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Mr.J.Lakshmi Narayanan, Deputy Office Superintendent, Central Excise, Salem is the author of this article
I had been to Sikkim recently with my wife. It’s a tour on LTC to NER by air. Seven of my colleagues also travelled with me along with their families to this one of the most beautiful terrains in India that nestled in the Himalayas. I just thought of sharing my experience with Gconnect readers to make their tour to this must-see place in the future more pleasurable.
We traveled by air from our place and landed at Bagdogra. we engaged a Prepaid Taxi service run by West Bengal taxi association right near the exit gate of airport to reach Gangtok. The bill given by them has the stamp ” LTC approved”. By using National Highway 31A and National Highway 31 together we reached Gangtok via Siliguri after around traveling 5 hours.
The next day we visited North Sikkim (Yumtang valley) on a package tour for 2 days and 1 night. It costs Rs.1000 per head. The package includes boarding and lodging (economy hotels). North Sikkim is called as mini Switzerland and is extremely scenic.
On the way we stopped at Tashi View Point, 8 km from Sikkim along North Sikkim Highway, a place from where mighty mountain of Kangchenjunga and Mt Siniolchu can be seen.
It was a tedious 8 hour long journey on the roads exposed to landslides, heavy rain fall and flooding by nearby streams. At last we reached Yumthang valley at night. And in the dawn, scenic YUMTANG valley (12000 FT Above Sea level) surrounded by icy mountains, chill water river and hot springs, the Zero point of India ( 15000 ft), and Rhododendron trees with colourful flowers along the way to Zero point refreshed us fully to make us fit to travel back.
Next Day we planned for local sight seeing of Gangtok which is the state’s only significant town.
On hearing that the road up to Tsongmo Lake on the way to Nathula Pass was opened for touring, we arranged a vehicle to visit the lake which is 39 Kms away. I have no words to explain the icy scenic beauty. We could not visit Nathula Pass & Baba mandir due to rough weather and land slides. Tsongmo Lake on the old trade route to Tibet is an oval shaped lake, (12,400 ft) means source of all lake in Bhutia languages. You will feel inside a huge freezer while you are in the icy lake surrounded by ice clad hills. And by noon, we were compelled to leave immediately as ice rain started. Yes, throughout the way back to Gangtok we experienced the rain of ice droplets.
Next day we left for Darjeeling (3-4 hours journey from gangtok). On the way to Darjeeling we enjoyed 7 Kms of Teesta white water rafting.
- The zig zag turns, steep ridges and rugged mountains invites your guts! Nothing is as adventurous as mountain biking in Gangtok.
- Teesta and the Rangeet offer good stretch for White Water Rafting rapids.
- The stout-hearted can take a thrilling ride down Sikkim’s many rivers in fiberglass kayaks.
- Chang, a local brew of Sikkim tastes wonderful and leaves a lurking heart.
- Deorali Orchid Sanctuary, Gangtok, is home to myriads of Orchids, swaying in elegance to mesmerize the onlookers.
- An air of enchantment hangs in the monasteries of Sikkim. Peekaboo in unique way of life of Lamas.
- Be a part of Chaam dance where every on is masked and celebrates good over evil.
- Shop for Thangkas, chotksee, woolens, local handicraft from the markets.
- Snowfalls are a common phenomenon through all months of the year. Enjoy it exclusively.
- Visit Tsomgo Lake to see the real awe of nature.
Other Places to visit:
Rumtek Dharma Chakra Centre
Location: 24 km from Gangtok
Rumtek, the largest of all monasteries throughout Sikkim, is the finest exemplar of Tibetian architecture.
Kyongnosla Alpine Sanctuary
Location: 31 km from Gangtok; areas abutting Tsomgo (Changu) Lake parallel to Nathula Lake.
Main Attraction: Red Pandas
A National Park of India, is located in East Sikkim and acquires 31 sq km of area at a mountainous acme of 3,292 mts varying to 4116 mts. In its immense length, as long as 15 miles, it preserves variegated species of flora and fauna, rare and wild.
Jawaharlal Nehru Botanical Garden
Location: Very close to Rumtek Monastery
Covered with shades of green the Garden is a treasure trove of uncommon plant and species of Sikkim flowers. Dense sylvan surroundings of Oak forests and almost 50 varieties of tree species, several of plants, flowers and shrubs characterize Nehru Botanical Garden
Location: Situated on the ridge next to Television Tower, 7 km from Gangtok on the Gangtok-Nathula state.
A not-very-big temple, Ganesh Tok is a Lord Ganesha Temple that allows one entry at a time and one might have to crawl on feet to get inside the temple. Ganesh Tok, or the Ganesh Temple straddles at a height of 7, 500 mts lending out beautiful view of the whole of Gangtok and the third highest peak – Kanchenjunga to the visitors there.
Do Drul Chorten
Location: On the hill hock adjacent to the Tibetology Institute.
Also known as Phurba, is a widely known and significant stupa in Gangtok. Girdled with 108 prayer wheels around the chorten, it has holy inscription: Om Mani Padme Hum, on its prayer wheels which a visitor is supposed to invoke. This giant and equally beautiful stupa was built in the year 1945 under the auspices of Trulsi Rimpoche, the then head of Nyingma order.
