Prologue : Trekking Through Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary was not our actual plan. The talk of having a tour again together was ongoing ever since we returned from A Holiday At Lava – Lolegaon – Rishap – Kolakham. This time we were looking for a gala enjoyment as all of us would be married by then. After scanning through various destinations we fixed on Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh at the time of Nobobarsha (Bengali New Year). But then Jishnu got onsite opportunity and Sourav just moved to TCS, having no leave balance. All this happened just before we were about to book our tickets to Guwahati. So with two of us (and our wives ofcourse) it was impossible to afford Tawang. So we changed our plan to Sikkim. This time we fixed on West and South Sikkim.

Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary

We already had planned to take leave for a week which would easily give us access to 9 long days for Tawang. But when we had to change our plan to South and West Sikkim, we kept the number of days intact to cover all the well known destinations. Obviously, when speaking about South and West Sikkim, destinations like Kaluk, Pelling, Ravangla, Namchi comes up. But we thought of making it a bit offbeat by including Okhrey – Hilley – Barsey (Also pronounced as Varsey or Versay). Trekking though Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary is also known as Honeymoon Trek and April being the season of blooming, it was perfect time to trek through Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary.

Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary

Next, we had plan to experience 180 degree view of Mt. K from Kaluk followed by Pelling. Due to inclusion of Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary, we had to choose between Ravangla and Namchi due to limited number of days remaining. But in the end we thought of covering both Ravangla and Namchi as day trip and instead we came up with a offbeat place named Borong which seemed perfect for us. We also had a plan to stay at Yuksom, but we couldn’t manage the bookings so we had to keep it as a Day Trip from Pelling.

So finally we came up with the itenary
Day 1 : NJP to Okhrey. O/N at Okhrey.
Day 2 : Okhrey to Hilley and Trek through Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary. O/N at Barsey.
Day 3 : Barsey to Hilley and move to Kaluk via Rinchenpong. O/N at Kaluk.
Day 4 : Kaluk to Pelling via Hee, Bermiok, Chaya Taal, Dentam and Uttarey. O/N at Pelling.
Day 5 : Pelling Sightseeing and Day Trip to Yuksom.
Day 6 : Pelling to Borong via Ravangla.
Day 7 : Borong to NJP via Namchi.

Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary

Things were going perfectly as per our plan and tickets were booked on time to avoid any hassle like our previous Holiday At Lava – Lolegaon – Rishap – Kolakham. But just before a month of our tour Jishnu agreed to go with us, as his move to onsite was getting delayed due to some legal procedures. It was obvious that we couldn’t travel together as by then the tickets were already got into Waiting List for the trains. So they quickly made separate bookings for them and I managed to book a double bed room for them at same hotels.

Now that things fell in place, it was time to wait for the journey to begin 🙂

Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary

13th April 2016 : We all were very excited for this day to come, in the mean time we were bit upset too as Sourav couldn’t make it after several requests to his Manager. We were all set for our journey to begin. Due to Elections coming up, Voter’er Prochar (Advertisement of Election) was in high which lead to traffic jams at various places. Jishnu had his tickets on 12525 – Kolkata Dibrugarh Express, and nearly missed his train due to Traffic Jam, but we were in time for our 12377 – Padatik Express. Though we tried getting Lower and Middle Berths as we had plan to enjoy the night, but unluckily we were allotted Middle and Upper Berths. Due to presence of senior citizens on Lower Berths we had to compromise the night by getting into sleep within 30 – 40 minutes of starting our journey.

14th April 2016 – Day 1 : NJP to Okhrey. O/N at Okhrey : Jishnu had to wait for around one and a half hours as his train reached early and ours was around 30 minutes late. Our driver, Gopi, intimidated us, while at Kishanganj that he has already reached and waiting outside NJP. Upon reaching NJP, we met Jishnu and called up Gopi. Gopi warmly welcomed us and soon our journey began at around 10:10 AM. He stopped over at Hotel Gautam Food and Restaurant, Sevok for Breakfast. After having our breakfast, we bought some cold drinks and mineral water and started again for Jorethang at around 12:15 PM. At around 1:35 PM we crossed Melli Checkpost. We had to show original ID proofs to cross the checkpost.

