Best things to do in Sikkim

sikkim prayer flags at Yumthang

It is easy to forget the time & get lost in a place where you have snow mountains guarding the tiny hamlets around the lakes. Sikkim is one such land with an unmatchable landscape and townscape. Don’t the tiny state fool you – It has many things for travellers. It is good to know about different experiences and places while planning your Sikkim trip, as you need to take special permits for many of these places.

Here is a list of the best things to do in Sikkim

Go awe at Zuluk’s winding roads

The ancient Silk Route is a path of historical tales. The silk routes I have been to are along the desert. Sikkim’s Zuluk is one such silk route that is the most amusing mountainous route close to Bhutan and China. The best-hidden gem of Sikkim isn’t there on many tourist radars. So you can expect mighty nature with fewer people here.

Watching the clouds uncovering the serpentine-like asphalt road embracing the mountain early in the morning gives you chills. The view of these winding roads with tiny hamlets like Padamchen is surrounded by the Indian military and Himalayan mountains on all sides. And I find it the most pet-friendly locality in all of Sikkim.

Best things to do in Zuluk

Like any part of Sikkim, you are never away from lakes and homestays in the jungle while in Zuluk. Many viewpoints to watch the winding roads, Memechu lakes & small towns for wandering with soup breaks are the added bonus of this uniquely fascinating place.

The gripping landscape gets even more exciting with the story of a dead Sipoy to whom a temple is built. The Baba Mandir is dedicated to an Indian soldier. Legend has it that a Sipoy Harbhajan who died in the 1962 Indo-China war came into other Sipoy’s dreams after a few days of his missing. He expressed his desire of having his own monument for his bravery.

Thus built, gained the status of pilgrimage over the years. Indian military keeps a camp bed, uniform and boots ready for him every night, apparently. They report that the sheets will be crumpled, and boots are muddy morning. The Sipoy continues to draw a salary and takes his annual leave. Indian Army offers Tea / Coffee and Prasad to the visitors while visiting the Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir.

Zuluk Travel Tips

You can reach Zuluk by three routes from Gangtok. The best and most scenic one is via Tsomgo Lake and Baba Mandir. In winter, very likely, this road gets closed due to snowfall and landslides. Don’t lose heart-The latter route via Ranipool Paykong is there for you. If this windy road also gets closed, get down to the foothill at Rangpo and climb up via Padamchen.

Indian nationals need special permission to enter Zuluk, which can be obtained at Sikkim Tourism Office at Gangtok. If you are coming upwards from Rongli.

Go there early in the morning for sunrise. Leave before noon to avoid getting trapped in bad weather.

People with motion sickness really need to take a pill or something – Perhaps this is one of the windiest roads in the world.

Where to stay in Zuluk

We stayed in Smiriti homestay near Rongli. The place was good. But I suggest you stay further up somewhere in Padamchen.

Get lost to find yourself at the holy lake of Gurudongmar

The glittering holy lake in the North Sikkim is a magical place. Located at 17000ft above sea level, the lake is approached by barren brown desert surrounded by snow mountains. You spot wild yaks and barking deer there. It may be a little tedious to get here, but the positive vibe you get at the lake is so strong that you get rid of the negativity within a few seconds. In winter, the entire lake freezes except for a part of it. It is believed that a Sikh Guru took a holy dip in that part of the lake, and hence it remains unfrozen. Plus, that unfrozen part is the source of drinking water for the nearby town, Lachen.

Gurudongmar Travel Tips

There is only one route from Gangtok via Mangan, Chungtang to Gangtok

The lake is close to China occupied Tibetian region. Every traveller needs to take a special permit at Gangtok’s home ministry office to go there. Foreigners are given permission to go to Chopta Valley View Point (30km before the lake). Foreigners must go to the Delhi Home ministry department to get extra special permission to Gurudongmar lake.

Getting Government permission to the Northern Sikkim doesn’t mean you will be reaching the lake or you will be allowed. There are three Military checkpoints from Lachen to Gududongmar. If the weather isn’t favourable, the military can send you back at any of these checkpoints. Crossing the last checkpoint where there is a Nescafe cafe means you will reach the lake.

