If you’re in search of a destination that seamlessly blends awe-inspiring natural beauty with rich cultural diversity, you’re in for a treat. Nestled in the northeastern part of India, Sikkim is a hidden gem that beckons with its mystical allure and pristine landscapes.
embark on an unforgettable exploration of Sikkim, a land where lofty Himalayan peaks pierce the sky, emerald-green forests teem with life, and vibrant cultures converge to create a tapestry of traditions. In this travel blog, we will unravel the secrets of this Himalayan paradise, revealing the wonders that await intrepid travelers.
Whether you’re an adventure enthusiast seeking thrilling treks, a nature lover yearning for encounters with rare wildlife, a cultural connoisseur eager to immerse yourself in local customs, or simply someone in need of a tranquil escape from the chaos of everyday life, Sikkim has something extraordinary to offer you. Here is my Sikkim Travel Guide to help you plan your trip better.
Important Travel Information and Tips
Here is some important travel information to help you plan your trip to Sikkim:
Travel Permit: Foreign tourists are required to obtain an Inner Line Permit to visit Sikkim, but Indian nationals do not need any permission to visit Sikkim. There are however special permits needed to visit Nathula Pass and North Sikkim at nominal charges. Permits for Nathula Pass are not issued for children below the age of five due to low oxygen levels at that altitude.
Vehicle Permit: You can take your own vehicle to Gangtok, but to visit Nathula Pass and North Sikkim, you will need an additional vehicle permit.
Important Documents: Make sure you carry your driving license or voter’s ID as your ID cards. Aadhaar card is not accepted as IDs in Sikkim for the permits. Apart from that, carry several copies of your passport-size photos and IDs. For children, carry their school ID cards.
For more details check out these guidelines by the Sikkim Government
Travel Planning: I usually encourage people to not depend on travel agencies for tours, but in the case of Sikkim, due to the various restrictions and permit requirements, it is best to book a travel agency for a hassle-free trip. However, wait until you get to Bagdogra or NJP to book packages as they are much cheaper than what you would get from booking from your own city.
Food Options: While you may get many options in Gangtok, as you move farther from Gangtok, your options get quite limited, especially in vegetarian meals. You will get only rice as the staple meal outside Gangtok and no chapatis.
Booking Stay: While travel agencies in Bagdogra and NJP can arrange a stay as well for you, I would highly recommend booking a place of your choice beforehand. This is because during the peak seasons, all good places will be taken away with pre-booking and you will have to compromise on quality if the agency-arranged stay is the only option in front of you.
Travel & Altitude Sickness: You can tour Sikkim only by road and due to the terrain, there are a lot of winding roads and hairpin curves. If you are prone to travel sickness or altitude sickness, take special care. Using a travel sickness band can help you with the journey.
Best Places to Visit in Sikkim
Sikkim is a haven for nature lovers, adventure seekers, and culture enthusiasts. Here is a list of the best places to visit in Sikkim.
Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim is literally in the heart of the state. Wherever you want to go in Sikkim, Gangtok is where you start. Gangtok is a tourist destination itself, and here are the main attractions of the city:
MG Marg, Gangtok
MG Marg, a bustling pedestrian-only street is the city’s main hub for shopping, dining, and leisurely strolls. Lined with a variety of shops, cafes, and restaurants, MG Marg is where locals and tourists converge. Whether you’re sampling Sikkimese cuisine, sipping on a hot cup of tea, or simply people-watching, MG Marg provides an ideal introduction to the local culture.
Just a short drive from Gangtok lies the renowned Rumtek Monastery, a must-visit for those seeking spiritual experiences and architectural beauty. This Buddhist monastery is an oasis of tranquility, boasting intricate artwork, vibrant frescoes, and a serene atmosphere. It’s a place where you can find inner peace and immerse yourself in Sikkim’s rich spiritual heritage.
For panoramic views of Gangtok and the mountains beyond, a visit to Hanuman Tok is essential. Perched on a hilltop, this temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman offers breathtaking vistas. The short hike to reach the temple is an adventure in itself, rewarding you with spectacular views and a sense of tranquility.
Located on a hilltop just a short drive from Gangtok, the Enchey Monastery is another gem of Sikkim. Surrounded by lush greenery, it’s a peaceful retreat offering a glimpse into the spiritual side of Sikkim. The monastery’s intricate architecture and serene ambiance make it a perfect place for reflection.
