I reached Pelling in the evening from Gangtok. It takes about 5 hours and the road passes through some very Manali-esque stretches with a hard rocky face on one side and a steep fall on the other.
Then the road gets better and better and you pass through beautifully wooded areas where the temperature drops suddenly.
There are three parts in Pelling – Upper, Middle and Lower, and numerous hotels are spread across all three. Upper Pelling has the best views of the Khangchendzonga and Lower Pelling has the markets and taxi stands. Middle is good because it’s close to both. So I checked into my hotel at Upper Pelling and promptly ordered myself a Chhang. It’s a local drink like beer where semi-fermented millet seeds are served in a bamboo barrel called a Dungro. Warm water has to be poured into the barrel and the resulting concoction is then sipped through a narrow-bore bamboo tube called a pipsing.
Now Pelling’s popularity stems from the fact that on a clear day, you can get a stunning view of Mt. Khangchendzonga in the distance, and at dawn, the play of colours at dawn will keep you transfixed. I woke up early for this, but it wasn’t a very clear day, so this is all I could get:
Didn’t have much time to wait for the clouds to clear because I had a long walk ahead of me. I was going to the Sanga Choeling monastery and it’s a 40-minute walk up a steep slope to get to the monastery.
The monastery would likely be closed, but I had heard the walk would be beautiful.
I found a dog midway on the walk and he followed me for the rest of the way. It’s amazing how dog can make up for the lack of human company, yes? He made me feel safe, somehow, even though I know Sikkim is largely a safe place. He made me feel like I wasn’t alone on that early morning hike up the hill. And just as well too, because the path passes through thick woods, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are animals. Here, my dog:
The monastery, as suspected, was closed. But the views all around were stunning. It was still very early morning, and it was cold. There was a light breeze and the prayer flags fluttered with abandon. I was warm from the walk so I sat and cooled off for a while with my dog. I wished the monastery was open though – Sanga Choeling, or Sange Choeling, as it is also called sometimes, is the oldest monastery in Sikkim, and I could only imagine the treasures inside. But I had to wait for my first monastery visit on this trip.
I came down from the monastery ravenously hungry. A quick breakfast later, I was headed to the Khecheopalri Lake. Pronounced Ketchup-perry, this is one of the holiest in Buddhism, and has a strange legend associated to it. They say that every time a leaf falls on the water, a bird appears out of nowhere and swoops in to take the leaf away. Either way, I had heard so much about the lake’s beauty that it seemed silly to not go.
The way to the lake goes down mud tracks lined with mani stones, and then towards the end is a jetty that has prayer wheels attached on both sides.
The lake shore had a number of prayer flags and remnants of a ritual that might have taken place earlier that day or the day before. The lake itself was truly spectacular, set amid a forest and hills, and even though there was a notice against feeding the fish, there were tens of big fish at the shore, probably expecting food:
There was also a small shrine at the lake. I don’t suppose it ranks very high, but it sure is in use, because every single lamp was lit.
After a while at the lake, I went off to the Singshore bridge. It was a longish drive, but it was totally worth it. Singshore is, after all, the second highest suspension bridge in the continent. And if you look down from it, the view is literally dizzying.
There’s a small momo counter at the end of the bridge where the road forks off towards Varsey. A plate of hot veg momos and a cuppa chai later, I got back to Pelling again for some Tibetan thenthuk and rice:
I was leaving for Ravangla next day. I could have stayed back in Pelling for a bit more sightseeing, but there’s always another time!