From sandy beaches on the shores of ‘Bay of Bengal’, to the deltaic mangroves of the ‘Sundarbans’ inhabited by the elusive ‘Royal Bengal Tiger’, to the tea gardens and pine-covered slopes of Himalayas up north reaching as high as 11k feet above MSL in ‘Sandakphu’ which gets submerged under thick blankets of snow every winter, the state of West Bengal is unparalleled in geographical diversity. However, apart from the all too familiar ‘Darjeeling’ with its UNESCO heritage ‘toy-train’, the chic bungalows with their colonial hangover and its prominence on the world tea map, much else was not known about rest of the Himalayas in the state. Thankfully now, with information beaming through the web to everyone curious about lesser known places, newer destinations are coming into the light of public knowledge.
Two such of many other lesser-known Himalayan hamlets of North Bengal are Sillery and Icchey. At a soothing elevation of 6k feet above sea level, perched on the hills bordering the states of West Bengal and Sikkim, in the newly created district of Kalimpong (earlier a sub-division), exists two picturesque villages on two opposite slopes of a hilly ridge, Sillery Gaon, and Icchhey Gaon.
About Sillery Village or Sillery Gaon
Abounded by Mother Nature, precariously isolated from the urban cacophony of Kalimpong, though merely 25 KMs away, on a backdrop of the ageless dark-green resolute pine trees and sparkling azure sky, with no more than 50 tin-roofed sleepy houses scattered on the slope which spectacularly rises at it’s far horizon to a panorama of the Sleeping Buddha (another name of Mt. Kanchenjunga, 8584 Meters, third highest peak of the world) on any clear day, that is Sillery Gaon.
The inhabitants are mainly of Nepali and Lepcha ethnicity for whom Kanchenjunga is not just a magnificent mountain but a lot more than that. It is considered sacred alike by the Tibetans, Nepalis, Lepchas and other mountain tribes. That actually explains the origination of these mountain villages all over this part of the Himalayas. The early settlers deliberately selected these locations from where their holy mountain was in open sight. No there are no fancy hotels. Electricity has come up recently but is erratic at best. There isn’t even a metalled road. But guess what, Mother Nature at her serene best is omnipresent, entwined in simple harmony to the very soul of the place.
On days which the sun shines, Mt Kanchenjunga reveals herself in all her glory at the center stage of the front horizon. The south-east face of the great mountain indeed appears similar to the face of Buddha lying down. It is a spectacle to behold at sunrise, when it lights up gradually from flaming crimson to sparkling gold hues, trouncing the darkness all around. And on the misty drooling overcast mornings, the foggy clouds descend upon the tall standing pine branches, like a fairy tale magic, slowing down time.
The modest villagers mostly farmers attend to their terraced fields of corn or cauliflower are hardworking yet always up for a friendly conversation. The smile on their faces are so genuine, simple people with limited means but hardly any greed in their eyes. They have started seeing tourists for not very long. Few of them have started homestays, the oldest being that of Mr. Dilip Tamang’s Nirmala Village Retreat. It has 12 modest rooms in two sections. The upper one was the higher, providing a grand view of the village below and of course Mt. Kanchenjunga, from its cemented open-air porch, where one can just sit and gaze for hours tirelessly. The bright light-green cottages made up of minimal concrete and mostly wood was simple yet pleasant. With nothing much other than a fairly comfortable bed and attached western toilets though again very basic, and a couple of plastic chairs on the adjacent wood-railed verandahs, one should not want much more. Hot water if required is readily supplied in buckets.
You should always carry your own water bottle and refill it as many times as you need water. It will not only keep you hydrated always, but you will also help in saving the Himalayas from plastic garbage. Remember, every tiny step counts and your step in this direction can help save the Himalayas too !! 🙂 🙂
The kitchen cum dining room is at the far right of the premise. Dilip ji’s sister runs the show there. Hot water if required is readily supplied in buckets. All food is prepared on an earthen wood-fired chulha and served steaming hot right out of it. They make use of the local produce of vegetables which I was told was totally organic. The food has an inclination towards a Nepali genre but is lip-smacking delicious. The hot fresh food on the chilly moist days has an invigorating effect. There are no menu cards, neither any lavish cutlery, but the host will heartily keep serving you whatever is on the spread that day till you can have no more.
