Many people dream of a trip to the beautiful and majestic Himalayas and Sikkim is a wonderful place to enjoy the mountain range as well as engage in other fabulous activities. Over the years Sikkim has become a popular tourist locale. Sikkim has eleven official languages. Though English is not one of them, many residents speak English as it is taught in school and is used on all government documents.
Sikkim, a state of India, is located in the lower Himalayas, bordered by Nepal to the west, Bhutan to the southeast, West Bengal to the west and Tibet to the northeast. The climate ranges from the warm subtropical weather to the cold of the high alpine. Five seasons are experienced by the 500,000 residents of the state: winter, spring, summer, fall, and the monsoon season between June and September.
Sikkim is nestled in a crescent of the Himalayas. There are 28 mountain peaks; the largest, Kanechegunga, is the world’s third highest peak. Kanechegunga is located on the border with Nepal. The area contains 80 glaciers and 227 high-altitude lakes.
Activities in Sikkim
A trip to Sikkim offers a variety of activities. This beautiful state has five hot springs known for their medicinal and therapeutic aspects. The average water temperature is a relaxing 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius). The most popular hot springs are at Phurchachu (Reshi), Yumthang, Borang, Ralang, Taram-chu, and Yumey Sandong.
Many opportunities for hiking are offered and along the paths hikers may see many of the 5,000 flowering plants indigenous to the area. The region boasts 515 rare orchid species and over 424 different medicinal plant species. Fig, banana and bamboo trees among many others can be seen in the area. Lucky hikers may get a glimpse of the elusive snow leopard as well as musk deer, the Himalaya black bear, Tibetan wolf, marbled cat or the clouded leopard.
The mountainsCredit: Anuj Kumar Pradhan are also wonderful for biking, hang gliding and mountaineering. In addition, the rivers offer exciting rafting and kayaking opportunities. The most popular rivers are the Teesta and the Rangit. Both rivers offer long stretches for safe rafting and kayaking. The Teesta is graded “4” on the international scale for rafting. It features a series of rapids. More experienced rafters will find the Rangit challenging with the more turbulent waters in this river.
Adventurers wanting a more unique experience will enjoy a yak safari. Yaks are beasts of burden in Sikkim. They are used for milk and for their meat, much as cows are in the United States. Riding a yak will be a “once in a lifetime” experience. The safari route starts in Dzongiri in West Sikkim and extends to the Tsomgo Lake area.
Popular tourist attractions include the almost 200 monasteries. Many of these monasteries were built in the early 17th century. Three types of monasteries are located in the Indian state. The first type is known as Takphu, meaning “rock cave.” Monasteries where monks live and are schooled are called Gompas. Gompa translates to “place of solitude.” These monasteries are built on ridges with a lake front whenever possible. Monasteries with temples only are called Mani Lakhangs.
The most important of the takphu monasteries are the Lha-ri nying Phu which translates to “the Old Cave on God’s Hill,” the Kah-do Sang Phu which translates to “Cave of the Occult Fairies,” the Pe-phu and the De-chhen Phu which translates to “the Cave of Happiness.” The Lha-ri nying in North Sikkim is considered the most holy of the monasteries and has the hardest walk to reach it. It requires a three day hike above the town of Tashiding. The Kah-do Sang Phu is located in South Sikkim. It is one of the easiest to reach featuring a five-minute walk across a bamboo bridge. The De-chhen Phu monastery is only accessible in the autumn because the snow hides it the remainder of the year. To reach the monastery it is a three day hike above Dzongiri.
Historical buildings, bird watching, sampling local fare and walking through a zoo of the natural wildlife will give the tourist a well-rounded experience of the culture of Sikkim. Native wildlife include the red panda and the barking deer. A permanent flower show displays the beautiful flora of the area.
Local cuisine includes momo which is a dish of steamed or fried meat or vegetables served with soup and chili sauce; gya thuk or thukpa, a dish of noodles mixed with meat or eggs and sometimes vegetables with a soup base. Another traditional dish not usually served in restaurants but in homes is the ningro with churpi. The ningro is an alpine fern. The tendrils are sautéed with a type of cheese called churpi. Other dishes served in restaurants include gundruk, leaves of mustard oil plants, dried and cooked with onions and tomatoes and phagshapa, strips of pork fat stewed with radishes and dried chilies. Bamboo shoots are also used in many Sikkim dishes. Buffalo meat or pork served with soup is a popular snack. Many of the restaurants serve some continental dishes along with the local fare. Some of the hotels offer buffets with alternating local, Indian, oriental and continental dishes.
A local beer, called chaang is popular with natives of the state. Made by fermenting mullet by using yeast, the beer is sipped from a bamboo container using a bamboo pipe. The container has mullet in it and is refilled with warm water after two or three long sips until the mullet loses its flavor.
For traditional activities in 2009 the capital, Gangtok, added a casino in the Hotel Royal plaza. It offers slot machines, Baccarat, roulette, black jack and other card games. Betting is made with chips which must be purchased prior to playing. Most hotels in the larger cities feature bars with specialty and local drink concoctions. There are also various clubs and discos for those who want a lively night out on the town.
Plan Ahead for a Trip to Sikkim, India
Taking the trip to the paradise in the Himalayas does require some planning ahead. A visa is required to enter the country of Indian. In addition, inner line permits (ILP) are required to visit Sikkim. These permits can be obtained from Indian Missions Tourism Offices in New Delhi, and Sikkim Tourism Offices in Calcutta and Siligura. The ILP are good for 15 days and can be extended twice for 15 days each extension. To obtain the ILP, photocopies of the passport and visa are required along with two passport photos of the applicant.
Hiking in the interior of Sikkim requires a Restricted Area Permit (RAP) or a Protected Area Permit (PAP). These can be obtained in Gangtok from the Police Check Post or the Department of Tourism. There is a two person minimum for the permits. For groups of four or more, the permits are required to be arranged through a registered travel agency. The permits are only issued to local government registered travel agencies. Travel agencies can also aid in acquiring the RAP or PAP for two or three people. Passports must be stamped at all check points while traveling in Sikkim. Tsomgo Lake, Nathula Pass and North Sikkim are all considered protected areas and require permits. In addition, all mountaineering requires a permit.
The state of Sikkim does not have any airports due to the rough terrain. The closest airport to Gangtok is the Bagdogra Airport in Siliguri, West Bengal, about 124 kilometers (about 77 miles) from Gangtok. A helicopter service runs daily from the airport to Gangtok and accommodates a party of up to four. Plans for three small airports are in the works for the state of Sikkim. Construction on the first was to start in Credit: photo by Kalyan Neelamraju2011 near the small community of Pakyong. Private jeeps, buses and taxis transport tourists around Sikkim. Public transportation is minimal in the Himalayan state. The closest railway stations are in Siliguri and New Jalpaiguri.
The local currency of Sikkim is the Indian rupee. The best places in the area to exchange currency is the Bank of Baroda, the Bank of India, Canara Bank, Central Bank of India, Oriental Bank of Commerce, State Bank of India, State Bank of Sikkim, UCO Bank, UTI Bank and the Vijaya Bank.
Inexperienced travelers are advised to use a travel agency to help with trip arrangements. The best time to visit Sikkim is between March and June or September and December.
The copyright of the article “What You Need to Know for a Sikkim Vacation” is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.