OKHREY – HILLEY – BARSEY : A TREKKING TRAIL : WEST SIKKIM

The Hilley – Barsey hike is a no sweat trek which can be completed within a day or two. Barsey is called the valley of Rhododendrons – they are available in all shades and shapes here. The Rhododendron Sanctuary at Hilley- Barsey is spread across an area of 104 sq. km along the Singalila Ridge which forms the natural boundary between India and Nepal. The dense forest of Barsey is covered with hemlocks, silver firs, magnolia and rhododendron trees and bushes. The trek from Hilley to Barsey is about 4 km and the path bridled with vegetation takes about 1 ½ hours. As you walk along the Singalila, you will be greeted with glorious views of Kanchenjunga Range. Stay at Barsey overnight to enjoy the rhododendron forests and sweeping view of the mountains. Hilley – Barsey is also associated with Joseph Dalton Hooker, the man who thoroughly documented the flora and fauna of this region, and published the book called the “Rhododendrons of Sikkim” in 1849 – his work is still followed as an authentic text on this subject. Even the golden yellow rhododendron, scientifically called the Dendobrium Hookeriana, is named after him. But to visit the sanctuary one has to make a night halt at a small village in west Sikkim named Okhrey. From there about 9 kilometer distance lays Hilley and Barsey.

The three places are adjoined in a single trip, as one because Barsey Rhododendron sanctuary is a very popular off-bit tourist destination in the western part of Sikkim, whose entry point starts from Hilley. But if you want to reach Barsey via Hilley then one night has to be spent at Okhrey. That is why Okhrey, Hilley and Barsey are visited and placed one after the other. On the way to Okhrey one will come across many beautiful sight scenes. Okhrey is mainly a small place with very few small houses on the hilly slopes. Behind every house there are agriculture and Organic farming on these hilly terrains. There is a school for the local children. From Okhrey you need to reach at Hilley Check post, from there the trekking starts for Barsey, which is about 4 kilometer. From Hilley check post you need arrange the permission to enter Barsey. The trek to Barsey up and down trek is about 8 kms. Barsey Rhododendron sanctuary is located at the middle of Singalila National Park. Many types of endangered animals found here like, Red Panda, Barking Deer, Hedge hog. A local guide is must in this area. A slight uphill trek is there. There are many shades available at Barsey for the trekkers to take rest. Barsey lies at an altitude of 1000 ft. From Barsey one can have a breath taking view of Mt. Kanchenjunga. While trekking you will come across Soreng and Hee-Bermiok, via Phutedhara. From there you can reach Singalila Pass from where trekking to Phalut starts. For adventure lovers this is one of the best places.

This place is known as the hamlet of flowers. Various species of Guraus (Rhododendrons), Primula, Magnolia, Oak, Fir and Pine are seen. The locals call these Rhododendrons as Guraus. From there the name was established “Guraus Kunj”. All these have made up the beauty of Barsey. Lite treks of about 4 km, through a beautiful trek route will reach to Barsey. Okhrey is surrounded by lush greenery on all sides. Okhrey resides at about 9000ft. above sea level. Lifestyle here is very much simple rural life and very silent. Far away from the hustle and bustle city life. Okhrey is a village of complete silence within the greenery Oak, Pine and Fir. From Okhrey to Hilley and from Hilley by trekking route of 4 km is Barsey. From Okhrey a straight route with staircases type of steps are made which will take you to the way to forest area, there is a age old Gumpha which is worth visiting. In the early morning you will wake up with the chirping sounds of the Himalayan birds. There are greenness all over. Birds like Yellow Billed Blue Magpie are common here. The white-Blue-Black colour of the bird will really attracts the eye of its viewers. After the morning breakfast at Okhrey, one has to start for the way to Hilley. From Okhrey at about 9 Km is Hilley. The route is outstanding. On both the sides of the hilly terrain, there are numerous mush and fern have developed. In some places you will get to see Magnolia trees with full of flowers. In every trunk white coloured flowers are blossoming. At Hilley check post the jeep route ends and from there the trek route to Varsey Rhododendron Sanctuary begins. There you will get to see white coloured clouds all over the sky; along with red coloured Guraus (Rhododendron) blossoming all over. This place is a trek route, within the shades of lush greenness. On this trek route you will get to see numerous types of flora like Oak, Maple, Fir, Pine, Bamboo, Magnolia and a never ending greenery of Fern. The more you will get inside of the sanctuary, the more you will get to see glimpses of white, pink and Red coloured Rhododendron. Somewhere the colour differs like red or blackish red or yellowish red. This sanctuary is home to the famous Red Panda, Black bear, Hedge Hog, Rabbits along with wide varieties of birds like Tragopan, Kaliz, Magpie and numerous species of small birds that includes Sunbird, Yuhina, Finch, and Tit. The Himalayan black bear that resides here are very rarely seen. Barsey Rhododendron sanctuary is at an altitude of about 10000 ft. It takes about 2 hrs 30 minutes to reach Barsey by trekking (4 km trek route).

