Bordered by Bhutan, China’s Tibet Autonomous region and Nepal, Sikkim is that state in India which is special and unique from every perspective – geographical location, climate, diversity, culture and the list goes on. From frozen lakes in the north to vistas of tea gardens in the south, meandering roads in the east to beautiful shades of rhododendrons in the west, this tiny state has diverse landscapes and a myriad of experiences to offer.
Be it a backpacking trip, a vacation with family or a leisurely escape, Sikkim fits well into everyone’s idea of travel and unfolds many surprises during the course of one’s journey.
Having visited Sikkim multiple times, I have received unimaginable hospitality from my hosts and made great friends. It has been a place where I’ve listened to stories about heritage and culture from my hosts, where I’ve found myself exchanging travel stories with fellow travelers in a hostel dorm and where I have learnt the value of time.
In this blog, I have attempted to combine all of these experiences to put out a well crafted source of information to help you plan your trip to Sikkim without any hassle.
- Interesting facts about Sikkim
- How to reach Sikkim
- How to travel within Sikkim
- Best time to visit Sikkim
- Popular Tourist Hubs in Sikkim
- Road trips in Sikkim
- 7-Day itinerary for Sikkim
- Sikkim FAQs – Answered
- Things to remember
- Pin this Sikkim Travel Guide
- Subscribe to Blog via Email
Interesting facts about Sikkim
If you’re still not convinced on why Sikkim should be in your bucket list, here are few facts that will give you an idea why Sikkim is indeed special.
- Sikkim happens to be India’s first fully organic state.
- World’s third highest mountain peak, Kanchendzonga, is located in Sikkim.
- There are about 227 high altitude lakes in this state.
- Kanchendzonga National Park, comprising of glaciers, lakes, waterfalls, forests and a rich flora and fauna has been declared as India’s first Mixed World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
- The state houses over 200 vibrant monasteries.
- Singshore Bridge, Asia’s second highest suspension bridge is situated in Sikkim.
- Red Panda, the state animal of Sikkim which is an endangered species can be spotted in their natural habitat here. Additionally, Sikkim hosts a winter carnival every year with the name “Red Panda Festival.”
How to reach Sikkim
Bagdogra Airport and New Jalpaiguri are the nearest airport and railway stations to Sikkim. Once you reach any of these two places, you’d probably want to get to Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim to continue your journey further.
To reach Gangtok, you could either book a private vehicle or hop onto a shared vehicle. The wisest way to make the journey a comfortable one without spending much is to book two seats on a shared vehicle. Works best for budget travelers. You could also check out NE Taxi or Wizzride, which offers luxury vehicles on a shared basis.
Remember to keep your government IDs with you all the time. There’s a possibility that you might have to show it at the check post in the border of Sikkim.
How to travel within Sikkim
Trying to figure out how to travel from one place to another within Sikkim can take some time. I’ve attempted to break down all possible modes of transport that you can avail to travel within the state.
- For backpackers and budget travelers, shared sumos are the best means of conveyance to travel within various places in Sikkim. Initially it might appear a bit confusing but all you need to do is have a rough idea of the route or simply ask a local, they’d be more than happy to help. When you’re in Gangtok, remember the names of a few points like Deorali taxi stand and Rumtek taxi stand from where you can get tickets for other places like Ravangla, Pelling, Namchi, Geyzing, Jorethang and Singtam. Travelling in any of these routes would cost you between INR 100-300, depending on the distance. A wise idea is to book two seats if you’d want to travel more comfortably without making a hole in your pocket by booking an entire cab.
- To get from one place to another within Gangtok, the easiest way is to grab a local cab. They usually ply on shared basis but might insist you to reserve it. In any case, there is no possibility of you being cheated for money in Sikkim so you can rely on the rates the cabs ask from you.
- You can even hire bicycles if mountain biking interests you. Hub Outdoor is one such place from where you could get one for yourself.
- The most exciting one comes at the end. Sikkim is famous among bikers and road trip lovers for its versatile and adventurous roads. Pick up any random adrenaline junkie and traversing through the mountains on a RE would be their ultimate dream. Biker’s Hub is one of the best places which can transform that dream into reality, on the roads of Sikkim. Calvin (Contact No: +91 9647237847), from Bikers Hub is an extremely calm, professional and knowledgeable person who can help you plan and execute your bike trip with his recommendations on routes and other details. The bikes are in top notch condition, necessary permits are made without any hassle and they even have in-house mechanics to deal with any glitch. You can trust them with eyes closed and set out on an epic road trip.
