. Then we walked down the road that petered out to the forests. I could see some lights downhill at a distance. ‘That would be Gewzing’ I was told. I turned to the other side, pitch dark. Slowly my eyes adjusted to the inky night, and I saw hundreds of fireflies flitting in and out of that fleeting conversation. It was like everything was falling in place to make that night memorable for life. There was no place I ever wanted to be in – the present was enough to curl up and live all life in.
The next day I woke up to stroll through the village and live the morning life of the locals. Men and women had woken to go off on their business wearing hospitable, carefree smiles, and the kids had come out to enjoy their next game. I looked at the munificence of the Kanchenjunga and everything around looked so transient. I went to the same shop for some morning chai and noodles, and start a conversation with them. I was discovering a new kind of traveler in me, one who revels in the slowness of things, and revers these connections made by chance. I stopped at many places on my way back to pick some wildflowers, or just over at the horizon, feeling in the vastness of the place, and the closeness to something so pristine. I returned and instead of taking any other journey, I decided to take a stroll away from the Pelling town. There was a monastery a few kilometers down. I sat down at one of the rocks observing the different activities in the monasteries and wondered how incredible it is to sit down and live in the present – travel without a plan or a list. Some places are so touching, they leave you in doubts, drowned in questions, and yet all you wish is to smile and keep these places in a special corner in your memory lanes. Pelling proved such to me.