April 15, 2021

The perfect Sikkim itinerary

The small northeastern state of Sikkim was once rightly dubbed ‘the hidden kingdom’ after a book (1971) by the same name by Alice Kandell. The mighty Kanchenjunga, considered a benevolent protector, dominates the region, making itself visible from various points within the state. Take a tour around the highlights of Sikkim.

Begin at Gangtok

What to do

Walk up and down the pedestrian-only MG Road, stopping for hot momos and chowmein at one of the various cafés on the street.

MG Road

Make a day trip to Tsomgo lake (called Changu by locals), located in the middle of snow-covered mountains. Here, you can ride on a docile yak or pose for photographs next to one. From there, head on to Nathu La pass (open to Indian visitors only on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday), on the Indo-Chinese border to play in snow and wave at Chinese soldiers on the other side.

At Tsomgo lake

Pay a visit to the monasteries in and around Gangtok, in particular, the stunning Enchey and Rumtek.

Rumtek monastery

Take a ropeway ride (8.00 am – 4.30 pm) up to the highest point in Gangtok for fabulous views of the town and the surrounding valley.

Where to stay

The Mayfair Gangtok comes with a spa and a casino and is set amidst lush greenery away from the bustle of the town. The Oriental is another popular hotel in the heart of Gangtok.

Go West: Pelling

What to do

Pelling is really not for active vacationers since there is nothing much to do here but take long walks on shaded mountain roads and gaze in awe at the Kanchenjunga. The views are spectacular especially after the monsoon, between the months of October and February.

A must-visit in this region is the Pemayangtse monastery, one of the oldest in Sikkim, founded in 1705. If you are lucky and the skies are clear, the Kanchenjunga may be visible clearly from here.

Visit the Khecheopari Lake, also known as the ‘wishing lake’ and considered sacred by the Sikkimese. Indeed, this is a place of worship for both local Hindus and Buddhists, and surprisingly clear of tourist traps. The path to the lake is studded with prayer wheels on either side while colourful prayer flags whirl in the wind closer to the water.

Khecheopalri lake

If you happen to be there on a weekend, look out for local haats (markets) where farmers from the area bring in their produce for sale; it makes for a lively and colourful morning

For those really bitten by the travel bug, a trip to Yuksam village (38 km away), the starting point for the tough trek into the Kanchenjunga National Park is recommended. Spend your day ambling down the narrow main road, snacking on chilli-cheese toast and tea at Guptaji’s small café, and watching the clouds play hide and seek with the mountains surrounding you.

Where to stay

In Pelling, stay at the Elgin Mount Pandim Hotel, close to the Pemayangtse monastery. It also comes with a spa in case you want to soothe those aching muscles after long drives on the mountain roads.

Go North: Yumthang Valley and Gurudongmar Lake

What to do

This is the most popular circuit among visitors to Sikkim, Gangtok to Yumthang Valley and Gurudongmar Lake in the north.

The first morning, wake up early and head to Gurudongmar lake situated at a (literally) breathtaking 17000 feet. Most vehicles take a compulsory halt for an hour at Thangu village at 14,000 feet for breakfast, and more importantly, to get you acclimatised to the altitude. Enjoy the ride thereon through a surreal moonscape path, which affords plenty of photo-ops. Go prepared with layers and layers of woolies and the idea that you will feel disoriented at that height and for perhaps a couple of hours after you descend.

Gurudongmar lake

The next morning, make your way to Yumthang, a mere 24 kilometres from Lachung and at a (relatively) more comfortable altitude of 12,000 feet. The road leading to Yumthang, known as the ‘valley of flowers’ is well laid and lined with rhododendron trees on either side. This area comes under the protected Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary (home to over 24 species of this flower) and is especially pretty during the summer months when the ground is covered with flowers of all colours. Yumthang is the stuff of picture postcards, with snow-capped mountains on all sides, with the crystal clear Yumthang river flowing through the meadow.

