Sikkim, Nepali: सिक्किम Sikkimese: སུ་ཁྱིམ་, is a state in East India in the Himalayan foot hills also bordering China (Tibet), Nepal and Bhutan. The name has been coined from the words su him, which mean "beautiful home", reflecting the beauty of its snow-covered mountains and lush green valleys.
- Gangtok — the district in the east and the capital of Sikkim.
- Dzongu — In North Sikkim, region reserved for the Lepcha People.
- Geyzing — the district in West Sikkim
- Mangan — the district in North Sikkim
- Namchi — the district in South Sikkim
- Pelling — the district in West Sikkim
- Ravangla — the district in South Sikkim
- Yuksom — the district in West Sikkim
- Khangchendzonga National Park — there are many glaciers located in the park. Animals such as musk deer and snow leopard make there homes here
The official language and lingua franca of Sikkim is Nepali, though Sikkimese is the most common native language of locals. Many other languages such as Dzongkha and Tibetan are also spoken by smaller numbers. However, Hindi is also widely spoken as a second language, and all educated people are able to speak English.
Sikkim covers an area of about 7,300 square kilometres, nearly 40% of which is forested. Kanchenjunga (8,586 m) is the third-highest mountain on earth. The mountain is venerated as seat of the Gods. Sikkim is renowned for wide rhododendron woods with 450 different kinds of orchids. The orchids blossom from March to May.
For a long time, Sikkim was a Buddhist kingdom, isolated in the Himalayas, populated by Lepchas and Bhotia, two tribes of Tibetan origin, and governed by the Namgyal Dynasty from Tibet. Sikkim was declared a British protectorate in 1861. The British government encouraged the immigration of Nepalese workers, and today about 75% of the population is Nepalese. Sikkim was an Indian protectorate from 1947 until 1975, when after a couple of years of unrest, a referendum criticized by some resulted in overwhelming approval of a proposal to abolish the monarchy (which had continued to rule during Sikkim's years as a protectorate), and Sikkim later that year became the 22nd federal state of India.
There are no airports or railway stations in Sikkim. The only way to enter Sikkim from rest of India is by road using a bus or jeep, or by helicopter from West Bengal.
As of May 2015, it is still necessary to obtain a Restricted Area Permit (also known as Inner Line Permit - ILP) for foreigners to travel in Sikkim. The permit is a piece of paper containing your passport data and dates you are permitted to travel (typically, 15 days). When entering and exiting Sikkim, your passport will be stamped much in the same manner as when crossing national borders. Obtaining a permit is a pure bureaucratic formality and usually takes a few minutes. You will need to fill in an application form and possibly provide a few passport photos (1 and 2 have been reported).
The permit can be obtained when crossing the Sikkim state border by road in Rangpo or Meili. It is also available from Sikkim travel desk in Darjeeling located inside the Old Bellevue Hotel (opposite to Glenary's restaurant in Chowrasta district), and from Sikkim Tourism Center in Siliguri located at the S.N.T. bus stand (the place from which government buses depart for Sikkim: S.N.T. means "Sikkim Nationalized Transport") in the vicinity of Siliguri Junction railway station (different from New Jalpaiguri station, and reachable from there by taxi/public shared taxi). The website of Ministry of Home Affairs states that permits can also be obtained at large international airports (Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata), but locating the relevant facilities has proven difficult for some travellers, due to incompetence of personnel. Permits can also be applied for at the time of Indian visa application, or at 14 Panchsheel Marg, New Delhi 110021 (011 26115346) and 4/1 Middleton Street, Kolkata 700071 (033 22817905). Within India Inner Line Permits may be issued by:
- Sikkim House, 12-14 Panchsheet Marg, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi (Tel.011-2611 5346),
- Sikkim Tourist Centre, SNTC Bus Stand, Hill Cart Road, Silguri (Tel.0354-251 2646),
- Sikkim Tourist Information Centre, Sikkim House, 4/1 Middleton St., Kolkata (Tel. 033-2281 7905)
- Foreign Regional Registration Office in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Darjeeling.
