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The mountain views of Rinchenpong are as fascinating as those of Darjeeling, Gantok or Pelling, writes Rangan Datta

rinchenpongIn 1860 the British sent an expeditionary force to Sikkim. When the force reached Rinchenpong the Lapchas (the original inhabitants of Sikkim) used herbs to poison the water of a pond, the only source of water in Rinchenpong, thus killing half of the British forces and forcing them to beat a retreat.

The pond was christened Poison Pokhri, making it one of the earliest examples of bio-chemical warfare, and can still be seen in Rinchenpong. Sadly the small, almost dry pond is nothing impressive, but don’t be disheartened.

The mountain views of Rinchenpong are as fascinating as those of Darjeeling, Gantok or Pelling. So if you are tired of viewing Kanchenjunga above a crowded cityscape then pack your bags and head for Rinchenpong, but don’t be late as unplanned tourism can soon turn it into another crowded, dirty hill-station. Apart from great mountain views,

Rinchenpong has something more to offer. A series of winding stone-paved trails lead one past Lapcha traditional houses and old British forest bungalows to ancient monasteries, housing rare idols. The trail passes through beautiful forest, with the snowy peaks of Himalayas towering above the treetops.
For the most comfortable journey take the night bus / train to Siliguri / New Jalpaiguri. From Siliguri jeeps are available to Rinchenpong via Jorethang. The 130kms journey takes about 5 hours and passes along the banks of Teesta and Rangit Rivers and beneath a canopy of lush green trees.rinchenpongq
You will be in Rinchenpong by evening and check in at one of the few hotels that dot the bazaar area. Next morning you will be greeted by a spectacular sunrise on Kanchenjunga and its sister peaks. One by one Kanchenjunga, Rathong, Kabru, Kumbhakarna, Pandim, etc. will catch the crimson rays of the rising sun turning the entire massive range into a bright shade of scarlet. Try to get a room with a mountain-view, so that you can enjoy the entire spectacle from the warmth of your room. But if you can’t manage one simply rush to the rooftop, where the crisp cool morning air will refresh you for the long walks ahead.
After a quick filling breakfast, follow the step road from the bazaar which takes you to the banks of the rinchenpongPoison Pokhri. Just opposite the Pokhri, a flight of stone staircases leads one to a beautiful forest trail ultimately leading to the Rinchenpong Monastery. Fluttering prayer flags and young lamas welcome you to the monastery, which also doubles up as a lama-training centre. Built in 1717 the monastery contains a rare idol of Ati Buddha in Yub-Yum position, which shows Buddha in meditating position with a woman embracing him.
Bidding farewell to Rinchenpong Monastery, follow a jungle trail to a staircase leading to the Resume Monastery. The steep stairs makes going difficult, but the chirping and tweeting of birds and an occasional peek of snow peaks gleaming through treetops are enough to charge your batteries. The Resume Monastery, run by two young lamas, is in a rundown state, but the monastery strategically located on a ridge top overlooking the sleepy hamlet of Rinchenpong offers a grand view of the mountains.
After a short stop at the monastery follow your steps downwards and take a short diversion to the traditional Lapcha house. Built in original Lapcha style, the house doubles up as an artifact shop. Get back to the trail and follow it to the metal road. At the confluence of the steps and the metal road lies the British Forest Bungalow. Today, maintained by the Sikkim PWD, the bungalow has been modified and nothing much remains of its past. Follow the metal road past the Poison Pokhri to the Rinchenpong bazaar, marking the end of a three-hour long trek.rinchenpong
After a quick bath and lunch we head out for Maggi Dara, where a new monastery is being built. Next to the monastery lies the Rabindra Smriti Van. A marble plaque containing a verse from the Poet’s Gitanjali welcomes you to this reserve forest ideal for short afternoon strolls. The evening can be spent exploring the bazaar. After a night halt at the hotel and another glorious sunrise its time for home.

Kolkata – New Jalpaiguri / Siliguri train / bus. Siliguri – Jorethang (Rs 80, 3 hours). Jorethang – Rinchenpong (Rs50, 2 hours)
Getting around: Walking is the only option.
Places to stay: Hotel Norlha, Rinchenpong Nest, Hotel Mountain View, and Hotel Rinchen. Room prices range from Rs 400 – 750 (However prices are subjected to heavy bargain) The first three are managed by Reesham Associates and can be contacted at E 1/8 Sudakshina Estate (B), Raja S C Mallick Road, Kolkata – 47. Ph 2430 1182 / 98302 71064
Places to eat: All the hotels have restaurants. Momos and thukpas are also available at local eateries.

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