Dzongu – where the Lepchas reside
Dzongu Valley in North Sikkim is a unique place. Not only the place is blessed with nature’s bounty and stunning views of the mountain ranges, but the place is also culturally rich. The place inhabited by the original native population of Sikkim – the Lepchas, is almost virgin and untouched by commercialization and materialism. Dzongu was designated as a special reserve for the Lepcha community since 1960 when Sikkim was still a kingdom ruled by Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal.
The Lepchas believe that if a life is spent in accomplishing good deeds then one is rewarded by eternal bliss in ‘Mayal Lang’ or Heaven. Dzongu is infact a slice of heaven with icy cold rivulets, lush green forests full of exotic flora and fauna, sprightly waterfalls and the simple and demure villagers. Elevation of Dzongu ranges from 1400 ft to almost 20,000 ft higher up, and this has given way to an amazing diversity of plants and wildlife. It borders the Khangchendzonga National Park and Biosphere Reserve offering panoramic views of Mount Khangchendzonga. The Lingzya waterfall is the most beautiful waterfall here, though Dzongu has a few more of them. The clouds come and envelop the villages now and then. Occasional rain and mellowed sunlight often play hide and seek with each other. But on a clear cloudless day, you will see the snow-clad peaks in full glory. Once you are here, you will feel that you have arrived at some wonderland. It is the perfect destination for nature loving traveller, the spiritual seeker as well as the cultural enthusiasts.
This is perhaps the only place where Lepcha traditions and cultures are still religiously followed. The Lepchas follow their own daily routine that might be shocking to urban people like us, and they do not change it for tourists or guests. They have their lunch by 10:30 AM and dinner is served by 7:00 PM. You can fully enjoy your stay at Dzongu if you accept their traditions for the days of your stay. Dzongu thus offers a unique homestay experience. You can stay with local families and experience the Lepcha lifestyle and cultural traditions amidst the vibrant landscape and spectacular mountain scenery.
Dzongu covers a large area and is divided into Upper Dzongu and Lower Dzongu. Passingdong and Lingdong villages fall under Lower Dzongu and are easier to reach. Tingvong and Cussong village fall under Upper Dzongu and you have to reach there after crossing a huge lake. Interestingly, a landslide in 2016 had caused the river to change its course and now Upper Dzongu is cut-off from rest of the Dzongu block. You have to cross the lake by a raft to reach the other side towards Upper Dzongu.
Dzongu is around 70 km from Gangtok. You have to cross Mangan to arrive at Dzongu. Infact, you have to get a special permit from Mangan to visit Dzongu.
Experiences not to be missed at Dzongu
The Lingzey Waterfall is the most beautiful waterfall in Dzongu. This waterfall lies at a distance of 8 km from Passingdang village in Lower Dzongu. This is a three-tiered waterfall dropping from a height of 250 ft. You have to cross the beautiful Charmel village and a large cantilever bridge to reach the falls. You have to hike through a surrounding forest and the sight and the sound of the forest is absolutely a delight to the senses. The scent of the fresh morning dew is also riveting. Once you cross the cantilever bridge and walk down for some time, you will reach the majestic Lingzey Falls. Tholung River is the source of the Lingzey Falls. There is a resting point near the waterfall where you can simply sit and gaze mesmerizingly at the waterfall.
Sikkim is the home to a number of hot springs. These springs are high in sulphur content and are said to have medicinal properties along with therapeutic value. The average temperature of the water in the hot springs is generally 50 degrees. Dzongu has a bubbling hot spring located near the Lingdem village. The hot spring has a separate enclosure for males and females. This is a great place to spend some time soaking in the hot spring and watching the beautiful surroundings and views of the mountains around.
Traditional Lepcha Museum
There is a traditional Lepcha Museum constructed in the conventional Lepcha style and architecture. The Museum is at Namprikdong near the Sangkalang police check post near the scenic confluence of Teesta and Rangyang Rivers. It is a short drive from Passingdang village. The Museum is actually a traditional Lepcha House. The house is built following the age-old tradition of laying the superstructure on an open surface (over stone slabs). This ingenuity in construction helps counter the effects of powerful earthquakes. Another unique feature of this house is that no nails are used in the construction.
Traditional Bamboo bridges
The traditional bamboo bridges are made from long sections of split bamboo and can be seen at Rungkyoung and Passingdong and above Tholung Monastery. These bamboo bridges are an ingenious feat of grassroot engineering. When a place for constructing these bridges are chosen, a skilled archer attaches a thin thread made of bamboo to an arrow and shoots it to the other side. Along this, two parallel canes are pulled over and attached on both the sides. Currently, parts of the bamboo construction are usually replaced with thick metal cords to make the bridges more durable and easier to maintain. Crossing such bridges can be fun, but it is definitely not for the faint-hearted. The bridge sways from side to side and underneath is the fast flowing river. But if your soul is searching for adventure, then crossing the bridge is quite recommended.
