New Areas Open to Visitors in Sikkim
Reprinted from a letter sent to Britt and Jean Smith
An enticing, alluring, almost irresistible invitation and announcement has recently arrived in a letter from Sikkim. It is relayed to you here. Sikkim has just opened to interested visitors some of the most beautiful, least known, mountain scenery in the world, home of numerous of our choicest rhododendrons and other alpine plants. There are miles of new roads and improved trails. A Rhododendron Festival is being planned.
Dear Jean and Britt,
Perhaps the rhododendron fraternity will be pleased to know that most of North Sikkim is now open to foreign visitors. The principal routes that are just opened are:
1. Tour Groups (4 to 20) can now go beyond 12 km of Yumthang. The Momesamdong at an altitude of almost 14,500 feet are the habitat of fine alpine rhododendrons and a host of other alpines. It is connected by very good motorable roads.
2. Lachen-Thangu in northwest Sikkim beyond Tsungthang is now open.
Gangtok-Lachung-Yumthang-Momesamdong-Tsungthang-Lachen-Thangu-Gangtok should now make excellent motor-trek (as you coined it!)
3. The most interesting route, Mangan-Tolung Valley-Kishongla, is excellent for arduous trekkers with rhododendrons and other flora explorations in mind. This is the land of Lepchas and was forbidden so far. Even J.D. Hooker was not allowed to visit. There is no botanical exploration so far and the area is least disturbed by human interference. The range in altitude is from 2,500 feet (at Sangkhalang below Mangan near the river bank where you had lunch during your previous visit to North Sikkim) to 15,500 feet at Kishongla. From Kishongla there is a route via Zedang to go to Lachen. It should be an ideal area for rhodo species enthusiasts and possibly RSF - but as tourists/trekkers. The mountain view from Kishongla is out of the world. Unfortunately not for you and me!!
4. Another route of interest is Vershay-Chiwabhanjyang-Dhond-Garakhet-Bikhbari-Dzongri. The route follows the Sikkim-Nepal border. It is trek throughout.
I thought I should inform you straightway so that news should spread among the rhodophiles. I have also asked Sailesh to work out details for communicating to you. My only worry is whether these beautiful routes will soon be overrun with visitors of all sorts and would be tourist-bazaar. Tsomgu Lake that you visited has become the destination for Calcutta tourists - with 250 to 300 vehicles plying per day in season. Garbage clearance has become the big problem. Some NGOs have mobilized various organizations like Taxi Ass., Hotel and Res. Ass., etc., to [have] them cleared from today and also working as a regular programme.
There are some more changes in the Forest Department. Mr. T.R. Sharma is now the new chief (Principal Conservator of Forests cum Secretary). Mr. Basnett will only advise the Department...
Mr. Madan Tamang came to see me sometime back. He is very pleased that the article on him has appeared in the ARS Journal. It has encouraged him a great deal. He has asked me to open his Rhododendron Garden at Darjeeling in September. I am also encouraging him to go in for Rhododendron Nature Reserve in his vast tract of land at Megu (Darjeeling-Nepal border). The lower areas he is thinking of going in for tea and above for rhodos and associate high altitude species. I shall keep you informed as it progresses. I have promised for wide publicity as naturally he needs financial and other help to get it materialised.
With North Sikkim getting wide opened I wonder whether we could organize one Rhododendron Festival for a week somewhere in North Sikkim within the next two years. One place I have in mind is Mensithang (near Tsungthang). It is a base for Lachen, Lachung and even Tolung. The idea is to gather trusses of a wide range of rhododendrons in the area by mobilizing the local people from interior forest areas and display specially for rhododendron enthusiasts. We can also think as one of the programmes for year 2000...