Ravangla and the Mt. Narsing Resort

Gangtok Travel Blog

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Cindy freezing at the Mt. Narsing Resort, Sikkim

Well after six hours of winding down from the cool hills of Thimphu to the heat, noise, grime and chaos of Jaigoan, Cindy was still feeling not so well. Thupten our Sikkimese guide was not exactly helping out as he was busy involved in a Nepalese conversation with Kemcho, probably about whether or not we tipped him well or not (he didn’t know yet, and yeah we did…). Thupten seems to be a very quiet, stern kind of guy and our driver, also called Tashi but the antithesis of our Bhutanese friend Tashi, seems like a crazed, pissed off, lunatic teenager.

We piled our junk into an Indian SUV type car and made our way out of crazy Jaigoan and into the countryside.

Our Bungalow at Mt. Narsing Resort, Sikkim
Thupten did give us a package with our itinerary and some glossy sheets about stuff in Sikkim as well as a cool travel guide book on Sikkim so we tried to read that a bit as we bounced down the road. The further we got from Jaigoan, the more pot-holed the road got and we crept and bumped our way through tea plantations, eventually making it to Jaldapara Park which is a wildlife sanctuary that we were going to try to spend a night at but they were completely booked. Oh well, might as well get to Sikkim as fast as possible.

Sikkim 101
Since many of you probably don’t know much about Sikkim, here is a very brief and at least partially correct overview of the place.

Students at the Monastery in Ravangla

Sikkim, or Beyul Demozong - literally "Hidden Valley of Rice", is a small Himalayan Kingdom, officially a state of India since 1975, that is nestled in northeast India between Nepal to the west, Bhutan to the east, China to the north and the Indian state of West Bengal to the south. Geographically it is tiny but diverse and historically important, measuring only 65 kilometers wide by 110 kilometers tall (with probably a billion kilometers of bumpy, rock and dirt roads winding all over the mountains!) Sikkim lies on an ancient trade route linking China and the Indian sub-continent and was originally inhabited by the Lepchas, a nomadic, animist group of people.

Cardomom Flowers in Ravangla

Back in the eighth century, Guru Padmasambhava (a.k.a. Guru Rimpoche of Bhutanese fame) prophesied that Sikkim would be overtaken by Buddhism. This prophecy became true in the seventeenth century when Latsun Chempo, a Tibetan Lama led his disciples, ethnically the Bhutia or "People from the Land of Bhot - aka Tibet", to the huge mountain Khangchendzonga blocking the way into Sikkim. Mt. Khangchendzonga, the third highest mountain in the world and literally "Five Treasures of the Eternal Snow" representing the five peaks on the mountain, presented him a vision of how to pass the mighty summit which he did.

Local Boy in Ravangla
He ended up in Yuksom (meaning "Place of the Three Wise Ones") where he met two other lamas. Following Guru Rimpoche’s prophecy, they searched for a Choygal or Great Religious King who they crowned in 1641 in Yuksom.

The Choygal’s ruled until the eighteenth century when the Nepalese started taking Sikkimese territory. Along come the British who defeat the Nepalese but had imperialistic interests in Sikkim, eventually supporting the Choygals in defeating the Nepalese in exchange for handing over the hill station of Darjeeling to the English so they could plant their tea. Fast forward a bit and eventually, China and Britain agreed that Britain could have Sikkim and China could have Tibet (even though they are both sovereign states in many people’s eyes).

Entrance and prayer wheels to the Mt. Narsing Resort in Ravangla, Sikkim
When India gained independence in 1949, the British post at Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, was handed over to the officers of the Indian Administrative Services. In 1973 a pro-democracy movement overran the Sikkimese government and elections were held with Sikkim becoming an Associate State of India. By 1975, Sikkim became a full fledged Indian state.

And now back to the blog…
Neither Thupten nor Tashi, who drove like a meth freak, glaring and honking at other drivers who wouldn’t let him pass, was particularly talkative and we finally resorted to listening to audio books.

Grounds at the Mt. Narsing Resort in Ravangla
The scenery was nice with tea plantations and farms and mountains looming in the background. Eventually we started winding up the hills and as the temperature cooled, the roads worsened. The last few hours were truly frightful with mostly rock and dirt roads that snaked up through the forested hills at an incredibly steep and dangerous looking pitch. Switchbacks with what seemed like sharper than 180 degree turns were endless. Dusk was falling when we finally made it to the tiny village of Ravangla a mere thirteen hours after leaving Thimphu. The weather had re-cooled dramatically and mist and clouds hugged the desolate mountains surrounding Ravangla. Actually, we pulled up at the Mt. Narsing Guesthouse first thinking we were there, and Thupten piped up saying we weren’t quite there yet. Luckily it was just another ten minutes around the corner up another dozen switchbacks on a rocky road that donkeys would have trouble walking up let alone a vehicle when we arrived at the isolated and quaint little Mt.
Local girl picking plants in Ravangla
Narsing Resort

We went into the main building/restaurant and had some tea while we waited for Karma, the owner, to show up. The building is really funky with all kinds of Tibetan ornamentation, funny pictures, stuffed animals, etc. Kind of like a homey, bizarre mountain hunting lodge but comfy and friendly. After a bit, Karma did show up and graciously treated us to dinner and beers as well as some of his personal stash of Peter Scot Whiskey. He is a really nice, friendly, well-spoken man and we instantly liked him. We talked for quite a while about all kinds of stuff and he was interesting, funny and genuinely a really nice guy. We are glad we ended up choosing Yuksom Tours for our trekking in Sikkim.

