Sikkim Travel Guidelines -
For all passengers travelling to Sikkim, a negative RT-PCR test taken within 72 hours of entering the state is mandatory. The test results will be checked not only at airports and entry points but at hotels as well.
As you scour for Sikkim packages, make sure you bank on a well-rounded itinerary of one of India’s smallest states that captures its essence.
Sikkim: An overview
A mountain kingdom until 1975, Sikkim retains a very distinctive aura. The meditative silence of its mural-splashed monasteries, a testimony to its Tibetan Buddhism routes, and their co-existence with the multiple Hindu temples, an evidence of the ever-surging Nepali community, come together to create a kaleidoscopic array of structures and shapes that adorn Sikkim’s skyline. High on eco-tourism and in a race to go fully organic, you will be mesmerised by the labyrinthine of hanging, steep valleys dense with a cover of rhododendron jungles and subtropical forests backed by the snow-frosted peaks of the Himalayas to the north, that is Sikkim. When the mist lifts and you are on top of a ridge, you will be rewarded by the views of the Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest mountain on the northwestern horizon. Sikkim lying to the south of Tibet is ensconced between Bhutan to the east and Nepal to the west. With dimensions of this little Himalayan state as tight as 65 kilometre by 115 kilometre, it is home to a maze of narrow, winding roads penetrating into the heart of this wild Himalayan state.
Places to visit in Sikkim
As you go through Sikkim tour packages
, make sure you discover its cultural, historical and spiritual links, and a distinct Tibetan influence. A visitor looking for Sikkim holiday packages
is looking to go off-the-beaten-track and explore its trekking trails and in the process its monasteries set amid stunning backdrops. The tiny state is believed to have more than two hundred monasteries with most of them belonging to the ancient Nyingmapa sect.
The cosmopolitan capital of Sikkim is cheerful and boisterous with plunging mountain ridges, viewpoints atop deep valleys that remain covered in mist any time of the day. And if the fog clears a little, you can get a glimpse of the snow-capped Kanchenjunga in the distant sky. Gangtok
has a special appeal as a place to organise travels within the state, to make group tours
and secure permits. The social as well as commercial heart of Gangtok being the Mahatma Gandhi Marg or MG Marg, lined up with pretty cafes, souvenir shops, knickknack stores. Above the city, the calm central ridge area connects pretty, manicured gardens with the thick jungles skirting the former royal residence, the Chogyal Palace.
Namgyal Institute of Tibetology:
The institute’s main building is like a beautiful Tibetan palace with turrets, a mural-rich facade and a forest setting. In the main hall, you will find a lovely collection of cultural Tibetan artifacts and iconography which include trumpets made from human thigh bones, tantric skullcap bowls. You will come across the eight-armed bronze statue of Namgyalama, the victory goddess. Upstairs is a library housing teak and glass boxes containing religious scriptures. The place is a brief walk from Deorali Bazaar Ropeway Station and the Deorali taxi stand. A visit to this landmark is a must on your Sikkim trip
If you are visiting the Himalayan Zoological Park, you can also consider stopping at the Ganesh Tok viewpoint and take in a sweeping view of the Gangtok City. You can survey the Royal Palace hidden behind trees beyond the Enchey Gompa. You can take a path through the jungles that leads you to the Enchey Gompa in 20 minutes.
This royal monastery in Gangtok is lauded for its centrepiece temple inside which is a pair of intricately carved dragon columns beside the main images. The surrounding quietude of this place stills you, and it is wonderful to spend some time soaking up this calm amid its pretty interiors. As you wander around the football pitch meant for the monks, you can take a closer look at the private Chogyal Palace.
Located about 24 kilometre from Gangtok, at an elevation of 4900 foot, the Rumtek Monastery originally commissioned by the 12th Karmapa Lama in the middle of 18th century served as the main seat of the Karma Kagyu lineage. By 1959 when the 16th Karmapa landed in Sikkim after fleeing Tibet, the monastery went in ruins. But Karmapa went on to rebuild Rumtek impressed by its holy aura and location, the gushing mountain streams behind the monastery, the snow-capped peaks in the front and beneath it a river. With support from the Sikkim royal family, the 16th Karmapa reconstructed Rumtek as his main seat in exile. Once the monastery was completed, relics and sacred items were brought in from Tsurphu Monastery, which was Karmapa’s erstwhile seat in Tibet. This monastery is the largest in Sikkim and home to a community of monks who carry on the practices and rituals of the Karma Kagyu lineage. It has a golden stupa with the relics of the 16th Karmapa. The Karma Shri Nalanda Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies is located opposite to the monastery building.
