Dorjee Tshering Lepcha is the MLA of the Gnanthang Machong legislative constituency of Sikkim. Yaakten village falls within this constituency. Lepcha spoke exclusively to BE.
The rural hinterlands of Sikkim are gifted with natural beauty, serene environment, heritage sites, and unique cultural flavours. Tourists can experience the rural life by opting to stay at village homestays, which offer opportunities to know about the Sikkimese culture and engage in the day-to-day activities of rural life. Such stays help tourists to be mentally rejuvenated, culturally enriched, and spiritually enhanced. Homestays are gaining traction in this small Himalayan state and is becoming a new trend. More and more tourists are travelling to Sikkim to experience these homestays. Increasing popularity of rural homestays is also boosting the rural economy of Sikkim.
Village tourism and homestay activities in Sikkim
Village tourism activities involve trekking, village walks, day hikes to pilgrimage sites, bird and butterfly watching, exploring local flora, participation in cultural festivals and traditional games and sports, collection and cooking of wild edibles, preparing local food and beverages, listening to traditional folktales and participation in other day to day activities of rural life. Tourists who are accustomed to the urban lifestyle often find this immersive rural experience beautiful. Additionally, these homestays are generally cheaper than the regular hotels and resorts.
Prominent village tourism spots in Sikkim
The popular village tourism destinations in eastern Sikkim are Pasatanga, Zuluk, Gnathang, Tumin, Central Pendam, Gadi Budang and Yaakten. In southern Sikkim, the rural tourism centres are Lingee Payong, Maniram, Kewzing, Chalamthang, Rong, Jawbari, Assangthang, Pakzer, Sadam, Sumbuk, Kitam, Perbing and Namthang. Hee-Bermoik, Darap, Yuksam, Pelling and Uttarey villages are the popular homestay destinations in western Sikkim. Dzongu, Tingchim, Kabi and Lachen villages are the popular rural destinations in northern Sikkim.
Rural Tourism Facilitation Centre (RTFC)
As a part of the Village Tourism Project, creation of Rural Tourist Facilitation Centre (RTFC) at various locations within the state of Sikkim is one of the focus areas of the state government. RTFC facilitates the promotion and marketing of village tourism, organises meetings and training for the benefit of a particular area.
Yaakten village tourism – A case study
Yaakten is a small settlement in east Sikkim. It is gifted with a panoramic view of the Kanchenjunga range. Located near Pakyong, which is the proposed site of the first international airport in Sikkim, Yaakten is a scenic destination to spend a quiet weekend. Yaakten also offers rich cultural heritage of Sikkimese people along with the uninterrupted views of mountains and valleys. Travellers can also enjoy the local cuisine and beverages. They can go for a hike inside forests or trek to the historical ruin in Budang Gadi. Located in the heart of high pine trees, Yaakten is home to the different ethnic communities of Sikkim.
The concept of homestays in Yaakten started with governmental support. The Sikkim government initially pushed for homestays and financially equipped the rural population of this village to build the tourist accommodations. Narayan Pradhan, Managing Director, Alpine Tours and Travels, informed BE, “This destination could not have been made functional without the initial governmental support. But now, with tourists pouring in, the locals have become self-reliant. Yaakten has basic stays with clean rooms and attached bathrooms. Freshly cooked food are served by the owner family. Local attractions and activities include Jhandi dara (Sunrise Point), Oasis of Peace Park, Bojeytaar Cave and View Point, numerous orchid nurseries, Kartok Monastery, Airport View Point, local folk dance shows and other such cultural exhibits.” Pradhan’s tourism company focuses highly on this village tourism destination and has performed exceedingly well in popularising this rural destination.
“The 21 - Gnanthang Machong constituency has become a popular hub of tourist attractions and activities in east Sikkim. Under the leadership of the Chief Minister of Sikkim, Pawan Chamling, Sikkim has gained a worldwide popularity as the most peaceful, eco-friendly and as the only organic state of the country. As a legislator of this state, it was an opportunity to adopt tourism as a driving force towards achieving holistic and sustainable development of the region. Sensing the key potentials for tourism in the constituency and backed by a strong team of tourism professionals and young entrepreneurs, we have strived to create a niche tourism market by promoting village and community tourism across different villages of the constituency. The Yaakten village is the pilot project which gained recognition in a very short time as a model village. Eventually, the wave of development touched other villages in the constituency. Teen Kharkey, a site for adventurous activities like paragliding, rock climbing and rappelling, has also emerged as a popular village tourism destination. Additionally, Parakha, a base camp to famed Khedi trek of Sikkim is another emerging destination. Loosing, also known as Rangpo Khola and Rolep are two other popular rural tourism destinations alongside the Rangpo River, which are ideal for angling or fishing, picnicking and for the pilgrimage trek to the holy Baudha Dham. Emboldened by the policies undertaken by our Chief Minister, we have tried in our own way to promote sustainable tourism as the tourism industry is one of the leading employment generating sectors in the state. We believe that the industry can be well utilised to alleviate poverty from the grassroots and to ensure the inclusive development of the state.”