Sikkim was a bit of dilemma! From the people, to the food, to the culture and the religion there is immense diversity. It took me some time to settle in. The majority of settlers here are Nepalis. Though Lepchas are the original settles, they are considerably lesser in number. The Bhutias, who are believed to have migrated from Tibet in the 14th Century, formed the third ethnic group. Lepchas and Bhutias are predominantly Buddhist, while Nepalis are mostly Hindus. The main language spoken in Sikkim is Nepali but one can also get by with Hindi and English. According to the 2001 census, Sikkim is the least populous State in India with a population of barely more than 6 lakhs.
Sikkim is a Kingdom of its own. It is surrounded by Nepal to the west, Bhutan to the southeast and China’s Tibet Autonomous Region to the North and East. Sikkim is the Indian State with most international borders and is landlocked in the midst of the Himalayan Mountains. Kanchendzonga, the World’s third highest peak is located in Sikkim on the border with Nepal. Surrounded by giant mountains and difficult terrain, it harbors its own distinct culture and traditions. Owing to the mighty Kanchendzonga Mountains and diverse climatic conditions ranging from sub-tropical and high alpine, Sikkim has exotic flora and fauna. Much more than the scenic beauty it has great history, culture and food which are an integral part of a great tourist destination.
The State can be reached only by road via Siliguri, located in West Bengal, which is 113km from Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim. The rest of the State can be traversed by small mountain roads, far too precarious for buses or big vehicles. Jeep’s and small vehicles are the chief means of transportation. The inaccessibility has not deterred many from visiting Sikkim. On my way to Gangtok, I shared a taxi with four elderly men and a woman from Gujarat. They were extremely enjoying the landscapes and the exotic plants that grow wildly by the roadside. The road runs parallel to the Teesta River. Just before entering Sikkim the driver stopped at the check post and asked us to get ready with our Identity cards. The Gujarati man seemed annoyed by this and argued that we were all Indians and that we should be free to roam anywhere in India. A policeman peeped through the window and asked us where we were from. They let us go without even bothering for IDs. Two foreign couples sitting near the driver were asked to do some paperwork. We drove to a shop near the check post and waited for the couples. As the driver explained, it took at least 20-30 minutes to get the paperwork done. Foreigners need a special permit to enter Sikkim. In a way I think this puts off many tourists, but I met a guy from Spain in Darjeeling, who said getting the permit took just 10-15 minutes, free off cost.
Though Gangtok is the capital, Sikkim is much more than just a nicely polished state and remote areas and small villages form the majority of the state. It’s difficult to understand Sikkim without going into small villages and far flung places.
Best time to Visit:
The best season to Visit Sikkim is from October to November and March-April.
Places to Visit in Sikkim:
Sikkim is doused with beauty even at the most unexpected places. Like any good traveling the best way to explore Sikkim is by walking a lot and interacting with the locals.
North Sikkim is no doubt the most beautiful place in the state, but it is cut off from the rest of the country by landslides and lately by earthquakes. So my best option was to head west, towards Kanchendzonga. My plan was to head to Pelling, make a stop there and head for Yuksom, the first capital of Sikkim. It would be fitting to end my journey at this small hill station just at the base of the Kanchendzonga. Yuksom has been popularized as the base for the Kanchendzonga trekking trail. Plunging further into the woods allows one to enjoy the scenic beauty and take a closure look at their culture and traditions.
Here are some popular tourist destinations:
Gangtok the capital of Sikkim is easily accessible by road from Siliguri and Darjeeling. Apart from scenic location, good hotels and restaurants makes Gangtok a heaven for tourists flocking from around the world. There are many tourists attractions in and around the city. One can look forward to visiting the monasteries in Gangtok.
2. Rumtek Monastery:
Rumtek Monastery, 24km from Gangtok at an elevation of 1500 m is one of the most significant and largest monasteries in Gangtok. Built in the 16th century, the monastery served as the main seat of Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism for some time. The monastery is located on a hill overlooking Gangtok, surrounded by forest.
Pelling is around 10km from the district headquarter Geyzing and around 120 km from Gangtok. Pelling offers one of the best views of Kanchendzonga. It is located on a beautiful hilltop overlooking the green-then-snowy Himalayan ranges. Pelling is a small town with well maintained hotels of different ranges. It is a peaceful place and a an amazing destination for trekkers.
4. Khecheopalri Lake:
Khecheopalri Lake is one of the most pristine and beautiful destination I have visited. The Lake is considered as a sacred site of pilgrimage by the Buddhists. The lake is 34 km from Pelling town. Khecheopalri is most importantly a pilgrimage site but it is soon becoming a well-known tourist destination. It looked like a landscape from a fairy-tale. The lake is surrounded unspoiled forest and villages that keep homestays. These homestays have no road or net service. They are completely cut out from the world and people live on basics but staying there was one of the best experience.
Yuksom as a place of historical importance is unparalleled in Sikkim. It is the last town to the northwest of Sikkim and falls under the Geyzing subdivision. It is also known as the starting point of the popular Kanchendzonga trekking trail. Further, it was the first capital of the Kingdom of Sikkim. Yukom is an ultimate tourist destination, mostly visited by trekkers and avid travelers. A gentle valley on an altitude of 1780m, Yuksom is at the base of giant mountains. It is like a small plateau at the foothills of the mighty Kanghedzona mountains.