The fully organic State of Sikkim is what India hopes it’s states will be like someday. It is super clean, has an effective garbage collection system, dustbins everywhere, toilets in the remotest of places and music plays in every house. Tribal traditions still rule the lives of locals and being matriarchal in nature, gender equality stems from it.
A typical day in Sikkim starts very early, offices generally open by 7:30 am and by 5 pm it get’s really dark. Being one of the eastern most states suns rises earlier than other states. On your trip to Sikkim try and wake up as early as possible to make the most of your day. It’s been just 40 years since the King ruled state became part of India. Still, every household has a picture of his highness on their walls. He made sure that all places were well connected and cleanliness standards were maintained everywhere. The Indian government is just maintaining what the King had created; very few additions have been made till date.
Like Shimla and Mussoorie are favourite hill stations of north Indians, similarly, Sikkim is for Bengalis. Though it starts to rain when summer vacations in schools begin, still all hotels are full and tourist spots teemed with tourists.
So it was in Ohannas summer vacation last July that we decided that Sikkim had to be ticked off from our list. Our dear friend Karma Paljor, who is from Sikkim made an itinerary and also helped us with bookings.
Delhi to Bagdogra direct flight:
We booked our flights a few months before the departure date to get tickets at lowest rates possible. A morning flight, which takes 2 hrs is highly recommended, as a minimum 4-hour drive to Gangtok has to be taken once you land, that is if you don’t get stuck in a traffic jam.
Drive to Gangtok;
We had pre booked an Innova, which was waiting for us at the airport. There are quite a few taxi operators in Sikkim and they are happy to do a round trip. Our driver told that in season time they sometimes have to do 2 to 3 trips a day. As you move towards Gangtok the scenery changes and roads garbage free. The Bhutan Border is only 180 km from Coronation Bridge en route, which will inspire you to take your next trip to Bhutan.
We stopped at Abhinay Restaurant for Lunch. It was here that I realized that there are no restaurants in Sikkim, only Restaurants cum Bars. All restaurants, cafes and bakeries in Sikkim serve alcohol to its customers (of course you have to be of legal age).
Stay at Dechen Dzong Guest House:
The amazing city of Gangtok welcomes you with open arms and makes you comfortable the moment you arrive. We checked into Dechen and were pleasantly surprised to see a mix of traditional and contemporary look blended to perfection. Rooms were spacious and service was great. It is a small walk away from Paljor Stadium where children of all ages can be seen playing football.
Dinner at Paljor’s
Our first dinner was at my friend’s place and an experience like none other. We met everyone and were given a tour of the house. The terrace had a view of the great Mt Kanchenjunga and the top floor was actually a prayer hall. A prayer room is part of every house in Sikkim and makes one realize the importance of prayers and meditation in life. What really stood out for me was the kitchen; it is actually a combination kitchen and dining room. Dinner was still getting prepared when we entered, so we sat in the sitting area in the kitchen and were part of lovely conversations with the whole family. It was in the true sense a family dinner and we loved it.
I woke up early at 4 am to catch a glimpse of Mt Kanchenjunga as advised by my friend. In monsoon season you see it only early morning for maybe 40 min, after that, a thick cloud cover hides it for the rest of the day. In winters you can enjoy that view all day.
Himalayan Zoological Park
A full mountain makes the zoo, and with its large open enclosures, it’s for the protection of animals and not the other way round. This place should be at the top of every traveller coming to Gangtok. You can easily spend half a day at this place; with exotic animals like the Red panda- Snow leopard- wild bear and much more. It does not look like a city zoo at all; a disclaimer at the entry will surprise you, “Don’t be disappointed if you do not spot few animals, as they are in their natural habitat”. Just for the record, we spotted almost all of them.
Walking the 2.5 km walkway in the zoo is like doing a small hike, wear good shoes and book your taxi for at least half a day for this excursion.
Day ended with a small and beautiful stroll in the evening on the walking path built all around the city to keep everyone safe. And dinner at our hotel.
Monastery and Lampokhari Lake
A one and a half hour drive took us to the Monastery tucked away into the mountains. Young monks were busy with their daily chores and praying. We soaked in the views, had a cup of tea and moved to the Boot shaped Lampokhari Lake. On an altitude of 4600 ft, it is one of the oldest natural lakes in Sikkim. As a way of offering prayers people walk on the walkway around the lake lined up with lush green trees. Being a holy lake it’s been kept very clean. A few eateries around the lake entrance will satisfy your hunger. Again a half-day excursion, so do plan accordingly.
