The Silk Route or Silk Road refers to a network of ancient trade routes connecting Asia, Europe and Africa. Extending more than 6,500 kms, the Silk Route was majorly used to transport Chinese Silk to Europe through Central Asia from 2nd Century BC. The Old Silk Route in Sikkim is an offshoot of the ancient and historic Silk Road, which was once a large network of trade avenues. This road had been part and parcel of a cultural
amalgamation that encompassed various regions of Asia and connected the East and West of India, China, and Pakistan across the Mediterranean Sea. The part, which passes through Sikkim, connects China and India via the Lhasa, Nathu La, and Jelep La Pass and reaches Tamralipta (now Tamluk) in West Bengal. From here, this road connects to the sea in the east. The road extends to more than 6,500 kilometres and was once used for excessive trade of gold, copper, cotton, sugar, salt, tea, and horses. Its exquisite scenic beauty and comfortable climate have made the place a hot-favourite destination among a plethora of travellers comingfrom different corners of the world.
Old Baba Mandir or Adi Baba Mandir is dedicated to Baba Harbhajan Singh, a Sepoy in the 23rd Regiment, who died near the Nathu La during Indo – China war in 1962. This temple was built at the site of the bunker of Baba Harbhajan Singh and is maintained by Indian Army. It is reported that Indian soldiers have got favours by Baba who also guards each one in the inhospitable terrain. A camp bed is kept for him and his boots are polished and uniform kept ready every night. The sheets are reportedly crumpled every morning and boots muddy by evening. The Major continues to draw a salary and takes his annual leave.
The true beauty of the Tibetan Highlands can be experienced at Tukla Valley. Located at an altitude of around 12500 feet above sea level, Tukla Valley in Sikkim offers a majestic panoramic view of Mt. Khangchendzonga and its allied peaks. The valley contains a famous war memorial, which was constructed to commemorate the death of British soldiers who died in the Battle of Tukla. The Tukla Valley is covered with snow during winter and in September-October, the whole valley becomes red due to the growth of a local flowers.
Kupup Lake locally called Bitan Cho is one of the most sacred lakes of Sikkim. Owing to its resemblance to elephant, Kupup Lake is also known as Elephant Lake. The lake nestles at an altitude of 13,066 feet, on the way to Jelepla Pass, bordering area with China and India. It is the second highest mountain in Bhutan. The shape of the lake resembles an elephant. The right side of the lake looks like an elephant trunk and on the left, it looks like tail. The lake is also accompanied by a stunning valley. A small village called Kupup, which has only few houses and a police check post is located at the lake coast.
At 11200 feet, Thambi View Point offers a panoramic view of Mt. Khangchendzonga. Located at a distance of 14 kms from Zuluk on the famous zig-zag road (locally called Bhulbhulaiya for its 30 hairpin turns) Thambi is a roadside viewpoint that opens up suddenly to Mt. Khangchendzonga. Named after the Civil Engineer who constructed this amazing road, Thambi Viewpoint truly honours the extra-ordinary feat achieved by the engineers and workers who constructed this road. On a clear day on your way to Thambi viewpoint, you would also catch a glimpse of the zig zag road from Zuluk.
Located at 13,000 feet above sea level, tucked within barren mountain slopes, strewn with rocks and pebbles and devoid of any vegetation, the newly formed Hangu Lake is nearly one km long. Fed by glacial waters, the lake reflects the shadows of the surrounding mountains. The advent of winter brings flocks of migratory birds from across the Himalayas to the shallow waters of Hangu Lake. The Indian Army’s memorial to the Forgotten Soldier is located on a Hill Top beside the Hangu Lake. Adventure tourism activities like rock climbing, zorbing ball, mountain biking, boating and zip-line along Hangu Lake near Kupup in East Sikkim have been recently initiated by Kupup Village Development & Tourism Cooperative Society Ltd.
Jelep La is a high altitude mountain pass at 13,999 feet linking Lhasa to India. It nestles between India and Tibet in the eastern part of the Sikkim in India. The word Jelep La is of Tibetan origin and it means “the lovely level pass”. It is truly the most level among all the passes between Sikkim and Tibet. The beautiful Menmecho Lake flows below the Jelep La Pass. One can savor the awesome sight of the pass, while coming from New Baba Mandir to Kupup Lake, just after crossing the Menmecho Lake on the GN Road. There are some small military settlements at the Jelep La Pass. The complete trail from Jelep La Pass to the Kupup Lake is visible.
