Pelling was the first place that we went exploring on our 3 weeks long Sikkim Bengal tour. My research suggested some monasteries, some waterfalls, and the popular Khecheopalri Lake. Everything that you pretty much expect when you go to Himalayan terrains.
You do not know that it is the interplay of mountains, rivers, and forests that make each place in the Himalayas special and unique. But, then, there is no trip that is without its share of surprises and our Pelling exploration in Sikkim began with a surprise.
Rabdentse Ruins near Pelling
Our guide Hemant parked in front of a colorful gate, that you usually find outside Buddhist monasteries. He then asked us to go and visit the palace while he waited. I assumed we would walk to the ruins, click some pictures and come back. There was a small colorful building right after the gate, but no this was not our destination. We walked past a lake, we admired it for few minutes and then started walking on the well-laid path that seemed to be leading into a jungle.
Path to Rabdentse Ruins
We walked on a narrow path surrounded by dense tall trees, many of them covered in green moss leaving no space for any other color. It is when we were surrounded by green all around and with nuanced sounds of the forests buzzing all around that we noticed the shining stones beneath our feet. My first instinct was these stones are painted, but then every stone there glistened and painting them was not a possibility. I looked closely and they looked like bricks of gold and silver.
We moved a little ahead and saw piles of stones balanced on each other. These stones to me are signs of travelers who have traveled the same path before you. It is also a form of collective art where people who never meet end up creating a momentary art together – leaving space for the future travelers to contribute.
Chorten at Rabdentse Ruins
After walking for 15-20 minutes, a board announced that we have to walk for half a kilometer more. I was not prepared for this mild trek, but the surroundings helped and we kept moving. Thankfully, the path is well laid out. We had a sigh of relief when we saw an old Chorten built with stones. This is where ASI has a board that gives you the history of the Rabdentse – the ancient capital of Sikkim. In fact, Rabdentse was the second capital of Sikkim after Chogyals moved from Yuksom in late 17th CE. I wondered if they all walked through the same path to reach this palace located on a hill surrounded by the Kanchenjunga Range of Himalayas.
Rabdentse Palace Ruins
From this Chorten, armed with the knowledge of Sikkim history a bit, we walked to the main ruins. As we went up along the stone walls, we found two small but beautiful buildings surrounded by well laid out lawns, picture perfect with benches to sit and admire the ruins. The building on the right is a public building probably a place where the king gave a public audience. Prayer flags here add the aura of devotion and authority to this building. You get a lovely view of the surroundings. I was trying to count the shades of green that were swaying in front of me. On a nearby hill, we could see famous Pemayangtse monastery, all surrounded by white flags.
Three Chortens at Rabdentse Palace Ruins
The second stone building is the palace with two stories of living space, I guess for the royal family. In the corner of this building on a platform stand three Chortens that look lovely against the hills. They are the kind of structures that wear a patina of grace as they get old. Some young models were using it as a perfect backdrop for their professional portfolio. It was amusing to see them pose and the photographers jumped around to click them. Now the intriguing bit at Rabdentse was the stone slabs with light engraving or etching of Buddha images. Was this a local style or were these stones still work in progress?
We found some of the most colorful birds of Sikkim on the branches of trees surrounding the Rabdentse ruins.
Rabdentse Ruins are very peaceful and serene.
The key monastery of Pelling is a short distance from Rabdentse ruins. The road leading to the Pemayangtse monastery is lined with beautiful white flags on both sides. They make you feel welcome. We walked into the monastery and were treated to a series of paintings inside the monastery.
Monastery interiors are always colorful with a dominant red color. Butter lamps always tell me about the momentary nature of everything we create.
On the second floor of Pemayangtse Monastery is a museum that displays the ritual items of monasteries including Brocade gowns worn by the monks, utensils used, colorful wooden masks and musical instruments played. It reminded me of the Cham dance that I saw it Ladakh earlier this year. There were wood carved manuscripts or were they dyes used to print manuscripts. There were wood carved boxes and of course there were old Thangka paintings.
Around the Pemayangtse Monastery, there were mounds of stones piles. I also saw some lovely wooden houses with some exquisite carvings.
I loved the wooden windows of Pemayangtse Monastery.
Eating in Pelling Sikkim
We stopped at a nice looking restaurant that had a rooftop overlooking the valley, with interiors full of trivia on Pelling and Sikkim. It was so overcrowded that we had to move to a hole in the wall kind of restaurant next door. Thank God, we did. We had the best freshly cooked food – vegetable rice and steaming hot momos with lightly brewed hot tea. We tasted two new chutneys – one made of Chhaina or Paneer and another made of hot chilies and garlic. They were hot but were a perfect company for rather bland Momos and rice.
Highly recommend that you eat in small places usually run by women. They cook everything to order, right in front of you.
A little distance from Pelling is the lovely Kanchenjunga waterfalls. It was raining the day we were in Pelling and we saw the waterfalls while still in the car and honestly I thought – Big Deal! Our guide insisted we get out, gently handing us over the umbrellas, and go up the staircase. I looked suspiciously as we had walked the whole morning at Rabdentse ruins. He persisted and we followed.
We were in for a big surprise. You can not see the big waterfall till you are standing more or less below it. You can probably hear it, but it was a day when rain was having its way, so we did not even hear it. This massive waterfall quietly hides behind a big rock. We sipped a cup of tea while watching and hearing it. It was a sight to enjoy as most waterfalls are.
I would let this Kanchenjunga waterfalls video do the rest of the talk.
This is a sacred lake about 30 km from Pelling Town. Everyone we spoke to said that Khecheopalri Lake is a must see the place in Sikkim. By the time we reached Khecheopalri Lake, the sun was all set to set. We hurriedly walked on the flag-laden path leading to the lake. I have never seen so many colorful flags at one place in my life. There were big and small Chorten’s on both sides of the path. We got the first glimpse of the lake through these flags. When we reached closer to the lake, we had flags all around us.
Khecheopalri means palace of flying yoginis or taras.
We took off our shoes and walked on a long wooden jetty that was again covered with flags all over. This jetty took us closest to the lake that you are allowed to go. There were a few brass bells hanging on the side. Flags here were primarily white in color.
Pilgrimage Khecheopalri Lake
Khecheopalri Lake is a part of the pilgrimage route that includes sites like Dubdi Monastery in first capital of Sikkim-Yuksom, Pemayangtse monastery in Pelling, Rabdentse Ruins near Pelling, Sanga Choeling Monastery & Tashiding Monastery. It is further said to have blessings of Guru Padmasambhava. Being a scared lake you are not supposed to do anything that can leave it unclean or anything that can be remotely disrespectful to Khecheopalri Lake. Lake was indeed very clean, there was not even a single leaf in its waters.
We spent some quiet moments, said a few prayers – we wished for a peaceful trip ahead of us and looks like our prayers were more than answered. We had a lovely 3 weeks in Sikkim and Bengal.
I had no idea that Pelling Sikkim would offer me so many shades of its culture and nature. Go explore it when you can.
More Travel Blog posts about Sikkim.