Ever since travel has become more about meeting and interacting with local people for me, my choice of accommodation has been anything which offers me an easy way out to interact with them. And what could be easier than staying with the locals at their home, in other words, homestays. Rather than staying at some resorts or hotels and be surrounded with the tourists I prefer being with the local people.
In the spirit of travelling to an off-the-tourist trail, we (me and my husband) decided to step into the new phase of our life (married life) amidst the silence and tranquility of nature rather than the usual honeymoon spots full of newly married couples all around you. After spending a good amount of time browsing the internet and researching we decided on Dzongu in North Sikkim.
Not being a regular tourist place it was little difficult to find a homestay in Dzongu. There was not much information about Dzongu and even the tour operators discouraged us to visit the place scaring us with “there is nothing in Dzongu except wild bears“. Despite all the discouragement I was very sure that I wanted to discover this less travelled place. Only people crazy for travel can believe that I was more excited about my trip rather than my marriage ;). After a lot of research we were able to find three homestays in Dzongu and after interacting with all of them, we decided on one which was owned by now our friend Kachyo Lepcha.
We did not know anything more than that we were staying at the home of a Lepcha Family. (If you do not know about Lepcha, it is a indigenous community of Sikkim. Wait for next post to know more about the Lepchas). Driving through the dirt track along the green mountain and then walking through the steep path in the dark we climbed up to our homestay.
The main gate was a traditional gate which can still be seen in villages. It consists of two thick bamboos on each side with multiple holes in each bamboo. Thinner bamboos are passed through the holes on both sides to close the gate. It was this gate where we were welcomed by our hosts with all their warmth and love. The gate led us to a wooden house painted in green raised on the stone slab which welcomed us. It being the rainy season a familiar sound of frogs could be heard. The outer area had a fireplace on one side and a pen for hens on the other side. The family had a field in front of the house where they grew maize and rice. There were also separate sheds for cows and goats. A toilet and a bathroom outside the house with water routed through the pipe from the stream of waterfalls on the mountain. The toilet seat was very interestingly stone carved.
My dream of staying on a mountain was fulfilled. We were on top of a green mountain surrounded by other mountains with no homes near our homestay. Sometimes Mt. Kanchejunga blessed us with the view of its snow-clad peak while playing hide and seek with the clouds. We stayed with a family who grows their own food, have cows for milk, rears hens and goats for meat. All the families in Dzongu leads similar lifestyle. We woke up in the morning not with the irritating sound of the alarm clock but with the hen’s cukcdoo-coo call and the chirping of the birds. All of this gave a feeling of being far far away from the modern city life.
Though we found our homestay to be quite traditional, we were shown few other old houses in Dzongu which resembled more to a traditional Lepcha house. The traditional Lepcha house stands on a base made of huge log pillars on every corners. For the further support to the house, stone walls on the two sides are constructed leaving open space at the center. This space is used for keeping the crops or keeping livestock during rainy season and storage of other stuff. The stone slabs in the foundation are used to counter the effects of earthquakes.
Since the whole house rests on the stone walls and wooden pillars raised above the ground the entrance to the house is through a stair. The stair leads to the front room which is the main room in the house. The floor is made up of firewood, which are kept crisscrossing each other. This not only makes the structure strong but also provides warmth to fight against the chilling winters. The floor of firewood is pasted by a thick layer of clay that could give them warmth and they could also keep fire burning the whole night during winters. The front room is used as the kitchen. The oven used for cooking also provides some warmth during cold. The kitchen is usually big and is also used for entertaining guests, dining and sleeping. The bed is made of wooden plank covered with skin of cow and is placed besides the oven. The room adjacent to the main room in a traditional Lepcha house is used for storing grains.
Another interesting feature of the house is its roof which is covered with Siru (a local grass used by Sikkimese to cover a house or shed). To tie up the grass with the bamboo piece, the Lepchas use Choya (a thread made by pilling a bamboo). They use Choya in a fashion such that the grass could remain intact to protect the house from seepage.
The most striking feature of traditional Lepcha House house is that it is constructed without using a single nail and there is no metal used in the construction. To keep other beams and woods firmly, holes are made on the huge wooden pillars so that it could remain at the exact place where it was supposed to be. All the wood used to construct a traditional Lepcha house is gathered from the forest.
The architecture of the present Lepcha houses in Dzongu were still similar to the traditional Lepcha house. But at present due to the depletion of forest and the absence of old craftsmanship the art of building traditional Lepcha houses is dying and has been giving way to modern houses in the village. Good tar roads are also providing easy access to modern construction materials. We were not even able to spot one traditional Lepcha house in the whole village.
A replica of traditional Lepcha house is built at Namprikdang in Passingdong village of Dzongu. This has been converted to museum and displays the traditional tools used by the Lepchas. But we were unlucky as the museum was locked when we reached. It was very disappointing to see that the construction material used for the replica was not traditional.
Check out the photos of the homestay and few Lepcha houses in the gallery at the end of the post. Thanks to our host for being such a lovely host.
Essential Information & Contact:
Getting There: The most convenient airport is Bagdora and nearest railway station is New Jalpaiguri, from where you can take a taxi to Gangtok. A shared Taxi from Gangtok, directly upto Dzongu, can be taken from the Vajra stand in Gangtok.
Prerequisite: A permit is required to enter Dzongu.
Contact: Kachyo Lepcha Phone +91 9800 074 211 . Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Have you been to any Lepcha homestay? Or any such small community specific homestay?