Yoksom : Of History,
Heritage, And More
Perched on the upper slopes of the Rathore Valley, Yoksom (5950 ft.), a
lesser known hamlet in the Himalaya was once the capital of Sikkim during the rule of its
first Chogyal king.Sikkim, or Denzong (valley rice) as it was known earlier,
remained unknown to the world till the 8th century A.D. Until Tibetan traders
and herdsmen while travelling across the Sakya Kingdom lost their way and accidentally
stumbled upon this unique land Lepcha tribes under the Lepcha chieftains were the original
inhabitants. This accidental discovery actually paved the way for trade links between the
Tibetans and the Lepcha class. History before the 13th century A.D. is not well
documented but it is said that rifts between the Yellow Hat Sect and the Red Hat Sect of
Buddhists in Tibet had led to the followers of the latter to fleeing southwards in search
of a new home.
When European settlers were busy setting up colonies on the shores of the Indian
subcontinent, history of other sorts was in the making in Denzong.
Sometime in the early 17th century three Lamas Lama Latsun Chembo,
Lama Sempa Chembo and Lama Rinzing Chembo, of the Red Hat Sect (Drukpa), driven by the
divine mission to unite the disintegrating Lepcha clans and establish a
Buddhist monarchy in this hidden land, set on foot from Tibet in search of a man called
Phunstok who was the great grandson of Guru Tashi. Travelling in three different
directions they met at a place called Norbugang (in Yoksom); the place was later renamed
as Yoksom meaning the meeting place of three Lamas. Their long search ended in
1642 A.D. when Phunstok along with his family and followers were traced and escorted to
Yoksom. In the same year he was consecrated as the first king of Sikkim with the title
Chogyal (meaning the king who rules with righteousness) and the surname
Namgyal. It was also then that Sikkim derived its name from Su-
khim meaning New Home. Thus for the first time the entire Lepcha clan
was brought into the Buddhist fold under the auspices of their first Chogyal. And Yoksom
was made the capital of this Himalayan kingdom. The first Buddhist monastery was built on
a hilltop near Yoksom sometime in the 1650s during the reign of Chogyal Phunstok Namgyal.
This was named the Dubdi Gompa. Believed to be the oldest existing Gompa of Sikkim, what
remains now of this monastery are five chortens which still stand in testimony of
centuries-old tales of the Lepchas and their hidden land.
Yoksom is tucked away in the southern fringes of the Khangohendzonga sanctuary. The
last motorable town is West Sikkim. The shortest route from Siliguri is via Jorethang
(five hours from Siliguri) and from Jorethang the road meanders alongside the Rangit
river, flirting and chasing the turbulent river upstream till Legship (26 km from
Jorethang). From Legship the road follows the Rathong river for another 48 km drive up the
Rathong valley via Tashiding. A very interesting journey indeed through virgin tropical
rain forests, gurgling rivulets, serene terraces, and more
Yoksom looks like a step-cut green meadow in the midst of the surrounding forests. The
greens, the yellows and the browns dominate the landscape against the blue-gray backdrop
of the sky. Taking a casual walk early in the foglit morning past the village huts lying
scattered here, there, up and beyond in clusters of fives and tens, decrepit but
colourful; somewhere up in the woods flocks of puny birds flying by singing heavenly
notes; the smell of burning firewood all will haunt your memories for years to
come. Yoksom smells of wild cardamom. And of Tongba the local specially brew from millet.
The best available in entire Sikkim.
Local population is nearly five hundred mostly farmers and labourers. Few
traders have also settled here in recent years. There are seven groceries, a few eateries,
five trekkers huts and a few hotels (notably Hotel Dzongri La and Hotel Tashigang).
Few more are expected to come up by the turn of this season. And, thanks to the local
authorities and the people of this hamlet, Yoksom remains clean as ever despite a steadily
increasing traffic of tourists. What also deserves special mention is an association
called Himalayan Bio-diversity and Eco-study Group, a voluntary association of
young students formed in 1992, which is carrying out commendable work towards preserving
the environment in the area. Yoksom deserves the status of a Himalayan heritage site, they
Yoksom is, beyond doubt, historically important to the people of Sikkim. This hamlet
will soon become a more popular destination of tourists and nature lovers, if recent
trends are any indication.