The permit is valid for 2 weeks from the border entry to Sikkim. It can by extended for 2 additional weeks at the Foreigners' Registration Office, Kazi Road, Ganngtok (Tel. 03592-223041) or from the police station at Mangan, Gyalshing or Namchi The Inner Line Permit allows travels in Southern Sikkim and great parts of Eastern and Western Sikkim with the exception of treks in high mountain areas.
For the border regions, e.g. Tsomogo Lake in East Sikkim, most parts of North Sikkim and treks into high mountain regions, including Dzongri and Singalila Ridge a Protected Area Permit (PAP) is required. Foreigners must visit these regions in groups of at least 2 persons accompanied by a representative of an officially acknowledged tour operator. The agency will also apply for the Protected Area Permits.
Certain regions, e.g. Nathu La in East Sikkim or Gurudongman Lake in North Sikkim, cannot be visited by foreigners.
Nearest airport for Sikkim is Bagdogra (TXB), near Siliguri in North Bengal, which is 124 km and approximately four hours drive from Gangtok. Indian Airlines, Jet Airways, SpiceJet & Go Air service Bagdogra linking it with other major airport in India (including Guwahati). Druk Air flys twice weekly from Bangkok, stopping in Bagdogra before continuing to Paro in Bhutan. Sikkim is linked to Bagdogra airport by a daily helicopter service to Gangtok that operates only once a day and carries four passengers
- Air India offers daily flights from Delhi to Bagdogra, departure 11.15 am from Delhi, arrival 1.30 pm at Bagdogra, and flights from Kolkata (CCU) daily except Fri departure from Kolkata 2.10 pm, arrival at Bagdogra at 3.10 pm. Return flight from Bagdogra to Delhi leave at 2.05 pm and arriva in Delhi at 4.10 pm, return flights to Kolkata depart from Bagdogra at 3.40 pm and arrive in Kolkata at 4.40 pm.
- Druk Air (Royal Bhutan Airlines) has flights from Bangkok (Thailand) and Paro (Bhutan) to Bagdogra. Flights from Bangkok leave on Mon and Thu 8.55 from Bangkok and arrive at 10.30 at Bagdogra, flights to Bangkok leave Bagdogra on Sat and Tue at 12.00 noon and arrive in Bangkok at 4.30 pm. Flights from Paro leave Paro on Sat and Tue at 11.30 am and arrive at Bagdogra at 11.30 am, flights to Paro leave Bagdogra on Sun and Wed at 11 am and arrice at Paro at 11.55 am.
- GoAir connects Bagdogra with Delhi and Guwahati on Mon, Wed, Fri and Sun. Flights from Delhi go via Guwahati, they leave Delhi daily at 11 am. Flights from Guwahati leave Guwahati at 1.40 pm and arrive at Bagdogra at 2.40 pm. The return flight goes directly to Delhi and departs at [[Bagdogra] at 3.05 pm and arrives in Delhi at 5.20 pm.
- Jet Airways operates flights from Delhi and Kolkata to Bagdogra. Flights leave Delhi daily at 11.35 am and arrive at Bagdogra at 1.45 pm. The return flight leaves Bagdogra at 2.20 pm and arrives in Delhi at 4.30 pm. Flights from Kolkata leave Kolkata at 11.25 am and arrive at Bagdogra at 12.25 pm, return flights leave Bagdogra at 1pm and arrive at Kolkata at 2 pm.
- SpiceJet Airlines has daily flights from Delhi to Bagdogra, Flights leave Delhi at 11.15 am and arrive at Bagdogra at 1.25 pm, return flights leave Bagdogra at 10.40 am and arrive in Delhi at 12.50 pm.
Construction of a 50-km rail link from Sevoke, West Bengal to Rangpo, Sikkim started in 2009, but is not expected to be ready until 2015, and it'll take another few years until it reaches another 40 km to Gangtok.
