One of the loveliest destinations in India, Sikkim is said to be one of the worldâ€™s last utopias by Buddhist guru Padmasambhava. The least populated state in India, it is bordered by Nepal to the west, Chinaâ€™s Tibet Autonomous Region to the north and northeast, Bhutan to the east and the Indian state of West Bengal to the south.
Though small, it is a place of much diversity: plunging rhododendron-clad mountain valleys in the north, West Sikkimâ€™s atmospheric Buddhist monasteries, monumental religious statues in South Sikkim, and friendly and cheerful urban centers in the east. Then there are the stunning views of Mount Kanchenjunga from almost any point of the small state. This is what makes this state such a haven for many travelers.
A strong preserve of Tibetan Buddhism, Sikkimâ€™s public aesthetics are executed in shades of ritualistic vermilion, gold, blue and green, which make striking photo-ops. Throw in yummy local food, exotic Himalayan wildlife, picture-postcard landscapes and some great hikes in the mountains, and you have one of the best vacations you could ask for.
A two hour drive from Gangtok in the Gangtok Nathu La highway lies the oval shaped Tsomgo Lake. Encircled with lush green landscape, it is not only a tourist attraction but a holy site as well. There is a small Shiva temple, some local food stalls and mesmerizing flora and fauna around the lake, which you can admire by riding a yak. You can sometimes catch a glimpse of the Changu Lake hidden in a veil of mist. However, you do need to obtain entry permits to visit this lake.
The rope way
One of the best ways to sight see while in Gangtok is to ride the rope way or the cable car. Itâ€™s a 15 to 20 minute journey and you can choose to get off at the upper station or ride back down to the station you took the cable car from. It is open from 8 am to 4:30 pm everyday and provides stunning views of not just the city but the surrounding hills and mountains too. There are three stations you can choose to start your ride from â€“ Tashiling, Namnang or Deorali.
Chorten stupa, also known as Dro-dul Chorten is a stupa that was built in 1945. One of the biggest stupas in Sikkim, it is best known for its golden topped dome which can be seen from various places in Gangtok. If you like peace and quiet and meditating, this is one of the places you definitely need to visit.
Shingba Rhododendron Park
The park boasts of 40 species of rhododendron trees and is located in Yumthang Valley. You can also view various species of bird in this park including the wood snipe and Hoary-throated barwing. The valley is surrounded by scenic mountain ranges and the Yumthang Chu river flows through the valley. All this make for breathtaking views of the entire landscape.
How to get there
There are various ways you can reach Sikkim from Kathmandu. You can opt to drive there yourself, take a Tata Sumo or the bus or fly to Bhadrapur and then take a taxi or jeep from there.
Sarita Koirala, who was born in Sikkim and lives in Kathmandu, revealed her favorite places in Sikkim. She thinks Sikkim is one of the best places to visit because not only are the people very friendly and it is so pollution free but also because majority of the people speak Nepali and it is very easy to get around.
Also known as Changu lake, this lake lies at an altitude of 12,300 feet and is near the Sikkim-China boarder. Itâ€™s a freshwater lake that is quite scenic, if you go during winter. During the winter, it is even more breathtaking as the snow just makes everything so much more beautiful. You can catch a glimpse of it veiled trough mist through the Tsomgo Lake too.
Situated in south Sikkim, it stands at an elevation of 7000 feet. The Buddha park, also known as Tathagata tsal, is a must visit when at Ravangala, where there is a statue of Buddha 130 feet high. Sarita loves this place for it gives her a sense of peace and serenity that she doesnâ€™t find anywhere else. She says that might be because of the combination of Â natural beauty and the spiritual vibe it gives.
Temi tea garden
The Temi tea garden is also located in Ravangala, and though it is the only tea garden in Sikkim, it is considered the best not only in India but the rest of the world as well. Walking through the rows of tea garden, inhaling the fresh air is an experience Sarita goes back for every time she is in Sikkim.
Namchi literally means sky high in the Sikkimese language and is located 5,500 feet above sea level. It is the religious and cultural center of Sikkim and the main temple is of Lord Shiva which houses the statue which is 87 feet high. Sarita likes going to this place for the variety of experiences it gives her, from e yak riding to the religious discourses and nature studies.