Sikkim, up in the northeast of India, is a mountainous paradise of subtropical forests and high alpine woods, home also to Mount Kanchenjunga (located on the border with Nepal), the third highest peak in the world.
After our green mango chana masala snack at the Peshoke view point on the way to Darjeeling, Dad and I spent a few days at the divine Glenburn Tea Estate (much more about this gem of a place to come). We then headed further up the winding roads of the Himalayan foothills to Yangsum Heritage Farm in Rinchenpong, West Sikkim. Delhi friends had recommended the farm to us as one of their favourite, most beautiful places in India.
Run by Thendup Tashi and his family, Yangsum is an organic farm located in forests of bamboo, pine, Himalayan alder, chestnut, magnolia, cherry and rhododendron, to name a few. They grow everything from cardamom to avocados, including oranges, bananas, pears, apricots, and mangoes. Cultivated agriculture yields maize, paddy, millet, potatoes, ginger, turmeric, sweet potatoes and more. The original farmhouse, which the family still lives in, was built in the 1830s, while accommodation is in charming, newer wooden chalets or a cosy cottage.
Being monsoon season, it rained for most of the three days we were in Sikkim. I wasn’t bothered, as anything was a relief from the brutal heat of Delhi, but Dad was a bit disgruntled: “It’s like being back in Wales,” he muttered on the second day, “except for the leeches!”
Leeches, although harmless, are quite revolting, and they were out in droves in Sikkim. We plucked many a cool, wriggling body from between our toes and sucking onto ankles and the backs of our knees. Happily, there are more appealing animals about, too, like goats, cows, pigs, birds, and even black bears, red pandas, snow leopards, and clouded leopards (although probably none left in the wild).
One of the many things they make at the farm (I’ll write more about the Sikkimese dishes cooked up in the lovely old kitchen in my next post) is chang beer, a traditional drink made from cooked and fermented homegrown millet. Thendup kindly brought out his top-of-the-range tipple – chang he had made for his sister’s wedding – for me to sample. It’s a strange taste, a bit like beer mixed with wholegrain mustard and a shot of vodka, but surprisingly easy to drink. It’s traditionally served in giant bamboo cups and drunk through fat straws. The fermented millet is put inside the cup, which is topped up with boiling water. Once you have drunk all the liquid, more hot water is added. It can go on for hours.
Here’s a video of Thendup describing how to make chang from cooked millet in his farmhouse kitchen: