Sikkim is a small Himalayan paradise nestled between three beautiful jewels of Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan. Sikkim in Tibetan is called Denzong and means a land rich in rice. Travelling in Sikkim is to discover a totally different India, a magical place, full of nature, culture and relaxation. Sikkim is the ideal place to escape the crowds and dust of the big megacities, the lowland heat and enervating rhythms of modern life.
The Sikkimese have a peaceful and calm people, used to the slow motions of Himalayan life. Traveling to this land means to take the time and pause it and enjoying every moment. Sikkim is a natural and deeply religious land, but also tribal and ancestral, far from the idea of ??India that we have in our imagination.
Sikkim is the land of Buddhism and animist cults, women with intense and heavy jewelry, men in colorful clothes, the huge and lush tea plantations, sacred lakes and prayer flags, monasteries and boundless views of the Himalayas. This is a land to be tasted slowly.
People and Culture
In Sikkim there are three main ethnic groups, the Lepcha, bhutia and nepali (Sherpa, Rai, Newar, Gurung, Tamang, Chettri). But there are also other minorities such as the limboo, the Magars and Bahun. The main language is Nepali. They of course also speak English, Hindi and local dialects. People are always smiling and welcoming. The sikkimes are simple and hospitable. Predominantly they follow Buddhist Vajrayana, while a small percentage are Hindus and a large number follow animistic religions. So they live in contact and in harmony with nature, respecting the rhythms and needs. According to legend, Guru Rinpoche visited Sikkim in the ninth century and introduced Buddhism.
Climate and roads
Sikkim is a small paradise. Temperatures range from a minimum of 0 degrees in the mountains to a maximum of 28 ° in the summer. There is often a pleasant breeze. At 2000 meters it is not difficult to find banana and bamboo plantations. The tea gardens are particularly exciting. The roads are quite passable. It's always good to rely on agencies that have reliable new cars. Many places to visit are located in paths through woods or hills. Having a jeep or SUV is essential. You can move in shared public jeeps, but the best thing is to hire a personal jeep.
When to go to Sikkim
The best times to visit Sikkim are those between September to April. The scorching Indian summer is virtually absent in Sikkim. Not by chance the Indians choose it as a holiday resort and hilly coolness along with Darjeeling in West Bengal.
Between May and June is celebrated the Drupchen. Between January and February is celebrated a traditional festival that takes place a few days before Losar, the Tibetan New Year. At Rumtek Monastery, not far from Gangtok, you can see the famous Buddhist chaam dances.
What to Visit
In Sikkim you can do so many different trips from the cultural journey to discover religious Buddhist monasteries, meditation caves and ritual dances. The nature trip to the discovery of parks, reserves, wildlife sanctuaries, sacred lakes, stretches of orchids and tea plantations and the adventurous hiking with trekking, climbing or rafting.
Among the travel spots of Sikkim, there is Gangtok itself, the small capital at about 1600 meters high and in a dominant position on the Teesta river valley. Then there is Chungthang, 95 km north of Gangtok where the Lachen and Lachung Chu rivers join to form the river Teesta. Lachung is a village to the north of the previous. The British explorer Joseph Dalton Hooker defined it as the most beautiful villages of Sikkim.
Pelling, after the capital is the largest tourist center of Sikkim. It is located in the Rangeet river valley, in the south-western part of Sikkim. Then there is Ravangla and Yuksom, a village north of Pelling in the Rangeet river valley. It was the capital of Sikkim for a short period.
Other destinations include Yumthang, a valley further north of Lachung. Then there is the sacred Gurudongmar Lake, one of the highest lakes in the world, located at an altitude of 17,800 ft (5,430 mt) and Kanchenjunga National Park in the north-west of Sikkim, which is a wild and spectacular area with many glaciers. Mount Kangchenjunga is located on the border with Nepal and reaches 8585 m altitude and is third highest in the world. The most popular destination is also the Nathula Pass through which you enter Tibet.
To avoid surprises it is good to rely on reputable agencies. In Sikkim there are several, but few are recognized by the government. Some hotels are particularly beautiful and elegant. In recent years, homestay is gaining interest with the ability to stay one or more nights in the family of a village. They share spaces and activities, like home cooking or collection of medicinal herbs. The facilities are often nice and cozy in their dignified simplicity. The food is genuine, fresh and tasty, like the one that would be prepared by our mothers. Residing in a Sikkimese home means, if desired, to pray with them, sing with them, study with their children or simply chat over a tongba, sipping chang, the local natural beer.
To visit Sikkim for foreigners you must obtain a special permit when applying for visa at the Indian Embassy. The Inner Line Permit is free and does not involve any delay or problem in the request. Just apply it online when you request the tourist visa. You can also apply for ILP at Sikkim house in New Delhi, Calcutta, Siliguri and Bagdogra airport. You should always have with you the passport photos similar to those used for the passport.
For North Sikkim, you will need the Protected Area Permit and Restricted Area Permit from the Tourism Department in Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim. Usually these two latter permits are issued more easily to groups of at least two people. Permits last from two weeks to 60 days and can usually be extended for another 30 days if necessary at the immigration office at Gangtok.
How to get to Sikkim
By Air : The nearest airport is Bagdogra (Siliguri), in West Bengal (120 km). You can choose Jet Airways, Air India, Spicejet, Go Air or from Bhutan with Drukair. From Bagdogra you can rent directly shared or individual jeeps.
By train: The nearest train station is Siliguri which takes no less than 10 hours from Calcutta.
By Bus: You can reach Gangtok by bus starting from Siliguri at 6 or 12 o'clock in the morning.
Day 1 - Bagdogra/Siliguri - Darjeeling
Upon arrival at Bagdogra/Siliguri drive to Darjeeling, which is a fascinating tour of approximately 2.5 hours through the state of West Bengal, through small villages perched in the adventurous hilly roads and numerous tea plantations.
Day 2 - Darjeeling and surroundings
You have to visit the Tiger Hill at late night/early dawn to see the sunrise. Then you can visit the Tenzing Norgay Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, where you can see a historical collection on the famous Himalayan climbers and their Sherpas, the Darjeeling Zoo, with some sort of very special animals like the Tibetan tiger, red panda, black bear and Snow leopard. At noon you can visit the Ganga Maya Park, Rock garden, Botanical garden and the Mahakal temple. In the evening you can walk to the Mall, the market area having a park where you can just sit amidst the picturesque views of the Kanchenjunga.
Day 3 - Darjeeling - Pelling
A ride of about six hours through the mountains, wrapped in a thick jungle full of wild orchids and crossed by mountain streams, sometimes near steep slopes, with rice fields and magnificent views. Via Geyzing, Pelling is a rapidly growing city (2100 m) where every Friday takes place a picturesque market.
Day 4 - Pelling - Tashiding - Pelling
A very busy day if you want to see everything from the wonderful Pemayangtse Monastery, the Denjong Padma Choling Academy and Sangachoeling Gompa, the second oldest monastery and a one-hour walk around. The Pemayangtse Gompa was built in the 17th century. It is one of the oldest and most important monasteries of the Nyingmapa, a Buddhist order in Sikkim. This monastery was founded by Minling Terchen Gyurme Dorje, whose famous daughter, Jetsun Migyur Paldon, lived near Pemayangtse and taught there during his exile. Its stone throne is still visible in the monastery which has 108 monks. The main attraction of the place is the wooden replica of the famous Guru Padmasambhava built by Serdup Lhundrup Dorje Rinpoche in 1971.
If you like walking, you can also visit the Pemayangtse Monastery walk (45 min) or the Rani Dhunga, the Queen's Stone (about 4 hours). Even a trip to Lake Santo Kechopari is in a wonderful setting surrounded by prayer flags, and Tashiding is also possible. All this according to your preferences!
Day 5 - Pelling - Ravangla - Gangtok
Through Ravangla, get to the capital of Sikkim, Gangtok (about 4 hours drive). On the way stop at Ravangla, with great views on a clear day, and the Themes Tea Garden.
Day 6 - Gangtok
You start early to see the sun rise on Kanchendzonga Mountain from Tashi View Point. Then through the Nathula Highway (until 1962 the ancient trade route to Lhasa) to the sacred Chhangu lake, also known as Tsongmo Lake to 3,774 m. Here there are many stalls selling tea/coffee and hot momos.
Day 7 - Gangtok - Rumtek Monastery - Gangtok
City tour including Enchey Monastery, Cottage Industries and the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology and the Do-Drul Chorten. In the afternoon take a drive to the famous Rumtek monastery and Kaygu Head.
Day 8 - Gangtok - Teesta Bazaar - Kalimpong
Pass through the Teesta Valley to Rangpo, the border town between Sikkim and West Bengal. On the way to Kalimpong, through the woods, have a stop at Teesta Bazaar to take a walk to go shopping.
Day 9 - Kalimpong - Mirik
Located at an altitude of 1250 m, between the hills and valleys of the Himalayas, Kalimpong until 1965 was part of Bhutan is an important trading town between the "Three Closed Lands - Three Countries Chiusi": Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal. The Kalimpong (Hat Bazaar Market) takes place every Wednesday and Saturday and is very interesting to watch people of the surrounding villages, often dressed in traditional costumes. During the city tour we visit Thongsa Gompa, a Tibetan monastery and or Rinchenpong Monastery and Mangal Dham, a large and majestic temple, dedicated to Krishna. Completed in 1993, it is an example of contemporary architecture made of white marble. You can also visit the Senchal Lake in Mirik, which is also a destination of divine nature. You can stay there or come back to kalimpong. All this according to your preferences!