Way To Jorethang

Finally at around 3 o’ clock we reached Jorethang Bazaar. Gopi warned us not to smoke in public, as it’s banned to smoke publicly in Sikkim and we can be fined for such behavior. Though, last time when I visited Gangtok and North Sikkim, I didn’t came across such instances. Gopi told us that it has been imposed since last one and a half year or so. Though it’s not illegal to sell and consume tobacco like in Bhutan, but consumption of tobacco at public places is not allowed. Well, to say the truth, I quite liked the rule. This kind of rule was imposed in West Bengal too, but I don’t think it was never applied.

Way To Jorethang

Gopi walked us in to Hotel New Walk In, just in the vicinity of Jorethang Bazaar. I asked Gopi, whether he’d like to join me for having a beer, he nodded. I and Gopi enjoyed the beer as our food was being prepared. At around 4:00 AM we again started for our today’s destination – Okhrey. It took us 2 hours to reach Sombarey where we thought of having a small break, but suddenly it started raining heavily. Luckily we have kept our luggage in back seat instead of putting it on top of car. While at Sombarey, Gopi informed Mr. M. N. Sherpa about our whereabouts and Mr. Sherpa took order for our dinner. Gopi, drove us carefully to Okhrey. Finally we reached Okhrey at around 6:30 PM.

Okhrey

Okhrey

Okhrey

Okhrey

Upon reaching Okhrey, Mr. M. N. Sherpa welcomed us warmly and showed us our rooms. We asked him to prepare Mushrooms on their style, if possible, which we got from Sevok. He smilingly accepted it and told us it might not be possible today, but he’ll surely cook it for us tomorrow. He asked us whether we’d like to have Tea and snacks. Till Jorethang, it wasn’t that much cold, but may be due to the rain, Okhrey really had chilled temperature. And in this weather who’d deny having a cup of warm Tea or Coffee!!.

Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary

He informed us that, he’d send Tea to our rooms and will try to check if some Pakoda’s will be possible. Soon we got our cups of Tea and Coffee, but no Pakoda’s. Mr. Sherpa called up to say sorry, as he couldn’t arrange pakoda’s. It was already 7:30 PM and he said that dinner will be served soon. We knew, peoples here follows “Early to Bed, Early to Rise“. We were completely okay with that considering how much they do us at these remote places. This is why, I always prefer homestay’s rather than hotels.

At around 8 o’ clock, the power went off due to heavy rain. Soon Dipankar Da (From North East Tour & Travels) joined us, who was also there at Okhrey and reached today only with his family ro enjoy trekking through Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary. This is the first time, I was meeting him in person though I had lots of tour with his guidance. I always prefers booking hotels and car through him, as he always charges less than what’s quoted by the hotels directly. Soon Mr. Sherpa joined us too and asked us whether we were having any problem. You see, this is the behavior and warm hospitality, that you’ll not get at expensive hotels. He informed us that, tomorrow being the “Ramnavami“, there will be lots of local crowd at Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary. Though Dipankar Da, already informed us, but we still asked him whether we could keep our luggage at his place. He smilingly said, it’s absolutely okay and it’s very common thing. Maximum tourists who plans to halt at Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary, keeps the luggage with him only and take it next day while returning from Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary.

Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary

Dipankar Da asked him, though we had bookings at Guras Kunj at Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary, but if we feel like not staying there, can we come down to Okhrey? He said “Agar aapka dost hai to humara bhi dost hua na” (If they are your friends, they are my friends too). He told us that we can always come down if we don’t feel like not staying there and he’ll make arrangements for us and asked us not to check in there, if we feel like coming down. We were overwhelmed of his words. Dipankar Da, asked us to go and check if we like the environment there as tomorrow can be really crowded due to Ramnavami. Mr. Sherpa informed us that, they will mostly be locals and will not stay at Guras Kunj, but due to the crowd we might not feel the enjoyment of staying at Guras Kunj at Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary. He also informed us that, to start early morning tomorrow, so that we can come down within evening. Dipankar Da told us that he’ll inform Gopi to wait at Hilley and asked us to inform him whether we’ll stay there after reaching Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary.

