Exploring the best of Sikkim
What is Sikkim really like?
Nestled amidst the beautiful mountains of Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and the state of West Bengal, Sikkim is a lush green Indian state situated in the North East of the country. While it may not be the first name that springs to mind when you think of visiting the Himalayas, this understated wonder hides many enchanting experiences for the curious traveller. The name Sikkim comes from the Tibetan word sukh-im, which means happy homeland, a fitting name indeed! Sitting below the eastern Himalayan foothills, Sikkim boasts of eternal pastures, majestic glacial lakes, quaint monastery towns, bustling cultural festivals, stunning waterfalls, lush forests, scenic drives, and mesmerizing snowcapped mountains. This makes it a perfect destination for everyone from backpackers, soul searchers, adventure seekers, culture enthusiasts, nature lovers, and nomads alike. Just as diverse as the climate of this beautiful state – you can go from the sub-tropical temperatures of the south, to the perpetual snowcapped mountains of the north within a few hours’ drive. With an average temperature of around 18°C, Sikkim is a great all-year-round travel destination. Although, if you want to soak in the natural beauty, the blooming rhododendrons and orchids, and explore adventure sports in the region, the best time to visit is spring, from March to May. On the other hand, if you want the breathtaking snowcapped mountain views of the Himalayan Range, yak rides, walk over frozen lakes, and attend winter festivals like Mangan Music Festival, Gangtok Winter Festival, and Losoong, then the months from November to January are your best bet.
Bucket-list-worthy places to visit in Sikkim
Located at the Sikkim and Nepal border at a jaw-dropping height of 28,110ft (8,568m), Kanchenjunga, the third tallest mountain in the world is said to be a protective deity as well as the sacred abode of gods in Sikkim. The word Kanchenjunga translates to “The five treasures of the high snow” and rest assured, there are plenty of natural treasures to be discovered here. To the south, this majestic wonder is filled with glorious rhododendron forests and opulent grazing pastures. A true Shangri-La for trekkers, Kanchenjunga boasts of extraordinary trails, captivating views of the mountains, verdant forests, surreal landscapes, and enchanting experiences. Trekkers often stop at the remote tribal villages in the mountains for some rest, to soak in the views, and to enjoy the locals’ warm hospitality. The best time to visit Kanchenjunga is March-May and September-November. From June to early September, rainfall tends to disrupt plans by making the roads slippery and causing frequent roadblocks. Things are of course worse in the harsh Himalayan winters. The easiest way to get to Kanchenjunga is by taking a flight to Bagdogra. From here, you can hop into a cab to Yuksom. If you wish to sample some of the local cuisines, you can always take a detour to neighbouring places like Geyzing, Gangtok, and Pelling on your way to Yuksom.
Fun fact: A yeti-esque creature, called Nee-gued by the Sikkimese, is said to roam the slopes of Kanchenjunga. Is this the famed abominable snowman? Be sure to ask if you spot it!
Often regarded as a pitstop on the way to Kanchenjunga, this little hamlet deserves your time and attention too! A historical site, Yuksom was once the original capital of the kingdom of Sikkim and has been the backdrop of many historical moments of Sikkim’s past. In fact, it even has the oldest monastery in Sikkim – the Dubdi Monastery and even today, is regarded as one of the most peaceful parts of the state. A little known fact about this beautiful nook of Sikkim is that it is regarded as a model for eco-tourism. It consists of extensive forest cover of a variety of trees and has also been called a biodiversity hotspot. If you want a break from all the trees and mountains, a quick trip to the nearby Kathog Lake is just what you need. To call Kathog Lake beautiful would be an understatement, this mesmerizing water body nestled amidst the mountains is a glorious reminder of why Sikkim deserves to be on every traveller’s list. Considered holy by the locals, the lake is surrounded by a range of prayer flags. Sitting on the banks of the lake as the evening chill creeps down from the mountains is reason enough to visit Yuksom.
