Visit Sikkim – The Himalayan Shangri La

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Planning to visit Sikkim for the first time?

Here’s a detailed post about my experience and a 7 to 10 Days Sikkim itinerary covering Gangtok, North, East, and South Sikkim

Gurudongmar Lake in winters, North Sikkim Travel, India

Gurudongmar Lake in winters, North Sikkim Travel, India

From the time I read James Hilton describe Shangri-La as a mystical, harmonious valley landlocked by Mountains; I wondered if there exists a real life match to this fictional place. The pursuit of Shangri La took me to the depths of the Himalayas, drawing me into fascinating corners and cul-de-sacs I never dreamed of visiting. And finally I found it in Sikkim.

Tsomgo Lake, East Sikkim Travel, India

Cavernous valleys, snowcapped mountains, roaring rivers, fluttering prayer flags and green homes dotting the zigzag mountain slopes – no wonder Sikkim is known as the Himalayan Shangri La. A jewel-like mountain state of North East, flourished under the benign shadow of colossal Mt. Kanchanjundga. The locals revere the third highest mountain in the world as their guardian deity.

Sikkim metamorphosed from an independent Himalayan Kingdom to the twenty-second state of India in 1975. However, one thing remained untouched – Sikkim’s reverence for the nature.

An all-organic State

Nature is above everything in Sikkim, where ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘all-organic’ are not loosely thrown around terms but practiced by one and all in daily life. During my sojourn, I didn’t see any wafer packets or cola bottles spoiling the gorgeous landscape. Sikkim didn’t become an all-organic state by fluke; the local government and people put in a mammoth effort.

To propagate the idea of ‘all-organic state’ Sikkim Government runs lot of eco-conservation programs and hosts lot of exotic festivals,

explained Chen Yang a travel guide who works closely with the Sikkim Government.

Festivals like International Flower festival, Yakten – Bojeytar Village Tourism Festival, Dentam Rhododendron Festival and Pang Lhabsol among others elucidate the love and respect Sikkimese have for their nature.

Besides the unique festivals, Sikkim is great for adventure, wildlife, culture and spiritual travel.

Golden Hour in Sikkim, India

Golden Hour in Sikkim, India

Here’s my experience of traversing through the alpine landscape, thick luxuriant tropical forests, torrents Rivers, high mountain peaks and unruffled high altitude lakes – everything that makes Sikkim a true Shangri La.

Arriving in Gangtok

Climbing up the winding roads to Gangtok from Siliguri took me more than five hours. The scenic route was picturesque, though pretty bumpy! The indulgent lunch at a small restaurant facing the Teesta River couldn’t provide any respite from the backbreaking journey. I was staying at an Army Guesthouse in Gangtok so thankfully I could enjoy the modern day luxuries in the lap of Himalayas. My Army friend helped me secure my inner line permit, taxi and homestays in North and South Sikkim. As the night befell, I went to sleep looking forward to experience the ethereal beauty of this jewel-like mountain state.

Mt. Kanchanjundga, Sikkim, India

Mt. Kanchanjundga, Sikkim, India

Gangtok and East Sikkim

At the break of the day my driver, Ritu Tamang and the magnificent mountains greeted me. After soaking the sweeping view of the snow capped Mt. Kanchenjunga from the Tashi View Point, I decided to invoke the spiritual side by visiting the Gonjang Monastery, located about 6 km away from Gangtok. A young monk sitting on the edge of the wall watching a WWF fight on his smartphone, a group of monks taking a Coco-Cola break from their studies and teenage monks flirting with the guitar strings behind the closed doors of their room were the sights I couldn’t envisage in a religious place.

Happiness is not guaranteed by giving up the pleasures or desires of life but by not being their slave

explained the senior monk who probably read my mind.

Monk at a Sikkim Monastery, India

Monk at a Sikkim Monastery, India

Inside the monastery, Gangtok, Sikkim

Inside the monastery, Gangtok, Sikkim

The rest of the day was spent paragliding over the snowcapped mountains and thickly carpeted forests around Gangtok, enjoying the panoramic views of Gangtok from Ganesh Tok, revisiting the old world charm at the Royal Palace and suicide point infamous for kings throwing their enemies from a drop-dead gorgeous hilltop.

Suicide Valley, Gangtok, Sikkim, India

Suicide Valley, Gangtok, Sikkim, India

The day was wrapped up with a passeggiata on the MG Marg, the social-commercial hub. It was packed with restaurants serving toothsome delicacies, export surplus shops staff haggling with customers, travel agents taking last minute bookings and tourists enjoying the crisp air of Gangtok.