Things to do in Sikkim
Goecha La trek:
The trek takes off from the West Sikkim outpost of Yuksom, a place of historical significance for being the first capital and the coronation site of its first Chogyal in 1641. Yuksom is the trail-head for several treks leading to Kanchenjunga. But if you are not someone keen on taking a trek, Yuksom still serves as a great starting point for several short hikes, wandering around the local village and visits to monasteries. Yuksom may not give you the best of mountain views, but there are some wonderful forest paths that you can take on a morning’s walk. Beginning from Yuksom, the trek goes through a gorgeous alpine landscape slowly scaling a height of 16,207 foot from where you can take in panoramic views of the snow-frosted Himalayan peaks. April and November are the best months for photography. You will be trekking mostly through the Kanchenjunga National Park, among the greenest regions in the world and home to rare and exotic flora and fauna. The trek can be quite challenging at times especially for the distances that need to be covered, but the views you are rewarded with makes up for all the hardships.
About 131 kilometre from Gangtok, the small hilly town of Pelling is all about watching breathtaking sunrises over the Kanchenjunga. Walk past its concrete jungle made by a glut of hotels and you will find a beautiful natural setting with forests and mountains. About 3 kilometre from Pelling are a series of ridgetops which are the ruins of a palace from the 18th century outside of two monasteries of historical importance - the Pemayangste Gompa and the Sanghak Choeling. Pelling is a great base for ardent trekkers to get on a few sweat-breaking treks and hikes through a virgin territory past cascading waterfalls, mountain villages and a hillside covered in a blanket of snow. Pelling is known for its waterfalls, palace ruins and gorgeous monasteries stuck in time.
Exploring the rhododendron jungles:
The forests of Varsey in West Sikkim and Singba in North Sikkim are known to harbour over 500 species of rhododendrons that come to bloom with their scarlet faces between March and May. A visit to the hillsides brings you face to face with rhododendron blooms in vivid shades of red, white, pink, mauve and yellow. To walk under a pergola of rhododendrons at this time of the year is an experience to remember. An early morning bush walk is most favourable to make the most of the brilliant rhododendron wilderness Sikkim is otherwise known for.
Lachen, Yumthang and Tsopta valleys:
These beautiful valleys lie in the remote northern part of Sikkim. You can take a four-wheel-drive through this otherwise tricky terrain riddled by earthquakes and landslides, and head to this beautiful place. As the climb gets steeper and higher, it is better to spend a night at the very scenic town of Lachen. Located 129 kilometre from Gangtok, Lachen can be reached over a six-hour road trip. Lachen at an elevation of 9022 foot means ‘big pass’, the town that serves as a base to the Gurudongmar Lake at 17,800 foot and Chopta Valley which is very popular with birders and wildlife enthusiasts. Thangu, the annual yak race is hosted in Lachen, putting it on the tourism map for bringing in throngs of visitors within India and outside. Lachen is extremely scenic with views of snow-dusted peaks, an alpine setting, lakes, flower-exploding wilderness, and a very vibrant local life. You can also visit the Lachen monastery and take a round of the women’s handicraft centre to see how blankets and rugs are sewn traditionally.
Tea at Temi:
Temi, a little hamlet in South Sikkim is the state’s only tea-growing region, producing a refreshing but mellow brew rich with aromatic herbal flavour. The Temi tea has found connoisseurs around the world for the quality of its harvest and the delightful aroma of the beverage. You can plan a trip to Temi’s breathtakingly manicured tea estates that encompass the mountains, and soak up the scenery while sipping this beautiful amber drink. Temi is about 46 kilometre from Gangtok and can be reached over a two-hour drive from the capital. You can even stay at the Temi Tea Bungalow in the area and be privy to some traditional colonial-style hospitality. Surrounded by cherry blossom blooms and splendid mountain scenery, you will be in for a special treat at Temi.
About 78 kilometre from Gangtok, at an elevation of 5500 foot is the pilgrimage town of Namchi. Among local Buddhist pilgrimage centres are the Namchi Monastery, Ralang Monastery and the Tendong Hill. The world’s tallest statue of Buddhist Padmasambhav, also called Guru Rinpoche who is the patrol saint of Sikkim is located on the Samdrupste Hill which is opposite Namchi. The town is very popular with bikers coming in on the weekends from neighbouring Bengal.
