Spread across a high saddle, 65km west of Gangtok and 52km east of Pelling, the sleepy market town of RAVANGLA (also known as Ravang and Rabang) makes for a convenient stopover, especially for those interested in trekking through one of the last remaining rhododendron forests in south-central Sikkim where the fabulous Maenam Sanctuary remains a botanist’s dream, covering the flanks of the gigantic forested peak which looms over the town.
Ravangla itself has a sizeable Tibetan settlement, with a handicrafts centre and shop at the Kheunpheling Carpet Centre in the refugee camp to the south. Steps north of the bazaar lead to a brand-new Nyingmapa monastery dedicated to Shakyamuni and Guru Rimpoche accompanied by stucco images of the wrathful protectors, alongside the old gompa within a recently landscaped garden graced by impressive dry-stone walls. This is the site of the annual three-day Pang Lhabsol festival in late August, which celebrates the worship of Kanchenjunga and draws thousands of Sikkimese to enjoy the traditional sports and Pangtoed Chaam, a festival of masked dances unique in that it is performed here, not by monks, but by zigtempas or lay people.
The summit of Maenam (3235m), 10km from Ravangla bazaar, is home to a small chapel to Guru Rinpoche (Padma Sambhava) and boasts superlative views, weather permitting – the mountain’s position on the watershed between the Teesta and the Rangit river systems means that overcast weather can veil the dramatic views of the horned summit of Narsing (5825m). Feasible as a day-trek, the stiff 1000-metre ascent of Maenam (2hr 30min–4hr) starts with steps rising from the bazaar up to the gompa before trailing off the road through the sanctuary where you may even be lucky enough to glimpse some wildlife, including the elusive red panda, black bear and a variety of birds. To catch the sunrise from the summit, take a good sleeping bag and food and water, as there is a dilapidated shelter in which to huddle from the elements, but little else. The route through the forest is confusing and you may want to take a local guide (Rs300), arranged through hotels in town or at the forest gate 1km above town where you pay an entry fee to the sanctuary (Rs25).