Tsomgo Lake, East Sikkim, India

Tsomgo Lake, East Sikkim, India

For most visitors, a trip to Sikkim usually includes a trip to Gangtok, Rumtek and Nathula La via Tsomgo Lake and Harbhajan Baba’s Mandir. However, always curious to discover places beyond the obvious, I chose the road less traveled. Not only I visited the old silk route but even tried my hand at playing golf at Yak golf course in Kupup, the world’s highest golf course (13,025 feet above sea level). Three days were not enough to explore East Sikkim but North Sikkim was already booked so I had to return to Gangtok.

Visit Sikkim to see the world's highest golf course: Kupup

Visit Sikkim to see the world’s highest golf course: Kupup

Visit Sikkim to invoke spirituality: Gangtok, India

Visit Sikkim to invoke spirituality: Gangtok, India

Visit Sikkim to revisit the Old Silk Route in India

Visit Sikkim to revisit the Old Silk Route in India

North Sikkim

After an early morning start and backbreaking journey of seven hours from Gangtok we finally reached Lachen. The arduous journey was made beautiful by – the roaring jade green water of Teesta River rushing through massive boulders, soaring snow-capped peaks embroidered with long ribbons of waterfalls, lush green forests dimpled with alpine pastures and the hot pakodas made to order at Naga Waterfalls.

Visit Sikkim to marvel the beauty of jade green Teesta River

Visit Sikkim to marvel the beauty of jade green Teesta River

After spending the night at a Bhutia (Tribe of Tibetan origin) homestay, I started my journey at 4 am through stunning frozen mountainscape where the majestic mountain peaks were glowing in the molten golden dust of the sunrise. Sacrificing my sleep was nothing when we saw the staggering snow-blanketed vistas and crag-rimmed Gurudongmar Lake (17,800 feet above sea level). I had not seen anything as phantasmal as Gurudongmar Lake was. Even the -19 degree temperature and AMS inducing thin air couldn’t confine me to my car. I sat near the lake trying to take in the beauty around us. There was nothing but perfect silence. Cautious enough to not get carried away, I took baby steps to enjoy the bounty of nature.

Frozen Gurudongmar Lake, North Sikkim, India

Frozen Gurudongmar Lake, North Sikkim, India

An Army Personnel at his post on Gurudongmar Lake, North Sikkim, India

An Army Personnel at his post on Gurudongmar Lake, North Sikkim, India

Visit Sikkim to see Frozenscapes: Gurudongmar Lake, India

Visit Sikkim to see Frozenscapes: Gurudongmar Lake, India

After visiting the Gurudongmar Lake, I reached Lachung to explore the stunning Yumthang Valley and Zero point the next day.

South Sikkim

South Sikkim formed the next leg of my trip. The larger-than-life religious statues at Char DhamSamdruptse Monastery at Namchi and Buddha Park is a must visit even for non religious person. I really enjoyed the majestic mountain and valley views from Tarey Bhir, Helicopter Point and Temi Tea Garden, the state’s only Tea Estate.

Buddha Park, Near Namchi, South Sikkim

Buddha Park, Near Namchi, South Sikkim

Visit Sikkim for Spirituality: Chaar Dham, Namchi, India

Visit Sikkim for Spirituality: Chaar Dham, Namchi, India

Visit Sikkim for its gorgeous views - Tarey Bhir, Near Ravangla

Visit Sikkim for its gorgeous views – Tarey Bhir, Near Ravangla

Besides the indescribable beauty of Sikkim, I was left awestruck by the calm and composed demeanour of the Sikkimese people.

“So is everyone in Sikkim happy like you?” I asked my driver.

No, of course not but we are less complaining than others and that makes us happy in general. I think it’s a combination of our cultural identity, family ties, respect for Mother Nature and Buddhist traditions of letting go. We are happy with what we have.

I learnt a life-changing lesson that day.

My trip had come to an end and I had fallen in love with the mythical Himalayan land worthy of being called the Himalayan Shangri La. So are you ready to visit this mystic land this holiday season?  

