Eco-friendly community tourism in West Sikkim

If it’s simple village life you seek, West Sikkim’s Darap village is the perfect place for it, says Gautam Bhan.


If it’s simple village life you seek, West Sikkim’s Darap village is the perfect place for it, says Gaurav Bhatnagar.

An old rickety bus, which is not more than a tin box with wheels and an engine, chugs slowly in the mountains of West Sikkim towards Pelling. Travelling on the bus, I am lucky to have enough space for my two feet. The bus is filled with locals travelling from West Bengal and traders returning to their villages with sacks of goods.

I am travelling to Darap, a small and beautiful village near Pelling, that’s home to the five major tribes of Sikkim – Limboo, Lepcha, Rai, Nepali and Gurung.

The family I stayed with suggested I go on a trek with a local guide to the nearby villages. Since I hadn’t planned what I would do yet, this sounded exciting. My guide, Purna Limboo, was an educated person from the Limboo tribe who chose to give up the opportunities he could have gotten in a city and work in his village as a tour guide. His inspiration is his passion for the environment, his culture and for his village.

An early morning trek took me through small villages surrounded by the Singalila mountain range. I saw plantations of millet, corn, fig, cardamom, bamboo and rice. Purna told me that Sikkim is one of the richest states in India in terms of flora and fauna. The Forests, Environment and Wildlife Management Department of Sikkim celebrated World Environment Day in June 2013, on which saplings were distributed to the people throughout Sikkim.

The trail through the local villages passes through farms of millet, corn, fig and cardamom trees.

Use of fertilizer, to my surprise, is prohibited in Sikkim. Because of its derogatory effects on soil, the government banned its use and trained local youth to teach farmers on how to grow crops without the use of fertilizers.

Purna also told me that the government launched a “100 day job scheme” for the local villagers, under which they can get jobs like making walking trails in the forest. I am amazed by the way local human resources are utilized for these jobs. The locals, in this process, get jobs and learn eco-friendly ways of living.

Stone walkways in the forest made by locals under the 100 day job scheme.

Although many people from the younger generation have chosen to move out to bigger cities and follow western lifestyles, there is still an inherent aura of brotherhood in the whole village which can be easily felt. Women of the younger generation are educated, far more secure and independent than those in cities.

I had the opportunity to stay with Shiva and Radha in a traditional Gurung homestay. Shiva, along with the local authorities, has done substantial work in promoting village tourism. Locals with their wealth of knowledge take travellers through the village, on trekking trails and as per any other customized requirements. Some travelers just love to sit by the river and fish all day. During lunch, the traveller is taken to a local Lepcha or Limboo house where he can have some of their authentic cuisine. This way, not only do the locals benefit monetarily, but it also helps sustain local culture, cuisine and their way of living.

A traditional Limboo house that is more than two centuries old

Limboo cuisine – Boiled corn, boiled pumpkin and pancakes

I experienced a sense of pride among locals for their village, their language, cuisine, culture and for their ancestors. I was fortunate enough to witness a local football match which was part of the week long Independence Day celebrations. School children take part in this football match and people climb over nearby walls, rooftops and hills to watch and cheer for the players. The atmosphere is electric and with every aggressive attack by the favorite team, the crowd burst with rounds of cheering that can be heard far in the hills.

Local football match during Independence Day celebrations

Sikkim became a part of India when the monarchy was abolished in 1975. Sikkim observes the national Independence Day and the celebrations start a week before 15 August. It coincides with the harvesting season when local farmers celebrate, families spend whole day near football fields and school children go around the village in buses waving Indian flags from the windows.

The patriotism and celebration resurfaces a sense of community that I have left somewhere on the way to a fast paced life of a metropolitan city. My fingers now tremble as I remember the sense of pride I had to see school children sing the National Anthem. People in this part of India have completely different features; they have different culture, language, cuisine, religion and lifestyle. But when they sing the same National Anthem that I have in my childhood, it makes me aware of the greatness of my country.

Limboo women with traditional jewellery

Locals use traditional ways of extracting honey through these bee-hives

Even after following some of the most eco-friendly and responsible ways of living, Darap village has its own issues. Over 95% of women who work in kitchen suffer from Tuberculosis or some form of lung disease due to traditional cooking practices. Families still use fire wood from the forest which is one of the most inefficient ways of harnessing the energy of fire. The smoke it produces has no efficient ways of escaping from the house.

There has been reluctance in accepting new ways of cooking mainly because gas cylinders are more expensive. The traditional ‘chulha’ is also worshipped among households and is not only used for cooking but also to dry meat, wood and clothes in winters.

A traditional chulha in tribal house

Shiva has worked to implement smokeless chulhas in Darap village with little success. We are fortunate enough to have his support in executing a project in Darap to implement smokeless chulhas that conserve the traditions and emotions of locals with the traditional chulha.

My journey to Darap village was one of the most memorable ones. As I begin to explore the beauty of Indian villages, I believe I may never go back to a city as a traveler now.


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gaurav Bhatnagar is a travel writer and travel photographer who is passionate about village and off-beat travel. His articles have appeared in publications like The Huffington Post and The Hindu. He blogs on www.the-spunky-traveler.com and tweets @dspunkytraveler Email him on gauravbhan@gmail.com more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gaurav Bhatnagar is a travel writer and travel photographer who is passionate about village and off-beat travel. His articles have appeared in publications like The Huffington Post and The Hindu. He blogs on www.the-spunky-traveler.com and tweets @dspunkytraveler Email him on gauravbhan@gmail.com more

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  • PB

    We stayed at Darap village with Shiva and Radha too – the best part of our otherwise wonderful Sikkim trip! Sikkim does have a green ethos – and much before it became a buzzword.

    • Hi. Good to know that you stayed there. I hope that your stay was wonderful. Have you blogged about your experience?

  • Dibyandu Roy

    wow… while reading… i was creating the pictures in my head… 🙂

    Very nice article… 🙂