Best time to visit Sikkim
The months when the weather is pleasant in Sikkim are October to November and March to May. During this time, the roads to North Sikkim, Nathu La Pass are open and there is no risk of roads getting blocked due to heavy snowfall. The state receives heavy rainfall between June to September and landslides are a common phenomena during this period. Thus, traveling should be strictly avoided over these months. From mid-December to end of February, possibilities of roads being open for North and parts of East Sikkim are usually low. However, other parts of Sikkim are open and plans can be made accordingly.
Popular Tourist Hubs in Sikkim
Gangtok is the hub from where you may proceed to your next destination in Sikkim. It’s a well developed and a vibrant town with many interesting places to visit on a day tour. There are a plenty of chic cafes and restaurants serving authentic Nepali cuisines to relish on. Unlike many other towns in the hills, Gangtok is well lit till about 10pm and some of the pubs are open even beyond that time.
You may not have to allot too many days to explore Gangtok specifically but it can be a rest stop between covering North Sikkim and other parts. You may choose to add in a couple of extra days for Gangtok at the end of your trip so that you can relax a bit, indulge in some shopping and get your hands on souvenirs to take back home.
Where to Stay in Gangtok
Where to Eat in Gangtok
- Baker’s Café for breakfast platters
- Nimtho for authentic Nepali cuisines
- Sass and Guff for Thai and Tibetan
- The Travel Café for great coffee, burgers and dessert
- Café Live and Loud for Pizza and cocktails
Nightlife in Gangtok
Café Live and Loud and Gangtok Groove are two of the most happening places in Gangtok that host live performances about twice a week, usually on Fridays and Saturdays. Along with vibe, the food is amazing too in both of these places. You should definitely not miss visiting any one of these two places. You could even try your luck at the casinos in Gangtok. Make sure you read the rules before you enter one.
Things to do in Gangtok
- Visiting Tsongmo lake (also known as Changu lake), Baba Mandir and Nathu la pass on a day tour from Gangtok is a must. You can book one of these trips from any local travel company that’s lined up near MG Marg or pre-book just to avoid last minute hassle. Your hotel or homestays would also be able to guide you on this. A shared trip would cost you between INR 800-1200 per person, depending on the season. Costs for private tours would go higher.
- Stroll at MG Marg in the evening, shop and explore the wonderful eateries.
- Visit Tashi View point to watch the sun rise above the snowcapped peaks of Kanchendzonga.
- Explore Rumtek, Enchhey and Ranka Monastery to dive deep into the essence of spirituality.
- Take a cable-car ride and capture drone-like shots from above.
- If you’re a book lover, you may opt to spend a laid back afternoon at the famous Rachna Books, a hub of cultural exchange and browse through their collection. If you’re lucky, you might find yourself in the middle of an open mic session or a live gig that this bookstore and cafe frequently hosts.
An important hub in the map of South Sikkim, Ravangla, is a fine blend of tranquility and spirituality. It is located 80 kms away from Gangtok and takes about 3 hours to reach. In Ravangla, you will often find yourself playing hide and seek between clouds. Being a comparatively slower town, it is a lovely place to spend a day or two and wake up to the gorgeous views of Himalayan peaks of Mt. Kanchendzonga, Mt. Sinialchu, Mt. Kabru and Mt. Narsing.
Where to Stay in Ravangla
Where to Eat in Ravangla
Apart from the usual momos, you must try a bowl of thukpa, she-phaley and meat balls. You can try out these dishes at any local eatery in Ravangla to get an experience of the local food scene. Do not miss out Tathagata Kitchen near Buddha Park, a Sikkimese restaurant offering best tastes from the land.
Things to do in Ravangla
- Buddha Park, also known as Tathagata Tsal situated within Rabong Gompa is the most popular tourist spot in Ravangla. The 130 ft high statue of Gautam Buddha, set against the backdrop of Himalayan ranges is a marvelous sight. The entire area is very well maintained and has ample space for visitors to sit and relax. There are souvenir shops and cafeterias where you could give a peek too. The park is open from 9 am to 5pm.
