Sikkim: it’s quite simply a breathtaking little state, and a mountainous hidden gem of India. Having a population of only 600,000, Sikkim is the least populated state in India and so not surprisingly, one of the more relaxed places in India to visit. Way off the beaten path of the “Golden Triangle”, just getting to Sikkim is a trek in itself and a testament to the types of backpackers who are willing to venture to this curious corner of India. But the long trek to Sikkim is well worth it, rivaling Nepal and Kashmir in Himalayan beauty, and home to many scenic treks and excursions offering breathtaking landscapes…
Nestled snugly between India, Tibet, Bhutan, and Nepal, and having deep roots in Buddhism, Sikkim has its own mix of Buddhist-Indian-Western culture that differs greatly from the the rest of India, which culminates in Gangtok, Sikkim’s largest city and home to many bars, restaurants, live music, and the only well used pedestrian walkway that I’ve ever seen in India! Also, with Buddhist traces all the way back to the 8th century, Sikkim is very rich in Buddhist and Tibetan history and institutions. In fact, the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology in Gangtok is home to a library of ancient Tibetan literature dating back to the 11th century that was smuggled out of Tibet during the Chinese occupation in 1959. Sikkim is also home to a number of Buddhist monasteries dating back to the 18th century.
So with excellent mix of epic landscapes and a relaxed Buddhist atmosphere to match, here are 5 very-well-worth-it things to explore in Sikkim:
1) Trek to Goechala Pass and the base of Mt Kanchenjunga (the 3rd highest mountain in the world!!)
In a word: epic. This 6-10 day trek to the base of Mt Kanchenjunga requires an uphill climb from 6,000ft to 15,000ft over 3 days. As such, the variety of landscapes that you pass through – from jungles, waterfalls, tundra, and frozen lakes – will totally blow your mind. And at the end, you arrive at Goechala Pass. Quite frankly, after finishing this trek I felt my trip to India was officially over, because I was thoroughly convinced that nothing was going to top this experience, no matter where else I ventured to in India.
A beautiful Buddhist village and a base camp for trips up to the Himalayas, Yuksom was also the original capital of Yuksom back in the 1700s and hosts a few ancient monasteries and such. Also nestled in between the jungle hills of Sikkim, the views are just amazing. Numbering less than 500 people ,the people of Yuksom are incredibly friendly and welcoming. Match that with a small backpacker feel and excellent scenery, and Yuksom is a great pass to chill out regardless if you plan on doing further trekking in North Sikkim.
The “big city” of Sikkim, Gangtok has a Western feel to it. The quiet pedestrian st of MG Road (yes! there is a beautiful pedestrian-only street here in India…what a concept!) is lined with many restaurants an bars and pubs. Definitely get in some good Sikkimese food like Momos, Rolls, Thumba beer – aka Thonga or Chhung beer (millet soaking in hot water).
4) Yumthang Valley and Gurudorong Lake
Full of amazing scenic views, Yumthang Valley and Gurudorong are a must-see for anyone in Gangtok and willing to take a couple of days to explore. This is especially true for those who can’t spare a week to do a proper trek to Goechala (otherwise, you can skip (4)). Gurudorong Lake is actually off-limits to most foreigners, but a simple bribe will change that. Yumthang valley itself has excellent mountain scenery, totally worth a day’s drive from Gangtok.
You can grab a day-trek from Gangtok to Yumthang Valley and Gurudorong Lake. There are many different ways to get there, but the easist option is to book a taxi and guide via Gangtok.
5) Khecheopalri Lake
A serene natural reservoir, this lake is highly revered by Sikkimese Buddhists who believe its shape to be akin to the footprint of the goddess Tara. Prayer wheels line the lake’s jetty, backed by fluttering prayer flags and Tibetan inscriptions, but the setting, ringed with forested hills with a scene that is both peaceful and dramatic.
As well, there is an excellent homestay about 20 minutes up the hill named Sonam Guesthouse. Its and excellent homestay experience for those wanting to try something a little different.