The experience of a homestay is very different than that of a hotel. There is no room service as such, but if you want a certain meal to be reached to your room and ask for it politely, they would never say no. One has to understand that they have come to live as guests in a home, not as customers in a hotel. Here there are no trained staff or service boys or a front desk. It is all about polite requests and not orders. Where they compensate for the lack of facilities is how inclusive to the family they make you feel.
Sillery is a place where there is no defined 6 or 8 point sightseeing plans that one can book a car and embark upon. In fact after a vehicle, preferably with a higher ground clearance brings you here after technically off-roading the last 5 or so kilometers from the last blacktop road, through a narrow and bumpy gravel path of cleared forest land, you are more or less dependent on your legs to do the exploring. Honestly, I would not have had it any other way. Walking leisurely on the mountain paths for about 40 minutes from the village center, and as often is the case a gentle Himalayan dog would give the uncalled company, one would reach Ramitey Dara (Dara in Nepali means a place with a view).
Also known as quite presumably, Ramitey View Point. Its right at the edge of a cliff, strategically poised to give a bird’s eye view of the Kanchenjunga, which appears even closer from here. But that’s not all. The view of the meandering Teesta River over a vast course, with 14 bends and its confluence with river Reshi across which lies the state of Sikkim is breathtaking. If you witness this while the Sun is setting for the day, its soft fiery hues bouncing on the thin serpentine water stream below and at the same time on the snowy massifs of Himalayan peaks higher on your frame of vision, you will be humbled beyond description. At unreal moments and places like this, I feel our soul heals itself from the wounds of reality.
Tinchuley top is another such viewpoint, presenting an almost 360 degrees striking view of Kanchenjunga and other peaks for someone willing to slog a relatively steep 30 minutes hike from Sillery. On a cloudless day one can see as far as the ¬Jelep La and also the well-known Nathu La. Pro Tip: Carry a pair of Binoculars.
Another interesting place Damsung Fort, is about 3 kilometers away from Sillery. An average trekker would fancy covering this distance in about an hour. Built in the late 17th century by a Lepcha King named Gyabo Achyok as a deterrent against the invasive Bhutias. However the Bhutias did capture the fort and subsequently so did the British. Sadly though, wars and earthquakes later, today only ruins of the fort remain.
At a similar distance, Silent Valley is also trek-able from Sillery, however, vehicles ply to the place nowadays. An uninhabited lush rolling meadow surrounded by Pine trees, the name must have come from the sense of seclusion one would feel here, just lying and rolling for some time on the clean green natural carpet of grass. Only the chirp of birds and the sound of the breeze rambling through the pine leaves would impinge your eardrums if you are alone at the place.
Just on the opposite mountain from Sillery is the state of Sikkim. On a clear night, beside the zillion sparkling stars gleaming from the cosmos above, the city of Gangtok can be spotted like a concentration of fireflies embedded atop a black mountain. The Pakyong airport which became operational recently can also be seen and I would imagine it would be wonderful to see airplanes landing and taking off from there.
About Icchey Village or Icchey Gaon
Icchey lies just across a forested ridge on an inimical slope from Sillery. An easy and scenic trek of about an hour through a narrow forest path would land you there. The trek follows the same path as towards Ramitey initially, then cuts left upwards. At places, the forest is quite dense. A small kid, some relative of Dilip ji was showing me the way. The trail reaches the top of the ridge from where Icchey can be spotted down below. It looks charming from up there. A brisk tread downhill will get you to Khawas Homestay. D K Khawas is the owner of the place.
There is an alternate way to reach Icchey by a vehicle as well but I will definitely recommend the trek for anyone who is relatively fit. Alternatively one can exit Sillery through the same gravel road that brings to the place, hit the Pedong-Reshi road and take a right from there to go past Alagarh and then take right on Bhalu Marg. Another right after about half a kilometer into Bhalu Marg, the winding road would leave you at the start of the village. From here a short walk up the landscaped cement footpath would take you inward. There are more than 10 homestays nowadays. Khawas Homestay is located on the upper fringes. The distance by road is about 15 kilometers from Sillery. The better option is to reach Sillery by car, trek to Icchey and leave by road from there.