- Ravangla is the starting point of Maenam Hill Trek, which can be covered in a day. A steep trail through the Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary would lead you to the highest point of the trek, at an altitude of 10,300 ft. You could expect to spot Red Panda, Himalayan Black Bear and many species of deer on the trail. The view from the top is unimaginable, with an array of Himalayan ranges right before you. The valley of Kalimpong and Darjeeling are also visible on a clear day. If you intend to spend a night, you must carry all your camping gears and have a guide with you as there is no provision of hiring tents or camping gears in Ravangla.
- You could visit Doling Monastery and Seven Mirror lake, a fascinating spot which is not too famous among travelers yet, mostly because of the connectivity. You’d have to hire a cab to reach this place and get back to Ravangla as it is situated in a secluded area. If you have a bike with you, it would be quite convenient to visit this place.
Pelling is a spectacular destination in West Sikkim and a box full of treasure with a bundle of incredible places to visit. Apart from its enticing natural beauty, there are places of historical significance, spiritual relevance and architectural marvels. Pelling is on the verge of developing quite fast, with many luxury hotels being functional now. To cover Pelling and its surrounding places of interest, you should set aside at least three days. But in case you’re on a short trip, there are many companies that offer day long sightseeing packages combining the best of these places.
Where to Stay in Pelling
Where to Eat in Pelling
- Melting Pot Restobar for Sikkimese and Chinese dishes; they have a great view from the seating area in the balcony.
- Taatopani Resto Bar for Sikkimese and Nepali cuisines.
- Lotus Bakery for baked items and tea.
- Hotel Hishella Bar and Restaurant, a multicuisine restaurant a few kms outside Pelling, is a good option for a stopover meal on the way out.
Things to do in Pelling
- Visit the first skywalk of India in Pelling. Built adjacent to Sanga Choeling Monastery, this skywalk is the first of its kind. The pathway is made of glass and you’d be able to have a look down below while walking up to the 137 ft high statue of Chenrezig. It’s a thrilling experience that you should not miss at any cost.
- Make a visit to the 300 year old Pemayangtse Monastery. Built in the 17th century, this monastery is home to a large collection of Buddhist art, murals and scriptures.
- Rabdentse Ruins set within chestnut groves and deciduous forests used to be the palace of Sikkimese Kings till 19th century. A walk through these ruins would be a subtle encounter with the history of Sikkim hills.
- A drive for an hour and half would reach you to Kecheopalri lake, considered holy among both Buddhists and Hindus. It is commonly known as a wish fulfilling lake. The waters are crystal clear and it is said that the birds pick up even a piece of leaf that falls on the waters. Visit this holy lake and spend half a day to witness time slow down before you as you watch the swirling prayer flags beside the lake.
- 33 kms away from Pelling is Singshore bridge, Asia’s second highest suspension bridge. Walk down this bridge 240m long bridge and look at the breathless view around you.
- You could also visit the several hot springs around Pelling, known for their medicinal properties.
- Make a quick stop at Bermiok Bazaar or Rural Artisan Marketing Centre to pick up some souvenirs.
Road trips in Sikkim
Even though you’re mostly on the roads while you’re visiting Sikkim, there are two specific routes that deserve a separate mention as a road trip, as driving these routes have been some of the Most Memorable Experiences in the Himalayas, for some travellers.
The Old Silk Route in East Sikkim
Previously a trade route between India and Tibet, the Old Silk Route is not yet explored at great lengths. Zuluk used to be the transit point in this route and is now a place for stopover while covering this stretch. There are many places from where one can start the journey.
An ideal start could be from Gangtok and head over to Tsongmo Lake, explore the Nathu la pass, cross the entire stretch of Zuluk and return to Gangtok circling the entire route.
The 32 hairpin bends makes it an ideal destination for unforgettable road trip. Do not miss to catch the sunrise from Lungthung Shiva sunrise point, deviate from the main road for a while to have a look at Heart lake, and take amazing photographs at Gnathang valley.
It would not be an exaggeration if I say that a road trip to North Sikkim is a celestial experience. The surreal skies, lustrous snow, and bewitching high altitude lakes make North Sikkim look like a slice of heaven on earth.
The two hamlets Lachen and Lachung are the base in this trip where you’d be required to book your stay. From these two villages, you can head over to the places of higher altitude during the day.