Yumthang valley

Where to stay

Lachung and Lachen villages are the base for Yumthang valley and Gurudongmar lake respectively. The Fortuna is one of the most popular and comfortable hotels in this area. Accommodation otherwise is mostly basic and not very luxurious there – discuss your options with your tour operator before you leave. The friendliness of the locals, the pure mountain air and the fresh water springs all around more than make up for any mild discomfort you may experience.

Note: You cannot rent or drive your own vehicle in Sikkim since many places require special permits. Therefore you need to arrange for excursions through an authorized tour operator in Gangtok. For North Sikkim, it is best to take a package that includes your travel, stay and food from one of the authorised tour operators who line MG Road.

***
~ Originally published on the Conde Nast Traveller website on May 07, 2013
~ Read my earlier Sikkim stories here

21 thoughts on “The perfect Sikkim itinerary

  1. Hi Charukeshi,

    I chanced upon your blog as I am looking up details for visiting Sikkim in March. I really enjoyed reading your article and also your travel stories and pictures! Great work.. I cant wait to visit Gurudongmar lake, I think its going to be magical 🙂

  2. I am planning to visit Sikkim (Gangtok and North-Sikkim) for June11th – June17th, 2014. Is this good time to travel and is it really safe? I know the rains might start, but is it worth going this time of the year?

  3. hi charukesi,

    it was a pleasure reading about sikkim on your blog. the LPs of the world don’t have an account as detailed and magical as yours. It is really useful as i am planning a 6 day trip to darjeeling-sikkim. can i ask you a question. would it be too hectic to do darjeeling-gangtok-gurudongma with 2 days in each place. can we drive back from lachung all the way to bagdogra or should i take a stopover at gangtok. sorry to bother u with these questions, but i am quite clueless.

    1. hi! thank you for your kind words and glad my blog is of help. here is my suggestion – I think this is a hectic itinerary because these are narrow mountain roads and travel time between each place is much longer than we are used to in the plains. ideally you should have 3 days in Gangtok (since you will probably spend one day going to Nathula and Tsomgo lake). And then 3 days for the North Sikkim trip since travel to Lachen / Lachung will take the better part of Day 1. You need to leave really early in the morning to reach Gurudongmar Lake. And i think driving back from Lachung to Bagdogra in a day is a bad idea – please consider stopping over at Gangtok.

  4. don’t forget to talk with people out here.. you will be amazed by the hospitality and simplicity. beat off those stereotypes and fear about being a temporary outsider and be a part of it.. you will find much more meaning to your trip.. cheerios!!

  5. Hi Charukesi, thanks for writing such a lovely blog about Sikkim. I will be landing at Bagdogra in January with my wife and 2 kids (6 yrs and less than 1 yr). I am planning to cover Darjling, Gangtok and Kalimpong or Pelling in 6 nights. Will appreciate your guidance on the following;
    – do I have sufficient time to cover 3 destinations
    – which one should I chose between Kelimpong and Pelling

    Thanks, SP

  6. HI ! sikkim look so inviting. need you help in working out a mini itenary. I plan to land in baghdorga on 7th eve and reach gangtok on 7th night / 8th morning
    Have the day on 8th and a dinner party to attend on 8th night. Was planning to go to the lake & pass on 9th. Come back and stay over night in gantok. if i have 1 more day 10th.. where can we visit… how far is pelling from gangtok.. should we stay overnight there or day tip possible? return should be from baghdorga ideally?? or elsewhere? look fwd to ur reply…

  7. Thank You for writing such a lovely blog. Sikkim is a perfect destination for every people of every ages. I recently had my bike trip in Gangtok and was amazed by the scenic view of the capital. I feel rejuvenated after having a lovely bike journey. Thanks to Road Riders for renting us bike, without them this trip would not be possible.

  8. I really enjoyed being in Sikkim. It was one of the best destinations I have been too. Especially the Changu Lake, I loved the places and Gangtok was full of energy.

  9. A true inspiration for us… You inspire us to venture out. I did a solo in April and jotted my experiences down in my blog. It would be very nice of you to share your views on it. Mine is “A Pocket Guide to Traveling Sikkim at Minimal Spending” at DoiBedouin.

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