Meanwhile, the nearest railway stations are Siliguri and New Jalpaiguri. Both of these have a number of trains connecting them to Kolkata. The distance from Delhi to New Jalpaiguri by train is 1.970 km, and 580 km from Kolkata to New Jalpaiguri.
- 12502 Poorvottar Sampark Kranti Express to Guwahati leaves New Delhi Station on Wed, Thu and Sun at 11.55 pm and arrives at New Jalpaiguri 2 days later at 0.05 am.
- 12501 Poorvottar Sampark Kranti Express leaves New Jalpaiguri on Tue, Wed and Sat at 1.30 pm and arrives in New Delhi Station next day at 1 pm.
- 12424 Dibrugarh Rajdhani Express to Dibrugarh Town leaves New Delhi Station daily at 2pm and arrives at New Jalpaiguri next day at 10.45 am.
- 12423 Dibrugarh Rajdhani Express leaves New Jalpaiguri daily at 1.15 pm and arrives at New Delhi Station at 10.10 am next morning.
You should be able to get pre-paid taxis to Gangtok outside the railway stations easily.
The Sikkim government has fixed rate (and fixed schedule) buses plying between Siliguri and Gangtok.
- There is a daily service from Darjeeling to Gantok and vice versa, operated by Sikkim National Transport (SNT). The distance between Darjeeling and Gangtok is about 120 Km. Departure from both places at 8.30 am. Travel time 6 hrs 30 min.
- Services from Siluiguri to Gangtok and v.v. are operated by Sikkim National Transport 8snt9 and North Bengal Transport (NBT). Busses leave Siliguri at 6 (NBT), 7, 9 am and 1 pm (SNT), and Gangtok at 7 and 8 am (SNT), 12.30 pm (NBT), 1 pm (SNT). Travel time is 6 hrs.
The SNT bus stand at Gangtok is in Pajor Stadium Road. In many cases it is, however, more convenient to get off at MG Marg. The Private bus stand is on National Highway NH-31A, about 2 km South of the city centre.
Most travel in Sikkim is done by bus or jeep on road. Trekking is also a popular option.
- Bermoik Monastery (above Singtam, South Sikkim). Built in 1952 for the Nyingma sect of Buddhism.
- Chawang Ani Monastery (near Phensang on the Gangtok - Mangan highway). Built during the reign of Chogyal Thutob Namgyal.
- Dalling Monastery (near Kewzing, South Sikkim). Built in 1840.
- Dodrul Chorten, Gangtok. Built in 1945-46 with a complete mandala set of Dorji Phurpa (Bajra Kilaya), a set of Ka-gyur holy Books, complete 'zung'(mantras) and many religious objects.
- Dubdi Monastery. The first monastery established after the consecration ceremony of the first chogyal. It is situated on a hill above Yuksom and can be approached by trekking only, including a steep slope taking about 35 minutes.
- Enchey Monasteyr, Gangtok. 200 year old monastery, famous for the mask dance 'Cham' performed in January.
- Karma Kagyu Monastery, Phodong (32 Kms from Gangtok on the Gangtok Lachung Highway.). Built in 1740, the monastery is famous for its old wall murals.
- Kewzing Monastery (near Kewzing, South Sikkim). Built during the reign of Chogyal Thutob Namgyal.
- Khechepalri Monastery (above the famous Khechepalri Lake, near Yuksum).
- Labrang Monastery (about 500 meters uphill from Phodang Monastery). Built at the end of 19th cent, this monastery belongs to the Nyingmapa sect. The ruins of Tumlong, the third capital of Sikkim are nearby.
- Lachen Monastery (North Sikkim). Built in 1806.
- Lachung Monastery (North Sikkim). Built in 1880.
- Melli Monastery (near Yuksum).
- Namchi Monastery (Namchi, South Sikkim). Constructed during the reign of Chogyal Gurmed Namgyal.
- Pal Zurmang Kagyud Monastery, Lingdum (on the Rumtek - Ranka - Gangtok road, about 45 mins drive from Gangtok). A fine example of Tibetan monastic architecture.