At the forefront white and red coloured Rhododendrons are everywhere and the far end white cotton like clouds gathered and sometimes goes apart. From Barsey at about 10 min walking is the Barsey Top; from there the full 180 degree range of Mt. Kanchenjunga is very prominent and clearly visible. It is also a trek route. A small hill top with absolute silence within the Rhododendron forest all over along with green grasses on the hilly slopes and chirping sounds of numerous Himalayan birds. On the western side the sunset is clearly visible; the western side is the route to the famous Sandakphu Trek. From the upper part of Jorethang Bridge after crossing the Rangeet River, take the left hand side. The right hand side hand side route has gone ahead and ended to the tourists on the favourite destination Pelling. After heading little further, you will get to see that cars availability are comparatively less on this route towards Okhrey- Hilley- Barsey,. Jigjag type of roads, hilly slopes and Valleys are only visible. On the opposite side at the far end are the numerous shades of lush greenery. The climate here remains foggy throughout the year and thick clouds constantly flowing. From all sides you will get to see green coloured hills, somewhere the colour gets darker. As the road gets diverted from there, one should take the way of Soreng. From there you will reach to a small hamlet, the road has ended up there. This area comes under the sub-division of Burikhap, the name of this place Dodok. The weather here is chilling, except in the month of May – June. From there you need to reach Hilly and from Hilley by trekking route to Barsey Sanctuary. From Dodok village, Barsey is clearly visible. In the month of January – February you can get to see snowfall in this region. At Dodok you will find wide varieties of Orchids. In this region, as the weather is severely cold, that is why warm clothes are the most important. From Dodok by car within a journey of about 2 hours you will reach at Hilley. On the way to Hilley, the scenery is astonishingly beautiful. Somewhere a waterfall or somewhere jigjag turning of the road or somewhere small streams constantly flowing beneath a bridge. The road is little bumpy, due to the small boulders, but there are no settlement of human habitat in this place. From Hilley the area gets denser within the forest. Everywhere there are aged old long trees, green hills, everywhere you will find the traces of passing ages. From there to a little further at the top these long trees became comparatively lesser in numbers, but steep hilly slopes, long grasses along with numerous Alovera plants and Bamboo shoots. At Hilley few houses are there of the locals. Hilley is the entry point of Barsey rhododendron Sanctuary. From Hilley the sanctuary is clearly visible. Here you will get to see slaty coloured clouds are constantly gathered and coming up from the lower hills and covers the whole area. From Hilley check post one need to get the ticket to enter the sanctuary. In the month of February, Barsey seems like the kingdom of clouds. Everywhere you will get to see long aged old trees and beneath the feet numerous small plants, dense bamboo trees, long Pine trees, along with uncountable varieties of Guraus (Rhododendrons) and also wide varieties of unknown flora and fauna. Gigantic Ferns and other small shrubs that have developed a long carpet of lush greenness on both the sides of the road somewhere these are almost 2 to 3 ft deep. In those deep shrubs hides many varieties of unknown faunas and insects. On the trunk of these long trees, thick mush plankton have developed due to times. In someplace these trunks has touched the ground due to the heavy mass of the plankton. Sunlight here enters hardly and if the weather remains cloudy then the place becomes darker. Here at every point you will get to see something unknown. Once you step at the interior of the sanctuary; it gets more dense and aged old. At a certain point you will see signboard of the image of Red Panda. This area is protected by the wildlife division. The area is the natural habitat of the Himalayan Red Panda. The signboard greets the tourists and requests not to disturb and spoil the natural habitat of this species. This sanctuary is a part of the Singalila Range, which has stretched from Darjeeling Hills to Sikkim Hills and to the west it has stretched, made up a route up-to Nepal. The area is about 104 Km sq. The main attraction of this area is its numerous species of Rhododendrons along with the Red Panda. Red Pandas are mainly very shy in nature and hide itself in the leaves and trunks of long trees. These are very rare in numbers. The climatic condition of this area has helped to upkeep the natural habitat of the floras and faunas those are found in the region. This are developed with passing ages and times, and if once lost cannot be reestablish. Here the locals and the Govt. have taken up the initiative to grow a concept of Eco tourism in this area and recently it is growing rapidly as a paradise for trekkers and bird watchers. As this is a trekking route, that is why there is only one homestay available for the tourist to spend their night named Guraus Kunj. From Barsey you can again get back to Hilley. In this region landslides are comparatively less.

