Dzongu is a triangular, rural region in North Sikkim, India. It is bounded by the Teesta River in the south-east, Tholung Chu River in the north-east and by mighty mountains in the west. It borders the Kangchenjunga Biosphere Reserve. The area is divided into Upper Dzongu and Lower Dzongu.
Dzongu has been established as an official reserve for the Lepcha people, the aborginal inhabitants of Sikkim. The Lepchas have strong ties with the nature and have lived here for centuries. An understanding of their culture, customs and language helps to foster an appreciation of the beautiful mountains, deep forests, and the emerald-colored Teesta River.
The region sees little tourist activity and hence seems almost untouched. It is sparsely populated and most of it is covered with dense vegetation. Rice fields and cardamom plantations can be seen near the villages.
Dzongu is about 70 km from the state capital, Gangtok. It is easily reachable by road. Permission from Sikkim Government is required to enter Dzongu. One can obtain permission from the Tourism Office in Gangtok or one in Delhi. Tour operators can arrange the permits before you reach Sikkim.
The nearest airport is in Bagdogra in West Bengal. From here one can either take a pre-paid taxi (from within the airport) or one can go to Siliguri to find a shared taxi. Air India, Jet (via Jet Konnect) and Go Air have flights to this airport. One can either take a taxi up to Gangtok, which is about 4 hours' drive, or one can take a direct taxi to Dzongu which can take the route via Singthem to reach Dzongu in about 5 hours.
The nearest rail head is New Jalpaiguri Railway Station, not far from the airport. One can take a taxi up to Gangtok or directly to Dzongu from here. Bus services from here can be availed up to Gangtok.
An exclusive taxi from the airport/railway station, to Gangtok, will cost from ₹1,500 for a non-AC Indica (for max. 4 people) to ₹1,900 for a Sumo (bigger, SUV style car).
A shared taxi from Gangtok, directly up to Dzongu, can be had from the Vajra stand in Gangtok. However these taxis may not ply at all times of the day. Another option is to reach Mangan and get off in the main market. From there, one can easily find an exclusive vehicle/shared taxi to Dzongu. Lower Dzongu is only 10 km from Mangan, which is the capital of North Sikkim District.
To get around in Dzongu, you will either have to hire a taxi or go hiking. Some destinations are only a short hike away, while others may require 3-4 days of backpacking. Shared taxis ply from near the Police Check-post.
- Hee Gyathang - Is in Lower Dzongu. It has a small lake, considered to be sacred by the Lepchas.
- Keushong - Reach here after backpacking for 3-4 days. The most pristine place in Dzongu probably. This place has a very beautiful lake and hills all around it. The valley is covered with flowers in the right season.
- Lingthem - A short but steep hike up from Passingdang village. Great views of Mt. Kangchenjunga and Dzongu Valley.
- Pentong - Reachable after a trek. Quite close to snow-capped mountains.
- Tholung Monastery - 20 Km from Passingdang. Every three years, Tholung treasures are put on display. It has a cane bridge one can try to cross - excellent experience!
- Tingvong & Kusong - Two beautiful villages, a short hike apart.
- Traditional Lepcha House Museum - A model of the Lepcha house built in the traditional style. Houses a museum inside it. Located in Namprikdang, near the confluence of Teesta and Rongyung Chu Rivers. Surrounding area provides great opportunities for Butterfly watching.
- Waterfalls - Dzongu is full of waterfalls. They can be seen cascading down from every second hill. Lingzya falls is the best among them. Try a bath here!
- Day 1 - Reach Dzongu from Gangtok/ Bagdogra. If you reach early enough, you can visit Lingthem Village. Stay at a Homestay, enjoy traditional Lepcha dishes and interact with the hosts.
- Day 2 - Reach Lingzya falls and then hike up to Tholung, along the thundering Tholung Chu River. (Can be combined with Day 1. It is a 5-hour hike)
- Day 3 - Acclimatize at Tholung (8000 ft). Visit Tholung monastery, cross the cane bridge (great adventure!) to visit the hot springs, see plenty of water falls. (Some people may not find acclimatization necessary, they can proceed directly.)
- Day 4 - Tholung to Keushong. Some stunning scenery awaits you on the way. Enjoy crystal clear waters and dense jungles with lots of flowers, birds and butterflies. Amazing! You will reach Keushong only by evening.
- Day 5 - Explore and enjoy in the Keushong valley. Sit by the Keushong lake, see the valey carpeted by flowers, and explore the surrounding areas.
- Day 6 - Descend to Tholung.
- Day 7 - Tholung to Dzongu and onwards to Gangtok/Bagdogra.
- Cross Cane Briges - Lepchas build cane bridges across rivers. They sway with each step you take on it and thundering rivers flow under them. A must try!
- Fish/ Angle - Angling is possible in the rivers here. The catch may not be too huge, but a little patience bears results. Trout & Mahseer can be caught here. Nice experience.
- Hike/ Trek/ Backpack - Small hikes and long treks, both are possible in Dzongu. Both are equally recommended by the people here (and me!). The most enjoyable thing about the trekking here is that it is almost a virgin territory. You encounter untouched forests and streams.
- Observe Nature - Watch birds, butterflies, different plants. Understand from the Lepchas how they make use of different plants for medicinal purposes etc. Lots of flowers to be seen too. As many as 5 different species of the Rhododendron are found here.
- Watch Cultural Programs - The Lepchas take pride in displaying their traditions and culture. You can watch Lepcha performing their folk songs and dances. This can be arranged by the homestay host.
Almost all of the vegetarian food that you get in Dzongu is grown there. Lepcha people do not use any modern fertilizer or pesticide in their farming. Hence everything grown there is organic.
Rice and large cardamom are the two main crops grown there. Rice is grown in contour farming at the sides of the hills while cardamom can take root on slopes as well. The weather conditions suit the growth of cardamom.
Rice is the staple food there. Wheat is not grown. Lepchas do not use much oil in their cooking and hence the food is either boiled or roasted. But it is tasty none the less!
Lepchas prepare non-vegetarian fare as well. These include dishes made of chicken, beef, fish and pork. Fish is usually caught from the nearby river.
- Chee - Traditional Lepcha drink, brewed from millet.
There are no hotels in Dzongu. As eco-tourism initiative, some families have started 'homestays' here. One can experience the hospitality of the Lepcha people by living as a part of their family in their home. It also provides an excellent opportunity to understand this old tribe.
Eco-tourism was started by some NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) working in this area in around 2006. Training were given to the families and lot of effort was put in to make this area more attractive to the tourists. However, the NGOs left the area after some time and now the project has no leader. Some families continue to provide homestay and the hosts can arrange everything on request.
- 1 Mayal Lyang Homestay, 1. Passingdang, Upper Dzongu (30 minutes from Mangan Bazaar), ☏ . The hosts, Gyatso and his wife, are very nice people and have great tales to tell about the Lepchas and Dzongu in general. The village is set amongst dense vegetation, on the side of a hill, with the Rongyung Chu River flowing at the hill's base. This place is far from the tourist hustle bustle and most peaceful. Visit here if you like to stray from the beaten path. The whole area is picturesque and unspoiled.
Lepchas fear ill-reputation; hence, Dzongu area is very safe in terms of crime.
One may encounter a landslide on the way, in the rainy season. But the sites of the landslides are usually the same every year and are known to the locals.