Do Drul Chorten Stupa
The Do Drul Chorten Stupa is not only an important religious site but also an architectural marvel. Surrounded by lush gardens and prayer flags, it’s a place where you can spin the prayer wheels for blessings and inner peace.
Located in North Sikkim, Lachung is a tranquil village that offers a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Lachuing is a must-visit destination in Sikkim and I would call it the best part of our trip to Sikkim.
Lachung is approximately 118 kilometers away from Gangtok. The journey to Lachung takes you through winding roads that offer stunning views of the Himalayan terrain.
Lachung is known for its breathtaking natural beauty. Surrounded by snow-capped peaks, lush green valleys, and pristine rivers, this village is a paradise for nature lovers and photographers. The Yumthang Valley, often referred to as the “Valley of Flowers,” is a highlight, with its vibrant rhododendron blooms during spring (April to June).
Yumthang Valley is the crown jewel of Lachung. It’s not just the colorful blooms that make this place special; it’s also the natural hot springs known for their therapeutic properties. A dip in these hot springs is not only relaxing but also a unique experience amidst the mountainous terrain.
For the adventurous souls, Zero Point is a must-visit destination near Lachung. Located at an altitude of around 15,300 feet, Zero Point is as far as civilians are allowed. The landscape here is raw and untamed, with snow-covered terrain that makes it feel like the edge of the world.
Lachung is not just about natural beauty; it also has a spiritual side. The Lachung Monastery is a serene and peaceful place to visit. Surrounded by lush greenery, it offers an opportunity for quiet introspection and a glimpse into the local culture.
Accommodation and Dining
You will need to spend a night in Lachung as part of the trip. Here you will get only basic accommodation options, simple food, and poor network connectivity. All of these will be compensated by the beauty surrounding the place.
Lachen is a picturesque village that serves as the gateway to some of the most pristine and awe-inspiring natural wonders in the Himalayas. Surrounded by towering peaks, lush valleys, and crystal-clear rivers, Lachen beckons travelers seeking an escape into the heart of the mountains.
Nestled at an altitude of around 13,200 feet (4,023 meters), the Chopta Valley is a hidden gem that often gets overshadowed by its more famous counterparts. However, it’s precisely this obscurity that makes Chopta so special. The valley is known for its breathtaking landscapes, carpeted with wildflowers during the summer months. It’s a paradise for nature lovers and photographers alike.
One of the crown jewels of the region, Gurudongmar Lake is located at an astonishing altitude of 17,800 feet (5,430 meters), making it one of the highest lakes in the world.
The lake is believed to have religious significance for both Buddhists and Hindus and is named after Guru Padmasambhava. Gurudongmar Lake remains frozen during the winter months but thaws during summer, offering visitors stunning views of its pristine blue waters and the surrounding snow-clad peaks.
Nathula Pass is a historic high-altitude border crossing between India and China. At 14,140 feet, this pass offers breathtaking views of the Himalayas. Nathula Pass is situated approximately 56 kilometers from Gangtok.
Tourists are allowed to Nathula Pass only on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. If you are with a travel agency, they will book accordingly, but keep the days in mind to avoid getting scammed. The permit charges are Rs. 200 per person.
One of the primary reasons to visit Nathula Pass is its natural beauty. The landscape here is characterized by rugged mountains, pristine snowfields, and clear, blue skies. During the summer months, you can witness vibrant alpine flowers in full bloom, creating a colorful carpet against the stark mountain backdrop.
Nathula Pass serves as an important border crossing between India and China. Visitors have the unique opportunity to get close to the Indo-China border and observe the Chinese soldiers on the other side. The border area is a restricted zone, and photography is generally not permitted.
Tsomgo Lake (Changu Lake)
A visit to Tsomgo Lake, also known as Changu Lake, is a captivating journey into nature’s embrace. Located approximately 40 kilometers from Gangtok and on the way to Nathula Pass, this high-altitude glacial lake is a stunning sight. Surrounded by snow-capped peaks, the lake’s crystal-clear waters create a mirror-like reflection of the surrounding landscape. You can take a memorable yak ride or simply revel in the serene beauty of this natural wonder.
A visit to Nathula Pass wouldn’t be complete without experiencing a yak ride. Yaks, with their shaggy fur and sturdy build, are well-suited to the high-altitude terrain. Riding one of these majestic animals adds a touch of adventure and authenticity to your Nathula Pass experience.