Got back by around 4 in the evening and checked into Junction Hotel
Junction has a great location, due to which they are full most of the time. We stayed here twice on our 10-day trip. My daughter got sick the second time and when I requested Dava at reception for a doctor, he immediately accompanied me to the Government hospital, two minutes away from the hotel. At many such instances, staff was very helpful and courteous. Both housekeeping and service staff was very professional and efficient. Food is good and they do take special request for dishes not on the menu.
Room Tip: Rooms on 1st floor for convenience and 3rd floor for views.
Nathula pass- Tsomgo lake –Baba Mandir – Elephant Lake
You can never get enough of the mighty protector Mt Kanchenjunga, so woke up again to be spellbound by its beauty.
52 km from Gangtok at an altitude of 14140 ft we had Nathula Pass planned for today. You need to book a Taxi and get your permits before you embark on this journey. Altitude gain is quite a lot, and I would recommend a dose of Diamox to avoid mountain sickness. Weather can change within a span of half hour so warm clothing with a waterproof poncho is a must. In tourist season it is super crowded and may dampen your spirits a bit, but nonetheless, enjoy the views and the stories and facts about each place.
Do this for views and what it feels to above 14000 ft. Best time to go is from October to April
MG Marg Market
After the long and tiring day trip to Nathula day before we decided to wake up late and spend a day relaxing at MG Market. The market is a very appropriate representation what Sikkim is all about, good conversations, amazing looking restaurants, bars & cafes, shops with antiques, souvenirs, beautiful hand painted Tankhas, and a very clean pathway to walk on.
Five minutes walk from the market takes you to the starting point of the ropeway, which I would highly recommend for the beautiful views and an overview of Gangtok. Kids really loved it.
Where to eat:
Taste of Tibet: For local specialities, momos and beer
The Coffee Shop: A never-ending menu with some great desserts to end your meal with
Baker’s Café: Great selection of bread
Dzongu- The Land of Lepchas
Into the wild, we went, to the land unknown, and what we ended up discovering was ourselves. The Lepcha communities in Dzongu live disconnected with the outer world with their own beliefs and traditional practices. Even Indians need a special permit to enter Dzongu. The 70 km journey from Gangtok is itself very satisfying. We crossed three forest ranges namely Furlough, Mangan and Dzongu, and the Himalayan mid-way itself had a view of Panthang peak. Entry permits can be obtained from Mangan -G.P.U.E office.
Out of the numerous homestays, Dzongu has to offer we chose to stay at Mayallyang home stay, owned by local activist Gyatso Lepcha. He is very frequently in news for his efforts to stop construction of Dams on the rivers and thus saving ecology and habitat of the area.
With very few tourist coming here it is a perfect getaway for at least couple of days, for you to soak in the beauty of lush green mountains, rivers, waterfalls and the organic food, all of which rejuvenates you completely.
– Village hikes, angling in Teesta River, bathing under a waterfall with just you and your friends and learning about the ways of the Lepchas and practising meditation. A dip to cure your ailments in the Lingdem Hot Sulphur spring.
We left for Ravangla from Gangtok, the last destination on our trip. Being monsoon the journey was a series of waterfalls along the roadsides. Proper roads and bridges ensure that nothing stops you on your travel. Right in front of the cornfield, you can find a group of women were selling hot and fresh roasted corn cobs and buttermilk.
Reaching Ravangla was like finding Shangri-La Itself. It is lush green with wide roads and so clean as if nobody ever uses them. We checked into newly opened Tathagata resort around late afternoon, which is a part of the Tathagata Sthal. Rooms are really big and have the best view ever of the Sthal. A 130-foot high Buddha statue and Cho Djo Lake surrounded by forest within the same complex makes this place simply heavenly.
Activities and Excursions:
– A Day Trip including Rabong Gompa- Ralang Monastery – Borong Polok Handmade Paper Unit
– Small hikes or a full day on Ravangla Maenam Trek.
– Exploring Buddha Park and Cho Djo Lake
Drive to Temi Tea Estate – Bagdogra Airport
The trip had come to an end and it was time to bid adieu to Sikkim only with a promise to be back someday. We left our hotel around 9 am for Bagdogra and decided to check out the scenic Temi Tea Garden. A walk in the tea estate intrigues your senses, and later buy packed tea from the shops around the place to remind you of your experience back in the city after a hectic day at work.
I love Sikkim and would be back soon