Nestled in a valley at an altitude of 12,401 foot, the azure waters of the Tsomgo Lake, a glacial lake, with the mighty Himalayas in the backdrop rising further into the Tibetan Plateau, is a place you wouldn’t want to miss on your holiday in Sikkim. Tsomgo Lake is about 40 kilometre from Gangtok and is a four-hour return journey from the state capital. The best time to visit the lake is between early spring and late autumn when then lake is partly frozen and the stalls around it gear up to serve hot tea and momos to arm you against the bone-freezing cold. You can even ride a yak on the lakeside and get another perspective. Come winter and the lake entirely freezes and reflects the changing colours of the sky. It is a breathtaking scenery to behold.
The Indian side of the Nathula Pass lies 54 kilometre east of Gangtok. At an altitude of 14,140 foot, the Nathula Pass is always cold, covered in a blanket of snow at all times of the year. The China border is in close proximity and you can even catch a glimpse of soldiers on either side of the border protecting their respecting territories. On your way back, don’t forget to stop by at the local market nearby called Sherathang, a great place to pick up authentic souvenirs and knickknacks for your friends and family back home. INR 200 per person is the permit to enter the pass which is open to public from Wednesday to Saturday between May and October.
Rafting on Teesta River
The Teesta River gushes down the length of the state, originating from the glacial heights of the Sikkim Himalayas and flows down the tropical plains, opening up along the way brilliant rafting opportunities on its choppy waters. There are calm patches for amateurs to hone their rafting skills and slowly as they progress to more challenging rapids. You can even kayak on the river, if you are a water sport enthusiast and get the right adrenaline rush. You can begin your rafting adventure at Melli Bridge, Teesta River, Gangtok between 09:00 am and 03:00 pm.
Enjoy a traditional Sikkimese meal
Begin with the momo which every street kiosk gets right. The flour dumpling have a filling of meat and herbs. Another favourite Sikkim street food is the Thukpa, a noodle soup made of onion, garlic, green chillies, and red meat and poached eggs with a dash of spices. Of course there is the traditional Dal Bhat which is the mainland equivalent of Dal Chawal but different in flavour and spicing. Another popular Sikkimese dish is the Phagshapa, a very spicy stew made with pork fat strips. Do also try the Sael Roti, a fried bread served typically with potato curry. And if all the spice begins to get to you, wash it down with a mug of fermented millet rice beer, locally called Chang, served in tall bamboo glasses. The Sikkimese food is rich in several fermented lentils and spices and loaded with generous quantities of proteins.
Homestays have come up in a great way in Sikkim and are the more preferable options than hotels if you crave for some local life and glimpse into the local cultures and traditions. There are multiple farm stays where you can share the accommodation with the locals and over kitchen fires enjoy a drink, share a meal, get regaled by stories and folklore. These homestays are a great way to participate in household activities, they come with clean, airy, tastefully done up rooms with all necessary amenities and are the best stay options if you are visiting rural Sikkim.
Sikkim Paragliding Festival
October and November are the best times to visit Gangtok> if you are an adventure junkie, for paragliding becomes the mainstay of the region at this time of the year. To get a bird’s eye view of the Sikkim Himalayas, you can join in the Sikkim Paragliding Festival hosted in Gangtok between October and November when the skies are clearer and sunnier and the views over the mountains prism clear. To get bragging right back home, you need to simply wear your helmet, strap yourself to your chute and jump off a hill for a thrilling adventure and some grand views. A selfie at such a moment is warranted.
Best time to visit Sikkim
The best time to visit Sikkim remains between March and May and then between October and mid-December. Gangtok appears to be exploding with flowers as the trees grow new leaves in the spring season from March to May. But if you prefer to get a clearer view of the Himalayas, then choose to go between October and December, the season when the Maniram Bhanjyang Tourism Festival happens, making homestay stays most enjoyable at this time of the year. This is also the time for the Red Panda Winter Festival and also the Cherry Tea Festival, giving you a glimpse into the customs and traditions of Sikkim. The winter months open up Sikkim in a way unimaginable as the roads and the hillsides are covered in a layer of thick snow.
