It’s not usual that you come into a new place with one itinerary and end up doing something quite different, often changing plans while traveling as you learn about new places and gather new experiences. But this is exactly what happened as I explored Sikkim with Paradise Unexplored this monsoon – we started with an itinerary that they had suggested, but we kept customizing it all through the one week I spent there, down to the last day.
That’s me exjoying the magical landscapes of Sikkim right after a light monsoon shower!
I know many of you have been enchanted with my travels as you followed me on my journey through Sikkim on Instagram, and here’s now the full and detailed itinerary that you can follow too. Of course, you can do it all by yourself, but my journey was so special because I had Anand who made the time in Sikkim so worthwhile. Being from the region itself he knows everything that you might need to know like history, politics, folk tales, religion, and also spots for photography. Since I like to shoot at sunrise, we always started our days at 4am, and Anand was always around to make and update new plans based on the weather. It’s rare that I heap so much praise on someone, but he really is very good!
Practical tips for Sikkim
So getting on with the interesting bit now – the itinerary. I would suggest a minimum of one week, but if you have more days, it’s better. Before I go into details, let’s me share some practical details first:
- The closest airport is Bagdogra in West Bengal and it can take up to 5 hours to reach from there to Gangtok or other interesting parts in the state. So keep one full day for travel no matter where you are coming from.
- However, the good news is that a new airport in Sikkim has opened this October 4, and this will certainly make it easier for travelers who plan to visit the city. It’s located at about 33 km from Gangtok so travel to Gangtok will come down from 5 hours to just one.
- The roads in Sikkim are incredibly bad, and during monsoon landslides are a daily occurrence. Keep that in mind while planning anything – you might have to make adjustments in plans based on Mother Nature.
- Having a cab with you for all the days that you spend there is a good idea. Driving on the roads can be very tricky and self-drive only if you are quite experienced in such places. Did I mention before that roads can be pretty bad – at times they aren’t even there and you still need to drive!
- Food is not a problem at all, even if you are a vegetarian (I am one). If you are non-vegetarian, apparently its a heaven!
- Most people think Sikkim is a Buddhist state, but in reality it isn’t. The state is overwhelmingly Hindu though Buddhism is an integral part of its culture. People from both faiths co-exist and often also intermarry – for instance my driver, Nima, was Buddhist but his girl friend was a Hindu and none of the families had a problem with that at all. Nice, right? 🙂
- It’s also incredibly safe here as well. My driver told me that unlike rest of India, it’s very safe for women too. However, venturing out alone on foot in the night isn’t recommended. Go with a local.
One week travel for Sikkim!
Land at Bagdogra and come to Gangtok in a cab. Seriously by the time you reach the capital city, you will be exhausted and would just want to take some rest. However, on the way, do stop by and admire the mighty Teesta river – it’s truly a sight to behold. If you are with Anand, ask him lots of questions for the long journey from the airport. The road is quite good, and it’s the only road that I found to be so good.
If you have energy in the evening, head out to the MG Marg – that’s where everyone from the city gathers to hang out. It has cafes and a few book-stores too – it’s nice, but not exactly my kind of place.
Alternatively, go to the spa and take a nice and long message and you will be fresh as daisy the next day 🙂
Where to stay in Gangtok?
I stayed at The Elgin Nor-Khill and would absolutely recommend the place. It’s a heritage hotel and absolutely lives up to it. The only downside is that the view from the room isn’t something to write home about. If you do want the view, stay at Denzong Regency – it has a great view of the city as well as the mountains.
Looking out from The Elgin Nor-Khill
Day 2: Nathu La and Gangtok
Since you will be already a little tired due to the travel the previous day, I recommend planning a trip to Nathu La in the first half of the day, and then spending the second half exploring a bit of Gangtok.
The road-trip to Nathu La
So Nathu La is a historical mountain pass which was the part of the ancient silk route between China and India. During the Indo-China 1962 war it was closed and opened again during late Atal Bihari Vajyaee’s reigh. It’s now both a pass for vehicles to take goods between the two countries (apparently Parle G is one of the most desired Indian product in China) and also a place for tourists from India to come and see. Frankly there isn’t much to see (except a sneak peek into China and some pretty hideous Chinese architecture) but the road-trip from Gangtok is beautiful. If you are traveling during tourist season make sure you go early and get a pass else you can be stuck in the traffic for a long time!