Inhabited by about 30 families, this village presents the Kanchenjunga from a different angle. The view is particularly majestic during sunsets. Though the expanse of the panorama is not as wide as the one from Sillery, Icchey has its own charm. Probably the cleanest mountain village I have been to. The narrow winding cemented pathways dotted on the side by a riot of carefully manicured colorful orchids, rhododendrons and other flowers, the brightly shaded huts most of which are wooden, small fenced fields, fluttering butterflies and calling roosters, the cute smiling kids, and endless greenery, Icchey is almost too spectacular to be true.
Have you ever heard the sound of the clouds? Come to Icchey if you haven’t. If it is your lucky day, suddenly in the afternoon, out of nowhere a mass of white mist would come crawling up the gradient making an audible buzz. It would cloak the surrounding with a wintry veil of mystery. With a glass of hot chai and freshly fried pakoras at hand, sitting on the pink & blue homestay verandah with my feet up on the wooden banister, I heard the magical sound of the clouds. It started raining shortly afterward which turned the myriad of colors around a shade deeper.
Location & Altitude of Sillery & Icchey Villages
Sillery and Icchey are located in the Kalimpong district of the state of West Bengal. The aerial distance between the two would be roughly 3 kilometers, however, the distance by road is around 15 Kilometers. Kalimpong which is a bustling little hill town is 25 kilometers away from Sillery. Both the places are approximately 6k feet in altitude.
On the road connecting Kalimpong and Pedong, one has to take the gravel road left, just after a place called Beesh Mile (20 Mile) for Sillery. It is 4.5 kilometers from this point. If someone is visiting Icchey first, take Bhalu Marg cutting left from Rishi Road, which connects Kalimpong and Alagarh. Google map works well for these parts. Siliguri which is the nearest major city is 70 kilometers from Kalimpong. The nearest railhead is New Jalpaiguri (NJP), which is connected on the railway map from almost all major cities of the country. Bagdogra (IXB), with daily flights from Kolkata and Delhi, is the nearest airport. Bagdogra and New Jalpaiguri both are at Siliguri itself.
How to Reach Sillery & Icchey Villages
Hired cars for Sillery or Icchey are available on pre-paid counters at both New Jalpaiguri and Bagdogra. The tentative fare for a vehicle like Bolero/Sumo would be between 3-3.5k.
For public transport, shared vehicles are readily available for Kalimpong outside NJP. From Kalimpong, shared vehicles are available for Pedong. Get off at Beesh Mile for Sillery, and the junction of Bhalu Marg for Icchey. Ask your homestay owner to pick you up from these places, or even better from Kalimpong itself. One can hire a car up till Sillery or Icchey from Kalimpong too. If someone wishes to drive or ride, Zoomcar and Rentrip have started to offer their services from Siliguri. The NH10 connects Siliguri and the capital of Sikkim, Gangtok. For Kalimpong, one has to deviate right onto Rishi Rd shortly after crossing the Teesta Bridge.
Season to Travel to Sillery & Icchey Villages
Sillery and Icchey can be visited all around the year but the ideal time to visit would be between mid-October to mid-May. The monsoons bring torrential rains to these parts and there is also fear of leeches and snakes due to the places being inside forests. The places are apt to beat the summer heat. In winters, though it can get chilly, the views are clearer. The spring months of March-April when the rhododendrons and orchids bloom, and the migratory birds sing, are the most cheerful. There is generally a tourist rush during the Bengali festival of Durga Puja, during which getting accommodation can be difficult.
Where to sleep and eat at Sillery & Icchey Villages?
Homestays were the only option till very recently for stay and food. Now some two-story buildings claiming to be resorts or retreats have come up in Sillery.
