Two popular theories have been proposed regarding the naming of this place as ‘Ilam’.
i) The word ‘Ilam’ comprises of two words-‘I’ and ‘Lam’. In Limbu dialect, the word ‘I’ means ‘winding’ and ‘lam’ denotes to the way. Upon looking at the topography of this land, we can actually see several winding paths crisscrossing on the way. Thus it is aptly named ‘Ilam’.
ii) According to Iman Singh Chemjong-“People from Persia used to call their country as ‘Ilam’. Some of those people who were defeated in the war fled to Nepal and clearing the forest, established a settlement here with the name of their own country-‘Ilam’ and renamed themselves as ‘Ilamvu’.
Ilam is a small hilly town topographically quite similar to its neighbor Darjeeling across the border with an average elevation of 1113m above sea level. It is chiefly popular for the small clusters of green tea plants that carpet the hills but it is equally famous for 11 ‘A’s that it produce. They are: Aalu( Potato),Olan( milk),Alaichi( cardamom), Aduwa( ginger), Amriso(broom grass), round chillies (Akbare Khursani), Orthodox tea, hospitability(Atithi Satkaar), Antu pond, Aankir flower and Antu hill.
Brahmans, Chhetris and Lepchas are the chief dwellers if Ilam.
The climate is of subtropical nature in Ilam. Thus it remains pleasant throughout the year.
Things to do:-
i) Romantic sunrise and sunset view from Antu hill.
ii) Sprightly walk in tea gardens
iii) Short treks in forest
iv) Visit to holy sites
Major places in and around Ilam:-
i) Antu Hill:
Known as ‘Antu Danda’ in Nepali, it is located at the height of 2328m above sea level and is regarded as the finest place in Nepal to observe the sunrise and sunset views. The periods in between Aswin15 to Marga15 is considered perfect for arrival. Having a close-up view of third largest mountain of the world- Kanchanjunga is another attraction of this spot. Lepcha Museum could just be another reason to be here for it houses many ancient artifacts and garments of Lepcha tribes including the weapons used in Nepal- Bhot war.
Antu Pokhari( Antu pond) is located near to the hill where boating is available during fairs.
Many wild beasts like monkey, rabbit, boar, wolf and deer and birds like Kalij, dove, eagle and owl dwell in the thick forest around the hill. One can have an exotic view of places like Darjeeling, Kharsang, Mirik, Soureni, Siligudhi and Bagdhugra from atop the hill. It is an hour drive from Pashupatinagar and takes three hours of drive from Ilam Bazaar.
With its height of 3636m, Sandakpur becomes the highest hill in Ilam providing the best vantage point for having close-up views of mountains like Kanchanjunga, Kumbhakarna, Makalu and Mount Everest and parts of lands lying in India and Bhutan. A forest around this hill is the home for wild species like red panda, musk deer and Danphe.
Vehicles are available from Ilam Bazaar which will take you upto Maimajhua Khursani Tar through Mai Pokhari. A further trek of about five hours will be able to take you to sandakpur.
iii) Kanyam and Fikkal:
Kanyam is popular for holding Estates with large area covered extensively with tea plants. A gentle breeze blowing throughout the year makes a condition favorable for tea plantation in these areas. Kanyam is also popular as the fine picnic spot. Kanyam is also regarded as the ‘Gateway for entrance to Eastern Hilly Districts’. Horses are available to roam around the tea estates of Kanyam. It is located 44km far from Ilam Bazaar.
Fikkal lies on the Mechi Highway on the way to Ilam.
iv) Siddhi Thumka:
It lies at an elevation of 1800m above sea level and thus offers the fine view of Mahabharat Range and Churia Mountain Range. It lies three hours of walking distance far from Ilam Bazaar.
v) Mai Pokhari:
It is a pond famous for its historical significances as well as its bio diversity. It is located 18km north of Ilam headquarter at an altitude of 21221m above sea level and can be reached from Ilam Bazaar after passing through Biblate Bazaar, Jasbir and Chapgairi. Not much hotels are there in Mai Pokhari but Deurali Bazaar which lies fifteen minutes of walking distance far from Mai Pokhari has many small hotels serving foods at reasonable prices. It takes about thirty hours of drive from Ilam Bazaar to reach Mai Pokhari. An annual fare is held here in occasion of ‘Thulo Ekadasi’ which falls on October when many devotees from far and wide throng to this pond to pay respect.
i) Gajur Mukhi: It lies on the bank of Deumai Khola, west of Ilam Bazaar which can be reached after four hours of drive from the Bazaar.
ii) Pathivara Devi: Pathivara of Ilam which is located in Hans Pokhari is taken to be the younger sister of Pathivara Devi which lies in Taplejung.
iii) Mai Beni: Mai Beni lies in the confluence of Mai River and Jogma River which holds the temple of Lord Shiva. It lies about 3km far from Ilam Bazaar.
iv) Sati Devi Temple: It lies to the west of Ilam Bazaar on Puwa River which holds the idol of Sati Devi.
How to Reach:-
Ilam Bazaar is located about 700km east of Kathmandu. Regular buses are available from New Buspark, Koteswor and Kalanki of Kathmandu which will take you to Ilam after a bus ride of about 18hours.
Alternatively, if you are planning for a flight, you can book your ticket either for Biratnagar or Bhadrapur from where a short drive will be able to take you to Ilam.
Where to Stay:-
There are many small and big hotels lined up in the streets of Ilam Bazaar.
i) Green View Guest House: It sits in a very peaceful environment with many of its room facing to the green tree plantations. It costs NRs250 to 400 for a room without bathroom while a room with attach bathroom costs NRs550.
ii) Danfe Guest House: Located right in the area of tree plantation, this guest house does not offer much facilities but it is cheap. It costs only NRs150 to 200.