Dzuluk or Zuluk or Jhuluk or Jaluk is a small hamlet located at a height of around 10,000 feet (3,000 m) on the rugged terrain of the lower Himalayas in East Sikkim of the Indian state Sikkim. It was once a transit point to the historic Silk Route from Tibet to India that connected Lhasa (Tibet) to Kalimpong. Zuluk offers pleasant weather during most of the year and is surrounded by wild forest. Sighting of Deer, Wild Dog, Himalayan Bear the red panda is not very uncommon. Some tigers have also reportedly been sighted in the area. A variety of birds can also be seen such as Blood Pheasant, Himalayan monal, Kalij pheasant, Snow Pheasant and others. During the summer months, the area and its surrounding hills are covered with thousands of blooming rhododendron.
Perched on a hill slope at 8000 ft and covered in dense forests, Padamchen is a small village on the Silk Route circuit just 14 kms from Rongli and 4 kms from Zuluk. Padamchen experiences a very pleasant weather throughout the year and this is one of the main reasons for its popularity. Padamchen has some of the best views of the valleys and forests of this part of Sikkim and Himalayan foothills. The forests around Padamchen support a wide variety of bird population and bird watchers would love to spend a few days here. There is a heritage Forest Rest house at Padamchen too. You can visit this forest rest house to see the wooden floors, fireplace, verandah and wooden furniture from the forgotten days of the lonely Forest Officers and Sahibs who used to travel this way.
Laxman Chowk is wrongly called Luxmi Chowk by most people. From Laxman Chowk, the RN Road divides into two – one goes to Old Baba Mandir and the other goes to Nathang Valley. Located at 12,800 feet, Laxman Chowk was built in the fond memory of Lt. Col. Laxman Singh (Commanding Officer, 5 Mahar Borders) under whose command the unit pre-emptively secured the water shed opposite Chinese in General Area Dokala in 1965. A memorial was inaugurated by the Commander, 164 Mountain Brigade on 23 Mar 2013 here on the 65th Raising Day of the Battalion during Unit’s Second tenure in Nathang. One can get a panoramic view of Mt. Khangchendzonga from Laxman Chowk.
Shri Viswa Vinayaka Mandir also called Ganesh Mandir is a Hindu temple of Lord Ganesha. It is located in Rhenock Rungdung,East Sikkim, India. The four-storied temple stands 108 feet tall in a complex developed over a 2.56 acre plot. While a lot of the construction material was imported from Thailand, expert artisans were brought in from Nepal and West Bengal for the construction. This massive religious infrastructure of Hindu accords has 51 faces of Lord Ganesh, 50 placed at corridor with one with 16 hands at temple’s main entrance. The main altar has a 12-foot tall statue of Lord Ganesha with 16 hands. Adding excitement is another attraction i.e.the masisve mythological Demon vs Gods ‘Samudra Manthan’ statue. The story appears in the Bhagavata Purana, the Mahabharata and the Vishnu Purana, and explains the origin of amrita, the drink of immortality. Shivling and statue of Hanuman, nine realms or galaxy, the emphasis of solar eclipse in Hindu mythology are also present here.This beautiful religiously, historically and culturally rich and important monument is worth a visit.
Rongli is a very small village well preserved in the lap of the foothills of the Himalayas. The river Rongpo divides the village from the middle, creating natural walkways by its beautiful sides to reach Rhenock , another small town in the lap of the foothills. Being a beautiful tourist destination, the unique attraction of Rongli is lush greenery, hilly terrain and the serenity of the Himalayas. Two dams have been constructed - One on Rongli Khola near Sisney Village and other on Rangpochu at the foot of Lamaten village in East Sikkim. The Project has a common Powerhouse at the foot of Chuzachen village near the confluence of Rongli Khola and Rangpochu near Rongli town in East Sikkim. Project works have been completed and the Project has already achieved commercial operation in May 2013. The power from the Project is being evacuated through a dedicated 132 KV Double Circuit evacuation/transmission line constructed by the Energy & Power Department. The power from the Project is being fed into the evacuation system of Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd.
