Our trip to Chemchey was as surprising and out-worldish as it was amazing. Chemchey is a small village that surrounds a relatively new mountaineering institution, Indian Himalayan Centre for Adventure and Eco-Tourism, Sikkim (IHCAE). The fact that it has an eco-tourism centre along with the mountaineering institution exhorts tourists to stay on campus and enjoy it’s facilities and also the rawness of the nature, serenity and remoteness of a place in it’s true sense.
Last year we wished to stay there for a couple of days but forgot to call ahead till the very last moment (the day before we planned on going there, from Ravangla). Upon finally calling, we were informed that there will be no one at the institution for more than a week as everyone has already left for an expedition, not even a sweeper or a security guard will be there. This was quite disheartening to hear but adamant on not derailing our plans, we somehow managed to convince them that opening a room at the guest house would suffice all our needs. Spoiler alert but it turned out to be a very unexpected turn of events and adventure than what we had previously expected. We rented a car from Ravangla (as there were no share jeeps available due to the fact that very less local people commuted there on a daily basis) and travelled a short distance of 17 km. The drive was extremely smooth and picturesque with a splattering of cherry blossoms along the way.
When we finally reached the institution, it was as deserted as was promised by the office personnel, so was the village. There were only 2-3 houses and a few grocery shops on the main road and the rest of the village was down the hill. We waited for about 30 mins, almost losing hope and going back, before someone came and let us in. The eco-tourism guest house was far more luxurious but the person who assisted us, only had keys to the general guest house.
The rooms were sparsely furnished but huge and sparkly clean with the most wonderful view from the balcony, also a bird watcher’s heaven.
The cherry blossom tree just adjacent to our balcony seemed to attract a varied number of birds from the first light of the day to the last. My mother being an avid bird watcher and photographer was glued to the balcony for the majority of the time we were there and lest to say, she was not at all disappointed. To sit in complete silence and observe all those colourful birds playing among the pink flowers and sucking honey from them, was something I can not possibly describe in a thousand words.
Rapt in total amazement, we all quite forgot about food arrangements till late afternoon. The canteen at the institution was closed as everyone left for expedition, so we had to venture out to the village in search of a restaurant and eatery. We did not find one. Finally a grocery shop woman agreed to provide us with lunch and dinner at her house, we also bought Maggie for breakfast or snacks (as we can make it using our travel electric kettle). Fooding at her house let us taste the true essence of a mountain life. Everything was self made or home grown (vegetables, pickles, butter, milk, every morsel of food we ate). It’s taste was something out of this world, no amount of money could have bought that anywhere else. Also it gave us a chance to connect with the local people. The only problem was reaching her home at night, it was a bit tricky as there were no lights and not another living soul could be seen through the entire stretch.
There was a small temple a little up the hill, the only place of interest in the whole village, apart from the institution. A few hundred steps led us to the temple.
It was a small temple with a neat courtyard and you can see the whole layout of the institution from up there.
There, the temple’s caretaker was so glad to see people, that he chatted with us non-stop in Nepali. Even if we didn’t understand word to word, we could get the gist of it and reacted accordingly, his joy knew no bounds. It is amazing how little acts of kindness and patience can bring so much joy to a person.
The next day we decided to walk downhill and visit the actual village. It was an epic wrong decision on our part.
We went downhill for more than 3 hours only to realize that the village was spread all over the slope of the mountain and that’s the reason we only found 1-2 houses after every km or so. Going uphill at that point would have taken us forever, also our phones didn’t have any network nor there were any cars in sight. We sought help from the next house we found. Even he didn’t have any network on his phone(I can’t imagine living without proper network but I think that’s how they live) but he gave us water and told us to wait for any car to pass, although it was highly unlikely. We waited for quite a long time before someone passed with a car, we stopped him and asked for help. He was more than willing to help, thank god for that.
I am afraid if I begin talking about the institution I won’t be able to stop or do justice to it’s beauty.
The campus is extremely huge with top class facilities and the most beautifully situated climbing wall.
I am not much of a climber, so I couldn’t even reach the top of the climbing wall if given the chance but I can only wonder the view from there, also you can see snow capped mountains from the spot near the climbing wall and obviously from top of it.
We only caught a peek of the snow capped mountains as it was extremely cloudy.
Other than being spacious and well facilitated, the campus is extremely very well positioned. The helipad was surreal and was the perfect viewpoint for one of the most beautiful sunsets ever seen by me.
As dusk approached, we saw small flickering lights on all the mountains around us, like fireflies, with the sky turning shades of orange and pink.
We could even see the sun glinting off the statue of Buddha at Samdruptse on our left and obviously the glittering lights of cities all around.
It has always been my dream to stay at an empty institution, for no reason, but never in my wildest imagination did I ever think of it to be such a wonderful adventure. We experienced the place in it’s rawest form and true essence.
Also being a total fan of remote and tourist-less places, it won our hearts in no time.
For our return to Namchi (the next big town), we availed a bus, mainly for school students of Chemchey, early morning. The driver was an eccentric and wore a hat and a neatly pressed shirt. He played old English song hits like California hotel, I just called to say I love you, Careless whisper… and others. The cold breeze on your face and old hits, it was suddenly as if I was transported to some foreign country. I was giddy with the joy. All in all, the trip was an absolute blast.