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Everything you need to know to plan an EPIC trip to Sikkim

Everything you need to know to plan an EPIC trip to Sikkim
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Glittering glacial lakes, endless pastures, waterfalls at every turn, quiet monastery towns, and scenic drives on some of the worst roads we’ve encountered on our travels made our trip to Sikkim an adventure we will never forget

Gurudongmar lake Sikkim

Gorgeous sights all around

 

The state of Sikkim, nestled in the North Eastern part of India, isn’t exactly on the tourist radar. But it should be. The state has so much to offer to visitors. You will fall short of words to describe its natural beauty. Towns such as Gangtok and Pelling have some gorgeous hotels and sights that ensure a memorable holiday.

 

But the lack of infrastructure, especially in areas such as North Sikkim, make the journey challenging. If that makes you apprehensive, skip North Sikkim and visit just Gangtok and Pelling on your trip to Sikkim or choose a trip to Ladakh, India instead (similar panoramas, better infrastructure). However if you’re an adventurer at heart, then here’s our itinerary that covers most of Sikkim for you:

 

ITINERARY FOR A TRIP TO SIKKIM

  • Day 1: Fly to Bagdogra Airport and transfer to Gangtok
  • Days 2-3: Explore Gangtok and surroundings
  • Days 4-6: North Sikkim Tour: Visit Gurudongmar Lake, Lachen, Lachung
  • Day 6: Yumthang Valley and transfer back to Gangtok
  • Day 7: Transfer to Pelling
  • Days 8-9: Explore Pelling and surroundings
  • Day 10: Transfer to Bagdogra Airport and flight back home
North Sikkim tour in a rental cab

Can’t say no to those drives 🙂

 

 

BUDGETING FOR A TRIP TO SIKKIM

Expenditure (true of October 2017) on a 10 day trip for a couple – INR 90,000 (£1000). Of course this sum varies depending on where you’re flying from or the kinds of hotels you’re choosing. Here’s the breakdown: 

  • Flights (New Delhi- Bagdogra) INR 12000 per person
  • North Sikkim Tour (2N/3D) including transfers, hotels, and permits INR 25000
  • Bagdogra Airport- Gangtok Private Transfer INR 3500
  • Gangktok 1 day cab rental for sightseeing INR 2500
  • Gangtok- Pelling Private Transfer INR 4000
  • Pelling 1 day cab rental for sightseeing INR INR 2500
  • Pelling-Bagdogra Airport private transfer in a big car (please do not opt for a small car with low clearance for this stretch, the road is horrendous) INR 4000
  • Hotels in Gangtok and Pelling – this depends on your preference but we’d suggest setting aside at least INR 4000 for a comfortable hotel 
  • Miscellaneous meals, entry fee etc INR 6000

 

GETTING AROUND IN SIKKIM: CABS AND ROADS

Self drive isn’t an option in Sikkim as there are no rental cars available. You could drive your own car from a neighbouring state but you will need multiple permits to visit various places of interest. Due to the presence of multiple taxi unions and requirements for permits, we suggest booking your transportation with a local tour agency that will sort out both cabs and permits for you

Irrespective of whether you choose a company recommended by us or your family/friends, make SURE (we cannot stress this enough) that you have written confirmation of the kind of transfers you have chosen (private/shared), the kind of car that will be provided to you (4×4, 2 wheel drive etc), and a list of inclusions (e.g. cost of permits, day trips etc) in order to prevent paying more at a later stage.

We booked ALL our transfers and North Sikkim tour with Galaxy Tours (contact Tenzing)after reading several good reviews on Tripadvisor. They were prompt in their communication online which put us at ease. We chose private transfers all along and a 2N/3D North Sikkim Tour. There were a few minor hiccups in service once we got there but overall we would recommend them.