Soon, the dinner were served and we didn’t take much time to go to bed as we were already tired and had plans to start early tomorrow.

15th April 2016 – Day 2 : Okhrey to Hilley and Trek through Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary. O/N at Barsey : Dipankar Da told us that, he’ll start at around 7 AM, but we were late. After having breakfast and paying all the bills we finally started around 8:50 AM. Mr. Sherpa gave us a letter and asked us to give it to Bondhu Sherpa of Guras Kunj at Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary and again warned us, not to check in there, if we feel like not staying there. Gopi drove us till Hilley and asked us to call him if we feel like not staying there at Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary.

Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary

Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary Checkpost

  • Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary

We had to pay an entry fee of Rs. 55/- per head and Rs. 25/- for each DSLR and soon we started our trek. The trek through Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary was an easy trek. But we being not accustomed by walking through hilly areas, we had to take small breaks throughout the route. Finally we reached Barsey at around 1 o’ clock. As already intimidated by Dipankar Da and M. N. Sherpa, there were huge local crowds to celebrate Ramnavami. They were singing and dancing and having picnics. We met P. D. Sherpa of Guras Kunj who were serving foods to trekkers who have their bookings. He told us that Bondhu Sherpa is busy attending other guests. To tell you the truth, I quite liked the Guras Kunj and dormitory of the same. But the environment got hampered due to the festival going on.

Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary

  • Trekking Through Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary

Trekking Through Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary

We asked girls in our group to check the dormitory and washrooms and check whether they would be comfortable staying there. Guras Kunj have 2 rooms with attached bathroom and one large dormitory to accommodate around 20 persons with common washroom. At the time of rush, they also provide Tents to trekkers. We were already aware about the same. We couldn’t manage the booking of Rooms with attached bathroom. Girls informed us that, though washroom is clean and tidy but they don’t feel comfortable staying here as changing clothes can be a problem for them. Though I tried making them realize that there are other girls too were staying here, but majority being on the mood of going back to Okhrey, I had to agree with them.

Guras Kunj

Guras Kunj

  • Guras Kunj

Dipankar Da was also there with his family and he said that he’ll also go back to Okhrey encouraged them more. We asked P. D. Sherpa, whether we can have lunch there, but he said he can’t arrange it as there’s already a huge rush of tourists who will be staying and he and Bondhu and their family is very busy preparing food for them. But he agreed to prepare Maggi for all of us. After having our lunch, we started for Okhrey at around 2 o’ clock. Finally we managed to reach Hilley within 4:15 PM. Gopi was waiting there for us as we had already informed him, that we’ll be going back. Finally he drove us to Okhrey. We were at Okhrey by 4:45 PM.

Hilley

Hilley

Okhrey

Okhrey

Okhrey

Okhrey

Okhrey

Okhrey

Gopi and Dipankar Da, already called Mr. M. N. Sherpa, and informed him that we’ll not be staying at Barsey. We were really tired after trekking around 10 KM. Though Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary is around 4 KM from Hilley, but Guras Kunj will be about another KM from the main spot. Mr. Sherpa showed us the Handicraft Center and asked us whether we’d like to buy something, but there was nothing that caught our eye. Sonam recharged us with Tea and Coffee. Today, he came up with Pakoda, but we jumped like hungry animals as soon as he came up with the plate and literally there was no single pakoda left even before he could keep the plate on table. 😛

He helped us with some more plates of Pakoda’s, but that also failed to please our hunger. We asked whether it’ll be possible to serve Momo or something else, but he said that they will soon start preparing dinners so it’ll be cumbersome. He further told us that, he could get us Omlette’s. We were more than happy. He then took dinner order and left.

