A short trek amidst the canopy of greenery, a riot of colours and grandiose views of the Kanchenjunga range – the Barsey or Varsey trek has it all. So when we had an extended weekend, we decided that the best way to spend it is by taking a short trip to Varsey Rhododendron Sanctuary. Not only would it give us some respite from the scorching heat, but also quench our thirst for the mountains for a while!
With our backpacks, we boarded Padatik Express to New Jalpaiguri. After reaching NJP, we took a shared jeep to Jorethang and from there to a small village Sombaria. From Sombaria, there was no other option than to book a car to Hilley, the starting point of the Barsey trek. By the time we reached Hilley, it was quite late in the evening and was raining. We saw one homestay at Hilley and were happy to go there. The arrangements are very basic with a dormitory for the night stay and a common toilet. The room was cosy and was perfect for our wanderlust souls. There was only another person occupying the dormitory. As the evening advanced, the might of the rain increased and we were wondering whether we would be able to go for the trek. But the rain subsided later and after having dinner we retired for the night.
The next day started with a wonderful sunrise and at about 8 AM we were ready for our trek to start. We climbed up to the sanctuary gate where we had to get our entry tickets. And then started our trek through the sanctuary. It was a 4.5 km fairly easy trek. The trail was easy with not much gradient. But the beauty of the trail was simply mesmerising. 15 minutes of walking and we experienced the comeliness of this trek.
With the canopy of firs and junipers over us and the mosses grown over the tree trunks, the whole place had a dreamy feeling. The air was filled with the pleasant, dewy petrichor of the previous night’s rainfall. Oh! We never felt so ecstatic in the last few days. And the ubiquitous chirping of the birds kept our company, but they were too shy to come before us to be photographed!
This year was a comparatively lean season for the rhododendrons. Also, the rains had also marred the growth of the flowers in the last few days. We did not see much of the rhododendrons until we reached higher altitudes. We saw rhododendron trees with blooming flowers as we gained height. The few blooming trees we saw had us spellbound – white, red and pink colours peeping among the luscious green trees. The colours added vibrancy to the place – it looked like heaven. We could only imagine how the place would look in full bloom!
The trek leads to Guras Kunj, the trekkers hut at Barsey. Guras Kunj was a quaint place to stay. Here too, the arrangements were basic and a large dormitory was the place for staying. There was also a single room with attached toilet, but getting a booking in that room is a bit difficult. Alternatively, there is a forest barrack which also provides accommodation.
The weather that day was not at all friendly with the sun playing hide and seek with us. The clouds too had decided to conceal the Kanchenjungha range from us. After an hour of stay and talking to our heart’s content with the caretaker of Guras Kunj, we started our journey back towards Hilley.
The Barsey Trek was a short but extremely rejuvenating trek. The short trail through the forest sanctuary was one of our favourites. If you want to get out of the city life for a couple of days and experience nature at its best, this trek is highly recommended.
Some fact about Varsey Rhododendron Trail
Total distance : 4.5 Km
Trek type: easy
Altitude : It is recorded at 10,000 ft ASL. But Guras Kunj is at a height of about 9800 ft.
How to reach: From NJP, you can book a car directly to Hilley, but it will cost you an arm. Alternatively, you can take a shared jeep from Siliguri to Jorethang and from Jorethang to Okharey.
Okharey is a small picturesque village on the way to Hilley. You can stay for the night at Okharey. Here you will get better options to stay.
From Okharey, you have to book a car to Hilley. A small car will take Rs.800/- approximately. Hilley is the starting point of the trek.
Places to stay: Hilley has two homestays. And if you wish to stay inside the Barsey sanctuary, there is Guras Kunj and the Forest Barrack.
Best time to visit: Barsey is an all year trek. But the first and second week April is best to view rhododendrons. Try to avoid the monsoons.
Trivia: Rhododendrons are called ‘Guras’ by the local people.
Taste the wine made of rhododendrons while at Hilley.