Do you remember the first trip of your life?
My first trip ever was when I went to attend the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) organised in Chemchey at the Indian Himalayan Centre for Adventure & Ecotourism Himalayan (IHCAE) in Namchi Sikkim by the Rotary Club of Gangtok South. This first trip of my life is from 10 years ago i.e. in 2012.
Before I share my experience about the trip, let us know about RYLA, Sikkim, Namchi and Chemchey.
RYLA refers to the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards. It is a leadership training event which involves workshops, seminars, skill development and fun activities. It is a wonderful opportunity to form meaningful friendships with the global community. RYLAs are organised by local Rotary Clubs around the world. It is generally for youth aged 14-30. It can be a one-day seminar, 3-day retreat or a week-long event.
I owe my personality growth and overall development to RYLA and the guidance I received through the platform of Rotary International.
Sikkim is one of the eight states in Northeast India. A Himalayan state, Sikkim, is blessed with the world’s third-highest mountain of the world – Mt. Kanchenjunga. It shares its border with Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet and West Bengal. Read more about Sikkim Here.
Chemchey is a village near Damthang Town in the subdivision of Namchi in South Sikkim. A beautiful village with a view of the magnificent and heavenly Mt. Kanchenjunga (Khangchendzonga).
The word Namchi in the Sikkimese language refers to high skies. Namchi is the headquarters of the South district of Sikkim.
IHCAE stands for Indian Himalayan Centre for Adventure and Eco-tourism. It is situated at the top of a hill in Chemchey Village, about 2.7 km from Damthang town. It is one of the premier mountaineering institutes in India.
IHCAE was established in the year 2009. The trainers of IHCAE summitted Mount Everest thrice within the first 4 years of their formation.
We were lucky to have met and been trained by them for a few days during RYLA.
My RYLA experience in IHCAE of Chemchey, Sikkim.
This Sikkim trip gave birth to my passion for travel. It made me fall in love with adventure, mountains hiking and mountaineering.
On October 9th, 2012, I kickstarted my journey from Duliajan, Assam to Chemchey in Namchi Sikkim. Guess what? I was boarding a train for the first time in my life. It was special. I was also travelling outside my home state Assam for the first time. Before this, the farthest that I went was Guwahati in Assam.
My brother accompanied me and Mohit as a guardian ( Mohit and I were members of the Interact Club of St. Xavier’s H.S. School, Duliajan). After reaching NJP, we continued our journey from Sikkim Nationalized Transport (SNT) in Siliguri of West Bengal to Namchi Sikkim around 7:20 am in the morning. I was fascinated with the natural beauty, the rivers, forests, hills, the clouds throughout the journey.
Flowers alongside the roads welcomed us as we neared Namchi town in South Sikkim. We hired a car and headed to the IHCAE in Chemchey – the venue for the RYLA event.
The most attractive factor about the place I found was the weather. The weather changed every now and then. The sun shone only for a few minutes, the clouds would come blowing cool winds all the time. Being from the plains of Assam, to see clouds nearby and to feel them was gratifying.
While Mohit and I stayed at the campus of IHCAE, my brother left to stay in Namchi till the RYLA concludes.
Having reached early, we were warmly welcomed by Rtn. Prakash Sundas Sir. We helped the organisers by arranging notebooks, files and pens for the participants. It was the registration time when we saw the arrival of a huge number of participants. Students from Gangtok, Darjeeling, Siliguri, Assam, Meghalaya, and a few participants from Bhutan joined the event. Being from a small village in Assam, I felt lucky and blessed to meet friends from northeastern states and other countries. It was an International RYLA.
By evening, 6 Ropes (subgroups) were formed from the 64 participants of RYLA. On being asked who wished to lead Rope 6, Isha from Guwahati (Assam) and I raised our hands, and thus the empowering journey of 3 adventurous days began.
Day 2 of RYLA – The day I overcame my fear of heights.
The day started with the director of IHCAE teaching us Yoga. It was at this moment that we witnessed the magical beauty of the sun-kissed golden peak of Mt. Kanchenjunga. The laughing exercise was the most satisfying of all, haha!
