Dzongu: A Safe Haven
The thought of Sikkim; in most people’s minds, conjures up images of mist laden snowy
peaks, majestic mountains, pristine woodlands, dirt trails, meandering rivers, thatched
houses alongside village hamlets and terraced farms with rows of wild barley and corn! If
this is the picture of Sikkim you have in your mind, then the area of Dzongu in North Sikkim
must definitely be on you bucket list of places to visit!
To give a brief introduction about the state, Sikkim is one of the tiniest states of India and a
former independent kingdom situated in the Eastern Himalayas; sandwiched between
Nepal and Bhutan. It stands out like a jutting thumb on the physical map of India and is
connected to the rest of the country through the Chicken- Neck Corridor in Siliguri. The
Lepchas are the original inhabitants of the state and they are also referred to as “Rongkup”,
meaning the children of God and the Rong. The Lepchas are among the most peaceful and
environmentally friendly communities residing in the country and live in close harmony
The Lepchas believe that a life well spent in accomplishing good deeds is rewarded by
eternal bliss in Mayal Lang, the mythical ”kingdom of heaven”. This is where Dzongu comes
in prominence. According to folklore, it is believed that Dzongu is the bridge to Mayal Lang
where all Lepchas are thought to have originated from. Since this is a holy and sacred place,
it is of immense importance to the Lepchas.
The Lepchas believe in worshipping nature in all its manifestations and consider Mount
Kanchenjunga as their guardian deity and protector. They consider the rivers, lakes, trees,
waterfalls all to be sacred and spiritual places of dwelling and actively work to conserve
and preserve them. Visits to the area require special permits to be acquired in advance, as
this is an area exclusively set up for the indigenous community to preserve their primitive
culture and traditions in its original form.
Dzongu is a sparsely populated region in the northern district bordered by the Teesta River
in the south east and the Kanchenjunga range in the west and was declared a natural
reserve, as it falls completely in the Kanchenjunga biosphere. It serves as a safe haven for
the natives of the land since the early sixties. Hence, it is quite natural that the area is cut
off from the general public at large and remains self-sufficient and contained within itself.
The area does not have any typical hotels, but travelers wishing to visit can put up in
homestays and nature retreats hosted by many of the locals, for a unique one of a kind
experience. Munlom Nature Resort is one such property hosted by Mr Kelzang, popularly
referred to as Kim. The resort lies in the midst of dense foliage, in the Tropical Moist
Deciduous forest, native to the region and offers mesmerizing views of Mt Pandim and Mt
The place is blessed with nature’s bounty and abounds with fruit trees, medicinal herbs,
vegetables and shrubs. The large black cardamom, which is one of the major cash crops of
the state can be found growing in abundance around Dzongu. The drive from Mangan right
up to Munlom, though precarious, is laced with fruit bearing trees of every kind – guava,
grapefruit, passion fruit, pears, oranges and figs!
As the car zig zags it’s way up the hilly terrain, you also come across a number of reed thin
suspension bridges which are sure to make you hold your breath in alarm! The journey is
an absolute shot of adrenaline rush for an adventure junkie, but not so much so for the faint
of heart. It is true that the roads of Dzongu will test you. But it is also true that difficult
roads often lead to beautiful destinations!
As the proximity of the resort closes in, the road gets even rougher and at this point there is
a change of transport. Your vehicle which brought you up to this point is exchanged for the
resort’s own well-seasoned and reliable old Gypsy car. It is usually Mr Kim or Rinchen the
caretaker, who comes to greet you and take you through a bumpy ride to the resort
grounds, which feels like an oasis in the middle of nowhere!
You will also notice that most houses here keep a greenhouse nearby for their daily supply
of fresh herbs and vegetables like coriander, spring onions, basil, chillies, tree tomato,
cherry tomato, cucumber etc. Besides the wild orchids, there are also a few varieties of
edible orchids called “Nakima” in the local dialect, which you could sample if it is in season.
Most of the food that is served at Munlom is what is grown locally on the farm or what can
be foraged from the forest, like the fiddle head ferns.
There’s also a whole array of local wine to choose from; brewed by the villagers, that they
keep in stock here. Exotic flavors that I had never tasted in wine before - like passion fruit,
rhododendron, banana, cardamom! For snacks they made us “Khuri” – small crepe like
buckwheat rolls stuffed with potatoes and local cheese mash served, with Dalley and tree
There are many interesting activities that one can opt for while staying at Munlom - like the
guided village walks, hikes to the local monastery in Hee Gyathang, a visit to the Sulphur
hot springs, a day outing with fishing and a river side picnic, birding around the area, as
well as interactive session with your host preparing a local meal.
As night falls and the day comes to a close, one gets a sense of the environment around you
come alive. The sounds of the resident animals and insects fill the air with a sickly sweet
buzz. As dinner preparations get underway you can try a swig of the local millet beer called
“Tongba”, which is drunk with hot water to keep your spirits warm in the spacious
lounging area, adjoining the dining hall which houses an authentic country style, rustic clay
oven fueled with firewood.
The resort has four rooms in total, each done up in rustic style and decorated with natural
elements and furniture. There’s a jungle theme resonant in the décor with the beds, walls
and doors representing round logs of wood and the clothes hanger in the bathroom looking
like tree branches. Even the shower area has little pebbles laid on the floor and an open
roof atrium to allow natural light to filter in, to give you a feel that you’re truly in the wild!
This having said, the stay at Munlom is rather comfortable than one would imagine for a
place so remote in the hills. There are clean fresh sheets and towels provided, an electric
kettle for your tea/coffee with all its required paraphernalia, a closet with hangers, soft
pillows, extra blankets, soap, toilet paper and a wooden deck to look out to the horizon as
you sip your morning tea!
Peace, serenity, solace – things people spend a fortune to find but seldom possess. The fast
pace of the modern world soon catching up, either in the form of a text, an email, or a
notification of your favorite YouTube upload. Though the connectivity here is not great and
there is no Wifi on site, it may serve as a blessing in disguise for most of us in desperate
need of a Digital Detox! It all depends on the perspective you have; you could crib and
complain about it or on the other hand take it as offline is the new luxury!
Whatever your notion of tranquility and calmness maybe, you need to do this! This taking a
break from your daily routine life and going to nature to heal. Waking up to fresh morning
air, walking bare feet on due drops, plucking fruits straight out of the boughs and tasting
them, eating organic and drinking water out of the fresh mountain springs. Like a
childhood friend of mine put it in one of her poems -
“Whatever else you may leave undone, once ride a wild horse to the Sun!”
Take that chance, make it happen. You don’t have nine lives like a cat does.