Talk of New Jalpaiguri and the first things that come to your mind are the vacationing hotspots of Dooars and Darjeeling. These two are the most frequented by tourists not only from West Bengal but the rest of the country and beyond as well. But nestled in the Himalayas are several lesser-known destinations that are as beautiful as their more famous peers. The vacationing fraternity often gives these places a miss, largely because of lack of proper knowledge about accommodation and transport.
Sillery Gaon, about 5km from Pedong, is one such place in the Mahabharat Range. It remained obscure from the eyes of hounding tourists even a few years back. Lava, Loleygaon and Rishop were Sillery Gaon’s more famous peers. Then, the largely unexplored eastern Sikkim, started homestays along the old Sino-Indian silk route. Sillery Gaon, bang on the Sikkim-Bengal border, was included in the circuit. The village is the first stopover after the silk route begins at Reshi Khola near Kalimpong town.
Sillery is a remote village of less than 40 families. It’s bestowed with unfettered views of the mighty Kanchenjungha and is being enthusiastically labelled as ‘New Darjeeling’. It’s just like any other Himalayan village where people live like a community, sharing their joys and sorrows with each other. The entire village, in fact, resembles one big family.
I visited Sillery Gaon for the first time in 2011 and instantly fell in love with it. The people were simple and always ready to smile. I hope they are still the same. The village had no electricity back then and the only source of power was a diesel generator which was switched on for merely a couple of hours in the evening. It was the only time one could charge mobile phones and cameras. Dilip Tamang, whose homestay I had rented, rued that none at the electricity department paid an ear despite writing several times. I sympathised in approval, saying in my mind that it was a blessing in disguise for people like me who want to stay miles away from the maladies of electricity. But Dilip and other homestay owners needed electricity to install tourist necessities like geysers and water pumps. I am not sure whether electricity has finally arrived at Sillery Gaon.
Dilip Tamang’s extended family, including his in-laws, are all engaged in the homestay business. He is often considered the pioneer of eco-tourism in the region. He will knock on your door every morning to inquire whether everything is in order. Everyone in the village knows each other and Sillery Gaon is a model in community tourism that has helped them beat poverty.
The food prepared by the village women, who often participate in cooking at each other’s house, is a treat for foodies like me. The chicken curry, cooked in fresh stream water, is awesome. They grow the vegetables in the village itself and that’s purely organic. The children in the village help the women in their cooking before and after school. Dilip Tamang’s nephew told me that school was a 4km walk from their village.
Part of the road leading to Sillery Gaon from Algarah is pebbled. It’s more of a hiking trail but four-wheel drives manage to ply on it, largely because of pot-bellied Bengali travellers and their ubiquitous acidity. They even take a car to visit Ramitey, a 3km walk from the village centre to catch a glimpse of the panoramic Kanchenjungha and the meandering Teesta below. The river looks like a silver ribbon from the spot.
I have been planning to revisit Sillery Gaon, ever since I came back to my noisy and chaotic Kolkata. That hasn’t happened as yet. But the Himalaya bug biting my son in equal measure, I am likely to return soon.
Other Stories You May Like