Bird Watching & Butterfly Spotting
Sikkim is a bird watcher’s paradise. As many as 550 bird species can be found at Sikkim and of these more than 200 can be seen in the Dzongu area. The sparse population of the region, scattered settlements, the climate of the region and more importantly the dense evergreen forests are responsible for such a variety of bird population. The Kusheong Lake is an important stopover for migratory birds like Brahmani Ducks. Other birds that are found in the region include species of wood pigeon, osprey, green magpie, warblers, minivets and others.
Butterfly watching is also a major activity here. More than 27 species of butterflies are found in Dzongu along the banks of Rangyang Chu. Lingdong and Namprikdang villages are the other places where you will be able to spot the butterflies.
This quaint and small monastery has a mystical charm to it. Standing at an altitude of 8000 ft, the monastery was founded in the 18th century by Lhatsun Chenpo Lama who was deployed to preserve spiritual relics and ancient manuscripts and keep them safe from the Gorkha invaders. The monastery is thus a treasure trove of ancient Buddhists relics and manuscripts, religious scriptures belonging to the earlier Lamas and Chogyals as well as many holy artefacts. These treasures are put on display for the public once every three years in Kamsil Ceremony under the supervision of the government of Sikkim. Reaching the monastery is also not an easy task. The route to the monastery is an arduous 18-20 km trek from Lingthem and goes along the Tholung river through dense forests and cardamom groves. The monastery serves as a resting point for the trekkers on their way to Kusheong Valley. The present monastery was reconstructed in 1980 as the earlier monastery was dilapidated.
This is one of the most rewarding treks of Dzongu. You will pass through stunning sceneries and beautiful agriculture lands and the sparsely populated Lepcha villages. Kusheong Valley is surrounded by tall trees and the valley is carpeted by seasonal flowers during June and July. There is a beautiful lake with crystal clear water that makes the place even more alluring. The hike from Dzongu starts at Passingdang and takes three days to reach Kusheong. In these three days, you will experience an unparalleled view of nature as well as see a variety of birds. You will also pass through the Tholung Monastery in this trek. The valley lies at an altitude of close to 5000 ft is nearly inaccessible for the most part of the year due to heavy snow. The Kanchenjunga stands tall and looks as if it is at a stone’s throw distance. A clear sunny sky will make the day for the photographers. Kusheong trek requires a total of 6 days.
Traditional Lepcha Cuisines
If you are adventurous with respect to food, then you must try the local Lepcha cuisine at Dzongu. The food made in the homestays are all made of the items grown at Dzongu. And the food grains and fruits are organic in the true sense. The poultry is also grown there and fishes are caught in the streams. As for the traditional cuisine, you can start with the Lepcha ‘salt tea’. The next thing to try is the ‘khoori’, a type of pancake made from millets. For the non-vegetarians, you can try out their pork dishes; they taste heavenly. The Lepchas also make a pickle made of ferns. It has a strong flavour and taste. Finally, after a long day of hiking and roaming around Dzongu, have a glass of Chee. It is the local alcoholic drink brewed from millets. They serve Chee in a large bamboo glass with a bamboo straw. And do remember, the Lepchas are strict followers of their daily routine. They will have their lunch by 10:30 AM and dinner is usually served by 7:30 PM.
How to Reach Dzongu:
Dzzongu is around 67 km from Gangtok and 18 km from Mangan. From Gangtok, you will get shared vehicles to Mangan. From Mangan, you can either book a cab or take a shared vehicle to Dzongu. If you are taking a shared vehicle, start early from Gangtok. The last vehicle to Dzongu is at 3.00 PM from Mangan. You homestay owner will help you with the transportation if you want.
Best Time to Visit Dzongu
You can visit Dzongu at any time of the year. But it is better to avoid the monsoons because Sikkim is quite prone to landslides.
Some Important Tips about Dzongu
- Dzongu is a large area. It is divided into Upper Dzongu and Lower Dzongu. You can stay in any of the villages. Passingdang and Lingdum village are in Lower Dzongu while Tingvong and Cussong are in upper Dzongu.
- You need a special permit from Mangan to visit Dzongu. Your homestay owner can help you with the permit.
- If you are booking your own cab to visit Dzongu from Gangtok, then en route don’t forget to visit Phodong Monastery and Labrang Monastery.
- Respect the culture of the Lepchas. Have a meal with them even if it does not match with your usual time. It will be a great experience. And do not forget to taste Chee, the alcoholic drink made from millets.