The next activity was Rock Climbing. The trainers of the mountaineering institute briefed us about the do’s and don’ts of rock climbing, rappelling and mountaineering. Essential gears such as ropes, carabiner, mittens and helmets required for rock climbing were handed over to us.
We hiked for a while and reached the first rock climbing wall. The rock wall was about 60ft tall.
The following tips before climbing it was very helpful –
- leg position should be 90 degrees with the rock surface
- choosing the route for climbing beforehand.
- adapting to the grips and rock edges.
- communicating properly with the belayer
On climbing the 60 ft rock wall successfully, I felt a great sense of power within me. We were then taught how to pitch a tent and different rope knot techniques. It was fun and exciting to learn and pitch a tent with the help of a friend from Bhutan.
Though I wasn’t scared while climbing and rappelling the first rock wall, the second was a 160 ft rock wall. The trail through which we went up to rappel down was adventurous & challenging for me. We used carabiners and ropes to reach the top.
As we waited for our turn to rappel, we enjoyed the scenery of the distant Rangeet River, the hills and the clouds.
What happened next took away my fear of heights. I started to rappel (abseil) from the 160 ft rock slow and steady. There was a forwarded section of the rock which I had to abseil faster. Alas! I didn’t. I lost contact with the rock surface and was hanging in the air, Scary! I calmed myself down, made a full circle in the air and tried to position my body 90 degrees to the surface. The fear of heights literally vanished into the thin air. While I was hanging in the air, I could see how far the campus of IHCAE looked from the top.
We were informed that the house of the legendary Indian Football Player Mr Baichung Bhutia was just on the other side of the hill we had just climbed.
The musical gathering in the evening added more joy to the accomplishments of the day.
Day 3- The day I carried 15 kg and hiked up to the top of the hill.
The morning began by jogging till the Damthang town. It was fun to jog and then do the physical exercises later on. As I was regularly running and doing exercises at home, I performed well. I felt more confident than before when the trainers praised me.
Another day, another adventure! The 14 stages Obstacle course at the ICHAE campus was our next activity. This helped us learn teamwork. Being an Asst. leader of Rope 6, I along with Isha motivated our team members. That feeling was wonderful as we worked as a team. We were second among the three other groups in completing the obstacle course.
After lunch, we were taken hiking to the top of a nearby hill. I was given the responsibility to carry 20 litres of water can (approx 15kg). It was put into a bag. I loved the experience of carrying it to the top. The fast breathing, the self-talk of motivation, and the challenge to never give up are what I enjoyed the most. On the way to the top of the hill, we stopped for a while and tried removing the leeches.
Having reached the top, we gathered firewood and cooked Maggi beside a pond. The war with leeches was still on though.
On our way back, we chose another path via the Rio Monastery. It was the same monastery whose morning prayer bells we used to hear from the campus. The confidence that the 160 ft rock wall gave me was such that, I was helping others in the steeper sections of the trail.
Day 4 – Feedback, Emotions and a little exploration in Namchi.
It was the last day of the event. The day started by jogging to & fro from Damathang and doing exercises. The next activity was fun and funny. Each Rope (team) would represent a member whose eyes would be blindfolded.
Two other members would then give the instructions to complete a short obstacle course. I asked my teammates to guide me in Assamese so that I don’t get distracted. It was fun and we were able to complete it.
It was about 10:30 am, we were asked to give feedback through decorations and writing on chart papers. We shared the things we learned during those 3 amazing days. All of us were emotional. We hugged each other, shook hands, and cried too. During the closing ceremony, I spoke in front of a gathering of more than 60 people for the first time in my life.
Here’s what I learned from the RYLA in IHCAE, Chemchey.
- To dare to face challenges.
- To believe in yourself.
- Team Work
- Building meaningful friendships.
- To be inspiring.
- Public Speaking
- Be true to yourself.
- To be kind and helpful.
- Challenge your limits.
- To uplift others and grow together.
