Early in the morning, as we were about to start the drive for Hilley from Rinchenpong, a hamlet in Sikkim, the rains started. As the mountain slopes slowly changed their attires to participate in the rain dance, I was overwhelmed with joy. Our cab driver steered forward. His vehicle swished ahead through the mists and the clouds swimming close to the vehicle glasses. It seemed like a heavenly ambiance – the perfect setting for the rhododendron adventure, in our Sikkim tour.
By the time we reached the starting point of our short trek, Hilley, the rains stopped briefly, only to change its form to drizzles. We got our permits to enter the rhododendron sanctuary and geared up ourselves with trekking poles, waterproof ponchos, water bottles and dry food – a few almonds, dried apricots, dates, chocolates and Jolbhora Sandesh from the famous ‘Balaram and Radharaman Mullick’s’ sweet shop. Our trek, however, was a short one, only about 8-9 Kilometres up to Varsey and down to Hilley again.
On barely reaching a distance of 150-200 metres, the icy cold hailstones started to hit us like shards of glass. Our bare hands went numb for some time, and the easy trail turned a bit tricky in some patches due to the incessant drizzles which made the trail a bit slippery. Some puddles formed too. Our cautious feet were cleverly carrying us near our goal, the Rhododendron forests, located further upslope.
Nevertheless, the weather setting couldn’t dampen our uplifted moods which released the sighs of appreciation while viewing the blooms of rhododendrons – the bright red, pink, white and fuchsia clusters interspersed with the broad green leaves. Even though the yield suffered this year due to the untimely snowfall, the mere presence of the flowers mesmerized us. It seemed that the nature had embroidered the blue canopy above with the vibrant flowers and their leaves.
The corridor along which we trekked was well guarded by the Chinese bamboo plants on one side, and Rhododendron trees on the other. The variant shades of green were well interrupted by the variant shades of the quaint blossoms.
We walked with our heads looking above, beyond and towards different geometrical degrees, but seldomly below, the one with the wet mud. It was quite difficult for us to choose which way to observe, – the moist, puddled trail with the gingerly sights or up above and around the pretty and decked up flowers. Well, both were necessary, the trail with a seldom glance to walk safely, above and around to witness the floral extravaganza.
As we approached further, we could see a pinkish wood beckoning us vigorously. For a brief moment, we became so dazed that we forgot that a woodland is generally described as green rather than the pink we saw there. The hearty calling made us walk faster to reach the place. Our weary feet refused to budge but our minds enforced our feet to propel us forward.
As soon as we reached the last point, an outlandish mound in Varsey, we literally gave ourselves away to the flowery temptations. A feeling of overwhelm gripped us. We were lost! The cool mists and winds hugged us with ecstasy and we couldn’t turn down the welcoming glances of the pretty red, pink, fuchsia, magenta rhododendrons and raised the toast to the success of our Hilley – Varsey trek with the bites from the box of Jolbhora Sandesh – for no other way of celebrating would have been as sweeter.
We took rest for half an hour before starting our journey back to Hilley. Like other journeys, the way back wasn’t as merry. We missed staying back upon the mound admiring the flowers, but, the harsh reality of our lives is we cannot enjoy good moments for long. The trail back to Hilley seemed unending. We huffed, puffed and longed to get back to a comfort of an eatery. With our tummies growling loudly, we had to pace ahead towards the entrance gate. Later, as we sat to have a simple lunch at Hilley beside a fireplace, we reminisced the floral getaway and never stopped admiring the wonders of our nature.
Important Details of this trek:
a) We stayed in Rinchenpong (West Sikkim) and drove for about 2.5 – 3 hours to Hilley.
b) If you want to stay inside the sanctuary or nearby Varsey, you would need to book rooms in Guras Kunj or carry your own tents. No other accomodation is available except Guras Kunj.
c) Another alternative is to stay in Okhrey or Hilley and do the trek.
d) You might want to take your family members and relatives who are senior citizens if they are fit and willing to. It’s a doable trek for them (I took my mother in law who suffers from a knee problem). Take care to keep yourselves hydrated and not to forget carrying chocolates and dates which provide us with instant energy.
e) If you take the senior members (as discussed in the above point) along, it is advisable to stay at Okhrey, Hilley or Rinchenpong and complete the trek in a day as we did because it can be an ordeal for our seniors to stay in tents.
Approximate time taken
The entire trek took about 4 – 4.5 hours to complete. (Walking up to Varsey and coming back to Hilley.) We drove back to Rinchenpong on the same day.
The best time to experience the Rhododendron extravaganza is from the last week of March to mid-May.