Pelling at heartstrings

Chitra Ramaswamy | Updated on February 17, 2011 Published on February 17, 2011


Pelling falls

Pelling temple

It is Sikkim's best window to the mighty Kangchendzonga, besides offering quick getaways to the spectacularly beautiful surrounding regions.

Dense fog surrounds us as we wend our way from Gangtok to Pelling in West Sikkim. Longfu, the genial local who has been chauffeuring us for a week now across this mystical landscape, appears unperturbed by the thick white veil as he manoeuvres the car deftly through winding roads, hairpin bends and sharp curves.

The magic of Sikkim unfolds before us as we pass along breathtaking terrains that are a heady mixture of rolling tea gardens, luxuriantly blossom-filled valleys, ice-capped rugged mountains, deep gorges, gurgling streams and gushing waterfalls. The people in their flamboyant attire are just as charming, and hospitable to boot.

As we near Pelling, the towering Kangchendzonga (or Kanchenjunga) at 28,169 ft looms closer into view. Although this Himalayan range is visible from nearly every part of this tiny State, it is at Pelling that we get some of the best, most uninterrupted views. Of course, the mist plays hide-and-seek every few minutes, but we manage to savour the sight of the beauteous Kangchendzonga long enough without the snowy drape.

Wishing lake

While Pelling itself is a tiny, nondescript village dotted with typical mountain dwellings, hotels and fast-food outlets, it is a useful takeoff point for visits to Khecheopalri Lake, Pemayanste and Sango Choling Monasteries, Kangchendzonga and other waterfalls, Tashiding and Yoksum.

After halting for a steaming cup of ginger chai at one of the dhabas, we head towards Khecheopalri Lake, also called the Wishing Lake, about 6 km away.

The serene waters, festooned by fluttering prayer flags, is enveloped by greenery. According to legend, this was once a grazing ground filled with stinging nettle until one day, a native Lepcha couple saw a pair of conch shells plummet from the sky towards the earth at great speed. Where the shells struck the ground, water sprang up and formed the lake.

Buddhists believe the lake resembles the footprint of goddess Tara, and worship it as the abode of Tshomen Gyalmo, the chief protector-nymph of the Dharma.

Another interesting legend has it that even the birds in the area worship the lake by clearing it of all the fallen leaves and other foliage.

In this tranquil setting, we spot several colourful monastic dwellings. Tourists stroll along the walkway leading to the edge of the lake, turning the prayer wheels along the way. But for the click of cameras, there is a perfect, meditative silence all around.

We half-heartedly tear ourselves away from the magic spell cast by the lake and proceed towards Pemayanste, located nearby at an altitude of 6,840 ft. A couple of well-fed canines wag their tail in greeting as we enter the monastery.

Longfu, who also doubles as our guide, says that this monastery is the most important one for the Nyingmapa order of Buddhism and was originally built as a small temple in the late 17th century. It was later, under the ruling third Chogyal Chakdor Namgyal — Jigme Pawo — that it was expanded into a three-storey structure that houses several idols, scriptures and other antiquities.

Kangchengdzonga falls

It is a little before dusk that we reach Kangchengdzonga falls, about 15 km from Pelling. Even from a distance we could hear the thundering symphony of the tumbling waters. We thrill at the dazzling play of the frothy water against a reluctant sun; as the water cascades down the granite rocks, tiny droplets settle gently on our skin like shiny specks of pearls.

Unfortunately for us, a mild drizzle that began moments before escalates into a medium shower, forcing us to put away our camera.

As I enjoy nature's aqueous drama, I rest content with the few shots I had managed prior to the downpour, thanking the rain gods for delaying their grand entry to coincide with the fag end of our Sikkim trip.

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Published on February 17, 2011
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