This is the day for which we had been waiting for long. Mr. Gopal Pradhan confirmed that he’d himself come to Rishi to pick us up at 9. It was time to leave Rishi the kid, and leap to the lap of mighty Zuluk. We were surprised to be honoured with Khada, a piece of cloth which is wrapped around the neck of a guest as a mark of respect – a Sikkimese tradition – before leaving Prakriti resort.
Sebastian Pradhan's cottage
Rishikhola from top
So our journey began through Rhenock and then Rongli, where the permits are to be obtained.
There was a Durga puja pandal at the Rongli market, but it was Panchami and the idols’ faces were covered. While Gopalji was busy shopping for his future tourists – Rongli was the market nearest to Zuluk – we visited a small monastery there.
From Rongli, it was a gradual ascent towards Zuluk. Goplaji showed us a bridge over Rongli khola, that the local kids have to cross everyday and walk miles to go to their school. We also saw an old building near a stream where flour is ground even today by ancient means. The first check post was at Lingtam which is a small town but very clean.
It has a monastery also.
Just before the monastery there is a building which, Goplaji said, has been existing since the days when the old silk route was operational.
The only stamp of modern times it had was the presence of a dish antennae in front.
An old house where flour is ground by ancient means
Next came the Kuekhola falls, a really big one.
We took some snaps there and went ahead towards Padamchen. There are two falls in the distant hills near Padamchen which can be seen from the road, but there is no way to go near them.
Double Dongzeng Falls, on the way to Zuluk
The road from Padamchen to Zuluk is absolutely beautiful. The cloud was playing hide and seek with us on this road, dotted with conical trees on both sides of it. We, totally speechless, virtually forgot to take photos. Ultimately we reached Zuluk, at 9400 feet.
Zuluk was cloudy when we reached there. We could only feel that there are high mountains all around, but couldn’t really understand how tall they were. We stayed at Green cottage which is a little down from the road.
I’d like to say a couple of words about Zuluk accommodation and Gopal Pradhan. The Green Cottage is maintained by a self-help group of the village. There are some women, and a young guy also, who in turn do all the household chore at the cottage. The persons who share this responsibility on a day, take their meals at the cottage itself. They also get a portion of the money paid by the tourists, the rest is deposited in the village fund. These people are also engaged by the army for maintenance of roads. We’ve even seen people who came to the cottage at night to work there, had earlier worked on the roads in the daytime – they are very hardworking, and honest.
There are two more staying options at Zuluk – one is Dilmaya retreat, which is named after Goplaji’s mother and run by his family, the other one is Pasang guest house which had opened recently. We had read that Dilmaya was at a lower elevation and the city people might find it difficult to climb the steps. So we decided to book Green Cottage, not knowing that it was not Goplaji’s property. However we found that there is not much of difference between Dilmaya and Green Cottage – once you reach the latter, it’s easy to go to the former. Pasang guest house is near the road. Gopalji is a large-hearted person – very down to earth. He has wide acceptance among the military in this part of Sikkim – starting from Rishi to Rongli to Zuluk to Tsangu lake. Once you are with him, you’re perhaps in the safest hands. We even saw him to keep his tourists at Pasang guest house, as it had been lying vacant since inauguration, although he wouldn’t get any benefit out of it.
We ended the day on a gloomy note as the sky never became clear. The next day would be the pinnacle of our tour, so we badly, badly, badly needed a clear sky.
There is virtually no difference of elevation between Green cottage and Dilmaya retreat. In fact, in the last photo of #12, the green cottage is shown on right and the establishment in the middle is Dilmaya.
At Dilmaya, you'll get a room heater, and there will be Gopalji's family to serve you. So, the service should be better.
At Green cottage, there is a fire place provided inside the room - two chimneys can be seen in photo no. 19 of the post #12, and you'll get the warmth as long as fire/logs are available.
There is a solar heater and storage tank provided by the army outside Green cottage, which is the source of hot water there - can be seen in the above photo in front of the cottage, towards right. At Dilmaya, no idea, but there should be either a geyser or they'll definitely provide it on demand.
Don't think that there will be any difference in the food provided.
Goplaji had told us that if the weather became fine, he’d wake us up so that we could start for the sunrise. We set the alarm clock at 3-30. As soon as it started ringing, I rushed to the window – and I could see the stars! Everywhere. I called Goplaji who confirmed that we’d have to start at 4-30. When we reached near the car we found that there was a leak in a tyre and they were changing it. Time was running out – why should it happen at that time!
Our driver, Shankar, also sensed that we were getting late. So he started driving fast. He was in such a hurry that he forgot to show our papers at the check-post. Lungthung, the view point, was 18 kms away and I kept a constant eye on the milestones. There were numerous turns, the sky started becoming bright – would we be able to make it? Everybody was praying fervently.
There is another view point, Thambi, which was much nearer. Shankar told us that nobody at first was able to establish any road connection in this mountaneous terrain. It was one Mr. Thambi, a soldier in the Indian army, who could first map the region and based on his ideas, the roads were built later on. So he was promoted and rewarded duly. But his seniors didn’t like this and he died of jealousy. The view point was named after him acknowledging his contribution.
We drove past Thambi, Shankar was driving really fast, another bend, another one, and suddenly…. He was there. It took us some time to understand who he was. Then came the realization, as we had never seen him so close, so clear – didn’t even think that it would be like this. The entire range was visible, there was no cloud at all.
At every other place, and in the photos that we had seen, he seemed to be shorter than others – an illusion that can be broken perhaps here only. He was mightily taller than the rest. We could watch his august presence almost everywhere till we reached Lungthung.
And what we saw then was, believe me, absolutely unbelievable. Whatever we had heard and read earlier became true before our eyes. So far the range was fully white. But when the first rays of the sun kissed the peak, it became pink. As the rays started propagating below gradually, it was awash with melting gold. We were literally mesmerized by the Kanchenjunga.
It was so spectacular, so majestic – we were blessed to watch this wonder of the nature. This game of splashing colour went on for quite some time and we were the only ones to watch this heavenly show.