Exploring Sikkim: Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary

 Planning to visit Sikkim, keep couple of days aside for trek or hiking. It is the best way to enjoy the pristine air and natural beauty of the land. Sikkim, offers many trekking and hiking trails that run through rich biodiversity and cultural life of Sikkim.

Let me take you on a virtual tour of a place called Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary in West Sikkim. It is a comfortable trek and ideal for both beginners and pros. Even if you have just a day to spare, you can enjoy the thrill and the adrenaline rush that comes after visiting the Barsey sanctuary.

Before that, one small piece of advice, do not forget to carry a comfortable pair of shoes in which you can walk for a couple of hour. It is a practical advice. Even if you do not want to trek/hike, the shoes will come handy, as you will have to do a bit of walking around after all you are visiting the hills.

Have you seen a Rhododendron flower? No! Scroll down and check out the picture. Lovely isn’t it. Now imagine a jungle full of Rhododendron in bloom, everywhere you look you see trees full of flowers, so much so that the leaves are not seen.  Just not that, you walk beneath a canopy made of these flowers. Interested! Read on… the air is cool, Himalayan birds chirping and signboards warning you of the great Himalayan bear, don’t you want to witness all these in real.

Rhododendron  flower

Rhododendron flower

Last April we went to Barsey, I think everyone in the family had already been there at least once except for my husband. He is a non-local and lives in Mumbai and we wanted to show him a different facet of Sikkim. Earlier we had taken him to Gurudogmar Lake at 17,000 ft near the Indo-China border. This time we decided to take him to Indo-Nepal border.

We decided to make it a day’s trip. However, a daylong trip can be a bit tiring but it is doable or maybe we could do it, as we are locals. It takes around four to five hours to reach Hilley in West Sikkim-(this is the point where we disembark and start our hike) from Gangtok.

A very comfortable trail

A very comfortable trail

We left Gangtok around 6:30 am and reached Hilley by 10:30. We were fortunate; we did not come across any traffic snags or road blocks. The road especially from Okhrey to Hilley which is around 10 kms is beautiful. It passes through virgin forest and Rhododendron tress which in local language is called Gurash. Hilley is an isolated place with hardly any inhabitants though there are a couple of hotels run by locals and it also has a lodge run by the Tourism department. From here on a clear day you can see the majestic mountains standing tall and walk amidst the gurash and silver fir trees.

However, we did not hang around the place but immediately set off for Barsey. Before entering the sanctuary, one has to make an entry in the register kept at the forest checkpost.  The 4.5 kms trek is gradual, anyone can do it. If you have doubts, pick up a staff to help you walk, however don’t forget to bring it back. Others might need it too.

The starting point where you have make an entry in the register.

The starting point where you have make an entry in the register.

Well I did pick one and started the trek, we started off gradually chattering amongst ourselves but after a while the beauty, the silence of the place permeated into us and we began to walk in silence. Suddenly I looked up and the sight was mesmerizing, we were walking under a canopy of flowers. I nudged my husband and when he looked up, he was speechless.

We walked in silence in a steady pace after every one kilometer there is a shed for rest but we did not use it. We were eager to reach our destination. After walking for nearly 45 minutes we reached a bend and then what we saw left as awe struck. We were amidst riots of colour; the small clearing had gurash trees in full bloom. We were surrounded by  different shades pink and red flowers. As far as our eyes could see there were flowers. I had been to Barsey twice earlier, once with the family and once with friends but even then I had not seen the forest in full bloom.

Rhododendron trees in bloom

Rhododendron trees in bloom

My husband came to me and said, “Thank you for bringing me here, this has to be seen to be believed, I had not even imagined in my wildest dream the sight I am beholding now.” By the way he still thanks me and the family.

However it was just the beginning, we reached the forest department’s bungalow where there is a small shop where you can ask the caretaker to make maggi, tea etc. He even has liquor in store in case you need it. Have I forgotten to mention that Barsey is at approximately 10,000 ft above sea level and once you stop walking it really gets cold. Our teeth started chattering and my farther suggested that we should go further up  a hill. After the refreshing cup of tea, we marched up. The climb to the hill is quite steep at places, but every step is worth it.

The entire forest covered with blooms

The entire forest covered with blooms

You just stop searching for words, and soak in the beauty and nature surrounding you. The mountains and the surrounding makes you feel very insignificant. Your dreams, aspirations, the rat race holds no meaning at that point of time. Those mountains and jungles have been there even before us and will remain there even after we have gone.  After enjoying nature’s might and magnificence, we descended and made our way back to Hilley at a leisurely pace listening to the songs of Himalayan birds.

DSC01237

From Hiley we got into our vehicles and retraced our journey back to Gangtok. By 7:30 pm we were at home discussing the trip. As I said it was kind of hectic but fun.

However my advice would be to make it into a two days trip. Leave Gangtok, stay overnight at Okhrey or Hilley, next day visit Barsey and return to Gangtok. Any travel agent in Gangtok can plan this trek trip for you. Also the same hike can be converted into a long trek if you want. Speak to your travel agent about it.

Do’s and Don’t’s

This is such basic but please do not  litter.

Do not pluck flowers however tempted you might be, the forest guards check at the exit point. But it is your civic duty to ensure you follow the rules.

It is advisable to carry a wind cheater or a rain coat.

Wear warm clothing (its cold throughout the year) and comfortable shoes.

Quick facts

Best time to visit: April -May , when the trees are in full bloom.  Oct-Nov is also good but there will be no flowers, you can walk through the forest and enjoy an amazing view of Kanchendzonga range, as the days and nights are very clear during this time. 

Most travel agents will give you a good deal for this trip as it is a very popular destination, or contact the Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation  Help Desk at Gangtok

 

Divya K

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This entry was posted in Exploring Sikkim, Gangtok, Hiking, Himalayas, India, Memoirs, North East, Nostalgia, Sikkim, Sikkim Tourism, Travel, Trekking and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Exploring Sikkim: Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary

  1. Anwesha says:

    I loved seeing Rhododendrons in Sikkim and your post took me back.

  2. Poonam C says:

    It looks beautiful. Thanks for such a detailed, lovely post. Must add this trek to my list of things to do 🙂

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