How to Reach: From Siliguri or New Jalpaiguri railway station by direct hired jeeps or by buses of Sikkim National Transport or by shared jeeps up-to Jorethang, from there via Sombaria to Okhery. Distance is about 123 km. It is about 5 km. From Okhrey at about 9 km is Hilley. From Hilley at about 4 km is Barsey. From Hilley cars are not allowed to enter Barsey, it is about 4 km trekking route. But in this route the uphill and downhill trek are comparatively less. From NJP railway station you can hire a share car which will drop you at Jorethang; from there you need to book cars which take you to Okrey. From NJP, Barsey is about 200 kms. From Melli, to Sevoke coronation bridge and then by the National Highway 31, with river Teesta side by side. While leaving the route to Peshoke – Takdah- Ghoom aside, one should take the route of Teesta Bazar. A little further you will get to see the meeting point or the adjoining point of River Teesta and River Rangit. From Melli while leaving behind the route of Teesta River, one should take the route of Rangit River. The road is a slight bumpy and made of boulders up-to Jorethang. Or, from Jorethang either by Bus or by shared jeeps up-ton Soreng, from there by walking one can reach to Upper Singling. This trek route has directly gone and has ended up at Barsey. One can also take another route through Sombaria. From Sombaria at about 40 km distance is Okhrey. It becomes almost afternoon to reach Okhrey from NJP. From the upper part of Jorethang Bridge after crossing the Rangeet River, take the left hand side. The right hand side hand side route is the way to the tourists on the favourite destination Pelling. After heading a further, you will get to see that on this route towards Okhrey- Hilley- Barsey, cars availability is comparatively less.

Best Time to Visit: Okhrey- Hilley-Barsey can be visited throughout the year, but if anyone plans to visit this place in the month of March-April – May, then you will get see a clear weather, along with numerous colourful Rhododendrons and wide varieties of Himalayan Birds. The Hilley – Barsey trail is ablaze with a riot of colors during March and April created by many species of rhododendrons blooming across the valley. The best time to visit this part of western Sikkim is at the month of mid April. As the winter passes away, these places glorify with the blossoming up with wide varieties of colourful flowers.

Climatic Conditions: Temperature is very cool, but at the month of February and March you can see snowfall. In the month of mid March – April the area get completely filled up with wide varieties of Rhododendrons