After dinner, we went to our room which was quaint but, as you can see from the picture of Cindy wearing her down jacket, a bit chilly.

Cloudy Vista of Sikkim
Being a bit sick and tired, she was not immediately thrilled with the accommodations, but the place grew on us as time went on (even if there were a jungle’s worth of insects in the bathroom). We ended up pushing the individual twin beds together for warmth and went to bed, happy to have finally made it to Sikkim.

We woke up early and had an Indian breakfast in the lodge building. Cindy was feeling better, but when the hot water went out she was a bit distraught (although stoically kept it to herself, softly crying for a Hilton). It was raining pretty hard out and Karma, who showed up for breakfast with us, said we might consider waiting a bit for our village hike with Thupten. We think this hike will be more for Thupten to check out how lame we are than to see any ethnic lifestyle stuff. We will see. We sat around the restaurant drinking coffee (instant which is just about all you can get in India - blech!) and talking with Karma about Sikkim and it’s history.

Cindy Drinking Chang at Mt. Narsing Resort in Ravangla
He told us lots of interesting and funny stuff including one humorous bit that I remember about all Sikkimese people, being Buddhist, believe in reincarnation. Their ultimate goal is to be reincarnated as a Sikkimese Civil Servant due to their light work load (it appears that they usually work from 10-4 with a long lunch….nice!)

We wandered around the pretty property looking at the spectacular views and eventually, the rain broke and Karma suggested that he walk us down the hill to the Guest House where Thupten was checking out the trekking provisions and equipment. First he armed us with "anti-leach" sticks which are bamboo sticks with a bag of salt on the end. Cindy was decidedly less than thrilled to hear about leeches and instantly tucked her pants into her socks, a less than fashionable look. We walked down the steep rock road to the guest house and met Thupten and a young kid, Lapa, who was to be our cook on the trek. Karma took off and Thupten another local guy and Cindy and I headed off down the path to visit a local monastery.

Larry, Thupten and Karma - the owner of the Mt. Narsing Resort in Ravangla

The hike down through the forest was a bit slippery but pretty and the little monastery was cute with a bunch of little school boys who were instantly more interested in us than in their lessons. They were learning how to read and write the complicated looking alphabet you see in the picture and each little boy would walk up to the board and point at each symbol and recite the name, then the other kids would all mimic him. Very cute.

Thupten started warming up a bit, explaining various stuff about the local plants, protecting against leeches (which of course immediately started chowing on my ankle) etc. The funny red flowers with yellow hairy things on them are actually cardamom pods, the local cash crop. After the monastery, we wound our way back up the hill towards the village where we picked up three little kids who decided to follow us. The boy in the blue and white striped shirt was busy entertaining himself by kicking a rock up and then down the steep street, gleefully running up and down the same hill that had us huffing and puffing. Being old sucks…

We got back to Mt. Narsing to a complete lack of electricity - seems the storm knocked it out. We crawled under the heavy woolen blankets to wait it out and listened to audio books for a bit. After a bit, there was a knock on the door and more of Karma’s hospitality arrived in the form of tea and really tasty Pakoras which are sort of an Indian fritter thing, these ones with chick peas and chilies. Very yummy. We decided to hang out on the patio with really nice views of the surrounding countryside, the local monasteries and the distant mountains. Three more little local kids who lived a few hundred yards down the hill and were collecting plants to feed their cattle showed up and we took some pictures of them. I particularly like the shot of the little girl in the yellow with the basket on her back. They were really cute and happy to get the pen and postcard of Newport that Cindy gave them. When they first showed up, they brought Cindy little fresh cut flowers - smart kids! The French ladies in the bungalow next to ours were snapping away and gave them all candy which the kids greedily snarfed down immediately.

Karma arranged a Sikkimese meal for us that night, again insisting on paying for it (Sikkimese hospitality is supposed to be legendary and Karma is living up to that!). He also had Chang or Thomba in Nepali prepared for us which is a fermented Millet drink served in the wooden container you see in front of Cindy. The Chang is sucked through a bamboo straw and when it is finished, more hot water is poured over the grains to steep for a bit before sucking it down. In the middle of the restaurant is an open fire pit that we sat around with Karma and Thupten drinking and talking until it was time for bed. Tomorrow, we head off to Yuksom to spend the night before the trek. We are looking forward to it but a bit anxious about the degree of difficulty and how well my knees will hold out. Hope the Bhutanese/Tibetan Deer shit pills work!!!

Chelsea says:
I really like your 'background information' sections! great blog entry
Posted on: May 27, 2007
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Cindy freezing at the Mt. Narsing …
Cindy freezing at the Mt. Narsing…
Our Bungalow at Mt. Narsing Resort…
Our Bungalow at Mt. Narsing Resor…
Students at the Monastery in Ravan…
Students at the Monastery in Rava…
Cardomom Flowers in Ravangla
Cardomom Flowers in Ravangla
Local Boy in Ravangla
Local Boy in Ravangla
Entrance and prayer wheels to the …
Entrance and prayer wheels to the…
Grounds at the Mt. Narsing Resort …
Grounds at the Mt. Narsing Resort…
Local girl picking plants in Ravan…
Local girl picking plants in Rava…
Cloudy Vista of Sikkim
Cloudy Vista of Sikkim
Cindy Drinking Chang at Mt. Narsin…
Cindy Drinking Chang at Mt. Narsi…
Larry, Thupten and Karma - the own…
Larry, Thupten and Karma - the ow…
photo by: lrecht