Do you like rustic pubs, river rafting, mountain biking, exploring wildlife spots, chilling by lakes, and visiting cultural places? Then the scenic town of Gangtok is the place to be. The largest town and capital of Sikkim, this place is brimming with a mix of nature, wildlife, adventure, and culture. It is also one of the cleanest cities in India and has some pretty stores and pubs that you can spend lazy afternoons at. If you plan on visiting East Sikkim, Gangtok is the perfect base to start off from – you can easily reach any of the main East Sikkim spots from here. Whether you’re sipping on some beer, local tea, or trying some local delicacies, no matter where you are in the city, you can always see the majestic snowcapped mountains. The perfect blend of nature and everyday cityscapes is what makes Gangtok the perfect holiday spot.
A few things you can do in and around the city –
- Spend an afternoon at the magnificent Seven Sisters Waterfalls which is 32km away
- Spend a few hours checking out Himalayan Red Pandas, Snow Leopards, Himalayan Black Bears, Crimson-Horned Pheasant, and Himalayan Monal Pheasants at the Himalayan Zoological Park
- Sample local cuisine and shop for souvenirs at MG Road
- Learn all about Buddhism at The Tibetology Museum and Namgyal Institute of Tibetology
- Take in the fresh air and calm of Tsomgo Lake which is 40km away
- Visit alluring monasteries like Enchey Gompa, Tsuk La Khang, Rumtek, and Pemayangtse.
Situated at the banks of the Lachung river in North Sikkim, the town of Lachung boasts of stunning waterfalls, snowcapped mountains, numerous fruit orchards, and sparkling streams. A true nature lover’s paradise, Lachung stands at an altitude of 8,858ft, making it one of the best spots to experience the wondrous snowy winters of Sikkim. The village itself consists of numerous Tibetan and Bhutia people. If you feel adventurous, you can always trek to Yumthang from Lachung – a stunning 25km trek that’s well worth the effort. When you finally reach Yumthang Valley, you’ll discover why it’s been nicknamed the valley of flowers. This picturesque place is bursting with a myriad of flower species that form a colorful carpet over the valley. If you have the time, visit the mesmerizing Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary, which has over 24 species of rhododendrons. You could also visit one of the highest lakes in the world – Gurudongmar Lake. Ensconced by snowcapped mountains, this pristine lake freezes over in the winters barring one spot that remains unfrozen throughout. A perfect destination for all you thrill seekers, Zero Point, standing at 15,300 feet above sea level, is where rivers meet the snow-clad mountains of Sikkim and are also the last outpost before the India-China border. Located 3.5 hours away from Lachung, the drive there is dangerous but truly rewarding for the brave travellers who attempt it.
If you visit Sikkim looking for a spiritual experience, your trip would be incomplete without a voyage to Namchi located in South Sikkim. With a name that translates to “top of the sky”, this lush town truly makes you feel like you are at the top of the world! Interestingly, Namchi is often regarded as a pilgrimage destination thanks to the number of religious sites scattered across the place. On the one hand, you have the Namchi, Tedong Hill, and Ralang monasteries. On the other hand, Namchi also boasts of a staggering 108ft tall statue of the Hindu god Shiva. As a result, this beautiful little town attracts a range of Buddhist and Hindu devotees throughout the year. But if you are planning to visit Namchi, you should do so between March to October if you want to avoid landslides, slippery roads, and accidents. In fact, just before the city slowly settles in for the long cold winter, it holds a massive cultural festival around the month of October. Filled with festive revelries and scrumptious food, the Namchi Mahotsav is also known for its flower festival. In stark contrast to the spiritual vibes of the place, Namchi is also a favorite amongst football fans of East India. The Baichung Stadium in Namchi holds a tournament known as the Gold Cup, an event that draws football fanatics from all across Sikkim and its neighboring states.
Sikkim’s love and respect for nature and their dedication to purity clearly show – they are the first Indian state to be completely organic. Whether you want to trek its magnificent mountains, laze along its pristine rivers, soak in its rich culture, chase its numerous waterfalls, learn about Buddhism, or admire its rich biodiversity, Sikkim has something to offer everyone.
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