With its lakes, mountain ranges, wildlife sanctuaries, tea estates, rhododendron parks, Sikkim is synonymous to nature and can make for an adventure loaded holiday. The experience of age old traditions and local lifestyle smoothens the rough ride.
View of some of the highest Himalayan peaks borders Sikkim- one of the seven north eastern states of India. Snow clad, shining under sunrays, they give the perfect white backdrop to all the colours of the state. The rich flora and multicoloured flags make for elements of most images taken here. The landscape is distinct and so are the people who live here. What they wear, play, eat and do, and all that goes around on a regular day is simple and simply Sikkim.
“People lead a rather rudimentary life in Sikkim, a one starkly different from bigger states and cities. Their needs and wants are minimum and a humble income, one of only a few thousand Rupees, gets them through their month,” says Yogini Roygaga, a millennial who has been living and working in Sikkim for a few months now and is originally from the Maharashtrian city of Mumbai (west India). “People here live in modestly made homes. They eat local produces, mostly organic. They consume locally made alcohol. There are no shopping malls. Most people can be seen wearing their traditional attire. Nothing is fancy really,” she adds.
From an independent mountain kingdom up-till 1975, when it was annexed by India and made an official state, Sikkim has come a long way. The state is divided into four parts- North Sikkim, South Sikkim, East Sikkim and West Sikkim. Gangtok, its capital and biggest city is in the east and “is the only place where a bit of night life and modern party culture can be found,” says Roygaga. “Rest the state and life here is very much rooted and the things to do and explore are raw, nonetheless exciting for an ardent traveller ” she says. Trekking to high and difficult points, visiting tea estates, taking in the site of rhododendron parks, or just unwinding by a lake, Sikkim has much for an explorer.
“It takes four-five hours to drive from one corner of the state to another. A trip of six-eight days should be enough for a tourist to explore the state decently,” says Roygaga. These are the spots one should definitely see in Sikkim as Roygaga recommends and our research states the same.
Other than enjoying the night life this capital city has to offer, Gangtok can be visited for days out in its zoo, at its lakes, or enjoying the rush of zip lining, and paragliding. The Gangtok city market is where tourists head for shopping souvenirs.
After Gangtok, Pelling is the second most popular tourist spot in Sikkim. The town houses one of the first monasteries in the state- the Sanga Choling monastery built in 1697. It is also known for its annual Khangchendzonga Festival, which offers activities like white-water rafting, kayaking, trekking, mountain biking, sightseeing, traditional sports, et al.
Capital of the former state of Sikkim, the town of Yuksom can be visited for ancient gompas (Buddhist praying centres), Khangchendzonga Falls (dual waterfalls), Tashi Tenka (a royal palace complex), Mani Hall (an ancient temple like building).
North Sikkim’s spotlight falls on the Yumthang valley, where one can have the thrill and leisure of driving the 52km adventurous and stunning route between Lachung and Zero Point. The valley laps the Yumthang Hot Springs, Singba Rhododendron Sanctuary, and Waterfall View. There is also the Gurudongmar Lake, one of the highest lake in the world at the height of about 18,000 feet.
“Sikkim is synonymous to nature,” says Roygaga. For eager tourists “I would recommend one to visit the Changu lake, which is a glacial lake in east Sikkim. It is easily accessible as compared to Gurudongmar Lake, where young kids and aged people are not allowed due to its altitude, while foreigners are not given the permit for a visit. When in east one might also consider visiting the Nathu La pass, which is the India-China border. For foreigners, it might be easier to get a permit to visit unlike North Sikkim, where the Indian army restricts permissions to visit.”
What to eat- Momos, pork, thukpa, thaipo ( a dumpling of a big size) sel roti (local bread). Also try some Sikkim tea. The locals take much pride in it.
How to commute- There are no buses or rickshaws but taxis that offer inexpensive and smooth rides.
Where to stay- Although there are nice hotels, homestays are a good option.