If you were to take out a map of India and look for the state of Sikkim, it would probably take you a while to find this little piece of heaven situated in the Northeastern part of the country. Being the second smallest state of India, one could easily confuse it as being a part of Bhutan, or an extension of Nepal or Tibet. Three countries border this landlocked region which only became a part of India in 1975. I grew up in a town that was hardly a hundred kilometers away from this beautiful place but never had the good fortune to visit till a few years ago. From the mountains of Kalimpong, I could often see the twinkling lights of the capital city, Gangtok, in the far distance and often wondered what it would be like to visit. When I eventually did visit, I wasn’t disappointed but was mesmerized by its breathtaking beauty! The mountains, glaciers and natural lakes offer some stunning views, blending in with the rich flora and fauna. The region is an absolute delight for nature lovers. With more than 5000 species of flowering plants, it has rightly earned the sobriquet, Paradise of Botanists!
Gangtok The Capital
Sikkim’s capital is a bustling little town situated on a mountainous ridge at a height of about 1750 meters above sea level. Although much of the mountainside has been concretized with buildings, Gangtok is still blessed with magnificent views of the Kanchenjunga Mountain range and enjoys a moderate climate throughout the year. As such, the town is a favored destination by tourists who use it as a stopover base. There is no dearth of staying options in the town, for budget travelers as well as those looking for some high-end luxury. The Mayfair Spa Resort & Casino is one of the first choices for those wanting to try their luck at the gambling tables! The main street in Gangtok, MG Marg, is an interesting place to visit. It has been touted as the country’s first ‘spit-free and litter free’ zone! Since vehicles are banned in the area, one can take a leisurely stroll down the street which is lined with shops, restaurants, and hotels on both sides. MG Marg is also a great place for absorbing and observing the local culture while seated at any one of the numerous benches which have been placed in the center of the street. During peak tourist season, various cultural programs are held at the entrance of the street. You can also get a bird’s eye view of Sikkim’s capital by taking a ride in the cable car.
Things To Do
Feast Your Eyes On The Valley Of Flowers
One of the biggest draws for visitors to Sikkim is the Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary in West Sikkim. The burst of pink, red and white, interspersed with the green of the countryside, will make you whip out your camera and probably exceed the storage space with the number of clicks you’ll want to capture. The flowering season is between March to May so spring is definitely a good time to visit. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll witness a rare explosion of color if there is a mass flowering. Another great place to visit if you want to dive into an enchanted land is the Yumthang Valley in the north, also known as the Valley of Flowers. During the peak flowering season towards mid-May, the valley is a riot of color from the different flower species that carpet the land.
Trek Through The Mountains
Sikkim is not only a botanist’s delight but is also a huge draw for foreign tourists eager to explore the rugged terrain of the pristine Himalayan region. There are numerous trekking routes which can range from day hikes between villages to longer options of trekking to the base of the Kanchenjunga. One of the more popular treks is the Dzongri- Goecha La Trek. This short altitude trek will take you through some of the most stunning landscapes of Sikkim ensuring that you leave the region spellbound!
Ride A Yak At Tsomgo Lake
The Tsomgo Lake in East Sikkim is one of the most popular lakes, given its proximity to Gangtok – about 35kms away. This glacial lake sits at an altitude of 12,000 feet and is one of the popular stopovers for local tourists on their way to the Nathula Pass border. Foreigners are allowed to travel to this region but no further than the lake. The lake is a frozen block of ice in the winter but in the summer the azure blue of the water will leave you enchanted. You might want to brave a ride on one of the many yaks near the lake to add to this mesmerizing experience!
Eat Fresh Organic Produce
What sets Sikkim apart from the rest of the country is not only the breathtaking landscapes but the uniqueness of its culture and the commitment of the Sikkimese people towards preserving the environment. Sikkim is the first Indian state to have completely banned the use of plastic and converted to healthy organic farming. Besides the popular gastronomic Tibetan delights like momos and thukpa, make sure to have your fill of healthy fruit and veggies when you are there. Also, be sure to try the popular local drink Chang, made from fermented millet at least once. The novelty of sipping this drink through a bamboo straw from a bamboo receptacle is what makes it even more appealing!
Get In Touch With Your Spiritual Side
The colorful Buddhist prayer flags which flutter on the tops of many of the hills in Sikkim and intriguing monasteries that dot the region will appeal to your spiritual side. Visit a monastery and turn the prayer wheels to benefit your mind. Buddhist monasteries coexist with the many Hindu temples and a handful of Christian chapels, adding to the mystical beauty of this little gem of the northeast. If you’re planning a trip to India or even if you are an Indian planning a trip within the country, make sure that Sikkim finds its way to your itinerary. With its stunning landscapes, warm people and great cuisine, it’s not a place you’d want to miss visiting!