Sikkim, the tiny mountainous state nestling in the heart of the eastern Himalayas is dominated by Kanchenjunga mountain and wedged between West Bengal, Nepal, China (Tibet) and Bhutan. It is an enchanting medley of lofty peaks, verdant valleys, serpentine streams, holy lakes, ancient monasteries and a rich variety of flora and fauna. This small but strategically important State measures about 100km from north to south and 60km from east to west and is predominantly inhabited by the Lepchas, Bhutias and the Nepalese, who radiate a lot of charm, life and colour.
Sikkim’s original inhabitants are the Lepchas, also called Rongtub (literally “the dearest people of Mother Earth”), who call their land Ney Mayal Lyang, or “heaven.” And how! Crammed in between Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and West Bengal, this tiny, mountainous state is as pristine a pocket of India as you are likely to encounter, with some 4,000 varieties of wildflowers (including 600 varieties of orchids), snow-fed lakes, high-altitude mountain forests, and hidden Buddhist monasteries. Some travelers come simply to enjoy the refreshing views and clean air, but most are here to tackle the fantastic treks through western Sikkim, exploring remote valleys and villages of yak-herding Tibetans. Ideally, you should spend a day or two in the state capital, Gangtok, to organize permits and transport/trekking arrangements, then head to Pelling before undertaking a demanding high-altitude trek for several days. Or you can skip Gangtok and either hire a jeep that goes directly from Siliguri (near the railway station at New Jalpaiguri) to Pelling, or travel from Bagdogra, the nearest airport; both are about 6 hours away by road.
GETTING AROUND SIKKIM
Unless you pick up a helicopter from Bagdogra Airport, you will travel in Sikkim by road. Use either a private or shared jeep. Although roads are open throughout the year, bear in mind that all of Sikkim is mountainous and routes inevitably take far longer than they appear on maps. The shared taxi and jeep services from Gangtok to Pelling (Rs 130/$3) that depart twice a day at 7am and 12:30pm are served by Nam Nam taxi stand; book your seat in advance. Again, book both front seats, for the views, and also because drivers tend to pack way more people into the car than you’d have imagined possible. Sikkim’s roads invariably traverse steep mountains and deep valleys, so travel can be exhausting (the journey to Pelling, via Ravangla, takes 5 hr.), but the scenery is spectacular. Within Gangtok, you’re best off doing most of your wandering on foot; because of one-way roads, taxis are frequently required to skirt much of the city. To get to the Tibetology Institute and to Rumtek Monastery, you’ll have to use a taxi.
Traditionally a stopover for trekkers headed for Yoksum, Dzongri, and similar highaltitude spots in western Sikkim, Pelling has begun to establish itself as a tourist destination in its own right, and as a result, concrete lodges have sprung up indiscriminately to cash in on the passing trade. Nevertheless, the surrounding scenery is spectacular, and the sunrise behind snow-clad Khangchendzonga will leave you breathless. Besides hiking or rafting, the top attractions are the nearby monasteries. From Pelling, a pleasant 30-minute walk along the main road toward Geyzing will lead you to one of Sikkim’s oldest and most revered monasteries, Pemayangtse (daily 7am–4pm), situated at 2,085m (6,672 ft.) in a cliff-top forest clearing. Set up as a monastery for Ta-Sang, or “pure monks” of the Nyingmapa order, Pemayangtse was established in 1705 by Lhatsun Chempo, one of the lamas who performed the consecration ritual of Sikkim’s first king. Its prized treasure is a 7m-tall (22-ft.) wooden depiction of Guru Rinpoche’s Sang-tok-palri, or “heavenly palace,” encased in glass in the monastery’s upper room. Note that it’s worth trying to contact Yapo S. Yongda, who resides here— he’s a fascinating source of information on Sikkimese history. Southeast of Pemayangtse (30-min. walk), on a lower hillock, are the ruins of the late-17th-century Rabdentse Palace, from where you can see Tashiding Monastery , one of the most idyllic, peaceful, and sublime monasteries in India. Hire a jeep from Pelling to get here (Rs 1,400/$32 round-trip). A mere glance at Tashiding’s Thongwa Rangdol, Sikkim’s most venerated chorten, will (if Buddhist legends are to be believed) absolve you of all your sins. Also of special significance is the bhumpa, a copper vase that contains the holy water used each year during the Bhumchu festival, when a sacred ritual reveals Sikkim’s fate for the upcoming year. It’s a somewhat stiff 50-minute hike in the opposite direction to hilltop Sanga Choling Monastery —but it’s worth it, for the most panoramic views around. Constructed in 1697, this is believed to be the second-oldest Buddhist monastery in Sikkim. Go when morning or evening prayers are held.
TREKS THROUGH WESTERN SIKKIM
Treks around western Sikkim are justifiably popular because of the spectacular views
afforded throughout. If you want something relatively short and undemanding, the 4-
day trek from Pelling to Tashiding and back is ideal, covering both cultural sights and
majestic scenery. Far more challenging, and requiring more time and extra stamina,
are the high-altitude treks to Dzongri (4,024m/12,870 ft.; 6 days) and Goeche La
(4,940m/15,800 ft.; 9–10 days). There are also other treks to Singalila and Versay in
the west, Greenlake in the north, and Kedi and Teenjure in the east. Trekking here is
only allowed with a recognized trekking operator in Gangtok; a daily fee of $30 to $45
will include guides, porters, yaks, tents, and food. March through May, the fabulous—
and less strenuous—5-day Rhododendron Trek through the exotic forests of
the Singalila Range, near the border with Nepal, become possible. For trek operators,
see “Essentials: Guided Tours & Travel Agents,” above.
Gangtok Tour Information
Gangtok, literally meaning a ‘High Hill’ is a charming hill resort perched on a ridge at a height of 5,400ft. It affords magnificent views of the snow clad Kanchenjunga peak.
Govt. Cottage Industries Institute
Women weaving colourful woollen carpets, shawls and blankets and men carving beautiful, multi-hued wooden tables called as ‘Choktses’ can be seen here. Exquisite handloom and handicrafts items can also be purchased here.
Research Institute of tibetology
This world-renowned centre for Buddhist philosophy and religion has a rich collection of Tibetan Books, over 200 icons, tangkha tapestries and many rare objects of Buddhist art. Nearby is the Dotrabu Chorten of Guru Padmasambhava and a small temple of Guru Rimpoche, which houses a 60 feet statue of Guru Padmasambhava, the patron saint of Sikkim.
Dodrul Chorten (Stupa)
It was built in 1945, by the Ven Trulshi Rinpoche to invoke the gods to keep peace and tranquillity in the State. The beautiful structure rises like a great white bell surmounted by a golden pinnacle and houses holy books, relics, mantras and other objects of religious importance.
The sanctuary houses over 250 species of exotic orchids. The blooming season of orchids is from April-May, July-August and December-January.
Tsuklakhang (Palace Monastery)
The monastery built in traditional Sikkimese style, lies within the palace of the Chogyals, the former rulers of Sikkim. It is the most accessible monastery from Gangtok and is known for numerous festivals and grand ceremonies.
Permanent Flower Show Hall
It is located near the White Memorial Hall and just below the Palace Ridge Park. The flower shows and exhibitions held here round the year are very popular.