Location: 14 km from Gangtok; 2km from Ranipool
Saramsa Garden or Ipecac Garden preserves several Orchids as well as tropical and temperate plants and other blooms in its chest of flora wealth. Straggling on an area of six acres, Saramasa Garden acquired a common name ─ Ipecac Garden ─ because of the Ipecac plantations growing in teemingness throughout the park. Alongside the Orchids and other flowers, the garden treasure fruits pineapple, guava, varieties of oranges and litchis.
Location: 11km from Gangtok Town, just above the Ganesh Tok
A Lord Hanuman Shrine, Hanuman Tok is a functioning Hindu Temple where pilgrims and devotees come to offer their prayers.
Tsuklakhang – The Royal Chapel and Monastery
Location: Palace Complex near the ridge.
The Royal Chapel is the chief sanctum of prayers with behemoth assembly hall in the centre and depository of treasure trove of Buddhist scriptures and literatures.
Locations: On the ridge in Gangtok.
A great historical architecture, the White Halls was named after J. Claude White, the first ever British political mandarin in the state of Sikkim. Inside is a huge white hall, an officer’s club and a badminton court. Built in the year 1932, the White Hall is a chosen fixed venue for Flower Show in Deorali Orchid Sanctuary.
Namgyal Research Institute of Tibetology
Location: A km downhill from the main market on M.G Road. The Institute is located in Deorali, to the south of central Gangtok.
Namgyal Research Institute of Tibetology (NIT) is India’s finest and first ever Institute promoting religion, history, art, culture studies on Tibet including Sikkim.
Himalayan Zoological Park
Location: 8 km from Gangtok, centred across the road from Ganesh Tok in Bulbuley.
A cocoon of wildlife, Himalayan Zoological Park straggles in an area of 205 hectares in Bulbulay, Sikkim, at an unimaginable height of 5,840 ft. An effort to preserve and protect endangered wild species, Himalayan Zoological Park is onliest wildlife preservations in the North-East India. In entirety, the park is covered with jungles inhabited with musk deer, blue sheep, himalayan black bear, barking deer, red panda, red pandas, barking deer, panther, himalayan palm civet, leopard cat, tibetan wolf, barking deer, common langur, goral spotted deer and bears.
Enchey Monastery-The Solitary Temple
Location: Adjoining the Siniolchu Tourist Lodge, 3 kms away from Gangtok
An important and powerful seat of Nyingma order, a sect of Buddhist Monks, the Enchey Monastery claims a golden and mystique history of 200 years.
|Useful Gangtok Info|
|Sikkim does not have any airports or railheads because of its rough terrain, however, the first airport of the state is expected to be ready by 2011 in Pakyong, 30 km (19 mi) away from Gangtok. The closest airport, Bagdogra Airport, is near the town of Siliguri, West Bengal. The airport is about 124 km away from Gangtok.|
|First fliers to note, they have to take luggage well within the upper limit of each ticket (generally 20 Kgs. per person) to accommodate your wife’s purchases at Gangtok.|
|Gangtok is one of the rare places where taxi rates are fixed and traffic rules are strictly implemented. Taxi from Siliguri or Bagdogra will not go inside Gangtok.|
|We found good hotels all through Gangtok. Average cost of a decent budget accommodation with all facilities was 850-1000 Rupees. If you have decided to stay in a hotel then make it near MG Marg, which is the heart of town.|
|If you are having 7 days plan at Gangtok then you can plan for East Sikkim (Pelling) also. Pelling can be reached from Siliguri directly or from Gangtok and the city itself is more beautiful than Gangtok.|
|On a sunny and fogless day, Tashi View Points brings you a clear sight of Kang-chen-Djonga golden-snowy-peaks. Visitors can see Phodong Monastery and the Labrang Monastery on the reverse side of the hill. A small cafeteria with snacks and sitting arrangements under the shed allows you to savour the real flavour of mountains here. Built by Late King Tashi Namgyal, the View Point provides a stop to catch snaps of the mountains.|
|Most of Sikkim is covered by Precambrian rock and is much younger in age than the hills. The rock consists of phyllites and schists and therefore the slopes are highly susceptible to weathering and prone to erosion. This, combined with the intense rain, causes extensive soil erosion and heavy loss of soil nutrients through leaching. As a result, landslides are frequent, isolating the towns and villages from the major urban centres. The roads are maintained by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), an offshoot of the Indian army. The roads in South Sikkim and NH-31A are in good condition, landslides being less frequent in these areas.|
|Indian army has control of a large territory, as the state is a sensitive border area. Many areas are restricted and permits are needed to visit them. For getting such permits you should have passport photos and photo copies of Photo Id card (PAN/Dept/Ration/Driving/School/College cards)|
|A tour operator or a taxi driver will offer 7-10 point tour. Charges are Rs. 100 for each point. We went to this local tour and found that there are many points for which one doesn’t need a taxi. Those are within 1 km radius. Points that don’t require travel by taxi: Flower Exhibition, handicraft and handloom exhibition, Rope way, Tibetology, Chorten Stupa. All these are 1 Km radius from MG marg.|