Visit Sikkim for its revered mountain lakes - Tsomgo Lake, India

Visit Sikkim for its revered mountain lakes – Tsomgo Lake, India

How to reach Sikkim:

By Air: The nearest airport is Bagdogra in West Bengal

By Rail: The nearest railway stations are New Jalpaiguri (125 km) and Siliguri (144 km) in West Bengal

By Road: Regular bus services run by the Sikkim Nationalized Transport directly connect Gangtok to Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Siliguri. For local transport, Cars and jeeps are available for hire in Gangtok and other big towns of the state

Visit Sikkim for its high altitude lakes - Gurudongmar Lake, India

Visit Sikkim for its high altitude lakes – Gurudongmar Lake, India

Quick Facts:

  1. Sikkim was an independent Himalayan Kingdom until 1975
  2. Pawan Kumar Chamlingn is the longest serving Chief Minister in India
  3. Kanchendzonga, third highest mountain in the world, is clearly visible from many parts of Sikkim
  4. Sikkim has the maximum foreign population – Nepalese origin population outnumber the natives
  5. Sikkim has a temple built to honor a soldier – Baba Harbhajan Singh’s temple
  6. Sikkim is the only Indian state with monasteries of all 4 schools of Buddhism
  7. 11 languages are spoken in this tiny mountain state
  8. The Singshore Bridge spanning 198 meters is the second highest suspension bridge in Asia
  9. Sikkim’s state animal is the Red Panda – an endangered species
  10. Sikkim has produced India’s most popular footballer – BaichungBhutia
Visit Sikkim for its unique culture, heritage and natural beauty

Visit Sikkim for its unique culture, heritage and natural beauty

10 days Itinerary to visit Gangtok, North, East and South Sikkim

Day 1: Arrive from Bagdogra to Namchi. Either take an exclusive car for 3.5k or take a car to Siliguri (450-750 INR) and shared cab at 250 INR PP.
Day 2: Leave for Namchi (South Sikkim). Visit the Helicopter point early morning, Tarey Bhir, Temi Tea Garden at Ravangla, Guru Rinpoche’s highest statue, and other attraction.
Day 3: Next day visit Pelling (South Sikkim) & visit all the local attractions.
Day 4: Leave early morning for Gangtok. Local sightseeing – Rumtek monastery, King’s palace, MG Marg, Suicide valley etc.
Day 5: Visit Nathula, Tsomgo Lake, Baba Harbhajan Mandir and do the Old Silk route. etc. If possible do a two-day trip and stay at Zuluk or Aritar village.
Day 6-8: Leave early morning for North Sikkim. Night halt at Lachen. Leave early morning for Gurudongmar Lake. Spend the night at Lachung. Visit Yumthang Valley and Zero point. Leave for Gangtok
Day 9: Spend a day in Gangtok shopping souvenirs or organic pickles
Day 10: Leave early morning for Bagdogra by a shared or personal cab to fly back home.
PS: This itinerary is mostly what I followed but it can be easily done in 7 days as well.
Visit Sikkim, India

Visit Sikkim for it’s monasteries in India

Have you ever been to this beautiful place or planning to visit Sikkim soon? I would love to know your feedback.
If you liked this story don’t forget to share the love on Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.
Read the complete story here: The Himalayan Shangrila – Sikkim
After Sikkim, if your wanderlust is still not satiated head to Arunachal Pradesh.
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42 Comments

  • Gorgeous post Archana! Loved it completely…

    You have also inspired me to plan a trip there 🙂

  • Sudipto De says:

    I just love the monks embracing technology. Snigdha observed a similar phenomenon at the Naropa festival

  • Tariq m k says:

    This is sooo cool yaaa! Man I am jealous of your adventures 😁😁. Next time we should collaborate and make tons of Video Logs. Stay blessed Archana. Stay Awesome.

  • What a fantastic read! So well written that I want to pack my bags and head out now. The supporting photos are also wonderful. What a memorable experience, thank you for sharing this with all of us adorning fans. 😉

  • What a fantastic read! So well written that I want to pack my bags and head out now. The supporting photos are also wonderful. What a memorable experience, thank you for sharing this with all of us adorning fans. 😉

  • Well Written article glad to read it and Through this post we will get to know interesting things about Sikkim Thanks for sharing.

  • swapnil kulkarni says:

    very well written article indeed. I doubt if I have any questions left on the region after going through this one. Thank you 🙂

  • Very rarely do I ever get the pleasure of reading a post about a place as beautiful as this. I so enjoyed reading all the information on this fascinating place in your post. Your photos are just stunning showing what a truly lovely place Sikkim is. I think you could have just found Shangri La indeed! I never realized it was also a separate country before 1975 and what a treat it would be to visit here. I would definitely want to include this in my future plans.

  • Bee says:

    Wow, this is stunning photography, and so much to learn in these small areas. Very informative.

  • Oh, your photos are great. Such breathtaking landscapes! Went back to see that curvy road again, it’s surreal! 😀

    • Hi Danijela,

      Thanks a lot for your kind words. Sikkim is full of photo opportunities. My camera was going click-click every now and then.

      You should definitely visit this pretty land.

