How Hilley-Varsey trek changed my life

By Izifiso
7 Min Read

Many say the greatest view comes out of the hardest climb. But a trek to the Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary will prove this totally wrong. The Hilley-Varsey trek to this rhododendron sanctuary provides the most beautiful view at the least toil. I had heard of the beauty of rhododendrons on slopes and clouds peeking out of the sky at Barsey. To witness it directly, I planned with my friend a duo trek/trip there.


How Hilley-Varsey trek changed my life.
Beautiful Rhododendron flowers during Hilley-Varsey trek
Wonder of Hilley-Varsey trek

What is the best time to plan Hilley-Varsey trek?

The best time to visit Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary is from March to April. At that time, the trekking route through Varsey Rhododendron Sanctuary looks beautiful. Pink rhododendrons, white rhododendrons, and lush green conifers lie scattered in colorful lots. The flowers on the ground, and on the trees with the cloudy atmosphere create great scenery. In February and March, even snowfall takes place. Temperatures are usually cool.

Image taken during Hilley-Varsey trek
The beautiful trek route of Hilley-Varsey

My journey details of the Hilley-Varsey trek

Day 1:

Our journey started from the New Jalpaiguri railway station where we reached via train from Kolkata. However, one can also reach Siliguri junction instead of New Jalpaiguri. After that, we took a hired jeep to Jorethang. From Jorethang we went to Okhrey via Sombaria. There were shared cars and buses by Sikkim National Transport available too for the same journey. At Okhrey we halted for the night. A few homestays are available here for a short stay before beginning the trek to Hilley.

Finally, the trek started….

Day 2:

The next morning, we set out from Okhrey(9000 ft. above sea level) on a jeep to Hilley. The altitude of Hilley is also 9000 ft. above sea level. The 9 km journey through Okhrey was surrounded by greenery and fresh rural essence. Mush and fern surrounded the two sides of the route till Hilley, with blooming magnolias too. We got a great view of Sandakphu and Phalut too. Then we reached the Hilley check post, the starting point of the trek to the Sanctuary, and The Hilley-Varsey trek began.

Image taken during Hilley-Varsey trek- Rhododendron Sancuary
the Hilley check post, the starting point of the trek till Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary.

On our way to paradise…

Magnolias, rhododendrons, oak, maple, pine, fir and bamboo vegetation were in abundance on the trekking route. This combined with cloudy skies that betrayed golden sunbeams now and then. My friend and I witnessed colourful conifers and flowers, breathing the fresh mountain air. We even saw various wild birds and heard their sweet combined chirping. Flowers carpeted the ground as well as the trees. The trekking route to Barsey is 4 km long and takes about 2.30 hours to complete. After Barsey, however, one has to arrange for permission to enter Sikkim.

A few things about Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary…

It was a comfortable, slightly uphill trek till the Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary that sits at a 10000 ft. height above sea level. This is amidst the Singalila range that stretches from Darjeeling to Sikkim. The sanctuary is part of the Singalila National Park and covers an area of 104 sq. Kms. Various endangered species like the Red Panda, Barking Deer and hedgehogs are kept here. The local people and the government have joined hands to create this as a site of eco-tourism.  

The dominant floral genus here is the rhododendron arboreum, a small evergreen shrub that produces bright red flowers. However, there are white rhododendrons and pink rhododendrons too lying across the trekking route in Barsey.  The wet and cold climate with above 250 cm annual rainfall makes the place favourable for the growth of these flowers. We saw them carpeting the ground as we walked through the misty slopes.

Rhododendron Campylocarpum at Hilley-Varsey trek
Rhododendron Campylocarpum
Rhododendron Barbatum at Hilley-Varsey trek
Rhododendron Barbatum
Rhododendron Grande at Hilley-Varsey trek
Rhododendron Grande

The clouds above and the greenery make you feel aesthetic delight at every step. We hired a guide to take us through the various sites here and there on the route. After exploring the Sanctuary, we halted for a night at Barsey.

Day 3:

The next morning, we returned via the same route to Hilley and from Hilley to Okhrey. Then from NJP railway station we set out for Kolkata, our home.

As a Backpacker my personal take from this Hilley-Varsey trek

However, all the locals here will only be comfortable with the Nepali language. The only staying option available on this less-known trekking route is the Guraus Kunj in Barsey. People here will serve you to the best of their ability and with warm hospitability. A few Nepali words will help them serve you better.

These are: will visit again (Pheri aauchu), good morning (Shuv Bihani), warm water (Tatto Pani), cold water (Chisso Pani), give me some food (Khana Dinos) , I like your stay (Apnaro homestay ramro houncha) , food was good (Khana Dami vayo) , good night (Shuv Ratri).
Image taken during Hilley-Varsey trek - lali gurus
Local wine (Gurus) made from Rhododendron

Lastly, if you are in Sikkim you might as well try out the traditional foods. Some of them are Thukpa, Gundruk and Sinki, Kinema Curry, the famous momos, dal bhat and others. To not spoil your excitement, I will not describe each in detail. Hurry and visit Hilley-Varsey and see for yourself!

Check out the latest blog on the Best restaurants in Darjeeling.

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