Driving around in Sikkim in Xylo Innova

It’s best to rent a bigger and more comfortable car in Sikkim 🙂

 

 

DAY BY DAY BREAKDOWN OF A TRIP TO SIKKIM WITH LOTS OF TIPS 🙂

 

  • Day 1: Fly to Bagdogra Airport and transfer to Gangtok

On this day you will arrive at Bagdogra Airport. As you collect your luggage and exit the airport, expect a chaotic mass of taxi drivers, tourists, and travel agents. You can choose a taxi at the spot but we would suggest booking one in advance so:

  1. You know you are in reliable hands and have someone who can be held accountable should something go wrong
  2. You do not have to waste time finding a cab and bargaining on the spot.

Whether you book a cab right there or book one in advance, a private transfer to Gangtok should cost between INR 3000 and INR 3500. This cost goes down significantly if you choose a shared transfer. The road from Bagdogra Airport to Gangtok is one of the few decent roads in Sikkim, so expect a comfortable journey with a few bumps along the way.

 

Accommodation in Gangtok

There is no dearth of accommodation to suit all budgets in Gangtok. We chose to stay in a luxurious boutique hotel that boasts of a history like no other. Elgin Nor Khill used to the Royal Guesthouse of the King of Sikkim. It has now been refurbished into a hotel but it’s grandeur remains intact. The lobby is bedecked with artifacts and artwork that reflects the rich culture of Sikkim. You could choose a room in the older, more traditionally-furnished wing or the modern wing that boasts of clean cuts and contemporary furnishings. We were greeted with cherry liquor and huge smiles at check in and this continued for the length of the stay – the staff at Elgin Nor Khill well and truly stands out. We really enjoyed our stay here!

Do beware – the hotel is located right next to the iconic Paljor Football Stadium, perfect if you enjoy the sport but a bit of a nuisance if you don’t as the sound of matches, practices floats through the windows.

suite in Elgin Nork Hill Gangtok Sikkim

Beautiful room at Elgin Nork Hill Gangtok

 

  • Days 2-3: Explore Gangtok and surroundings

Gangtok is the largest town in Sikkim and the perfect place to explore the sites and sounds of East Sikkim. The bustling town is also home to some amazing eateries. Spend your days in Gangtok sampling local food, sipping on a cup of local black tea as you watch the locals go about their lives, and visiting impressive sites in the area.  Here are a couple of places we’d recommend in Gangtok

  • Go for an aimless stroll on MG Road. Pick up some souvenirs or just sample some local foods such as momos (steamed dumplings) and thukpa (a hearty noodle soup)
  • If you’re looking for scrumptious momos (steamed dumplings) try Taste of Tibet and the iconic Momo Roll Corner located up a flight of stairs. Both these hole-in-the-wall eateries are situated on the busy MG Road. Here there are momo shops by the dozen and we tried a fair few, but these are the two we liked best. Visit for a super affordable snack/meal on the go.
  • If you’re looking for a more comfortable place to while some time away, then visit Bibliothéque café or the café at Bookman’s B&B for breakfast or brunch.
  • Spend an afternoon at The Tibetology Museum to acquaint yourself with Buddhism and learn more about the fascinating monasteries in the area. Combine it with a visit to Rumtek Monastery.
  • If you’re not visiting North Sikkim, then we would recommend renting a car for a day (see the budgeting section for approximate prices) and visiting some sites in the area including the glittering Tsomgo/Changu Lake and Tashi View Point. However if you ARE visiting North Sikkim, then you can skip these sites because you will be lots of waterfalls, glacial lakes, and panoramic view points there.
Walking around and having momos in Gangtok MG Road

Walking around in Gangtok

 

  • Days 4: North Sikkim Tour: Drive from Gangtok to Lachen

Let the fun (and back aches 😉 ) begin!! For the next 3 days, you will be spending over 12 hours a day in your rental car on roads that aren’t worthy of being called roads, so make sure you’ve stocked up on snacks, some music, and optimism!