Sillery Accommodation Options
All these homestays offer basic accommodation and home cooked food for all meals. There are no restaurants as such apart from an odd tea-shop maybe. My experience with food was excellent in Sillery and not bad at Icchey. Do not rely on a response on e-mail. Call them. The price is charged per person for stay and all meals on per day basis, varying from 800-1200 bucks depending on the season, size of the group, your bargaining skills etc.
ATMs, Petrol Pumps & Medical Facilities nearby Sillery & Icchey Villages
Kalimpong, 25 kilometers away being a district headquarter, has all the facilities of a city like Petrol Pumps, Hospitals, and ATMs of almost all major banks. Sillery and Icchey being interior villages have minimal facilities or even proper shops for that matter. One has to go through Kalimpong to reach these places except if coming down from Sikkim. It is better to stock up on cash and other stuff such as Liquor & Cigarettes (If one is addicted to these vices), snacks or ready to eat food items, bottled water (Available at the homestays at a premium) etc., from Kalimpong itself.
All major mobile networks would work, at least for calls and SMS, both at Silley and Icchey.
Suggested Duration of Travel to Sillery & Icchey Villages
A minimum of two nights for Sillery, and one night for Icchey is essential to do any justice to these delightful places. One can stay longer, of course, depending on their travel pattern and other constraints.
These places are fairly close to a lot of other destinations like Kalimpong, Lava-Loleygaon, Pedong, Reshikhola, Aritrar, etc., so one can add some of these places with Sillery and Icchey to make a week-long itinerary as well. Even the entire Silk Route in Sikkim, or other places like Gangtok, Darjeeling, Pelling can be clubbed together as per preference and convenience.
You should check out the Devil On Wheels 12 Must-Have Things to Carry on Hiking or Trekking Trips
Indicative Itinerary for just Sillery & Icchey Villages
Day 1: Arrive at NJP / Bagdogra / Siliguri and transfer to Sillery via Kalimpong. It will take around 4 hours. If arriving at NJP / Bagdogra / Siliguri after 4 PM it is not advisable to travel up the mountains the same day though many do it. If you reach Sillery by afternoon, walk up to Ramitey for the Sunset. Carry a flashlight or torch for the return.
Day 2: In Sillery. Watch the sunrise from the homestay itself or trek up to Ramitey Dara. Hike up to Tinchuley Top (Little difficult), Damsang Fort (Moderate) and Silent Valley (Easy). Go for them depending on personal considerations of fitness etc. Ramitey Dara is a straight path to and fro and requires no guide. For the other places too, one can just ask the locals for directions and hike up.
Alternatively, you can ask your homestay folks to get someone to tag along. Silent Valley can be covered by a car as well but is too near for hiring a car dedicated for this place alone.
Or if not in the mood for hiking, hire a car for the day and cover Silent Valley along with Pedong or Kalimpong. There is an option of paragliding at Delo Hill, Kalimpong.
Day 3: After breakfast, checkout from Sillery, either trek up and across to Icchey or hire a car for the same. Walk around the village leisurely chatting with the friendly locals after having settled in at your homestay. If it is a clear day enjoy the sunset right out of your cottage.
Day 4: Checkout from Icchey depending on your plan forward. If leaving for home, it takes the same 3-4 hours till Bagdogra / NJP, leave accordingly.
If you are looking to escape the crowd, spend some days amidst tranquility, or want to beat the heat of the plains, or finish writing that book or that song, or just gaze at the awe-inspiringly majestic Kanchenjunga sitting with a cuppa in your hand, or to just find your soul lost in nature, come be here once. Forget the monotony, the routine, the alarms, and reminders, for a few days and just laze around all by yourself and revivifying mother nature.
Do you still have any questions or suggestions or need any help in planning your trip to Sillery & Icchey Villages? If yes, please feel free to post them either in the comments section of this article below or in “Ask a Travel Question” section of the website. You can also take guidance from many travel experts in our DoW Community Forums and discuss your upcoming travel plans for Sillery & Icchey Villages 🙂
If you like the article, please feel free to share it with any of your family or friends who are planning a trip to Sillery & Icchey Villages. In the next article of the series, I am going to talk more about traveling to other wonderful places of North East Himalayas in detail.