Shivalaya Temple is situated at the top of the hill near Hattipailay Village, belongs to Khambu or Rai; indigenous ethno linguistic groups of Nepal who are believed to have originated in the Maity Village. The temple provides the exquisite view of Lampokhari Lake surrounded by the tall and well-groomed trees of pine and fir. The temple offer as a vantage point to get the unobstructed view of mighty Mt. Khangchendzonga. The Sakewa Puja is held every year here by the Rai community in order to sow more plants and spread greenery. Thereafter the celebration occurs which includes the colourful dance and musical recitals performance by the community inside the temple. The special colourful dance is popularly known as 'Silli' which demonstrates the migratory bird movements of the region. It is a month long celebration which is gradually getting short due to scattered family members. The instruments used during the festival include dhol (dhela), jyamta, bow and arrow, etc. After that no one plays any musical instrument until the time comes to celebrate the harvest festival - udhowli.
Lampokhari is a mesmerizing emerald boot-shaped lake in Aritar, Sikkim. It is placed at an altitude of 4600 feet and is 1120 feet long and 240 feet wide. The main highlight about this natural lake is its boating facility and a pathway that has been constructed around the lake for tourists to look at it from different angles. The pine forest around the lake adds more charm and captivates the visitors here. There is also a small shrine on the banks of the lake dedicated to Guru Padmasambhava. This lake is popular for boating, hence, you can paddle around the boot shaped lake and enjoy every moment being one with nature. You can also hike up the pathway towards Mankhim and get a spellbinding view of the valleys and lake. You can also visit the Mankhim temple that is positioned right beside the lake.
Aritar Dak Bungalow also called as Ari-Bangla is one of the renowned attractions in Aritar. This age-old British bungalow built under the supervision of the 1st political officer of Sikkim in 1896, Sir James Claude White still stands strong. This heritage bungalow is located at an altitude of 1447 m and it offers a splendid view of the mountains, forests and valleys. Erstwhile, it was used as a health centre for the injured soldiers back in the 20th century but today it has been transformed into a reputed hotel in Aritar, and is renovated and equipped with all the modern furnishings.
Aritar Monastery, popularly known as Ari Gumpa is nestled on the edge of the Himalayas. It offers as a vantage point for the panoramic view of the lush green mountains, winding roads amidst rich vegetation and slow-moving green algae water of Lampokhri Lake. It is one of the oldest monasteries in Sikkim lying on the way to Mankhim Top but is often missed by the tourists on their visit to Aritar because of its secluded location. This sacred Buddhist pilgrim, embellished with best artifacts, finely carved and exotically painted murals, ancient manuscripts and traditional architecture, belongs to the Karma Kagyu lineage order of Tibetan Buddhism. On the visit to Aritar Gumpa, one can dwell into the rich traditional Buddhist art and literature.
The Kew Khola Falls also named as ‘Kuikhola falls or Kali Khola Falls’ by the locals is situated on the Old Silk Route, on the way from Rorathang to Rongli, East Sikkim. This 100 m gushing waterfall is blessed with immense natural beauty, which makes it one of the most attractive and visited waterfalls in Sikkim. The mesmerizing view of its crystal clear water, rackling from the lush green hills and falling over the rugged pieces of mountains, allures the tourists on the way to halt and capture some incredible pictures with nature in their cameras. The Kali Khola Falls is popularly known as the Lonely Falls, being tucked amidst profound nature.
Located at an altitude of 13,500 feet, Nathang valley was the home to traditional yak herders who came from Tibet. Few streams crisscross the valley, and prayer flags flutter on the mountain edges on this vast plain of nothingness. Nathang Valley appears in different colours in different times of the year. In autumn it looks golden when the grass dries up, in rainy season it’s covered in flowers and in winter it is buried in 5 feet of snow. Nathang Valley is also visited by migratory birds just before the onset of winter. There is a monastery, a temple and a small bridge over a small stream in the distance dotting the valley.
The Four Lake Point located at an altitude of 13600 feet on the way to Menmecho from Gangtok gives a panoramic view of the endless stretches of the barren Tibetan plateau with four emerald lakes dotted within the horizon.
The nearest two lakes are called Jorpokahri (twin lakes), the middle one is called Green Lake (not the one in North Sikkim) and the farthest one is Kupup Lake (also known as Elephant Lake or Bitang Cho) at 13066 feet above sea level. From the viewpoint of the Four Lake Point, Kupup Lake is almost 16 kms away in the horizon. This is an amazing viewpoint which introduces the travellers for the first time with the “nothingness” of the Tibetan Plateau.