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Dzongu - Responsible Tourism

Dec 1, 2023

 Dzongu is designated as an official reserve for the Lepcha tribe, the oldest tribe and the original inhabitants of the state. They refer to themselves as "Mutaunchi Rongkup Rumkup”, which means "beloved children of Mother Nature God" but are commonly known as the Lepchas, animism is still a part of their culture which means they worship natural spirits of land, water, and trees.

The original name of Sikkim is 'Mayal Lyang', meaning secret paradise in the Lepcha language. According to the Lepchas, this paradise still exists at the base of the sacred mountain Mt. Kanchenjunga (Kongchen Chyu in the Lepcha language) which holds a significant place in Lepcha culture. They believe that Dzongu North Sikkim is the bridge to Mayal Lyang, a heavenly abode hidden far away. The Lepcha clans worship certain mountain peaks as their guardian deity, even to this day.

In the book History of Sikkim, written by the then Chogyal of Sikkim Thutob Namgyal and Yeshey Dolma it has been mentioned that Dzongu was given to the Tanag Dinkha Rani of Tsugphud Namgyal (the seventh Chogyal of Sikkim) instead of jewellery. The Rani is said to have entrusted the Dzongu land to Malling Nyerpa, a  trustworthy person (Karma Rabgay) who used to work in the royal palace. With the demise of Tanag Dinkha Rani the ownership of the land was given to Monkyit Rani. Likewise, after MallingNyerpa, the Dzongu land was looked after by Khangsa Dewan. However, Rinzin Namgyal the grandson of MallingNyerpa got hold of the documents which proved that the duty to look after Dzongu was given to his grandfather. With these documents he challenged the Khangsa Dewan and the matter was presented in the political office’s court, eventually, the decision was made in favor of Rinzin Namgyal.

Later on, the Maharani of Lhading laid stress on the issue of Dzongu by claiming that Dzongu was owned by the Maharanis, after holding an extensive debate and discussion the political officer and other officials of the state decided in Maharani’s favor, giving the ownership of land to her.

According to The Gazetteer of Sikhim (1891), the gradual mixing of cultures and the huge influx of Nepalese,  has led to the loss of the original traditions and beliefs of the Lepcha tribe. To preserve the social homogeneity of the tribe, Dzongu was designated as a reserved area for the Lepchas in the early 1960s by the rulers of the Sikkim Kingdom. The idea was that only "pure-blooded" Lepchas could live and own land in this area. As a result, Dzongu became a protected land, accessible only with proper permissions.

Dzongu has remained untouched by commercialization for a long time. This has unintentionally helped in its responsible growth in the tourism industry, as most tour operators skip this hidden gem of a place. It is often ignored in standard itineraries for North Sikkim Tour Packages. However, this isolation and restricted nature of Dzongu has kept it as pristine and untouched as possible. It is one of the most culturally rich places in Sikkim, with strong local traditions still in place.

Dzongu also lies in the Kanchenjunga National Park (KNP) which is the first and only UNESCO mixed heritage site in India. This in itself is a testament to the unrivalled environmental and cultural heritage the area possesses where it was proven that the culture of the indigenous people is linked intrinsically with the ecology of the region.

It is because of this very mystical essence that the region is gaining popularity among nature lovers, authentic travel experience seekers, and culture aficionados. 

As Dzongu comes to the limelight, it is important to bring forth the rich local culture while keeping in mind the rich biodiversity and the essence of local communities are shielded from unconscious/ mindless developments.

The growth of Dzongu Tourism in the ever-expanding map of Sikkim tourism is inevitable, as it has been with all places in and around the globe, past and present. 

At OurGuest we have tried our best to be well-planned and balanced with our efforts. 

Agriculture, which has been their mainstay for generations, is no longer a viable career option for young people. As a result, many are forced to leave their homes in search of work elsewhere. However, it's heartening to see that some have found a way to supplement their income through homestays, which have become their primary source of livelihood.

A fun fact is that Dzongu is the only location in Sikkim where one can experience such a true local experience as the entire area only has homestays as a means of accommodation. OurGuest has been running guided tours and stays here since 2018 and is a prime focus for those seeking an authentic homestay experience. 

We at OurGuest have partnered with small marginal farmers who have homestays with an average of 3-4 rooms to host visitors. We understand the importance of responsible tourism and the need to preserve the delicate environment of Dzongu. That's why we promote local community-led tourism, which puts the local community at the forefront of tourism activities. 

Homestays are an excellent way to experience the local culture and lifestyle while minimizing the impact on the environment. They are smaller in size and don't need to be built up like hotels, utilizing already available space in a home. Many times, they don't require additional staff like a typical commercial hotel. This has helped the local economy and the people and also helped promote local food and culture through guests who visit Dzongu, which, in turn, helps protect ethnic cuisine and culture in the long run.

