Sikkim, a Himalayan state in the North East of India, happened to be our travel destination for the summer vacation May 2022. And can’t be happier about our decision. Here’s penning my experience and some helpful tips.
Gangtok (the capital of Sikkim) is roughly a 4 hr drive along the hills, from Bagdogra Airport (The nearest airport, which happens to be in West Bengal). Though we travelled from Mumbai to Bagdogra via Delhi (Delhi- Bagdogra is a 2hr long flight), there are direct flights available from Mumbai and some other cities.
Destinations we covered in 7D and 6N.
- Gangtok (East Sikkim)is a bustling city, and on the day we arrived at Gangtok, we spent the evening shopping at the chic Mahatma Gandhi Road and at the Gangtok Ropeway. You can go also drive a little further to Hanuman Toki, the Museum etc. Our agent hadn’t added these to the itinerary, but they can be easily covered by hiring a local taxi.
- Nathula Pass– Early next morning, we set out on a day trip to Tsangmo Lake, Baba Mandir and Nathula Pass(North Sikkim). There are permits required for this particular trip, which I will be mentioning at the end of this travelogue. Nathula pass is located at an altitude of more than 14000ft, it’s where the Indo China border is located and photography is strictly prohibited. Tsongmo lake is huge and breathtaking, with fog lifting over the blue waters. You could also enjoy a Yak ride or get clicked in the traditional Sikkimese outfit. The entire trip takes about 9 hours, we reached Gangtok by 5 in the evening.
- Lachung– The trip from Gangtok to Lachung (North Sikkim) is hardly a few kilometres, but takes around 6 hours to cover, thanks to the numerous waterfalls en-route. Words can’t do justice to the beauty of the flowing Teesta River, the bridges and the mountains. Lachung is a quaint little town and our room offered a mindboggling view of snow-capped mountains and river Teesta.
- Zero Point and Yumthang Valley– The next morning, as early as 6 am, we set out for a day trip to Zero Point, the origin of Teesta River. Situated at an altitude of over 15000 feet, the temperatures dropped real low and to add to the beauty, it was snowing. The journey takes around 2 hours and it’s an open space at the foot of Himalayas, with the infant Teesta gurgling, surrounded by the mighty mountains. Our next stop was Yumthang Valley, adorned with green meadows, grazing yaks and blooming flowers. The calm, the serenity and the nature, could bring peace to a troubled mind. Post lunch, we set out for the return journey to Gangtok.
- Gangtok to Namchi to Pelling – This journey takes you from the East to South Sikkim(Namchi), where you can visit the grand Char Dhaam temple and Samdruptse Monastery. We took a detour to Buddha- Park as well, wasn’t mentioned in the itinerary, but it’s unmissable. And then we proceeded to Pelling( West Sikkim.) The entire journey took around 7 hours, we arrived at Pelling in the evening.
- Pelling- The last leg of our journey, this should be the most beautiful city I visited in Sikkim, the land of monasteries, the Wish Lake, jungle walks, waterfalls and of course, the latest attraction, The Sky Walk. The Sky Walk takes you over the hills, to the majestic Chenrezig Statue, this is a must-do.
- We returned on the 7th Day, you could take an Extra Day, make it 8D 7N, and cover LACHEN, we couldn’t unfortunately. It’s supposed to be very beautiful and close to Lachung.
Yak Ride along Tsongmo Lake
Seven Sisters Waterfall en-route Lachung (one of the many)
Namchi- Samdruptse Monastety and Buddha- Park
The Sky Walk
A word of caution
The atmospheric oxygen level could get a little scanty at Nathula Pass and Zero point. Some travellers could experience a light headache or vomiting sensation. If you feel a little giddy, it’s advisable to stay inside the vehicle.
Nathula Pass and Zero point are not mentioned in most of the travel itineraries. You would need to pay your driver a little extra (read 4-5K) for these, but it’s worth it.
The roads are narrow and it rains unexpectedly at times. Rains make the journey all the more beautiful, but as there’s a risk of landslides and huge traffic jams, so be prepared for longer journeys, especially if you are travelling to the airport. People prone to traveling sickness should take all precautions as the roads are steep and winding.
Permits (Documents to carry)
Special permits are required to travel to Baba Mandir, Nathula Pass and the Zero Point, as you need to cross Army Check posts. Contact the travel agent prior to the trip, most probably, the driver gets it done. Passports, Adhar cards, passport size photos are required.
We travelled in May, but it was raining and pretty cold. Winters see snowfall as well. For us, Lachung was at 4 degrees. The temperatures at Nathula Pass and Zero point are always Sub-Zero, you need to carry heavy woollens. We wore our thermals and heavy winter jackets, socks, gloves and caps. You can hire winter clothes for rent, at some shops, close to these points.
Most of the hotels offer complimentary breakfast which generally includes parantha, idli, bread, poori sabzi, etc. Cities like Gangtok and Pelling offer a variety of restaurants, which serve all palettes- Pizzas, sandwiches, rotis, rice…. While you travel, you could find a bunch of tea stalls, lined almost everywhere, which offer excellent tea, coffee Maggi, Wai- Wai and Momos. Most of these little tea shops are extremely clean and we had no difficulty in finding vegetarian food. Clean, Pay and Use Restroom facilities too are easily available.
I haven’t seen kinder folks, the Sikkimese people go out of the way to help you. The food stall owners serve you with a smile, there is a home like environment everywhere. People in Sikkim do not litter, they strive to keep their state clean and beautiful. There are garbage bins at every view point and there’s no touting or cheating anywhere. Animals too are treated well. Nepali is the local language, but Hindi and English are widely understood.