Exploring the Himalayan Shangri-La: Sikkim
January 1, 1970
by Aditi Shinde
Gorgeously tucked away in the north-eastern region of India, Sikkim is often regarded as one of the last Himalayan Shangri-La. The breathtaking views, adventurous trekking trails, quaint Buddhist monasteries and the cheerful aura of the place is sure to lure you into staying here forever! This landlocked state of India is bordered by the three neighboring countries, China, Nepal, and Bhutan and since it’s a remote city most of which is uninhabitable because of the extreme weather conditions, it is quite inaccessible to reach. I was traveling to Sikkim from Delhi, so I traveled via air from Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi to Bagdogra Airport, Siliguri. And then, we headed on to Gangtok in a cab.
It is needless to say that the views were breathtaking in every way possible. The mountain peaks loaded with the lush green grasslands amidst the clouds looked incredible. Traversing through the zig-zag cuts and roads, finally, after a 4-hour long drive, we reached Gangtok, the capital city of Indian state Sikkim.
The Mall Road, Gangtok
The bustling Mall Road of Gangtok city loaded with street-style to posh restaurants and hotels is all about fun, frolic and cultural craziness. The local programmes on the streets make it all the more lively and interesting. You’ll surely get to explore the rich cultural heritage of Sikkim on the streets of Mall Road, Gangtok. Another beautiful thing about Sikkim’s capital city is that you will get to see the mighty Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain peak in the world from here provided the sky is clear.
NathuLa Pass and Tsomgo Lake
Our first destination was NathuLa Pass and Tsomgo Lake. A 3-hour long drive from Mall Road, Gangtok, NathuLa was one of the most significant passages between India and Tibet lying on the Old Silk Route before it was closed in 1962. The place now is just a barbed wire fence. However, the route leading to NathuLa via Tsomgo Lake is both adventurous and mesmerizing.
Interestingly, the route is open only on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and that too only for the Indian tourists. Furthermore, you should have the special permit to travel to NathuLa that can be obtained from the registered travel agency in Gangtok. Traversing through mountain peak on one side and a deep ditch another side on a zigzag route gets dangerously adventurous when you witness landslides right in front of your eye. Further, the dropping down temperature every passing kilometer makes it all the more thrilling. About 17 km short of NathuLa, there lies this lake called Tsomgo Lake, if you’re traveling before May, chances are that you’ll find it completely frozen!
However, since we were traveling in June, we had the best view of the lake from atop the mountain. Continuing through the snaky road amidst the rocky mountain topography, we reached NathuLa. The temperature was as low as 2 degrees, and the oxygen levels were also extremely low because of the high altitude of 4310 from the sea level. However, meeting the deployed Indian and Chinese army personnel made our day. After sitting there for about an hour and exploring the mighty peaks covered in snow, we headed back to Mall Road. It’s good to start at the early hour from Gangtok so that you can have sufficient time on hand to explore the places and finally traverse back. And don’t forget to do the Yak Safari at Sikkim for a quirky and fun experience!
Banjhakri Falls and Energy Park
We also had a chance to visit Banjhakri Falls and Energy Park in Sikkim. A cascading waterfall from a 40-feet high rock plunging to the ground with an intense force looks astounding! The landscaped gardens around the waterfall house several statues of Ban Jhakri, Mangpas, Lyam Lymay, and Lepcha ancestors.
In a testament to the fact that this gorgeous state of India is also known for its rich Tibetan Buddhist culture, there are about 200 monasteries on the hilltops here in Sikkim, the most visited one being Rumtek, which lies 24 km off Gangtok. This was our next destination. Perched on the hilltop, this spiritually charged monastery is also called Dharma Chakra Centre. This is one of those places which are extremely soulful and tranquil. From the top of the monastery, you’ll get see the astounding top-view of Gangtok city which is breathtaking by all means!
Namchi and Temi Tea Garden
Our next destination was Namchi which is the district headquarter of South Sikkim. On the way to Namchi, we had a night-over at this astoundingly beautiful and extremely picturesque location, Temi Tea Garden. We stayed at the Cherry Resort which is gorgeously nestled amidst the only tea Garden of Sikkim.
Namchi was all about giant religious statues, one of which was of Guru Padmasambhava. A 140-feet tall statue of this Buddhist guru resting over the Samdruptse Hill looked larger-than-life in every sense. After exploring through this place, we headed on to our next religious spot which was a Hindu complex housing a gigantic 108 foot high Lord Shiva statue resting at Solophuk Hill along with the replicas of Char Dham and Jyotirlingas. This day of our journey was completely dedicated to the religious sites.
Our last destination on this trip was Teesta River, where we indulged in river rafting. One of the most favorite spots for the adventure junkies, Teesta river, offers both the gentle rides for the beginners and the thundering rapids for the experienced adventure buffs, thereby disappointing none! We opted for the gentle ride amidst the lush green mountain peaks, meandering down the mountain river was an incredible experience for us!
Exploring the culture rich north-eastern state of India, which was an independent kingdom until 1975 when it was finally conquered by India after a series of political unrest was an incredible experience. Every time I visit a Himalayan hill station, I feel a sense of relief amidst nature, having traveled the Himalayas from both northern side and north-eastern side, I can tell you that these mighty peaks surely offer you the most tranquil time of your life.
One of the many interesting things about Sikkim is that is it safe; there are negligible criminal incidents which makes it all the more travel-friendly. Another thing that makes this place a must-go-to place apart from the scenic beauty and soulful aura are that the localities of Sikkim are extremely kind, they welcome you in their city with open hearts and warm feelings!