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Next weekend you can be at ...Rinchenpong

In 1860, the British sent an expedition to Sikkim. When the force reached Rinchenpong, the Lepchas (the original inhabitants of Sikkim) used herbs to poison the water of a pond, the only source of water in Rinchenpong, thus killing half the British forces and forcing them to retreat.

The pond was christened Poison Pokhri and is one of the earliest examples of bio-chemical warfare. It can still be seen but the small, almost dry waterbody is nothing impressive.

But don’t be disheartened — the mountains in Rinchenpong are fascinating enough to be your retreat next weekend.

Apart from a great mountain view, Rinchenpong has something more to offer. A series of winding stone-paved trails leads one past Lepcha traditional houses and old British forest bungalows to ancient monasteries housing rare idols. The trail passes through a beautiful forest, with the snowy peaks of the Himalayas towering above the treetops.

For the most comfortable journey, take the night bus/train to Siliguri/New Jalpaiguri. From Siliguri, jeeps are available to Rinchenpong via Jorethang. The 130-km-long journey takes about five hours and passes along the banks of the Teesta and the Rangit and runs beneath a canopy of lush green trees.

You will be in Rinchenpong by evening. Check in at one of the few hotels that dot the bazaar area.

Next morning, you will be greeted by a spectacular sunrise on the Kanchenjunga and its sister peaks. One by one Kanchenjunga, Rathong, Kabru, Kumbhakarna, Pandim and the other peaks will catch the crimson rays of the rising sun, turning the entire massif into a bright shade of red.

Try to get a room with a mountain-view, so that you can enjoy the entire spectacle from the warmth of your room. But if you cannot manage one, simply rush to the roof-top, where the crisp morning air will refresh you for the long walks ahead.

After a quick and heavy breakfast, follow the steep road from the bazaar, which takes you to the banks of Poison Pokhri.

Just opposite the pokhri, a flight of stone staircase will lead you to a beautiful forest trail and ultimately to Rinchenpong monastery.

Fluttering prayer flags and young lamas welcome you to the monastery, which also doubles up as a lama training centre. Built in 1717, the monastery contains a rare idol of Ati Buddha in Yub-Yum position, which shows Buddha in a meditating position with women embracing him.

Bidding farewell to Rinchenpong monastery, follow a jungle trail to a staircase leading to Resume monastery. The steep stairs makes climbing difficult, but the chirping and tweeting of birds and the occasional views of snowy peaks towering over treetops are enough to charge your batteries.

The Resume monastery, run by two young lamas, is in a rundown state but it is strategically located on a ridge-top overlooking the sleepy hamlet of Rinchenpong and offers a grand view.

After a short stop at the monastery, follow the steps downwards and take a short diversion to a traditional Lepcha house. Built in the original Lepcha style, the house doubles up as an artefacts shop.

Get back to the trail and follow it to the metal road. At the confluence of the staircase and the metal road lies the British forest bungalow. Maintained by the Sikkim PWD, it has been modified and nothing much remains of its past.

Follow the metal road past Poison Pokhri to Rinchenpong bazaar, ending a three-hour trek. After a quick bath and lunch, head out for Maggi Dara, where a new monastery is being built.

Next to the monastery lies the Rabindra smriti van. A marble plaque, containing a verse from the poet’s Gitanjali, welcomes you to this reserve forest ideal for short afternoon strolls.

The evening can be spent exploring the bazaar. After a night halt at the hotel and another glorious sunrise, it is time to go home. You will return refreshed and with memories to last a lifetime.

Going

There are buses and trains from Guwahati to New Jalpaiguri. Its about three hours from Siliguri to Jorethang. Two hours from Jorethang to Rinchenpong Once you are at Rinchenpong walking around is the only option.

Staying

There are several hotels in Rinchenpong. The best options are Hotel Norlha, Hotel Rinchenpong Nest, Hotel Mountain View and Hotel Rinchen. Room prices range from Rs 400 to 750. However, you can always bargain.

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