The mesmerizing view of Gurudongmar Lake, situated at an altitude of 17,800 ft is the main highlight of a road trip to North Sikkim. Yumthang valley, Katao, Zero point add up to give you a once in a lifetime experience. You could also add Lhasar valley and Dzongu in your itinerary, two offbeat destinations in North Sikkim that do not attract the regular crowd.
7-Day itinerary for Sikkim
Day 1: Arrive at Bagdogra/New Jalpaiguri and transfer to Gangtok. Spend the evening strolling in MG Marg.
Day 2: Leave for Lachen. Reach Lachen by late afternoon and explore the village on foot; head to Lachen monastery, enjoy bonfire after dinner.
Day 3: The drive for Gurudongmar Lake starts at 4am. Visit the spectacular high altitude lake and return to Lachen by 10am. Spend some leisure time and transfer to Lachung post lunch. Spend the night in Lachung.
Day 4: Explore Yumthang Valley and Zero point. Transfer to Gangtok post lunch.
Day 5: Leave for Ravangla by 7am through the Temi Tea Estate route. Stop by the beautiful landscapes of Temi on the way. Visit Buddha Park and head to Pelling in the evening.
Day 6: Explore Pelling skywalk, Pemayangtse Monastery, Rabdentse Ruins, Kecheopalri Lake on a day tour. Stayover in Pelling.
Day 7: Leave for Bagdogra/New Jalpaiguri by 7am or earlier. You must book an evening flight/train or spend the night in Siliguri to take a flight/train the next morning, to be on the safer side.
Sikkim FAQs – Answered
Q – Do I need a permit to enter Sikkim?
Ans. An Indian National does not need any permit to enter Sikkim.
However, foreign nationals are required to have an Inner Line Permit to enter Sikkim that can be obtained from any Sikkim Tourism Office at New Delhi, Kolkata, District Magistrates Office of Darjeeling, Siliguri and Rangpo.
Q – What kinds of permits are required for Protected Areas?
Ans. For protected areas like Tsongmo lake, Nathu la Pass and North Sikkim, a Protected Area Permit is required for both Indian and Foreign nationals which is issued by the Sikkim Tourism Department and can be obtained through travel companies and tour operators.
In North Sikkim, areas beyond Singhik like Gurudongmar Lake, Thangu is a Restricted Area where only Indian Nationals are allowed to enter.
Q – Do I need any permit for visiting West and South Sikkim?
Ans. No, there is no permit required to visit West and South Sikkim for Indians.
The Inner Line Permit, issued while entering Sikkim is sufficient for Foreign Nationals.
Q – Can I visit North Sikkim without booking a package through a travel company?
Ans. Technically, no. You can’t visit North Sikkim without booking a stay-food-vehicle inclusive package from a registered tour agent because permits are not issued to individuals without making a booking.
However, if you’re going to North Sikkim on a bike, the bike rentals would arrange the permits for you and you’d have the option to book your accommodation yourself.
Things to remember
- It is advisable to carry enough cash as you might not find ATMs everywhere and there might be no provision of making e payments.
- Have a rough idea of the map and carry offline maps or prints, just to avoid any hassle.
- Carry extra layers of warm clothes. It might get chillier than you’d expect.
- Carry backup batteries for your camera if traveling to remote places. There might be no provision for charging your camera.
- For once, let Google rest and approach the locals with your queries. They’d give you better recommendations.
- Do not play loud music while traveling to remote areas. Respect the communities and the environment they’re used to be in.
- Do not miss out on having some hot maggi in local huts. Snow and maggi is the best travel combination.
- It’s advisable to carry your own steel or glass bottles and refill them. Sikkim is highly strict on the usage and disposal of plastic.
- Please do not litter any place you go to and stop others politely if they do.
- Read more about the regulations at Official website of Sikkim Tourism.
Sikkim, best known for its hospitality will never fail you in any aspect. On your visit to Sikkim, you will not only collect photographs but stories. The best way to experience Sikkim is to go local, strike a conversation with fellow passengers in the vehicle, ask more about the place to your hosts. You will take back much more than you ever expected!
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Hailing from the foothill town of Siliguri, Michelle takes immense interest in storytelling, through words and photographs. Having a home so close to the mountains is what she considers a gift. A law student at present, she often takes time out to travel to the mountains and pen down her experiences. She believes in giving back to the community through volunteering in local projects and strongly supports community tourism.