Baba Harbhajan Singh Temple
Another significant attraction near Nathula Pass is the Baba Harbhajan Singh Temple. This temple is dedicated to a brave Indian soldier who lost his life near Nathula Pass. His spirit is believed to protect the soldiers posted in this challenging region. The temple is a place of reverence and a testament to the sacrifices made by the Indian armed forces.
Other Places to Visit in Sikkim
A typical trip to Sikkim covers Gangtok, Lachung, Lachen, and Nathula Pass. But if you want to explore more of Sikkim, here are some of my suggestions:
Visit Namchi to witness the world’s largest statue of Guru Padmasambhava at Samdruptse Hill. Explore the Char Dham complex, a pilgrimage site housing replicas of four revered Indian temples.
Pelling is renowned for its unparalleled views of Mount Kanchenjunga. Explore the Pemayangtse Monastery and the historic Rabdentse Ruins to delve into Sikkim’s rich history and spirituality. The tranquility of this place is sure to rejuvenate your soul.
For travelers seeking an off-the-beaten-path experience, Zuluk is the answer. Winding roads, lush landscapes, and a sense of tranquility make this hidden gem a delight for the adventurous soul.
Best Time to Visit Sikkim
March to May and September to November are the best seasons to visit Sikkim. Here is an overview of what you can expect in each season:
Spring (March to May): This is one of the most popular times to visit Sikkim. The weather is mild, with temperatures ranging from 11°C to 23°C (52°F to 73°F) in most areas. During spring, the rhododendrons and other wildflowers are in full bloom, creating a stunning landscape. It’s an excellent time for trekking, wildlife viewing, and enjoying the local flora.
Summer (June to August): The summer months in Sikkim bring the monsoon season, with heavy rainfall. While the lush greenery is at its peak during this time, landslides and road closures due to rain can make travel challenging. If you don’t mind the rain and want to experience the region’s natural beauty, you can visit during this period.
Autumn (September to November): This is another fantastic time to visit Sikkim. The monsoon ends in September, and the weather becomes more pleasant. Clear skies and cooler temperatures make it ideal for trekking, sightseeing, and outdoor activities. The views of the Himalayan peaks, including Kanchenjunga, are often the clearest during this season.
Winter (December to February): Winters in Sikkim are cold, with temperatures ranging from 4°C to 7°C (39°F to 45°F) in lower altitudes and dropping below freezing in higher areas. Snowfall is common in the high-altitude regions, making it a great time for snow enthusiasts. However, many tourist attractions may be inaccessible due to heavy snowfall.
How to Reach Sikkim
Sikkim does not have any railway station. You can reach Sikkim either by road or by air. You can also get to the nearest railway station in West Bengal and get a cab from there.
Pakyong Airport (PYG): Another option is the Pakyong Airport, which is the first airport in Sikkim. It’s situated around 30 kilometers from Gangtok. However, there are only two daily flights, one from Delhi and one from Kolkata to Pakyong, making it a very challenging flight to book for peak tourist seasons.
Bagdogra Airport (IXB): The nearest major airport to Sikkim is Bagdogra Airport in West Bengal, which is approximately 124 kilometers from Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim. You can reach Bagdogra Airport via domestic flights from major Indian cities like Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai, and Guwahati. From Bagdogra, you can hire a taxi or take a shared cab to reach Gangtok.
Bagdogra to Gangtok Taxi Charges: Rs. 3500-4500 (4+1 seater) and Rs. 5000-6500 (6+1 seater)
Bus services are available at a much cheaper rate.
The nearest railway station to Sikkim is New Jalpaiguri Railway Station (NJP) in Siliguri, West Bengal. It’s well-connected to major cities in India. From NJP, you can hire a taxi or take a shared cab to reach Gangtok, which is about a 4-5 hour drive away. The scenic journey through the foothills of the Himalayas is an experience in itself.
NJP to Gangtok Taxi Charges: Rs. 3500-4500 (4+1 seater) and Rs. 5500-6500 (6+1 seater)
Bus services are available at a much cheaper rate.
Sikkim is accessible by road, but be prepared for winding mountain roads and changing weather conditions.
From Siliguri: If you’re starting your journey from Siliguri, you can hire a taxi or take a shared cab to Gangtok. The journey takes around 4-5 hours.
From Darjeeling: If you’re visiting Darjeeling first, you can continue your journey to Gangtok from there. The drive is approximately 3-4 hours.