- Pemayangtse Monastery (Perfect Sublime Lotus) (118 km from Gangtok, 2 Km from Pelling and 9 Km from Gyalshing). 7am to 7pm. The monastery was founded by Lhatson Champo, the protector of Sikkim. It is one of the most important monasteries in the country. There are pictures of Guru Rinpoche and Lhatsun Chenpo, thangkas and wall paintings in the big gompa, which is three storeys high,. The wooden sculpture on top represents Sang Phok Patri, Guru Rinpoche's abode in heaven. The abbot of the monastery carved and painted the sculpture himself. It is reported that he was working for 5 years on the representations of demons, animals, Buddhas and boddhisatvas. Every year at New Year (February/March) a great festival (cham) is held at the monastery. In 1980 the monastery founded the Denjong Padma Choeling Academy for orphans and children without means. ₹20.
- Phodang Monastery (28 km from Gangtok). Built by the Chogyal Gyurmed Namgyal in the first quarter of 18th cent. It is considered one of the most beautiful monasteries in Sikkim. It has beautiful old mural paintings. Today, about 250 monks live there.
- Rhenock Monastery (63 km from Gangtok).
- Rumtek Monastery. – 24 km from Gangtok in East Sikkim – the main seat of the Karma Kagyu (Black hat) school of Tibetan Buddhism in Sikkim. This school was founded in the 12th cent. by Karmapa Duseun Khyenpa in Central Tibet. The 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje had to leave Tibet in 1959 and was invited to stay at Rumtek. He was granted land by the king of Sikkim and erected a new monastery here. Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje is considered one of the greatest Tibetan personalities of the 20th cent and had great influence in spreading Tibetan Buddhism in the West. When he died in 1981 he left a rich monastery of international reputation. The new Rumtek monastery consists of the main temple, a golden stuoa, the Karma Shri Naranda Institute, some smaller shrines and a guesthouse. Foreigners have to show their passport and register. The prayer hall is ornamented with wall paintings and thangkas. A smaller room beside the main hall is painted in gold on a black background depicting angry deities. The Karma Shri Naranda Institute was built in 1984 in traditional Tibetan style. It is the most splendid building in the monastery. The ashes of the 16th Karmapa are kept in a guilded chorten, 4 m high, decorated with turquoise and corals. A path with flowers and prayer flags, at a distance of 4 km from the new monastery leads to the old monastery, which was built by the 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje in 1740, but fell into disrepair.
- Sanga Chelling Monastery (about 7km from Pemayangtse, about 45 minutes walk from Pelling). Literally neaning "the island of esoteric teaching", built in 1697. It is the second oldest monastery in Sikkim.
- Sang Monastery (near Rumtek). Built in 1912.
- Sangacholing Monastery. Erected in 1697, it is considered one of the oldest monasteries in Sikkim. It is situated on a steep hilltop and can only be accessed by a 40 min trek through the forest.
- Simik Monastery (near Singtam).
- Tashiding Monastery. It is considered as the holiest monastery in Sikkim. It is situated on a cone-shaped mountain, 19 Km South-East of Yoksum. It was erected in 1717, according to the legend on a place which was connected with the peak of Kanchenjunga by a rainbow. The monastery consists of several stupas (corten), chapels and the main temple. The relics of the lamas of Sikkims are preserved in a number of smalles chorten. The Nyingmapa-Buddha-Festival is celebrated in the monastery on the 15th day of the first month of the Tibetan moon calendar.
- Tsuk-La-Khang Monastery, Gangtok (within the premises of the Royal Palace). It was used for royal weddings and coronations.
- Yangyang Monastery (at Yangyang, 10km downhill from Rabongla). Built in 1840
- Baba mandir. Eight kilometers from Nathu la pass is the original Harbajan Singh Baba Temple from which the Indo-Bhutan border is approximately 6 km and the India-China border is around 5 km. A must visit place for all those who like to explore places!
