I woke up early in the morning to the sounds of raindrops, roosters announcing the morning and cows joining in the chorus. It was an ideal bucolic setting in a remote Lepcha village where one’s eyes can feast on the green rice and cardamom fields, the majestic view of the Kanchendzonga range and interaction with people of the ancient Lepcha tribe.
- Public transport – Nearest airport is Bagdogra, 161 Kms away. You can reserve a cab to Dzongu from there. Alternatively , by train and public transport -From Siliguri get shared jeep to Singtam and reach before 2 PM. Get a shared jeep from Singtam to Mangan. There are also shared jeeps available from Gangtok to Mangan From Mangan take shared jeep to Tingvong. These are infrequent, so you can also arrange for a reserved car through your homestay to pick you up from Mangan.
- Permit- As this is a Lepcha reserve , you have to get a permit arranged through your homestay. Our homestay charges us Rs.150 for it. You will need to send your scanned ID proof to your homestay POC. Show your ID proof at the check post while entering the reserve.
- Stay- Homestay in Tinvong run by Dupden Lepcha and his family. Phone number- 9593783043, 9800254465, 9434174685. We were charged Rs.1200 per person for lodging and all meals. The bathroom was shared and rooms were basic with beds, cupboard, dressing table. We were not expecting plush facilities in a small village and were happy with the arrangement.
Dzongu is a biosphere close to Mangan in North Sikkim and is a protected Lepcha reserve. The whole area is lush green, surrounded by mountains and extremely peaceful. The area has no hotels , though ecotourism in the form of homestays is becoming popular. The Lepchas are have been living off the land for ages and have a very close relationship to nature. They practiced a religion with a lot of animism like worshipping the mountains, lakes etc. After Budhhism came to the region, most people have adopted it but the elements of animism of the Lepcha culture is now intertwined with Budhhism. It is a perfect hideout from the world and the best things to do here is to hike or relax in a homestay. I went here with with my family to the Tingvong village in the reserve. It was the last week of my three week trip in the Himalayas and was the perfect end to it.
Of the three days we spent here, one evening my brother and I were strolling around a small shop near the only school of the village. We were asking around for car on hire for sight-seeing and soon ended up chatting with a very friendly couple who in a short time took us to their home. In the plains, I never would have thought of going to someone’s house who I didn’t know minutes ago but here in Tinvong it felt okay. The lady was a teacher in the local school and her husband, a farmer. It was good to see that people here were educated and the ecosystem self-sustained. They offered us tea in their home. They were heading out for a cultural program to be performed by school kids in honour of a YMCA group that had come to a homestay in the neighbouring village. They offered us a ride and we happily went with them. The cultural program was fantastic and showcased the Lepchas’ traditional dances ( hunting dances as well) and rituals. We also met the gram pradhans. I was very pleasantly surprised to see major participation of women in the villages’ social life, the women of the region seemed very confident . Women hold important roles like Village Mukhiya, teachers and other administrative roles.
We went for sight seeing to a hot spring, local school with views of scenic valleys. On the last day of our stay, we got beautiful views of the mountains as seen below. For best views, go between November to February.
View from a village school
Budhhist prayer flags in the village
Another experience here worth mentioning is the food. The homestay we stayed in belonged to Dupden Lepcha. We didn’t personally meet him as he was busy with funeral of his cousin . His wife and sister run the homestay and cooked our awesome meals. We ate things like cooked fern, cow cheese soup, pork, bamboo. They were delicious and definitely exotic for us. We enjoyed every bit of it.
We left Dzongu with a heavy heart towards Siliguri, from where we caught a train to Howrah.