A trip booked to Dzongu with us means every meal, guided excursion, and experience is executed exclusively by a local and the community is directly receiving the benefit of ecotourism. 

OurGuest also encourages hosts and guides to curate unique experiences for visitors. These experiences can be simple village hikes, trekking expeditions, culinary classes, or anything that has a local flavor and is interesting. By doing so, we aim to provide visitors with an authentic experience that showcases the beauty and diversity of Dzongu while supporting the local community. In hindsight, we take responsibility for handholding our guides, in providing them with all the necessary training for them to do their best.

How to get to Dzongu

From Siliguri you can take a shared cab from SNT stand to Singtam, and then another shared jeep to Mangan and Dzongu.

Private cars are also available from Siliguri or NJP to Mangan.

From Gangtok, take a shared vehicle from Vajra Stand to Mangan then take shared cab from Mangan to Dzongu.

*Shared jeeps to Dzongu are available at the taxi stand in Mangan, the last jeep leaves around 3 PM.

You can also ask your homestay owners to arrange a pick-up. 

Best Time to Visit: Dzongu is best visited from October right through winter and the end of spring till June. Clear skies, plenty of locations to explore on foot and fresh rivers and streams are your everyday companions. 

Attractions

Village Walks: Walking around the villages is the best way to experience the area. Dzongu offers the primitive pleasures of being in oneness with raw nature, with lush bamboo grooves, paddy fields, butterflies, birds and waterfalls. The walks between Passingdang to Lingthem and Tingvong to Kusong are highly recommended.

Lingdem Hot Spring: The hot Sulphur spring of Dzongu is located in the village of Lingdem, Upper Dzongu. Accessible by crossing a thin rivulet and walking some fifty steps inside the forest, two cabins have been erected to accommodate visitors, with separate cabins designated for each gender. The locals firmly believe in the medicinal qualities and healing powers of these hot springs.

Fishing and Riverside Picnic: Angling or Hammer Fishing, a lesser-known method for fishing is possible in Teesta, Rongyong Chu, and Rong Kyung rivers, which have waterfall shelves. Add a relaxing riverside picnic along and you're good to go.

Trekking: Lower Dzongu has several villages, including Hee-Gyathang, Lingdong, and Passingdong, that are connected by roads for cars. Similarly, Upper Dzongu has several villages, including Lingthem, Tingvong, and Sakyong-Pentong, that also have motorable roads; however, the roads end at Lingzya in Upper Dzongu and most villages in the upper region require a trek to reach.

For those seeking a trek in the Dzongu region, there is no shortage of options to choose from. Depending on one's ability and timing constraints, individuals can select from a plethora of treks. Among the many options, the Tholung Monastery is a prominent choice, accessible via a day trek from Bey village.

This 8,000-foot monastery houses a collection of rare and ancient artefacts and relics from a particular order of Tibetan Buddhism, that are displayed once every three years. The monastery also houses ancient Buddhist manuscript scrolls dating back thousands of years, as well as weapons and tools used by the earliest Lepchas.

Beyond its cultural and historical significance, the Tholung Monastery's surroundings are breathtaking. Situated adjacent to a thunderous waterfall that plummets into a deep gorge, with mysterious caves nestled in the surrounding mountains, the setting of this 18th-century structure is truly awe-inspiring.

The most spectacular location in Dzongu is the Kisyhong Valley and Lake. This 5-day round-trip trek, which involves camping, is a challenging adventure. The natural beauty of this region is unparalleled and cherished by all in Dzongu, making it a precious jewel in the crown of the region.

Organic Food & Local liquor Tasting: The people here lead a self-sufficient life by growing own vegetables and crops with organic manure. They use a Lepcha way of cooking, which involves earthen ovens with log fire and minimal use of oil and spices. The food is relatively simple but considered delicious. They also raise livestock, including country chicken, which can be made available upon request.

The region is known for two locally brewed liquors, Chee and Aaraok. Chee is made from fermenting millet and is comparable to organic beer. It is commonly served in hollow bamboo mugs with a thin bamboo straw. Aaraok is brewed from some part of the cinnamon plants and has a slightly pungent taste. Both liquors are usually offered complimentary by the homestays.

Folklores: Be spirited away with the lores associated with hills, waterfalls, plants, birds, mountains, the nooks and crannies of Mystical Dzongu, best orated by village elders or even guides.

Homestays: There are many good Homestays in Dzongu all run by the locals. Some of them are Lepcha HomestayAchuley HomestayYealbong Lee HomestayMunlom Nature Resort

If you're looking for an off-beat experience without having to travel too far from a city center or a moment of tranquility in a fairy-tale mountain world, Dzongu is among the many hidden gems we’d love to help you discover. 

Please connect with OurGuest to book a customized tour of Dzongu.

 

 

 

 

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