Summer in Sikkim
The summer months in Sikkim last between April and June by the end of which rains become the order of the day. This period is otherwise the best to visit Sikkim as the weather is not harsh, the days are sunny and perfect for excursions, short hikes and monastery visits. The night temperature drops a bit though not substantially like in the winter months. Clear skies will make ridge top viewing of the Himalayas rewarding, and most sightseeing addresses are open in this season, allowing you to take up multiple activities and treks. This is the best time of the year to visit top tourist spots like Goecha La, Rumtek Monastery, Lake Tsomgo, Yumthang Valley of Flowers to name a few, making it possible for you to pursue activities like yak safari, white water rafting, paragliding, mountain biking, photography and trekking. The day temperature lingers around 26 degree Celsius while the night temperature drops to around 3 degree Celsius.
Winter in Sikkim
Winter months begin with the arrival of November and stay until the middle of March. Winter turns the state into a white wonderland, bringing in tourists despite its harsh conditions. Travellers love to view the high altitude frozen lakes and several off-beat destinations Sikkim is known for. The disadvantage of a winter visit is that several high altitude regions experience heavy snowfall, making them off-limits, restricting your viewing only to the lower altitude zones. Apart from winter adventures like skiing and snowboarding, there aren’t many other activities you can pursue such as trekking and rafting. If you plan to make a winter visit to Sikkim, you need to carry sufficient woolens, besides at night the temperature drops to subzero levels. The day temperature stays around 7 degree Celsius, while the night temperature plummets to minus 5 degree Celsius.
Monsoon in Sikkim
July to September mark the monsoon months in Sikkim when the region experiences between moderate to heavy rainfall, making it the least preferred times to visit the mountain state. Landslides are quite common in these months, rendering the roads treacherous. On the other hand, this is the best season to watch the myriad waterfalls of the region come to life and roar down the slopes from great heights. North Sikkim valleys blossom with flowers at this time of the year, and it is also a good time to visit places like Nathula Pass, Changu Lake and Kupup. The one up-side though is accommodation becomes rather cheaper in this season. You cannot pursue adventure activities such as white water rafting on the Teesta and paragliding. Monsoon day temperature hovers between 15 and 16 degree Celsius and a night time may drop to around 4 degree Celsius.
How to reach Sikkim
By air: Pakyong Airport in the Pakyong Town, about 35 kilometre off capital city, Gangtok, is the airport serving the mountain state, though there is no direct connectivity from major states of India. Although, recently, SpiceJet has started direct operations from Delhi-Pakyong-Delhi, giving impetus to the economy and bringing in tourists. Otherwise, Bagdogra International Airport remains the closest major airport to Gangtok at a distance of 124 kilometre from it. You can get flights directly from all major metros of the country like Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Delhi to Bagdogra. The connectivity is fairly decent. Helicopter service too is available from Bagdogra to Gangtok, taking no more than 20 minutes to get across. If you prefer the roadways, then you can avail the many regular bus and cab network linking the Bagdogra airport to Gangtok.
By rail: Sikkim has no major railway station, though a railway link is currently underway, connecting it to major states of the country. Presently, the nearest major railhead to Gangtok are the Siliguri and New Jalpaiguri railway stations, both located in West Bengal. The Siliguri Railway Station is about 145 kilometre from Gangtok while the New Jalpaiguri is about 188 kilometre away. Both these rail-heads are well connected by trains to other parts of the country. Some popular trains serving the stations include Kanchankaya Express> and Mahananda Express>. There are regular buses and taxis plying directly from these stations to Gangtok, with the journey from Siliguri taking around 5 hours, while the one to New Jalpaiguri nearly 6 hours.
By road: The scenic NH31A connects Sikkim to other parts of the country, going past stretches of greenery with the Teesta flowing parallel all the way through. This highway connects Gangtok with Siliguri, with Siliguri connecting to other parts of the country by way of a series of highways. There is a regular bus service connecting Gangtok to cities like Siliguri, Kolkata, New Jalpaiguri and Bagdogra. Taking a taxi is another way of arriving into Sikkim so that you can travel at your pace, make photo stops along the way, soak up the scenery and go forth. Private taxis are easily available from Kolkata, Siliguri and Jalpaiguri to Gangtok. For a surge of adrenaline, you can arrive into Gangtok on a motorbike by renting it from neighbouring towns like Jalpaiguri and Siliguri. With such wonderful scenery stretching out, it could just be the beginning of a new adventure in the mountain state.