Rinchenpong – Poison Lake, Orchids & Kanchenjunga


We started driving towards Rinchenpong in Sikkim & all I expected was another hill town. We expected some stunning views of Kanchenjunga. Do we not get them from almost all of the town? I think most towns were built from strategic viewpoints. It would have a couple of old Buddhist monasteries with some stories about who visited this monastery and when. Well, I was both right and wrong. Yes, the town has lovely views of the Kanchenjunga range of the Himalayas.

Rinchenpong, Sikkim – Tourist Attractions

Kanchenjunga view from Rinchenpong
Kanchenjunga view from the town

Yes, it has those lovely monasteries with flags fluttering on both sides of the path leading to them. But, it was much more than that – that no guide or guidebook told me.

Prayer flags fluttering at Rinchenpong
Prayer flags fluttering
Prayer Flags
Prayer Flags

Before I take you around the town, let me admit that this map on the wall of the town’s bazaar helped us discover a lot of the town. How I wish every town has such a tourist map to guide and inform tourists.

Tourist Map at Rinchenpong
Tourist Map on display

The Orchid Flowers Trail

Orchid Flowers at Rinchenpong
Orchid Flowers

The tourist map of the town called it an Orchid belt, but I choose to call it an Orchid Trail. We followed the road until the Gompa and parked the car. Had no other option as the road ended here. We started walking through the thick forest on a roughly defined path that was full of fallen leaves. For about 20 minutes, there was no sign of any habitation or even orchids. I wondered if we are on the right path, but our guide insisted that we walk a little more. The prayer flags here and there indicated human habitation around. After a while, we saw a lone house in the middle of the jungle. Now it was not a hut or a small outhouse, it was a nice well-maintained house.

Cactus in the garden of a house
Cactus in the garden of a house

Houses in the forest

House in the Orchid belt of Rinchenpong
A House in the Orchid belt

The path ahead went through the house. As soon as we stepped into its verandah we found ourselves surrounded by pots full of orchid flowers. We had water from their hand pump and moved on. Here on, we kept getting houses at regular intervals – each with a lovely array of Orchids in their backyards and front yards. Some even had flowering cacti. At one house we stopped and spoke to the lady of the house – I loved the jewelry she was wearing. I wondered how they lived without a road, and for them, it was just a way of life and they did not want a road leading right up to their homes.

Orchids are grown in the gardens of houses
Orchids are grown in the gardens of houses

After about an hour we traced our way back to our car, but I was richer with the knowledge of the hills. I knew that the roads and facilities that we so yearn for are not something that everyone wants. Some people like their home surrounded by trees. Anyone visiting them must make an effort to walk to them.

At one of the houses, we met a kid who could replicate the sounds of the birds. We were stunned to see this 3-4-year-old child talking to birds as they tried to reproduce the same sounds as birds made on trees around her.

House in the orchid belt
House in the orchid belt

Legend of Poison Lake

Nieng Dah or the Poison Lake is an almost dry lake now. You will find young boys playing cricket here. The name Poison lake is intriguing, so we asked around and this is what we heard.

Path by the dry bed of Poison lake
The path by the dry bed of Poison Lake

When the first British official came to Rinchenpong and built a Bungalow. This lake was directly linked to his Bungalow. One fine day, Lepchas – the local tribe planned to kill him by poisoning the lake. As luck would have it, his staff in spite of being local informed him about the Poison and saved his life.

I came back and the stories on the internet tell me that the poisoned lake actually killed many soldiers of the British forces in 1860. This forced the British to retreat. The lake that is almost non-existent now is still believed to be poisoned.

You choose the story you want to believe in. To me it highlights that biochemical wars are not a new phenomenon – they have existed forever.

The British Bungalow

British Bungalow at Rinchenpong
British Bungalow

From Poison Lake, a road goes to the British Bungalow of Poison Lake fame. It is now a PWD guest house – kind of out of the bound for the public. It hardly looks old – I assume a lot of renovation has happened over a period of time.

The Traditional Sikkimese House at Rinchenpong

Traditional Stone House
Traditional Stone House

This is a house that made us go around the town. The map placed it ahead of Poison Lake but we kept driving and all we saw was a path through thick forests.

Colorful windows designs of the traditional house
Colorful windows designs of the traditional house

Finally, we did see a stone house with very interesting colorful windows, standing alone in a large compound. The lower part was stone walls in an unusual criss-cross fashion. The upper floor has wooden windows with perforations cut in different geometric shapes. Corners had panels of different colors.

Since there were lots of dogs around, I stuck to the car. Our guide went inside to seek permission to visit the house, which was rudely refused.

Monasteries in Rinchenpong

We visited two monasteries there – one on each end of the Bazaar.

Monastery at Rinchenpong
Monastery in the town of the hill state

Honestly, I can not make much of the monasteries except that their vibrant colors are surrounded by greenery most of the time. The flags around them, fluttering with the wind tell me about the human faith.

Walk in Rinchenpong Bazaar

The town’s bazaar stands on the edge of the main road here. It is a perfect place to pick up your Chai and maybe a plate of Momo. And admire the snow-capped Himalayan peaks. Pray for a clear day, though.

Traditional Sikkimese Lady
Traditional Sikkimese Lady

Rhododendron sanctuary is another attraction nearby, but to see it in full bloom, you must go sometime in March-April. We just missed it by a whisker in late April.

Have you added it to your list of places to visit in the state?

Recommend you to read the following blog posts on Places to visit in Sikkim.

Chardham on Solophok Hill, Namchi Sikkim

Pelling Places to see in Sikkim

Sikkim – Small but Beautiful

Top 12 Sikkim Souvenirs to pick

Gangtok City – Beyond its top 10 tourist spots


  1. Beautiful! I remember visiting Sikkim and Darjeeling during my childhood, in a summer vacation, with my parents. One of the fondest memories that got imprinted in my mind was of the cute houses on cliffs and midst greenery, surrounded by fresh flowering plants. The fact, that I still remember it vividly, speaks for its charm. The orchids in your pictures reminded me of the same. Hope, the houses are still like that.

  2. I am thinking of visiting in december. And I am in love with sikkim for not only the abundant exposures of nature but the prevailing culture as well.


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