How to Get Around in Sikkim
There are only two ways for you to get around in Sikkim, by a private cab or by a shared taxi. A shared taxi is much cheaper than a private cab as they fill ten people into an SUV.
Even though we traveled as a family of four, we opted for the shared taxis. Another advantage we found was that since it was so packed, we were not tossing left and right inside the taxi while taking the hairpin turns and this kept travel sickness at bay!
A disadvantage of shared taxi is you have no choice in your co-travelers.
What to Eat in Sikkim
Sikkim’s cuisine is a reflection of its diverse culture, geography, and history. From the Tibetan-influenced momos and Thukpa to the unique fermented dishes like Gundruk and Sinki, Sikkim offers a culinary experience like no other. Check these out on your trip to Sikkim:
Let’s start with Sikkim’s most famous dish: momos. These dumplings have become a beloved staple throughout India and are equally adored in Sikkim. Momos are typically stuffed with a variety of fillings, such as minced meat (usually pork, chicken, or beef) or vegetables, and seasoned with a blend of herbs and spices. They are usually served with fiery chili sauce or a flavorful broth, making them a comforting and satisfying snack or meal.
Another popular and hearty Tibetan-influenced dish is Thukpa, a noodle soup that’s perfect for warming up during Sikkim’s cooler months. It typically contains flat or round noodles, meat (chicken, pork, or beef), vegetables, and aromatic herbs, all simmered in a flavorful broth. Thukpa is a soul-soothing option and a must-try for anyone visiting Sikkim.
Phagshapa is a delightful Sikkimese pork stew that showcases the region’s unique flavors. The dish features chunks of pork belly cooked with radishes and dried red chilies. The result is a spicy and tangy dish that packs a punch and pairs beautifully with steamed rice.
Gundruk is a fermented leafy green vegetable dish that is a staple in Sikkim. Usually made from mustard greens or spinach, it is fermented and preserved for extended use. Gundruk is used in various dishes, adding a tangy and slightly sour flavor to soups, stews, and even as a side dish. It’s a testament to the resourcefulness and sustainability of Sikkim’s cuisine.
Sinki is another fermented delight from Sikkim, made by sun-drying sliced radishes and allowing them to ferment. This preserved vegetable is used to enhance the flavor of soups and stews. It’s a fantastic example of how Sikkimese cuisine makes use of natural preservation methods to create unique and flavorful ingredients.
Chhurpi is a traditional Sikkimese cheese made from cow’s or yak’s milk. It is a hardened, dried cheese that’s often used as a chewy snack or grated over dishes for added richness. It can be found in various forms, and some varieties are quite pungent.
For those with a sweet tooth, Sel Roti is a popular traditional snack in Sikkim. It’s a crispy, ring-shaped rice-based doughnut that’s deep-fried to golden perfection. Sel Roti is often enjoyed with a cup of tea or a sweet yogurt dip, making it a delightful treat for any time of day.
To wash down all the delicious Sikkimese dishes, try Chaang, a traditional millet-based alcoholic beverage. It’s mildly alcoholic and is made by fermenting millet seeds. Locals often serve it during festivals and special occasions, and it’s a great way to experience Sikkim’s unique drinking culture.
What to Pack for Sikkim
Here is a checklist of what to pack on a Sikkim trip.
Warm Clothes: Even during the summer, nights can be chilly, and higher elevations are cold year-round. Pack sweaters, fleece jackets, and a warm winter coat.
Lightweight Clothing: For lower altitudes and daytime excursions, bring breathable, moisture-wicking clothing like T-shirts and light pants.
Comfortable Footwear: Sturdy, waterproof hiking boots are essential if you plan on trekking. Also, pack a pair of comfortable sneakers or walking shoes for exploring cities and towns.
Sun Protection: Don’t forget sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunscreen, as the sun can be quite intense at higher altitudes.
Gloves and Beanie: Essential for colder weather and high-altitude treks.
Umbrella: In addition to your rain gear, an umbrella can be handy for sudden showers in towns.
ID cards and Passport-Size Photos: Carry original ID cards, copies, and 4-6 copies of your passport-size photo.
I wish you a wonderful trip to Sikkim and hope that my Sikkim Travel Guide helped you plan your trip better. If you would like me to add any other information here, do let me know in the comments. After your trip, do come back and share your experience in the comments. I would love to hear from you.
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