- Chungthang. Chungthang is in the northern part of Sikkim. It is located at the confluence of Lachen and Lachung Chu and is the starting point of the river teesta. It is believed that Chungthang is blessed by a guru Rimpoche.
- Gurudongmar Lake. Gurudongmar lake is at an altitude of 5,150 metres. The lake is considered both sacred. It has crystal clear waters and the way leading to it is a cold desert. The lake is frozen during winter, except for a small part which is considered to be touched by Guru Padmasambhava. Visits to the lake are allowed after obtaining a permit from the Government. Foreign nationals are not allowed to go there. The whole area is controlled by army, due to its proximity to China. The air pressure is only 55 % compared to sea level, making altitude sickness a certain outcome for any longer stay without lengthy acclimatisation. For day trip visitors a night stay at Lachen is advised to allow altitude acclimatisation. It is recommended that visitors do not run or speak loudly, rather sit by the lake enjoying its beauty and the surrounding mountains. Tourists are generally asked to leave the place by 13:00-14:00, after which the wind speeds picks up and is enough to carry small stones.
- Kabi Lungstok. Kabi Lungtsok is a historic place, located on North Sikkim Highway, 17 km away from Gangtok. This is the same place where the historic treaty between Lepcha Chief Te-Kung-Tek and the Bhutia Chief Khey-Bum-Sar was signed ritually.
- Nathu la pass. The Nathu la pass lies on the Sino-Indian border and is only open for Indian tourists. People who wish to visit Nathu la should get special permission one day in advance. Please note, however, that the pass is not open on Mondays & Tuesdays every week.It closes in the winter and opens in May.
- Tsongmo Lake. 40 km from Gangtok in East Sikkim on Nathula route – Tsongmo Lake (also called Changu Lake or Tsomgo Lake) is a large lake in the East Sikkim district of India. It is oval-shaped, with a length of about one kilometre and has an average depth of fifteen metres.It is also a home of Brahminy Ducks besides being a stopover for various migratory birds. Etymologically "Tso" means lake and "Mgo" means head, thus literally meaning "source of the lake" in the Bhutia language. Tsongmo lake is declared a sacred lake by the local Buddhist and Hindu population. The lake remains hidden in the rich forest cover. It is believed that the birds do not permit even a single leaf to float on the lake surface. There is a motorable road from Pemayangtse right up to the lake area. It falls in the restricted area and hence an inner line permit is required by Indians to visit this place. Foreign nationals are not permitted to visit this lake without special permission. A little distance from the lake is a beautiful natural three storied cave, the Tseten Tashi Cave is a worth to visit.
There are many adventure activities possible to do in Sikkim. Tourists can go for trekking, rafting and kayaking, mountain biking, mountaineering and yak safaris.
Trekking in the high mountains areas is permitted in groups only. The following agencies organise treks:
- Himalayan Footprints, Pineli Cottage, Upper Syari, Tel.: 091078
- Namgyal Treks and Tours, Tibet Road, Tel.: 203701
- Sikkim Tours and Travels, Church Road, Tel.: 03592-202188.
- Tashila Tours and Travels, Tel.: 03592-229842
- Yak and Yeti, Zero Point NH-31A, Tel.: 09233-522344
The agencies also apply for the necessary permits. The prices for treks in the high mountains areas range from US$40 to US$150 per person per day.
Some of the most interesting treks are:
- Chewabanjyang Trek — itinerary: Uttarey – Chewanbanjyang – Dhund-Sikkime meghu – Gomathang – Yangsap – Big Bari Khola – Dzongri – Yaksum or Gochala
- Coronation Trek — best season: October to December, itinerary: Rumtek – Sang – Yangyang – Ravang – Tashiding – Yuksom.
- Dzongri trek: — The Dzongri trek is suitable for those who wish to go for a short and easy trek. This trek provides beautiful view of unique landscape. .- It starts from Yukso, the former capital of Sikkim, at 5,800 feet, and leads to the point of Dzongri Top at 15,000 feet, right in Kanchenjunga National Park. It is considered the most impressive trek IN Sikkim. The best Season is from April to June or October to December. The highest altitude is Dzongri La Top at about 4,500 metres above sea level, the highest camping site being Dzongri. The trek is rated moderate.