An early wake-up call followed by an arduous but scenic drive 8 hour drive will bring you to Lachen. Lachen is a small village, which is the perfect place to break the journey between Gangtok and Gurudongmar Lake.  The drive to Lachen is laden by nature’s marvels – stop for photographs with waterfalls, marvel at meandering brooks, or just sip on a cup of tea at a small eatery that offers stunning views of the Himalayas. Roads in North Sikkim are in bad shape, so the drive is bound to leave you exhausted. Rest well because you have a long and exciting day ahead of you.

Lachen village drive in North Sikkim

Expect such gorgeous sights 🙂

 

Accommodation and meals in Lachen:

Basic accommodation and meals are included in the price of the North Sikkim Tour we mentioned in the budgeting section (INR 25000/£300). But do beware that this accommodation is as basic as it gets – think home-stays, unpredictable electricity, questionable bedding, and tiny rooms. However the hosts are hospitable and always willing to provide hot water or an extra blanket should you need it.

If you enjoy comfortable accommodation, then we’d suggest opting for a North Sikkim Tour that includes just a cab and a driver and booking accommodation yourself. In this case, you could stay at the slightly more upscale Apple Orchard Resort in Lachen. The hotel was closed at the time we visited but we heard great things about it.

 

Day 5: Visit Gurudongmar Lake and sleep in Lachung

You will need to leave your hotel by 3 am for the long and exciting drive to Gurudongmar Lake, one of the highest and most remote lakes in the world. The journey takes about 5 hours each way from Lachen. You will be off-roading for the majority of this time as a lot of the ‘roads’ in the area are just gravel and pebbles. Having said that, the mountain views around you will hypnotize you into oblivion. As you near Gurudongmar Lake, bright blue skies and crisp mountain air will beckon you into submission. Before you know it, you will be staring at a glistening water body, surrounded by mountains and glaciers. This is it- you are here!

 

At 18000 feet there’s little you can do other than stopping and staring at nature’s wonders. But do click a photograph or two to preserve the moment for posterity. Gurudongmar Lake is spellbinding and the definite highlight of a trip to Sikkim. Due to the lack of oxygen at such high altitudes you should only stay here for 30 minutes or so. This is followed by another long and gorgeous drive to Lachung, where you will stay for the night.

Couple at Gurudongmar lake in Sikkim

The two of us at Gurudongmar Lake 🙂

 

Couple at Guudongmar Lake North Sikkim

If you’re feeling fine, make sure to go down to the lake shore 🙂

 

Accommodation and meals in Lachung:

Basic accommodation and meals are included in the price of the North Sikkim Tour we mentioned in the budgeting section (INR 25000/£300). Lachung is bigger than Lachen and consequently more developed. The hotel included in the tour is an extremely basic hotel – ok for a stop over for the night but nothing else!

If you enjoy comfortable accommodation, then opt North Sikkim Tour that includes just a cab and a driver and booking accommodation yourself. In this case, you could stay at stay at the Yarlam Resort in Lachung. The hotel provides gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains and it’s easy to spend a couple of nights in the lap of nature here. However do beware that connectivity is a problem in the area, so you might not want to stay longer than necessary.

 

 

  • Day 6: Yumthang Valley, Zero Point, and transfer back to Gangtok

The third and last day of your North Sikkim tour will take you to lots of interesting sites. Yumthang Valley is particularly resplendent during the month of April when it is covered with purple flowers. At other times of the year, it offers some stunning panoramas. Continue onto Zero Point, if the idea of seeing snow fascinates you. You could give this a pass during summer months but this place can be gorgeous and dramatic during winter months (if you’re lucky and the road leading to it isn’t snowed under!). On your way back to Gangtok, stop and stare at the dozens of waterfalls along the way.

 

The one we specially enjoyed was Bhim Nala Falls (also known as the Amitabh Bachan Falls) – we opted out of visiting Nathula Pass and consequently escaped the hordes of day trippers that stop by these falls at the exact same time of the day. We were the only ones around and had a great time. The roads of North Sikkim continued to be the worst we’ve ever encountered on our travels. Needless to say, we arrived in Gangtok feeling sore and exhausted! But there’s nothing a hot bath and a hot meal can’t solve.

