Skimming through Sikkim!

Culture, Offbeat, Things to Do , , , ,

Himalayan roads and colorful prayer flags; momos and soupy thukpas; scenic hilltop views and a good dose of monasteries make Sikkim an ideal place for hill-loving tourists. With its unique history (yep, it was a separate kingdom with a king and palaces and all, until as recent as 1975) and culture, this picturesque state has always been a tantalizing destination for adventurous travelers. I was lucky enough to spend a couple mind-blowing days exploring Sikkim last spring. It got over way too quickly, leaving so many places unexplored and me yearning for more! What would you do if you only had three days in Sikkim? This is what I did.

Gangtok for a Day!

Image Courtesy ~ Preethi Paul

 

Begin exploring Sikkim in the capital city. Gangtok has recently undergone extensive beautification and the well-lit walkways are covered in seasonal blooms and spring flower exhibitions. MG Marg, a traffic-free city center, is a great place to people-watch while sampling spicy chowmein. There are many trekking and touring companies littered on either side of this street. Most travelers like to use these services for venturing into the other parts of the state.

 

Tip:. The tourism office is very well staffed and helpful when it comes to planning around unplanned weather developments such as heavy snowfall.

Image Courtesy ~ Preethi Paul

 

If you are interested in the religious history of Sikkim, the Namgyal Institue of Tibetogoloy is an excellent pitstop to make. Some really interesting tantric artifacts made of human skulls are also in display, here.

But if skull-based crockery is not your idea of fun, then drive out of the main city to two really good view points, Ganesh Tok and Tashi Viewpoint. Both these points offer gorgeous city views of Gangtok and tiny tea stalls to enjoy. If you are lucky, you will get a beautiful fog-free view. Even if that is not the case, the trek up to these points are worth it. Take a small tea break and sample the mouth-watering snacks these shacks have to offer.

Tip: Some hikes can be fairly long hike, so I would wear really comfortable shoes.

Image Courtesy ~ Preethi Paul

 

Rumtek Monastery!

Image Courtesy ~ Preethi Paul

 

Rumtek Monastery is a short 23km (approx. 1 hr) drive from Gangtok. This sprawling monastery complex located in the village of Rumtek, is the home-in-exile of Tibetan Buddhism’s Black Hat sect. There are giant artistic murals to look out for, before entering the main prayer hall. Stick around in silence to see one of the prayer sessions in progress. It is a soothing experience and pretty much sets the mood for exploring the rest of Rumtek. There are a couple of buildings in this complex that contain venerated artifacts of Buddhism. Light a butter lamp and say a small prayer before leaving.

Tip: Most visitors like to add a one-day detour trip to Nathu La Pass and Changdu Lake.

Temi Tea Estate

Image Courtesy ~ Preethi Paul

 

While heading out from Gangtok to the southern and western parts of Sikkim, take a brief stop at Temi. If you reach early, you will be able to see tea pickers at work. This is the only tea estate in Sikkim and it offers photogenic green views for you to soak up. Speaking of green, Sikkim recently went on to become the first completely organic Indian state.

Tip: Don’t forget to sample this fine tea at the canteen.

Namc`hi

Image Courtesy ~ Preethi Paul

 

Namchi is most famous for the massive superstructures of Buddha and Padmasambhava. It is reminiscent of Hong Kong’s Tian Tan Buddha. Spend some time exploring all the exhibits in this complex. If you are a shutterbug, I can promise you that you will want to spend more than a few hours here. The statue is visible from miles away and you can get really creative with photographic angles.

Image Courtesy ~ Preethi Paul

 

Sakyamuni Complex, Ravangla

Image Courtesy ~ Preethi Paul

 

Once you have worked up an appetite, head out to Chaar Dhaam. A sort of a Hindu Disneyland, this complex contains replicas of famous pilgrimage points from all over India. It really is a theme park with a religious agenda—complete with car race rides and simulator shows for kids. The Yatri Niwas canteen within this complex is an economical lunch option worth exploring.

Tip: Most travelers don’t realise the abundance of excellent Nepali cuisine in Sikkim. Do venture away from that plate of steamy momos (as hard as that prospect may seem!) and try out a soulful Nepali Thali.

This is a brand new Buddhist complex that not only has an impressive Buddha statue, but also lovely walkways. You can walk inside the complex to see Buddhist relics from all corners of the world. The center also has hotels and meditation centers for visitors who would like to stay longer.

There are a few things to keep in mind when planning a trip in and around Gangtok. The roads that lead away from the capital city leaves much to be desired. A skillful and careful driver will make your trip much more enjoyable. Also, to avoid confusions and arguments, it is best if you can plot out the stopping points ahead of time.

Just planning a trip to Sikkim is an exciting prospect. Everything looks easy and reachable on paper, until you are actually on the road. So, the best way to see Sikkim is to be very relaxed about planning and to go with the flow. When we went to Sikkim, our ambitious ideas of gaping at yaks (in northern Yumthang Valley) and tippy toeing the China border (at Nathu La in the east) flew right out of the window! If only the weather would cooperate. Having said that, there always something to see or do in this tiny state. So your trip will never go in vain.

 

Author: Preethi Paul

Preethi Paul Kannath is living and learning the ways of the beautiful American South. She is curious and chatty with friendly strangers and hopes to publish a book someday. Follow her capers on Instagram at @oddgal.

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