|Points that require taxi travel: Rumtek Monastry(must see), Shanti View Point, Enchey Monastry(must see), Ganesh point, Zoological park(must see), and Botanical Garden|
|En route to Nathula you will see the Tsomgo lake and below Nathula is the Baba Mandir. Go to Nathula first and on return enjoy at Tsomgo lake. The cutoff time for Nathula is 1100 AM as weather gets rough very fast and the roads become inaccessible. On days when civilians are not permitted to Nathula the taxis go to Baba Mandir and they show the Nathula from outside without going to the actual post. So Civilian visitors need to decide if they it’s enough to visit Tsomgo lake and Baba Mandir only. It was all snow even in mid May at Nathula/lake so one will need woolen clothing. Although it can be taken on rent from shops near Tsomgo lake (Rs.100 ) but for kids woolen clothing are not available. Lack of oxygen at that height(14200 ft) also a problem for some who are having respiratory ailments. Nathula Pass is open to Indian nationals only on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturdays and Sundays. Visitors have to get a permit to visit Nathula and Tsongmo lake by applying to the Tourism Department through any registered Travel Agency.|
|The pass, closed since the 1962 Sino-Indian War, was an offshoot of the ancient Silk Road, which was essential to the wool, fur and spice trade. In 2000, the seventeenth Karmapa Urgyen Trinley Dorje, who had been proclaimed a tulku by the atheist Chinese Communist party, escaped from Tibet to the Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim. Chinese officials were in a quandary on this issue, as any protests to India would mean an explicit endorsement of India’s governance of Sikkim, which the Chinese still regarded as an independent state occupied by India. China eventually recognized Sikkim as an Indian state in 2003, on the condition that India accepted Tibet Autonomous Region as a part of China. This mutual agreement led to a thaw in Sino-Indian relations. New Delhi accepted Tibet as a part of China in 1953 during the government of then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. On 6 July 2006, the Himalayan pass of Nathula was opened to cross-border trade, connecting Lhasa, Tibet to India further evidence of improving relations in the region & economy.|
|Nepali is the lingua franca of Sikkim. Bhutia and Lepcha are also common. English and Hindi are also spoken and understood in most of Sikkim.|
|Kangchenjunga summit is the highest point which falls on the border between Sikkim and Nepal (8,586 metres or 28,170 ft), highest peak of India and third-highest on Earth. You can see it much clear from Darjeeling than Sikkim.|
|About a third of the land is heavily forested.The Himalayan ranges surround the northern, eastern and western borders of Sikkim in a crescent. The state has 28 mountain peaks, more than 80 glaciers, 227 high-altitude lakes including the Tsongmo Lake, Gurudongmar and Khecheopalri Lake, 5 hot springs, and more than 100 rivers and streams. Eight mountain passes connect the state to Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal.|
|Sikkim’s hot springs are known for medicinal and therapeutic values. The most important hot springs are at Phurchachu (Reshi), Yumthang, Borang, Ralang, Taram-chu and Yumey Samdong. They have high sulphur content and are located near river banks. Some also emit hydrogen. The average temperature of the water in these hot springs is 50 °C (122 °F).|
|The state has five seasons: winter, summer, spring, and autumn, and a monsoon season between June and September. The average annual temperature for most of Sikkim is around 18 °C (64 °F). Sikkim is one of the few states in India to receive regular snowfall. The snow line ranges from 20,000 feet in the north to 16,000 feet in the south. During the monsoon, heavy rains increase the possibility of landslides. In gangtok you feel a temperate climate, with the temperatures seldom exceeding 28 °C (82 °F) in summer or it will drop below 0 °C (32 °F) in winter. In the north (Yumtang etc) is clad by snow for four months a year though the temperature drops below 0 °C (32 °F) almost every night. The peaks of north-western Sikkim are perpetually frozen.|
|Sikkim has around 5,000 flowering plants, 515 rare orchids, 60 primula species, 36 rhododendron species, 11 oak varieties, 23 bamboo varieties, 16 conifer species, 362 types of ferns and ferns allies, 8 tree ferns, and over 424 medicinal plants. The orchid Dendrobium nobile is the official flower of Sikkim.|
|The Red Panda is the state animal of Sikkim. Among the animals more commonly found in the alpine zone are yaks, mainly reared for their milk, meat, and as a beast of burden. The fauna include the snow leopard, the musk deer, the Himalayan Tahr, the barking deer, clouded leopard etc.|
|Approximately 1438 butterfly species found in the Indian subcontinent, 695 have been recorded from Sikkim.|
|Sikkim has the highest production and largest cultivated area of cardamom in India.|
|The majority of Sikkim’s residents are of Nepali ethnic-national origin. Immigrant resident communities include the Biharis, Bengalis and Marwaris who own most of the shops in South Sikkim and Gangtok.|
|Last but not least, don’t miss Momos, the steamed dumplings filled with vegetable.|