It was a perfectly warm and sunny morning whence I was greeted by the gulmohor, jackfruit and jacaranda trees on my morning walk, all so familiar to me. For breakfast the lady served us dal-rice and vegetables, for which I gave her quiet a quizzical look. Now who the hell has dal-rice for breakfast, that’ lunch for god’ sake. My mind and eyes were just not able to digest what was on the table, but in the end the rumbling stomach over powered the mind to have dal-rice that fateful morning. Post breakfast Nima and myself met up with the local eco-tourism committee who were to show us around the place for tourists spots. With a growing number of tourists, people everywhere are beginning to have some obsession about so called ‘ tourists spots’ , for which they will cut down trees ( destroy the natural environment) and make all sorts of ugly structures. They cannot understand that there would be tourists who would be more appreciative if they left the environment, their customs and culture intact, instead of changing them to heed to the senseless masses. A half hour drive and an equal duration by foot got us to our first place ‘Alley Khet’, which was an open football ground from where one could get some good views of the surrounding area. But it seemed to me completely crazy and highly ambitious to promote a football ground , something which can be seen anywhere around. I could only give them a skeptic look as I was pretty speechless.
From here we walked down to the Sorok monastery in the scorching heat of day, and continued back to Kitam. On our way down we took a brief halt near the Kitam primary school, giving me an opportunity to peer into the cute little school. I glanced into one of the small classrooms, bringing great delight to the kids who were enthralled to have spotted an alien like me within their midst . And as soon as I took out my camera all hell broke loose as all the kids wanted to be photographed. This thing spread like an infectious disease and in no time kids from all the classrooms surrounded me to have their photographs taken. Only after taking tons of photos did I manage to somehow escape from their clutches. Our final sight that morning was an old village house constructed of mud and timber. It was more than a 100 years old and found it hard to digest that there were people still residing in it, for it was way to basic especially in today’ time and age.
The second half of the day , where we drove down to the Rangit turned out to be comparatively better than the morning half. Our first halt as usual was another ‘view point’ , a 40 feet watch tower standing in a forest thicket at the end of slope. I simply cannot understand this obsession with view points, but it seems to be deeply ingrained in the psyche of the philistine Indian tourist. As we continued our journey down, the driver came to a sudden halt pointing his finger down towards the open slope. He was showing us some peacocks which are apparently found in the plenty in this area. In 2006 Kitam was notified as a bird sanctuary to popularize and protect the diverse bird life of this area. The area which has been demarcated for the bird sanctuary winds around the road going down to the Rangit making it bit prone to vehicular traffic. Kitam’ low altitude and moderate temperatures makes it a hot spot for migratory birds which flock in plentiful during winters. Sightings of species like White-rumped Vulture, Slender-billed Vulture, Beautiful Nuthatch and the Rufous-necked Hornbill have prompted this area to be demarcated as an Important Bird Area (IBA). The road wound further down to take us to Majitar bazzar, a dusty and poor village on the banks of the Rangit. The ongoing volleyball game came to a sudden halt to quench the curiosity of the young boys towards us visitors. From the square we walked towards the Rangit over which a long footbridge has been constructed to connect the opposite bank in West Bengal. From the opposite bank a three hour trek gets one to the ever popular hill station of Darjeeling. The evening breeze brought with it a very cooling effect on the body and the mind enhancing the tranquility of the surroundings. The broad bank of the river makes it an ideal place for promoting tented accommodation and stays like those found on the Konkan coast.
Was a bit anxious the next morning, wondering which ‘view point’ I would be taken to today. It was around a 15 minute walk from the bazzar to a small stupa , sitting under the shady boughs of a Peepal tree. Some discussions followed after which they finally took us through the corn fields into the heart of the village. This was the best part of the place and something which I was looking forward to, rather than all the silly points. Locals tilling their land amidst chirping birds was a treat for the senses; an old man building a temporary bamboo shade, some women carrying basket loads of stones, a little ahead some more women singing while working in their fields brought forth the simplicity of life. The morning’ outing was followed by a lengthy discussion with local representatives on strategies to promote tourism in Kitam and packages they could offer, after which we bid them goodbye.
A half hour’ drive got us to Sumbuk , whose tranquility and rustic look attracted me immediately. In the fading light of the dusk sky it seemed to have a definitive other worldly village charm. We were cordially greeted by Puran, who is one of the most respected local and the person taking the lead to promote village tourism in Sumbuk. That evening we were served dinner in a bronze plate , a tradition reserved for very special guests, which was quite an honor for the both of us. The sumptuous spread consisting of different vegetables, french fries and meat was lavish by all proportions and I completely gorged on the food . Dinner was followed by more conversations and bed which proved to be a difficult affair. For some reason they had assumed that only Nima would come for the visit as a result there was only one spare bed for him. So we had to pass of an uncomfortable night, squeezed in the confines of a single bed which also was a bit short for me. To add to my woes there seemed to be no dearth of mosquitoes and other imaginable insects getting inside my blanket to ensure that my night was made even more miserable.
Was still recuperating from last night’ turmoil when I stepped out of the room for a short walk. The morning clouds hovering just above the valley gave out a dream like effect to the entire village. The floating clouds penetrated by the early rays of the sun accompanied by the melodious cooing of the birds completely rejuvenated me. Our first ‘tourist spot’ for the morning was another mandir, my fourth in three days, of which I was now getting a bit tired. From here we walked towards the bank of the Rangit, which has some factories leaving no scope to promote any activities. The scorching sun was now getting to me resulting in salty beads of sweat rolling down my bearded face. A small foot track led us up once again into the shady forests for which I was very thankful; 20 minutes later we were back on the road. Over here I witnessed something really ironic which disgusted me. Some locals were clearing a slope by cutting down trees leaving me a bit baffled as they were actually supposed to be planting trees. After a bit of talking and interrogation Nima found out that they were clearing the slope so that they could plant trees, an ironic case of deforestation for aforestation. It seems that the forest officer of that area had given them orders for the same, so that he could show his superiors the number of trees he had planted proving his performance. Found this completely crazy and disgusting but that is just how our bureaucratic protectors of the forests worked. Moved on to a small opening in the forest where they had made some rustic benches from where once could peacefully sit down and enjoy the birds.
In the afternoon Puran took us on a long tour of the village which was both beautiful and interesting. Sumbuk is considered the land of gladioli due to the abundant cultivation of this sword like flower over here. Luckily we were able to see the vivid colors in some of the fields. Besides horticulture there is a good deal of crops and vegetables like maize, black dal, sweet chilly, tomatoes, grown organically over here . Sumbuk being a farming village people very simple and warm, inviting us for tea while explaining us the intricacies of their farming practice. Our path cut across many small rivulets , dotted with really old banyan tress under which we used to rest. Time just flew by and I didn’t even realize that we were walking for two hours till the time we reached our house.
On our final morning we drove to upper Sumbuk from where we walked to ‘Tamble Chor’ , a small forested area on top of the range. The walk through orchid laden trees was very nice till the time we reached an opening where we saw some sort of construction. Puran told us that the tourism department was building a big mandir (which made my face go red) and some eco friendly huts. On our way down we took a short break at the Sumbuk market which was bustling with activity , it being the market day.
Thus came to an end my four day trip of two very different villages in South Sikkim.
All in all both places are definitely worth a visit especially during the winter months when the climate would be more pleasant compared to other snow bound places in Sikkim.