Homestays are an effective means of stimulating rural economies. More importantly, it stems the common trend of rural settlers flocking to urban areas. Rural to urban migration stresses already lacking urban infrastructure. Besides, rural areas actually offer immense potential other than agricultural pursuits alone.
Even prior to the pandemic’s onset, city weary travelers had been increasingly looking to go to quiet places. Most longed for respite from the din and dust of India’s highly polluted cities. And taking advantage of this trend is Sikkim. Its previous administration kick started initiatives to encourage rural tourism. Rural dwellers were given access to inexpensive credit and basic know on how to get started. Fortunately, many jumped onto the homestay bandwagon giving travelers a wide array of choices.
Exploring remote areas is second nature
In November 2018, a few family members and I decided to visit a place called Rolep in east Sikkim. We’d never actually heard of this tiny hamlet until a Kolkata based tour operator told us about it. Even a quick search on Google had little information to offer apart from its geographical location. But ever eager as we always are to explore new places, we were packed and gone in a jiffy. I must also add that I rarely even look up YouTube videos prior to visiting a leisure destination. I feel it takes away a lot of the novelty.
The drive from Siliguri to Rolep is a scenic one. It begins with the national highway that one would take to travel to Gangtok. Upon reaching Rangpo, the town just across the Sikkim-Bengal border, one needs to drive straight up, towards Rongli.
A sharp left from Rongli police station then takes you to Rolep. Here onward, one needs to simply follow the road because this stretch terminates in Rolep.
A quaint setting
We were pleasantly surprised when we realised our little homestay was located right on the banks of the Rolep river. The gushing water was loud but it wasn’t annoying either. Since we’d reached after sundown, we couldn’t see much and settled in for dinner.
Now across most homestays I have visited in North Bengal and Sikkim, the hosts charge on a per person basis. The charges are usually between INR12-1500 per person, per night. Some include two meals in this price, and some even three. Extras offered include firewood for a bonfire, barbecue preparations and home brewed beverages. These are charged separately.
The following morning, we set out for a brief hike. There was a proper trail leading into the forest. It was, therefore, not difficult for even the senior family members to walk.
About 30 minutes into the walk, we came upon a hanging bridge. For as long as I can remember, I have always found such bridges to be very pretty. I mean there is nothing extraordinary about them, but they just seem to lend themselves well to landscape pictures.
Prior to concrete bridges becoming the norm, even national highways in Sikkim had many hanging bridges. These could comfortably accommodate trucks and busses, although only one at a time.
We only hiked a little further from the hanging bridge. My then three-year old was just beginning to take a liking for Nature. Fortunately, she didn’t throw any tantrums and completed the hike all by herself.
Rolep warrants a second visit
Back at the homestay, there was a tasty lunch awaiting us. And while we ate, my eye caught sight of the flag flying outside. This was prior to Sikkim’s 2019 Assembly Elections. It was election season in Gangtok and the state’s now former chief minister was actively campaigning for his sixth term. On the way to Rolep, I’d noticed that most houses flew the flag of the then ruling party. Our host was the only one I saw flying the opposition party’s flag. I had to, therefore, talk to him and learn why he sided with the opposition.
Rolep is the perfect place to visit for a weekend jaunt. We created fond memories and more than anything, I was happy to see Zarah growing fond of such places.
In only a few months, the former opposition party was voted to power, ousting a government that had ruled Sikkim for 25 years. Our host in Rolep sure had foresight.