By Sushobhan Roy
Sushobhan Roy is an avid trekker and for him the call of the nature is hard to resist. Every now and then, he seeks out for opportunities to dash off to a new trail to get back to some optimism and some sanity.
Ravangala-Maenam Hill Trek is one of the very few treks in the north – eastern region which rise to a height of around 10, 600 ft from the sea level of around 8000 ft in less than 5 hours. The entire trek passes through dense forests and huge canopies of oak, hemlock and sub-alpine rhodendrons occupying the majority of the trail and running parallel to the length of the trail. The amazing diversity in the entire flora of the region is a sight to behold.
The Maenam Hill peak provides a breathtaking and composite view of the snow covered mountains of Mount Kanchenjunga, Mount Pandim, Mount Sinoulchu and Mount Kabru. Maenam Hill lies in the Maenam Wild Life Sanctuary, a dwelling place for several exotic species of flora and fauna. ‘Maenam-la' means “treasure-house of medicines”, in reference to the sanctuary's rich array of medicinal plants. The Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary is a natural habitat of the Red Panda, Himalayan Black Bear, leopard cat and black pheasant cat. As some say “The paradise is not far away”.
Being a national wild life sanctuary, a permit is required for trekking. The permit is easily available in Ravangla along with a guide for the trek. The guide is a local villager who also holds a good amount of knowledge of the edible and non edible fruits and berries along the way.
Altitude: 3235 meters (10 600 ft)
Trail Type: Easy gradients. Gradual undulation of the route. Ample time to rest and marvel the beautiful rhodendrons.
Rail head: NJP (New Jalpaiguri) is the nearest rail head. NJP to Ravangla is 120 km.
Road head: Shared taxis are available outside NJP (New Jalpaiguri) Station to Singtam. From Singtam taxis are available to Ravangla. NJP to Ravangla is 120 km by road.
Base Camp: Reach Ravangla by shared car from Singtam.
Ravangla to Maenam Hill, 8 kms, 5 - 6 hrs.
Best Season: Late April till late June,July. September till November (Except Monsoon).
The drive from Kolkata to the Ravangla base camp
The nearest rail head for Ravangla base camp is New Jalpaiguri (NJP), situated at a distance of around 677 kms. The journey will take around 10-12 hours. Most of the trains start overnight from Kolkata and reach NJP early in the morning at around 7-8. From NJP, there is a host of passenger vehicles which one can avail to reach Ravangla. Most of the passenger vehicles in NJP (New Jalpaiguri) drive through Singtam, a major town of Sikkim situated at a distance of 30 kms from Gangtok. Ravangla lies at a distance of 40 kms from Singtam and the steep rise through the hills lead to drastic drop in temperatures all along the way. The nearest air head is Bagdogra in Siliguri. Bagdogra is nearly 150 kms from Ravangla and 4-5 hours drive to Ravangla.
Ravangla is a small quaint town situated at an altitude of around 6990 ft in South Sikkim. The journey from NJP to Ravangla is around 6-7 hours and provides the ultimate gateway for a sojourn in the wild. After reaching Ravangla at around 3-4 in the evening, the first thing that one can immediately notice is the surroundings which tend to be a lot chilly and windy. After winding up in a nearby hotel, one can decide to visit the nearby market. Ravangla is sometimes referred to as the “Cherrapunji of North-East”. A persistent drizzle accompanies this region in the evenings and add teeth to the biting cold of the surroundings. Remember to carry a rain-jacket and woollens for this trek. This trek can be done any time of the year but is most favourable in the March-May season and October-December season.
The Ralang Monastery is one of the major attractions of this region. This monastery houses a huge statue of Gautam Buddha in the centre with the entire range of Kanchenjunga in the backdrop. An out of the world sight to behold!
The trek starts from the base camp Ravangla town situated at a height of approximately 8000 ft from the sea level and went all the way to Maenam Hil, some 10, 600 ft above sea level. Start early in the morning from the base camp in order to complete the trek by dusk.
Walk along with the guide on the moist tracks as the dew of the previous night glistens on the undergrowth and shrubs. There are many steep uphills along the way and it’s better to carry a walking stick along with you. The walking sticks made from the branches of the trees lend an able shoulder in the endeavour. The wild strawberries serve as delectable source for quenching one’s thirst. There are two resing points along the way to the top. Avoid plastics and throwing away litters is a strict no. It’s one of the lesser known treks in Sikkim and hence you will find less influx of tourists on the trail.
The vegetation starts changing gradually as one makes way to the top. The bamboo trees in the higher echleons replace the otherwise dense rhodendrons in the lower strata. Every now and then one will come across mountain dogs which provide a good boost to scale the top of the hill. The enthusiasm of those animals stir one’s spirits in a way that the ardous route turns out to be one of the memorable experiences of one’s life.
The way from the second resting point to the top of the Maenam Hill gets a lot more abrubt with some angles of climb close to 60 degrees. The otherwise greenery takes a back seat and undulating ridges of bamboos and small shrubs begin to gather steam. The Meanam Hill at the top is a treasure house for the nature lovers. Mt. Norsing, Pandim & Siniolchu can be seen clearly from this place. All these mountains lie in the imposing Kanchenjunga range. A small shrine of monastery at the top serves a perfect retreat for a small siesta out in the hills. The shrine is very old and now serves as a resting place for the animals and humans alike.
The drop in the temperature is extremely palpable at the top as one tries to soak the entire ecosystem of the region from a bird’s eye view. The way down takes less than 2 hours with some steep descents and precocous curves challenging one’s fitness and endurance. Some of the descents can even be done on bums if one can come across good amount of dried leaves on the way. The ride down on the bums can be a bit nostalgic of the childhood days spent in those beautiful rides of the juvenile parks.
How to do this trek
Total distance in kms of the trek:- The total length of the trek was around 12 km (up) and 12 km (down). The total duration of the trek is around 6-8 hours.
Maximum Elevation: 3235 meter – Maenam hill
Getting to/from: Ravangla Maenam Hill Trek can be attempted from Maenam Wild Life Sanctuary at the base Ravangla, it takes 1-2 hours from Singtam.
Weather:-The best time to do the trek would be from March-May and from October-December. Since evening thundershowers are a norm in this part of the region for most of the year, carrying a good rain-jacket would be best. At Maenam Hill one experience a 5 degree Celsius drop as compared to the base in Ravangla. Day temperature remains pleasant. The drop in temperature is felt more during winter in November and December.
Porter and Guides Availability:- Since the trek falls under the purview of Menam Wild Life Sanctuary, a nominal fee of 200-300 rs will be charged on an individual basis before entering the sanctuary. This will cover the charges for the guide also. The trek is very prominent throughout the top and one can easily find the way without the help of any guide. The porters and guides are mostly the villagers staying around the sanctuary.
Permits: No permits required.
Night Stay:- There is an old gompa at the top which can be utilized for staying at night. Camping and bonfire in any other part of the sanctuary is strictly prohibited.
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