Amitabh Bachchan waterfalls in North Sikkim

What a majestic waterfall 🙂

 

 

  • Day 7: Transfer to Pelling

In case you thought your tryst with the disastrous roads of Sikkim was over, you were mistaken. On this morning, we’d suggest getting up without an alarm clock and enjoying a languorous breakfast before setting out for monastery town of Pelling. The drive is bumpy but once you get to Pelling, you will be stunned at how peaceful it is. Spend the next 3 days relaxing, exploring monasteries, and chasing waterfalls around Pelling.

 

Accommodation in Pelling 

Saved the BEST for the last! We stumbled on a gorgeous property in Pelling and couldn’t believe it hasn’t made it to a ‘100 hotels you need to see before you die’ kind of listicle yet. The Elgin Mount Pandim is a luxurious experiential property which used to be the summer residence of the King of Sikkim.

Rooms are spacious and well-equipped and meals are scrumptious. But the highlight of a stay here is the outdoor spaces. The hotel building is surrounded by 8 acres of private farmland and overlooks some gorgeous Himalayan peaks including Mt. Kanchenjunga, the second highest peak of the world. It’s easy to spend hours sipping on a cup of coffee or nursing a cocktail and staring at the view. Every other guest we met at the hotel felt the same.

The hotel is located away from the hustle bustle of Pelling, right next to the secluded Pemayangtse monastery. We would definitely recommend a stay here if it suits your budget! You can find the best prices here.

Elgin Pelling room view to Kanchenjonga

Room overlooking some of the most beautiful mountain ranges

 

Evening tea overlooking Himalayas and Kanchenjonga at Elgin Pelling Hotel

Best evening tea spot ever?

 

  • Days 8-9: Explore Pelling and surroundings

A three day tour of North Sikkim is bound to leave you exhausted. So we would suggest taking Day 8 to relax and absorb the fresh mountain air. If you choose to stay at The Elgin Mount Pandim you can hop over to the gorgeous Pemayangtse monastery next door or go bird watching in the complex. Take time to absorb the natural beauty of Sikkim and linger over meals – you deserve it!

 

On your last day in Sikkim, rent a cab to explore the area a bit. There are lots of waterfalls and monasteries in the area, so you could opt for a whole day trip. This is also a good time to see the Pemayangtse monastery if you haven’t seen it yet. Having seen so many waterfalls in Sikkim, we rented a car just for a few hours to go and see the iconic Kanchenjunga Falls and Rimbi Falls – you could do that too. Kanchenjunga Falls  are gorgeous, especially during monsoon months. But if you’re a keen photographer, we would suggest leaving your hotel early and reaching Kanchenjunga Falls before 8.30 am if you want to avoid the crowds.

Night sky at Pelling sikkim with a view of Mt. Kanchenjunga

Star trails over Mt. Kanchenjunga

 

Pemayangtse monastery monk Sikkim

Pemayangtse Monastery

 

Girl at Kanchenjunga waterfalls in West Sikkim near Pelling

Savi at Kachenjunga Waterfalls

 

Spend your last evening in Sikkim relaxing and recounting adventures from the past 10 days.

 

  • Day 10: Transfer to Bagdogra Airport and flight back home

You might be well rested and fresh but the roads of Sikkim truly have the last laugh – the Pelling-Bagdogra road is one of the worst we encountered in Sikkim and that’s saying something. We suggest starting early and leaving aside at least 9 hours to cover this stretch of 140 kilometres. Gravel roads, potholes, squelchy soil – there’s nothing you won’t encounter here! We are by no means dissuading you, just providing a reality check 🙂

 

So leave in time and relish the memories of Gurudongmar’s dancing waters, seductive waterfalls, panoramas that wouldn’t be out of place in a fairytale, and the cutest and friendliest locals as you board your flight back home.

 

Local kids in Sikkim

How adorable 🙂

 

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