While you are going or coming back, make sure you stop at the gorgeous Tsomgo (or Changu) lake. Do take a walk around the lovely lake and enjoy the views. If you are going in winters, the whole area is covered in snow and the view is something to behold!
On the at back to Gangtok, stop at Bakthang waterfalls. There are many tea vendors as well there, so maybe you can have a hot cup of chai as well.
If you didn’t go to the MG Marg the previous day, do it today. Have a cup of coffee there and a late lunch (I recommend The Coffee Shop) and then head over to Rachna book store if you like books (like I do). To watch the sunset head over to Denzong Regency hotel – make sure you reach a little in advance so that you can have some chai and then watch the sun go down.
Day 3: Gangtok to Pelling
As you might have figured out already, this trip will not give you a lot of time to rest. So if you want to be more relaxed here, I would suggest spending another day in Gangtok and basically enjoy the city. Walk around the neighborhoods, talk to the locals, go watch a football match (it’s truly an obsession here), drink local chai and eat local food (not just in the hotel) and maybe get a massage as well.
However, I had only limited time and very ambitious plans, so I started off from Gangtok towards a town called Pelling with numerous pit-stops on the way. This was the most tiring and also the most fulfilling day of my journey.
Day 4: Explorations around Pelling
Day 5: Pelling to Darjeeling
As always, start your day early in the morning so that you can make it on time to Darjeeling to use some time exploring the city as well. Don’t rush if you are tired (which you will be) because the journey to Darjeeling is in one word – exhausting!
I was actually down with fever when I got up in the morning, so the trip was even worse. The roads are almost non-existent after a point even after you enter West Bengal. Except an interesting incident when the border patrol guard rejected my passport and insisted on a voter ID card, there wasn’t anything memorable about this journey. I believe we passed a few beautiful gardens too, but I was too weak to look outside!
Anyway, once you reach Darjeeling, check into your hotel and head out to the Mall Road to get a quick introduction to the city. By the way, did you know that Darjeeling was originally a part of Sikkim and was loaned to the British? When India gained independence, the King of Sikkim wrote to the GOI requesting that their territory be handed back to them. And what did we do? Oh…we ignored it.
Even today Darjeeling is far closer to Sikkim in language, culture and people, just more aggressive – or so I’ve heard. In fact when I asked if Sikkim skill wanted Darjeeling back, the answer was a no – they were worried about the trouble the region would bring with it!
Where to stay?
I stayed at the The Elgin – again a heritage property and like the others in Gangtok and Pelling, I can safely recommend this one as well. The view of the city from my room was simply to die for – so if you stay here, do ask for a room which overlooks the valley.
Day 6: Darjeeling and around
Start your day at 3am and by 4am you must be out and on your way to the Tiger Hill. No, this is a different Tiger Hill than the one in Kargil, and this one is famous for gorgeous views of the mountains, including Kanchenjunga and Mount Everest (on a clear day). As promised, the views are indeed captivating from up there. In fact I saw Kanchenjunga for the first (and only) time from here and so would forever be indebted to this place.
I’ve been told that the jams here can get so bad that it can take hours to get down. Thankfully, I was there in the non-touristy season and had no such challenges.
Once you are down, eat some English-style breakfast and then head out to the railway station for a ride in the toy-train. You can ride in a steam engine as well as a diesel engine train, though during non-touristy season, the frequency is fairly limited.
Come back to the city in the evening and explore the markets, and the lively streets.
Day 7: Darjeeling to home!
On the final day, head out to the airport at Bagdogra based on your flight time! I know it will be difficult to say goodbye to this beautiful region, but then you must certainly plan to come back again to explore the northern part of the state which I didn’t explore at all due to excessive rains there.
How can you travel in Sikkim like me?
As I mentioned earlier, I traveled trough Sikkim on assignment with a fairly experienced group form this region – Paradise Unexplored. Though I was there to write about my experiences of traveling with them in Sikkim, all views expressed are my own and based on my personal experiences.
Location: Sikkim, India