On our way to Namchi, we visited a monastery. It was the Samdruptse Hill in Namchi. The Samdruptse Monastery architecture was under construction during our visit. We interacted with the monks and enjoyed the ambience of the place. I realized how devastating the impact of the 2011 Sikkim earthquake was through the photos at the monastery.
We concluded our day by shopping for a few gifts at Siliguri.
Day 5 – The cute kid and her family who loved travelling.
The journey via the Kamrup Express was an interesting one. We met a cute kid and played peekaboo with her. We would then laugh together. We interacted with her parents and shared our Sikkim experience by showing the photos. They were originally from Odisha (formerly Orissa) but have lived 5 years in Gujurat, two years in Bangladesh, and a few years in Rajasthan and Kolkata.
Day 6: Mom’s Happy Smile
After a cup of tea and breakfast with Mohit’s family in Duliajan, I set out to Bhadoi Panchali travelling in a mode of public transport. As soon as I reached home, I started wishing everyone a good morning.
As I was walking back home from Bhadoi Panchali, it felt surreal how amazing the past few days were. It was like stepping out of my comfort zone and discovering a different version of myself.
Reaching the bamboo gate at home, I cheered and called Mom from a distance. She smiled with love and relief.
A lot of first in my first Sikkim trip right?
- The first train journey.
- The first time outside Assam
- The first time in hilly terrain.
- The first visit to Sikkim.
- Rock climbing, rappelling, hiking – all for the first time.
- Public Speaking
- Leading a Team for the first time in a different place and among new friends.
In a nutshell, this Sikkim Trip made me who I am today. I overcame my fear of heights and public speaking. I was introduced to the world of travel, adventure and mountaineering. I made lifelong friends through this RYLA.
My love for travel writing started with this very article being penned down in a notebook that I still have today. I believe, writing about this experience back in 2012 is what helped me find my passion and eventually start a travel blog of my own.
Sikkim is and will always be special for me as it changed my life forever. Rock Climbing in Sikkim was the key to unlocking my inner strengths and passion. In fact, I will be attending the Basic Mountaineering Course (BMC) at the National Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports in Arunachal Pradesh from the 21st of May, 2022. The seed for the love of mountains and mountaineering was sowed in this RYLA event at IHCAE in Sikkim.
I will always be thankful to the Rotary Club of Duliajan who sponsored us for the event.
FAQ on RYLA
What is the full form of RYLA?
The full form of RYLA is Rotary Youth Leadership Awards.
Who organises RYLA?
RYLAs are organised by local Rotary Clubs & the committee of the Rotary International District. In my case, it was organised by the Rotary Club of Gangtok South of Sikkim which falls under Rotary International District 3240. R.I. 3240 includes all the northeastern states and a few parts of West Bengal in India.
Who can join RYLA?
RYLAs can be attended by youths who are aged between 14-30. Generally, the local Rotary Club nominates students or Rotarylets for RYLA. In my case, the Rotary Club of Duliajan sponsored and sent us to attend the RYLA in Chemchey, Sikkim.
FAQ for a South Sikkim Trip
Why is Namchi Famous?
Namchi is famous for the Solophok Chardham, Samdruptse Hill, Namchi Ropeway and Namchi Rock Garden.
Where is Samdruptse Hill?
Samdruptse Hill is located at a distance of about 5 km from Namchi, the district headquarters of South Sikkim District.
What are the places to visit in Namchi?
1. Solophok Chardham
2. Samdruptse Monastery
3. Namchi Ropeway
4. Ahaley Dechen Choling Monastery
5. Namchi Rock Garden
6. Ngadak Monastery
7. Tendong Gumpa in Tendong Hill
Where is Solophok Chardham?
The Chardham Temple is located at the top of Solophok Hill of Namchi in the South Sikkim District.
Tourist places in Namchi
While Mohit and I were at the RYLA, my brother explored the following tourist places in Namchi –
1. Chardham Temple at Solophok Hill
2. Namchi Town
3. Ahaley Dechen Choling Monastery
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How and where was your first trip ever? I would love to hear your story and about the place you visited for the first time. Looking forward to reading them in the comments.