Locals At Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary

Locals At Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary

Locals At Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary

Locals At Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary

All of us were really tired as our legs were aching like hell. Avik helped us by messaging and stretching our legs. That helped like medicine to us. At around 9:30 PM, Mr. Sherpa came up to inform us that dinner is ready. After having our dinner we had a chat with Mr. Sherpa, Gopi and Dipankar Da for some time. Mr. Sherpa told us that, as we didn’t stayed at Guras Kunj, he adjusted the balance with today’s stay and food bill at Okhrey and that he’ll pay us Rs. 600/- which was excess even after adjusting for what we had transferred him for Guras Kunj, tomorrow.

Locals At Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary

Locals At Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary

Another instance, why I always prefer Homestay’s. One can’t experience these kind of warm and homely treatment even at expensive hotels. We went to bed soon, as we were really feeling tired with the memorable hospitality by Mr. Sherpa.

The next part of the trip report is continued at Exploring West Sikkim – Kaluk – Pelling

Review :
Sherpa Lodge, Okhrey : We really liked the homestay environment of Sherpa Lodge. Not to mention, Mr. Sherpa goes out of any bounds to satisfy the guests. There are around 5 – 6 buildings, all maintained by Mr. Sherpa and his brothers. The food is really awesome and tasty. All in all we fell in love with Okhrey. What more can you expect?

  • Sherpa Lodge, Okhrey

Cost :
Sherpa Lodge at Okhrey : 950/- (4 Bedroom) + 850 (Double Bed Room) = 1800/-
Guras Kunj at Barsey / Varsey / Versay : 950/- x 6 (person) x 1 (day) = 5700/- (This includes all the meals and accommodation)

The food bill on the first day at Okhrey was 1500/-

Though we didn’t stayed at Guras Kunj and returned back to Okhrey. So Mr. Sherpa adjusted Rs. 5700/- (of Barsey) with the accommodation and food of our 2nd day stay at Okhrey and returned Rs. 600/- which was excess after adjusting.

Gopi charged us Rs. 3300/- per day. (Booked by Dipankar Da)

The Trip Would Not Have Been Such Memorable Without :

Special Thanks To :
Dipankar Da from North East Travels. Though Mr. M. N. Sherpa has quoted Rs. 100/- less than what was charged by Dipankar Da, we still choose to book Sherpa Lodge through him because, for the later parts of our trips, he offered us Rs. 500/- less than what’s quoted by the hotels per night per room. Yes, we could easily book other hotels through him and book Sherpa Lodge and Guras Kunj through Mr. Sherpa, but we still choose to pay Rs. 100/- more to keep it hassle free.

Contacts:
Okhrey : Sherpa Lodge – Mr. M. N. Sherpa : +91-9434137396 / +91-9735975880. Sherpa Lodge is the only accommodation at Okhrey. There are 5-6 buildings, all of which are maintained by Mr. Sherpa and his brothers. So Mr. M. N. Sherpa is your single POC for Okhrey.

Barsey / Varsey / Versay : Guras Kunj – Bondhu Sherpa : +91-9734141013. P. D. Sherpa (Brother of Bondhu Sherpa) : +91-9593834627. There’s no network at Barsey. Sometimes BSNL does work but there’s no guarantee. In such situations, you can call Mr. M. N. Sherpa of Sherpa Lodge at Okhrey for the bookings. They are constantly in touch with Bondhu and P. D. Sherpa.

Mr. Dipankar Roy (North East Travels) : Email : northeasttravels2008@gmail.com. Phone : +918972247306

Gopi (Driver) : +91-9733083795 / +91-8016288879. Gopi drives Bolero with the registration number of SK 02 J0179. He’s one of the best and friendliest driver I have even been with.

The next part of the trip report is continued at Exploring West Sikkim – Kaluk – Pelling