Sikkim lies nestled under the protective shadow of its guardian deity. Mt Kanchenjunga. This little Himalayan jewel is fast becoming a favorite getaway. Sikkim has a incomparable range of flora and fauna, the majestic mountains peaks, the dense foothill forests and frothing rivers and also lush paddy fields.
State East District, Sikkim
Location Capital of a tiny state sharing borders with Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan. Gangtok is at 5,047ft, 125km from Siliguri.
The moment the first whiff of juniper steers its way into your near frozen nose, you know its April in Sikkim. Yes, it is beautiful in April. Well it’s another thing that it’s beautiful in May, June, July, August and every subsequent month.
The drive from Siliguri to Gangtok takes four hours. There are quite a few stopovers on the way. I remember Chitrey for its rafting; Malli for its beer factory and Rangpo is a busy check post. You can stop at every shack for hot momos and chilled beer along the turbulent Teesta River.
While there are many sightseeing spots like Ganesh Tok, Hanuman Tok, Tashi View Point but it is best to take a walk. You will truly enjoy because the scene changes as you head out of town. On a good day you can see the Kanchenjunga and the rest of the range in all its majestic glory. You can spend hours staring at the peaks as they change colors through the day.
Those interested in Buddhism, must visit the Institute of Tibetology. Home to prince less antiques, rare scriptures and gorgeous thangkas the institute spearheads the study of the Tibetan language culture.
If you want to shop for curios, head for the Old Market, New Market or the Lal Market. Also take a walk along the Ridge.
A beautiful 40km drive out of Gangtok is the magical Tsomgo Lake. Surrounded by frozen hillsides, the Tsomgo Lake looks like something out of a Japanese calendar. Over a kilometer long and 50ft deep, the water was part frozen in April also. You cannot stay here for more than an hour for security reasons, anyway the cold gets to you and you are dying to go back. One road forward leads to the Nathu la Pass from where you can see China. The road is not open to civilians though you can take permission from the Army. Tourists also flock to pay homage at Baba Harbhajan Singh Memorial.
No trip is complete without visiting the Rumtek Monastery, 300 years old and the largest monastery in Sikkim. It was renovated completely in 1960 and houses a school, an aviary and a special section where monks take off for meditation in isolation, sometimes for years.
You can also see Enchey Monastery in Gangtok town, Himalayan Zoological Park, Pastanga village two hour’s drive from Gangtok, where you can see waterfalls, bamboo and dense magnolia forests, Fambong Lho Wildlife Sanctuary 25km from Gangtok, richly forested area is home to various species of wild animals and birds, Saramsa Garden , home to exotic orchids is an excellent picnic spot, Ropeway is a thrilling ride of 1km starting from Deorali to Nam Nag and the upper terminal at Tashiling and Aritar Lake three hour drive from Gangtok.
It is a five hour drive west of Gangtok. Pelling is a small urban settlement with abnormally high number of hotels. The upper Pelling hotels have a breath taking view of the Kanchenjunga Range. The mountains surprisingly look near, as if you can touch them. When the weather is perfect you can see the proud giants Koktang, Pandim, Kabru, Dom, Kumbakaran, Rathong, Zopuno, Shimbo, Narsing, Siniolchu stand tall.
Sango-Choling Monastery is Sikkim’s second oldest monastery. The monastery complex has a little graveyard with tall white flags fluttering against the blue sky. The King of Sikkim ruled from this place now called Rabadentse Ruins.
The highest bridge Singshore in Sikkim is located at 25km from Pemayangtse Monastery a place worth visiting. About an hour’s drive is a Kanchenjunga waterfall.
The Khecheopalri Lake is considered to be the sacred lake by both Hindus and Buddhists. It lies hidden under the thick forest cover. The birds do not let a single leaf to float on the surface of the lake. Yuksom was the first capital of Sikkim. It is the base camp for the trek to Dzongri and the base camp to Mt Khanchenjunga begins here.
Samdruptse is 72km from Gangtok. A 135ft statue of Guru Padmasambhava is installed here. Dalai Lama laid the foundation of the statue.
Namchi meaning ‘sky high’ is nestled among hills at an elevation of 4400ft. An ideal stopover is the Rangit Water World the lake formed by the Rangit dam. Situated 26km from Ravangla it is fun place for boating, fishing and swimming. Mainom peak is a 12km uphill trek from Ravangla.
You pass through the Temi Tea Estate if you visit Ravangla. This is Sikkim’s sole tea garden and connoisseurs will tell you that with a gem like this the state does not need any more, it’s a true solitaire. The tea produced here enjoys international repute commanding premium prices at tea auctions.
Singchu Thang is 45kms from Gangtok and is located at an altitude of 3500ft on the banks of river Teesta. It is ideal for white water sports and picturesque picnic spot.
The Flower Festival at Namchi has gained enormous repute is organized annually during the months of February and March. One can see rare species of Orchids in a riot of colours.
Yumthang is located in a flat valley whose sides reach up to the towering mountains of 11800ft. It is referred to as Valley of Flowers. Wildflowers, primula and rhodendron bathe the landscape in rich colors. A must see is the hot springs at Yume Samdong. About 17kms from Gangtok is Kabi Longstok is where the Tibetan chieftain and Lepcha shaman signed a blood brotherhood pact. The spot is marked by a stone amidst the shadows of the forests. Phodong and Labrang monastery are famous monasteries in North Sikkim.
GuruDongmar Lake (17800ft) is the sacred lake of the state both by Buddhists and Hindus. The lake remains milky in colour, it is believed tha Guru Padmasambhava touched the lake while crossing to Tibet from this area.
For the more discerning traveler, Sikkim Tourism presents the Sikkim Helicopter Service from Gangtok to Bagdogra and back. It is just not a mode of transport but to see Sikkim in an entirely new way. It also conducts mountain flights. See the majestic Himalayan peaks from close Fly over Gangtok and see the layout of the town.