- Green Lake Trek — Green Lake is situated at the base camp of Mount Khanchendzonga on the Zemu Glacier in North Sikkim. Green Lake base camp is more than 5,000 metres above sea level. Therefore proper acclimatization is required in order to avoid high altitude sickness. The trek is rated moderate to strenuous. Trekkers must be fully equipped with food, guide and porters.The best seasons are April and May or October to November.
- Himalayan Trek — best season: April to June, October to December, itinerary: Namchi (Base camp) – Tendong – Damthang – Ravangla – Maenam – Bhaley Dhunga – Yangyang – Sinchuthang – Bermoik – Parbing - Namchi
- Khedi Trek — best season: October to December, itinerary: Assam Lingzey – Pashing Teng Kha (Base Camp, 1425m) – Chauri Kharka – Do Bato – Khedi – Sela Pass (3150m) – Do Basto – Tal Kharka – Nubang - Passang Teng Kha.
- Khangchendzonga Trek — best season: mid March to mid June, October to December, tinerary: Yuksom – Bakhim – Tsoka – Dzongri – Thangsing/Bikbari/Kokchorong – Lamuni/Chaurigang – Goechala/Rathong glacier and back.
- Kosturi Orar Trek — best season: mid March to mid June, October to December, itinerary: Yuksom – Dzongri – Theshyapla – Bikbari – Dzongri – Tsoka – Yuksom
- Meanam Hill Trek — itinerary: Rabong – Meanam – Ballydunga – Ralang
- Monastery Trek — best season: March to May, October to December, itinerary: Pemaiangtse- Sangacholing- Khecheopalri- Dubdi- Hongri- Sinon- Tashiding- Ralong.
- Rinchenpong/Soreng Trek — best season: April to June, October to December, itinerary: Kaluk – Rinchenpong Dak bungalow – Rigsum Gumpa – Kaluk – Sribadam Jhandi Dara – Soreng
- Rhododendron Trek — best season March to May, itinerary: Naya Bazaar – Hilley/Soreng – Barsey – Dentam – PeMaiangtse.
- Samartek Trek — best season: mid March to mid June, October to December, itinerary: Kodong – Dokshing – Tsen Khong – Lenchok – Samartek – Pakchong – Kungo – Kuling Nae (Cave) Gungramgampo – Singhik Dak Bungalow
- Singalila Trek — best season: mid May to October, itinerary: Uttarey – Chewabhanjang – Dhor(Wahong) – Sikkim Megu – Dafey Bhir – Gomanthag/Boktok – Tegyapla – Bikbari – Dzongri * Tsoka – Yuksom
- Tendong Hill Trek — Dentam – Tendong – Namchi
- Tosha Lake Trek — itinerary: Mangan – Naksuk – Sohar Dhe – Soahar Antsok – Patam – Tosar Lake – Maiong Tar – Kale - Mangan
- Tholung Trek (North Sikkim) — leads to higher alpine valleys where yaks graze below the snow capped mountains of the Kanchenjunga range, along the River Ringpi Chu and to Tholung monastery.
You must eat delicious momos stuffed with meat (also known as 'Dumpling'). For vegetarians, veg momos are also available along with Thukpas (noodle soup). Phagshapa is a strip of pork fat stewed with radishes and dried chillies.
- Chhang/ Thumba/ Chee - Locally brewed millet beer, sometimes served in bamboo glass with a wooden straw. A must try. Available almost everywhere in Sikkim.
- HIT Beer - This local favorite is manufactured by a brewery owned by the Bollywood Actor Danny Denzongpa. This brand is available almost everywhere in Sikkim.
- Liquor - Liquor like whiskey, brandy, rum etc is very cheap in Sikkim as compared to other parts of India.