Tucked between Bhutan, Nepal, and China at the foothills of the Himalayas lies one of the tiniest states of India – Sikkim. It’s a nature lover’s paradise, having a wide variety of flora and fauna. The panoramic view after climbing and trekking to the summit of the snow-capped mountains never ceases to amaze. The balance of hilly, undulating terrain with an even and widespread coat of greenery along with its fair few numbers of lakes makes the landscape of Sikkim one of the most picturesque and artistic to see.
A drive up to the state’s capital, Gangtok, from the city of Siliguri, takes normally around 4-5 hours depending on the road and the time of year. The drive ascends and meanders through the rocky mountain and the banks of the Teesta river. Known for its perfect blend of modern amenities and plethora of natural beauty, the city of Gangtok is one packed with surprises. MG Marg is the most popular and tourist-friendly street with plenty of eateries and hotels. However, it’s the nightlife here that is unique, funky and different – thereby making the experience more worthwhile. Gangtok is also well connected to other regions within the state.
What makes the state of Sikkim so fascinating is not only its scenic beauty – but also its involvement in world history. The eastern part of the state constituted a cardinal route of the ancient “Silk Road” which connected the East and the West, passing by places like Aritar, Zuluk, Padamchen, and Nathang towards the east of Gangtok. Trade between India and Tibet continued to flourish through the Nathula and Jelepla passes.
To the west of Gangtok, of course, is the pride of the state – Mt. Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world. There are densely forested regions around as well consisting of temperate, deciduous forests of poplar, birch, oak, and also, evergreen and coniferous trees of the wet alpine zone grow around. Smaller towns and cities to drive to and pass by include Pelling, Yuksom, Barsey, Ohkrey, Rinchenpong, and Kaluk. Down south, the stay in Ravangla, Ralong and the birding paradise known as Borong can be equally thrilling with breathtaking sights. The Temi Tea Garden is the only one of its kind in this part of Sikkim and is considered one of the best in India and in the world. Tea of the highest quality is produced here which is in demand in the international market.
To the north, despite being remote by the majority, is the tourist town of Lachen. This town is being promoted as a tourist destination by the Sikkimese government while forming the base to the Chopta Valley and the Gurudongmar Lake. This quaint town is also close to one of the most must-see attractions of the state – the Valley of Flowers. However, the triangular region of the Dzongu Valley and the village is what’s called Sikkim’s “hidden treasure”. Bounded by the Kanchenjunga biosphere and the Teesta and Tholung Chu rivers, this area is inhabited by a tribe known as the Lepchas. With multicolored prayer flags fluttering in the high-altitude breeze around their small huts for houses, the Lepcha tribe residing here are the among the warmest people one can meet.
The Nepalese, Bhutanese and Tibetans are few of the prominent nationalities of citizens living together in harmony and making the state look like what it is today. Official languages conversed in are normally Nepali, Sikkimese, and Lepcha; however, there are other dialects as well spoken in other areas. Together, they celebrate the Buddhist festivals like “Losar” (Tibetan New Year), “Loosong”, “Bhumchu” etc. People here enjoy the sports of football, archery, and cricket – although hand gliding and river rafting have made a niche for themselves as part of tourism.
Tips: One is encouraged to just wander free down the roads less taken and challenge his or her fitness levels by taking a hike up the hills and mountains; thus, losing themselves chasing and building up an appetite for some serious adventure. It can be quite certain that while doing so, prayer flags of rainbow-colored hues can be seen swaying and dancing in the wind. Let them and the sounds from the chants/prayers of the Buddhist monks from a nearby monastery guide you along the way to attain a sense of spiritual satisfaction.