We had been thinking of going for a trek for a long time , the chowri kharka trek had been a while and Maenam was on our “To do” list. As with most of our outings it was an impromptu decision. Once we decided to head towards South Sikkim, the weather started changing for the worst. The warm winter sun was replaced by cold rain. However, we were determined so on 1st march 2014 we headed towards Ravangla on local jeep around 12.00 pm and reached Ravangla by 3.00 pm.
The journey was uneventful, but the weather changed for the worst, light drizzle changed to downpours. Though we were excited, the fear of bad weather ruining our trek was there in the back of our mind. We reached Ravangla and started hunting for lodging. We went walking and luckily found one hotel viz Hotel Queens Regency right opposite the place were the trek starts. Though it was clean, the charges were a bit on the expensive side but it served our purpose, so no complains whatsoever.
First thing to do while out on a trek to any wildlife sanctuary is to check with the local forest officials. The official asked us to fill the visitors book in the morning and insisted we take a guide along with us. After having taken care of the most important aspect of our visit , we decided to explore Ravangla. It is a small town, on a ridge between Maenam and Tendong hills , it get pretty cold during the winter months but even the summer months are not much better, it has a very good view of the Kanchendzonga range. The town is a hub of activity during the month of September, as the Pang Lhabsol festival is celebrated with much fanfare. The monks in the monastery perform the traditional Cham in the courtyard and there are other activities too. Recently the Tsathagat Tsal where a big stature of Buddha has been placed has increased the influx of tourist. As every member of the group had already been to Ravangla gompa except for me, I insisted on going there. It was love at first sight. The mystic dusky ambience of evening, the fog engulfing the beautiful monastery, the praying wheels and the flags, this whole package had me head over heels. Must be the romantic side of me. After offering prayers and posing for photographs, we headed towards to market place. We had to stock for the hike, so we bought bread, chocolates, cheese, chips etc. The last thought before we fell asleep was the day should clear up.
It was 5.00 am when we all woke up and started gearing up, the first thing we did was check the weather. Our happiness knew no bound when we saw a clear morning with the mountain range in full view. After gulping down tea and biscuits we headed towards the forest post for registration. The whole process just took us not more than 10 mins The entry fee was Rs.10/- per person and an extra Rs. 10/- for still camera. All dressed up in brightly coloured gear we were ready to move on. The guide joined us along with his dog. As documented the trek starts at the height of approx 8000 ft and we were suppose to reach Maenam hills which is documented to be at the heights of 10600 ft. We gradually moved from our base at around 6.05am and as suggested by our guide Mr. R.K. Gurung we took the short route via Simal Dara, though very steep it cuts down the time and distance, plus lets us walk through thick vegetation. We find the new stone trails, which are currently being laid down difficult to walk on. It requires a lot of footprint for it to be comfortable. For the first time trekkers taking the shortcut would not be advisable as it gets really steep as we move. Since we have been born and bought up in the hills it is not so difficult for us. We reached Tatney at around 6.55am where there is a small waiting shed. After 5 mins rest we continued further. The walk was less steep and joins the proper trail in places. The path is very confusing and it is highly recommended to hire a guide for this trek. After 45 mins of uphill walk we reached our next stop Nunthalay at 7.45 am. We took a 10 mins rest there.
After crossing Nunthalay the terrain started changing there were less vegetations and at some places we were able to see wild primulas at their purple glory. The elves would have been happy with this pristine beauty. After walking for a while we reached a barren place from where we could see the hills surrounding Maenam covered with snow. As we moved higher the trail was covered with snow, it seemed right out of a fantasy movie, something out of the movie Narnia. As we climbed higher it grew colder, with the increase in altitude the pace slows down and breathing becomes difficult. Finally, we reached Maenam monastery which is the top most point of Maenam at around 9.50am.
The view of the mountains all around and the land below is a rare sight to see. We forgot all our pain, tiredness and hunger once the clouds lift slowly and the magnificient mountains were right before our eyes. We had earlier decided to have our packed lunch at Maenam but when we saw Bhaleydunga right before us, it energized us and we decided to conquer Bhaley Dhunga before we had our lunch. From Maenam to Bhaley Dhunga is a 45 min trek, first we have to decent and then again climb uphill. We reached there at 10.45 am. Bhaley dunga is a cliff top from where you can view the mountains and the town called Yangang right below.
The view form the top is mind blowing, the vast range of majestic mountain and valley of sun kissed paddy fields with meandering rivers and tiny villages below. It was heaven right on earth. It makes you realize you are nothing compared to the might of nature. It makes you forget all your petty problems. For me it was an ultimate experience of liberation. Everyday problems and tensions seemed to vanish and I was enjoying the blissful state of oblivion. Beauty of man made structures seemed so vain in front the beauty that was right in front of us. After all the excitement of being on top of the world and of course photography session, thanks to our smart phones, ipads and of course my canon G12, we sat down to have our so called packed lunch.
The government is planning to build a skywalk at Bhaley Dhunga, it would be a major tourist attraction and bring in revenue. But it also leaves a doubt in mind, do we need a skywalk here, the 5 hour uphill hike and the joy of reaching the top will be lost forever.
After 25 mins of being on top we decided to retrace our journey. Return journey went steadily, must be the change in altitude we all were suffering from headache. When we moved from Bhaleydunga it was 11.10 am, we reached Nunthalay by 12.50 pm there we took 10 mins rest and we moved further down. When we reached Tatney it was 1.20 pm there we rested for 5 mins and moved on because we needed to reach Gangtok the same day. We made to Forest check post at 2.00 pm and then on reaching our lodging had a cup of refreshing tea we headed back to Gangtok.
- Wear comfortable shoes preferably hiking shoes.
- Wear cloths in layers, it gets hot as you walk uphill.
- Wear rain jacket on top, the weather it very unpredictable.
- Breathing becomes difficult as the altitude increases, so walk in a steady pace, one that suits your body.
- Personal experience says do not eat chocolate in high altitude.
- Do take a guide, the paths are confusing, our guide charged us Rs.600/- for the day. You can ask for a guide at the forest outpost.
- Carry plenty of water, no water source on the way.
- Carry a basic first aid kit.
- Respect the local culture, custom and people.
- DO NOT LITTER.
- Do not pluck flowers.
- Try not to disturb the wildlife.
How to get to Ravangla:
Daily shared taxi service from Gangtok or you can hire a car.
Rabangla is slowly turning popular with tourist, so many lodge and hotels present.
Best time for the trek March – April and October- November