Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary having a 104 sq km area around Barsey was declared a protected sanctuary in 1996. Teeming with flora and fauna of numerous varieties, the star attraction of the sanctuary, however, is the rhododendron. Out of the total 1000 or so varieties of this evergreen tree, 600 alone can be found at Barsey. Some of the most commonly found are cinnabarinum, arboreum, camelliflorum, vaccinioides, anthopogon, pendulum, edgeworthii, etc. Besides a variety of shrubs, the vegetation in Barsey is also dotted with oaks, bamboos, primulas, pine, and magnolias.
The sanctuary is also home to several species of animals including the elusive red panda, the Himalayan black bear, leopards, palm civet, serow, crestless porcupine, Chinese pangolin, Assamese macaque and birds such as yellow-throated marten, crimson-horned pheasant, and woodpeckers.
What to see
A trek through the Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary in spring is like experiencing a slice of paradise itself. Entire hills covered in hues of bright pink and deep red against the sapphire-blue spring skies and the snow-covered peaks of the Khangchendzonga make for quite a visual treat. The fragrant mountains echo with dozens of bird-calls.
Nestled between the Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve on its north and the Singalila National Park on its South, the sanctuary stretches over an area of about 104 sq km on the Singalila range of the Eastern Himalayas in West Sikkim. The British botanist, Joseph Dalton Hooker, gave these blooming rhododendrons the sole credit for the glory of the entire Singalila range when he visited it in the 1800s due to the gorgeous look of Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary. Ranging from an altitude of about 7000 to 14000 feet, the flora of the sanctuary ranges from broadleaf and coniferous forests to alpine meadows.
When to reach
The best time to visit the Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary is between April and May when the famed rhododendron trees are in full bloom. However, trekking between September to October is equally good. You might see the rhododendrons in full bloom but the clear blue skies with uninterrupted views of the Khangchendzonga throughout the route that makes it worthwhile.
How to reach
The trek through Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary can be approached from several entry points ranging from Dentang, Soreng, and Hilley. The small town of Hilley in West Sikkim is preferred out of the three due to its proximity to a motorable road. There are cabs available from Gangtok to Hilley which is approximately 130 km away. Another option is to take a cab to Uttarey and walk to the Hilley gate and continues for 4 km from Sombaria to Barsey.