The Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary lies in the south west corner of the West Sikkim district. Spreading over 104 sq. km, across the razor sharp Singalila Range, which forms the natural international border with Nepal. There are three points of entry ino this sanctuary from Hilley, Dentam and Soreng. Tourists generally prefer Hilley since it is approachable by road. The bridle path from Hilley to Barsey is a favorite amongst tourists especially during the Rhododendron flowering season. The faunal value of Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary includes Leopard cat , Himalayan Yellow Throated Marten , Himalayan Palm Civet, Himalayan Langur, Crimson Horned Pheasant, Monal Pheasant, Kaleej and many diverse species of birds.
Orientation Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary is in west Sikkim and part of it forms the border with Nepal. The closest airport is Bagdogra (160 km/6 hours to Hilley) and the closest railway station is New Jalpaiguri (150 km/6 hours to Hilley). Okhrey is 9 km from Hilley. From Hilley, it is four-kilometer trek. Sombaria, which lies about 25 km before the road ends at Hilley, is the last major town.
Sandwiched between Singalila National Park in the south and Kanchenjunga Biosphere Reserve in the north lies the Varsey Rhododendron Sanctuary. This tiny 104-sq-km sanctuary forms a vital corridor linking the two larger areas. Its altitude ranges from 2,200 m to 4,100 m and supports a wide variety of bio-diversity ’ sub-tropical forest, mixed broadleaf forest, conifer forest and alpine meadows. But the primary attraction of this small sanctuary is, as its name suggests, rhododendron blooms.
Come May, the entire forest turns into a riot of red. Renowned botanist Sir JD Hooker, one of the first Europeans to travel to this region, is known to have said: ’The super abundance of rhododendron is the glory of the Singilila Range. The banks of the rivers between 8,000 ft and 14,000 ft are generally covered with the flowers, sometimes to the exclusion of other vegetation.
Several species of rhododendron bloom in this area. The popular red variety, as well as the comparatively lesser-known pink and white varieties, are found in abundance. Varsey is a stone’s throw away from Calcutta, and an extended weekend is all you need to visit the ’garden of the Gods’.
A four-km leisurely walk on fairly even ground takes you to the final destination. En route, you pass through beautiful pine forests. Within an hour, you are at the final point of the journey. Scattered along the trail are rhododendron trees, flaming when in season. The bright white flowers of the occasional magnolia tree create a striking contrast against the deep blue background of the sky. Last but not least are the snow peaks that tower above the treetops.
Seasons To see the rhododendrons in bloom, the best time to visit is from March through May. June to September is usually very wet. The second trekking season runs from October to December. At this time of year, the days are clear and there is little or no haze, so the Kanchenjunga and other snow-capped peaks and ranges are clearly visible. Though devoid of rhododendrons at this time, the sanctuary is quite pretty.
Morning hours are the best time for day excursions. Proper gear and guide should be hired for visits to this site. Permits and Entry free for all levied by the Wildlife Division of the Forest Department. There is a checkpost of the Forest Wildlife Division.
• Maintain outdoor ethics while visiting the wildlife sanctuary
• Follow designated trails; take only pictures; leave only footprints
• Wear comfortable shoes and warm clothes
• Carry enough drinking water and snacks
• Bring back packages and food wrappers, dispose your waste responsibly
• Avoid picking plants and collecting any forest products
• Respect the birds and animals habitat
The Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary spans over the razor sharp Singalila Range. The climate is wet and cold favoring the spread of the dominant genus Rhododendron. July is the wettest month, with the average annual precipitation being in excess of 250 cm. The reaches above 2500m receive regular snowfall in winter. Clear skies can be experienced only from November to May.
A beautiful Tourist Trekker’s hut exists in Barsey, amidst the Rhododendron forests at 10,000 feet, commanding a glorious view of the Singalila Range. Boarding and Lodging facilities are available. Although you can opt to stay at Hilley or Okhray and make a day trip to the sanctuary.
DO’S AND DON’TS AT PARKS AND SANCTUARIES
• Certain code of conduct has been framed to maintain the sustainability of these parks and sanctuaries. Visitors are requested to follow the following Code for Conservation
• Leave only footprints, take only photographs High altitude vegetation is frail
• Avoid trampling, follow trails, and do not pick plants or flowers Do not disturb wildlife or its habitat
• Do not buy endangered animal or plant products
• Use kerosene or bottled gas for cooking, heating and lighting; avoid using firewood. Ensure that you and your staff are properly equipped with warm clothes and fuel. Carrying plastics within the sanctuary is banned
• Avoid littering
• Bring all your garbage back
• Carry out all batteries
• Do not give treats to village children; It only encourages begging
• Respect the sanctity of holy rivers and historical sites: No smoking, drinking or loud talks
• Educate yourself about the ecology, customs, manners, and culture of Sikkim, specially the adjoining villages
• Support local conservation programs, and local community level organizations
Located at an altitude of 10,000ft, Barsey is renowned for its Rhododendron Sanctuary. For the lovers of varied flora, a visit to Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary during March April with full bloom of Guras [Rhododendron] would indeed be a delightful experience.