Searching south Sikkim


The Family has decided that she needs a break in the lower Himalayas at the beginning of March. The first idea was Darjeeling. The name brings to mind images of mountain roads, toy trains, tea gardens, and the Himalayas. However, the current reality is crowded bazaars, traffic jams, unending construction, and lack of municipal services. After some discussion we decided to go elsewhere in that region of the hills. Our memories of watching Kanchendzongka lighting up at daybreak draw us back to this region.

Bagdogra airport is the gateway to this part of the country. Flights from Kolkata tend to arrive around 3 PM and leave around midday. Bagdogra is a small and busy airport, which means long queues at check-in or baggage drop and security. We need to arrive two hours before the flight. Put this together with the sunset time of about 5:30 PM and sunrise at around 6 AM, and you have the basic constraints. After arrival you would like to reach your destination in about 3 hours. If you want to have breakfast before starting, then your last night has to be within 3 hours of driving distance from Bagdogra.

We’ve had a return trip to north and east Sikkim on our minds, but four nights is too short for a second look. We’ve already spent many days in Lava and Rishop in northeast Bengal, so the only thing left seemed to be south and east Sikkim. We sat down to look at a map, and found Kitam Wild Life Sanctuary. This is a small sanctuary, with an area of about 6 square kms, on the Rangeet river, which forms the state border between Bengal and Sikkim. It seems to have been created in 2006. Detailed information came from a gazette notification by the Union Ministry of Environment:

… harbours a unique association of Sal (Shorea robusia) and Chir Pine (Pinus roxburghii) forests which again nestles a large number of Peafowls, the national bird. Both are dominant species in the Mixed Broad-Leaved Forests of Terminalia, Castanopsis, Engelhardtia, Betula species., Teak (Tectona grandis) is also found;

And whereas, the State’s southern boundary bordering with the West Bengal State is separated by the Great Rangeet River; And whereas, the sanctuary harbours Common Leopard (Panther pardus), Assamese macaque (Macaca assamensis), Rhesus Macaque (Macaca mulatta), Barking Deer (Muntiacus muntjac), Wild Boar (Sus scroJa), Chinese Pangolin (Manis pentadactyla), Himalayan Crestless Porcupine (Hystrix brachyura), Himalayan Palm Civet (Paguma larvata) etc. among the mammals and among the reptiles, the Indian Rock Python is common;

And whereas, avi fauna includes Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus), Kalij Pheasant (Lophura leucomelana) Red Jungle Fowl (Gallus gallus), Common Hill Partridge (Arborophila torqueola), Great Hill Barbet (Megalaima virens), Golden-throated Barbet(Megalaima franklinii), Himalayan Golden-backed Three-toed Woodpecker (Dinopium shorii), Indian Pied Hornbill (Anlhracoceros coromalus), and the like;

If mixed sal and pine forests and red jungle fowl are among the major reasons for notifying this area, then this is at best a minor stop. These can be seen in almost any wooded area in India. I searched for a checklist of birds and butterflies for this region, but could not find any. The forest department of Sikkim has a small bird checklist and another, less official, but longer one, but they cover all of Sikkim, and pay little attention to Kitam. Travel agents’ sites borrow from the gazette notice and each other: this is typical. An old wordpress blog talks about forests in this area being cut down and replanted. It is all very strange. Then I come across a damning review which put us off Kitam completely.

Is Pelling then the only option in southwest Sikkim? Should we also try out Varsey? Perhaps stop a night at Gorumara national park on the way back? What do you think?