Sikkim, the second smallest state of India is located in the North-Eastern part of the country. The State shares its border with China, Bhutan and Nepal; and has four provinces i.e. North, South, East and West Bhutan. While I was in Kolkata, there was a major political strike going on in West Bengal and Sikkim. The strike had taken a violent turn and I was advised to postpone my plans to visit Sikkim.
However, I was lucky enough to have a friend in the army, who happens to be posted in Sikkim currently. My friend helped me explore the Eastern and Southern provinces of the state. My main reason for visiting Sikkim was to visit the highest peak in India, Kangchenjunga (in Northern Sikkim). Sadly, the bad weather and landslides prevented me from visiting the Northern Province. This post contains information about the various things to experience in Eastern Sikkim.
How to get to Gangtok (Capital of Sikkim):
The Bagdogra airport is the gateway to Sikkim and Darjeeling by air. One can travel to Sikkim via road by travelling through the border town of Siliguri, located in West Bengal. Bagdogra lies at a distance of about 140kms (4-5 hours) from Gangtok and a taxi service would cost about 2500 rupees. The Sikkim airport is currently in the final stage of construction and is supposed to be operational soon.
Means of Transport in Sikkim:
Being a mountain state, there aren’t any train networks. The local public relies on buses or private vehicles to travel by. Tourists tend to use taxis or hire private cars. All road networks within the State are managed by the Indian Army and can be found to be in spectacular condition. The locals are kind and helpful enough to offer lifts which make hitchhiking a viable option.
Things to do In East Sikkim:
The capital city of Gangtok is the largest town in the state. It has a lot to offer to all sorts of travellers. I was greeted with the view of the lush green mountains on all sides and numerous roadside restaurants, which are famous for serving a variety of steaming hot “Momos” and ‘Maggi’. The town hosts an eventful nightlife and is famous for India’s only on-land Casino. The Mayfair Hotel casino has live music along with amazing dancers and Live and Loud is the perfect place for to hang out with friends over drinks and live rock music performances. The city has a lot of great sights to view and explore along with other daytime activities such as visiting the awe-inspiring Botanical garden, riding the famous cable cars, being a part of the Yak safari and rafting!
The Rumtek Monastery is the largest monastery situated in Sikkim and is considered to be extremely important due to multiple reasons. The main building serves as the residence of the community monks who perform daily rituals and prayers. The opposite building is actually a famous college known as the Karma Shri Nalanda Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies. A Golden stupa is located on the top floor of the front building and contains relics dating back to the 16th century. A ticket to the monastery costs Rs. 20 and an extra Rs. 25 is charged for travellers with cameras. Located at a height of 5000 ft., the monastery sits 24kms away, overlooking the stunning capital city of Gangtok.
Banjhakri Water Falls:
This is a 100ft high waterfall that has been developed by the State government at a waterfall park and recreational centre. The 2-acre area surrounding the waterfall has been built for tourists and houses various restaurants, picnic spots and even some adventure sports activities. The park holds a special place because of its unique design. The Chief Minister of the State revived an interest in the local Shamanic culture and asked their people to design the theme of the park. The park displays the magnificent Sikkimese architecture and even has a manmade lake with a dragon at the centre!
Tashi View Point:
The Tashi viewpoint is located about 8 km’s away from Gangtok and is famous for its spectacular view of the Kangchenjunga range. The sight of sunrise and sunset from the viewpoint is well-known among tourists and locals alike. Sadly, I was unable to view anything from up there due to the heavy rain and fog. The visibility was less than 10 meters throughout the day and it made the sight worthless for me BUT this should definitely be there on your list.
Hanumana and Ganesha Tok:
These two temples are located in different places but each of them is worth a visit. The Ganesha temple is small and can accommodate only a few people at a time but it’s a famous viewpoint which gives a panoramic view of the valley and the entire city of Gangtok.
The Hanuman Tok is a more sacred and ancient temple which is believed to be the place where Lord Hanuman rested while bringing the “Sanjiwani Medicine” for Lord Laxmana during the great war of Ramayana and Ravana. The temple is an extremely popular religious place and is located at the topmost point of the city.
Nathu La Pass Border:
The ongoing Indo-China border tension had inspired me to learn more about one of the most important sights in Sikkim. The Nathu La Pass is the official Indian China border, located at a height of 14500ft. I was given special access to visit the pass thanks to my friend in the army. Due to the current tension between the two countries, the border has been closed for foreign tourists.
Only Indians are allowed to visit the border and that’s only if they have a special permit obtained from the government officials. It was fascinating to see how the army lives at such a great height, with scarce oxygen as well as other resources. I was begun to lose my breath within less than 10 steps and this made me think about how the army struggled through so many hardships, to keep the citizens of their country safe. I felt proud and grateful to our army men for all that they persevere through and all the sacrifices that they make.