  • Brianna says:

    I always enjoy reading about new parts of India. The country is so big, I’m sure it would take forever to see everything it has to offer! Gurudongmar Lake looks like it would be fun to explore. Was it completely frozen?

    • Hey Brianna,

      You are right, India is too big and too diverse to see it all in one lifetime. There’s always so much to explore. I went during thick of the winters so the Gurudongmar Lake was completely frozen. You can play football on it. However, I would not recommend it. Simply coz it’s too cold and the air is too thin. You are not advised to spend more than thirty minutes there in winters. It’s that cold.

  • Kevan says:

    What an absolutely gorgeous setting, and it is easy to see how this might be mistaken for a mountain paradise. It is refreshing to see and entire culture that embraces an eco-friendly lifestyle to protect such a special place. It did really surprise me to see a golf course, and with an elevation like that I bet I could get some really good distance off the tee.

    • Hey Kevan

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your comment. Really appreciate it. Even I didn’t have a clue about the gold course. The Golf course is maintained by Indian Army and is not open for public. I was lucky to visit it, thanks to my Army Connection 🙂

  • Only By Land says:

    I could be heading this way next year, I have Sikkim on my radar! I love the idea of an all organic state, I can’t imagine a world without trash. I really appreciate those pictures you’ve shared from Lake Gurudongmar, with the altitude and cold air it can be difficult, but what a stunning view. You must see so much beauty whilst traveling around Sikkim.

  • Kelly says:

    Wow. This really does feel like shangrala between the scenery and stunning culture. Also love how ecofriendly there are, and organic!! I feel like can learn from them to appreciate nature more.

    • Hey Kelly,

      I am so glad you liked the post. I too loved the eco-friendliness of the state. Wish everyone was as conscious as they are then we would solve so many global issues.

  • Gorgeous photography. I love the golden tones.

    It’s so amazing to imagine a state where happiness is an acceptable goal. In America, we pick all kinds of measuring sticks for success – money, power, love, but happiness is somehow considered vulgar to pursue. At the end of your days, you could add up all your money and possessions and they wouldn’t mean a thing if they didn’t bring you happiness.

    • Hi Jenn & Ed,

      You have made such an important point there. I agree nothing in this world is comparable to happiness. And we sacrifice that for worldly possessions.

  • Kate says:

    Wow! These photos are incredible! This seems like a cultural and hiking paradise! This is definitely going on my bucket list.

    • Hi Kate,

      I am so glad you liked the post. Thanks a lot for your appreciation. Really appreciate it. If you ever need any help planning your trip to Sikkim, please feel free to contact.

  • Sikkim is sheer love. The place is just so beautiful. Fell in love with North Sikkim. The villages, the mountains, the pristine rivers. The highlight of my trip was Gurudongmar lake. Breathtaking journey and what a reward! Loved the golden tones of the golden hour picture.

  • Jean says:

    What an amazing adventure. Your photos are mesmerising and made me feel as if I was there with you. Though my favourite was the Teesta River. Such a beautiful jade colour. Well worth the early wake up and the long trek.

    • Hi Jean,

      Thanks a lot for your kind words. I too loved Teesta a lot. It is like no other. I was left spellbound by its beauty. Totally worth the back-breaking journey.

  • Vicki Louise says:

    What a beautiful part of India. And I love that they are an All Natural state. It is certainly not something that is easy to achieve so a serious well done to the administration is in order that they have managed to achieve that!

    • Hi Vicki,

      Thanks a lot for your comment. Really appreciate it. I agree what Sikkim is doing cannot be achieved single handedly. It needs commitment and perseverance from the government and people.

  • Steph @ The Pink Backpack says:

    I am swooning over your photos – so beautiful! I especially love the one of the old silk route. I only made it as far as manali when I was in India but I really wish I had have done this route after reading this post. Maybe next time 🙂

    • hi Steph,

      Thanks a lot for your comment. The old Silk Route was my favourite too. Before visiting it, I had read so many books on it. I am very intrigued to do the entire silk route journey.

  • Iza Abao says:

    The views are amazing. I haven’t read much about Sikkim. It looks like a peaceful place. It is nice that you have found a small restaurant in Gangtok.
    The monastery looks beautiful. I like the decorations and color palette. You should have shown a photo of you doing the paragliding. The Teesta River is gorgeous. I would love to visit this place someday.

  • I have only been to Gangtok in Sikkim. That small trip impressed me much. I want to see more of Sikkim. I wanted to see Tsomgo lake but cancelled it due to the poor health of my parents.

  • Actually Gangtok was my least favourite. I fell in love with Sikkim when I ventured out of Gangtok.

    Sorry to hear you had to cut short your trip. Hope you get to revisit Sikkim soon.

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