The best time to visit Gurudongmar lake is between February 2nd and June.

You must leave Lachen by 4 AM and be back by 12 to get the best of it.

Beware of high altitude sickness! I suffered and brushed with death because I didn’t know about my sickness.

Where to stay near Gurudongmar lake

Thangu valley is the last village. But it is remote, and the weather is harsh. There are only a few options for staying there. So most tourists stay in Lachen. We stayed in Lachen Deezong, and it was comfortable.

Listen to sacred chants at Rumtek monastery

Gangtok is nice-no doubt. But this monastery tucked in the forest near Gangtok is the epitome of serenity. The vast courtyard surrounded by traditional Tibetian architecture, Buddhist chants and nice foggy weather is what you need most if you are looking for a break from the city. The vivid paintings on walls and ceilings narrate spiritual stories and are a visual treat. The place gets so silent during the non-tourist season when the chants stop that you can hear yourself breathing.

Rumtek Monastery Travel Tips

Usually, tourists make a day trip to Rumtek from Gangtok by private taxi. If you want to stay closer to the monastery, there is a limited option- You will be rewarded with the hamlet charm. Hence away from the city.

Wander in the cosy Lachen hamlet

North Sikkim redefined my idea of beauty. Lachen, a small town overlooking the valley and Himalayas, is a remote and amazing place for a hideout. But it has basic necessities a tourist needs. The untouched village is slowly growing as a travel hub because it is the starting point of the Gurudongmar lake journey. When Ashrith went here in 2012, there were zero cellular networks and no asphalt road. By 2017, there was a decent network, and a nearby Asphalt road existed to the lake.

The scenic village grabs you with its laid back vibe and friendly faces. So after your long journey from Gangtok, Lachen is the best place to snooze for a day, get acclimatised to a higher altitude and savour some local dishes from Lachenpas home-run cafes. Don’t anticipate a luxurious stay with all modern amenities here. Good food and great mountain views must be your expectation. We stayed in Lachen Deezong, and it was comfortable.

Make a snowman at Yumthang valley

Like Lachen to Gurudongmar, Lachung is the starting point of Yumthang valley.

What makes the Yumthang Valley special?

If you want to make a snowman or roll on the ice next to a river watching some pitch green forest in India – this is an exotic place that you can reach without much effort. ‘Yumthang’ means “Valley of flowers” in the local language. So late February to Mid June gives you that vivid visual treat to your eyes and an aromatic therapy to your mind. In the other seasons, going on a road with a pile of snow on either side along the pine trees is like travelling to Narnia Land. Zero Point after Yumthang valley may trick you with crazy weather, but it is not as unpredictable as Gurudongmar.

Yumthang Travel Tips

  • Both foreigner and Indian travellers need permission to enter Yumthang valley, which must be obtained at Gangtok.
  • From Gangtok, you must take Lachen road until Chungthang. If you continue straight, it takes you to Gurudongmar. The right deviation takes you to Lachung – the starting point of Yumthang.
  • Like any part of Sikkim, the valley is best accessed by a bike or private car.
  • Public transport is nil. So shared taxis and regular group tours are good on a budget.
  • Since this is an easier accessible tourist place, expect more tourists. It isn’t overcrowded like Pelling’s Kachepori lake and not empty as Zuluk.

Where to stay in Lachung

Gyaltsen Resort – Rooms were comfortable and the food was decent. Mainly they rent you snow boots and gloves which is most essential for Yumthang valley hiking

Wander in the charming capital city of Gangtok

A state’s capital city often gets over-commercialised and loses its charm. As tourists, we use these cities to connect to another heavenly place. I don’t know what magic tricks Sikkimese used, but Gangtok is charming despite being the state capital. Every tourist will go to Gangtok (only a few enter the state via Pelling). So this could have become easily an overly touristy place like Phi Phi/Railay of Thailand. But the sleepy yet vibrant atmosphere of town makes you never leave this terraced city.

Things to do in Gangtok

You find at least 20 things on the list. There are many things to do, starting from cable rides to Ganesh Tok for an incredible view of Kanchenjunga. But what I recommend is – Go on foot exploring every nook and corner of the city during the day and hit a Karaoke bar or a cafe at night. Take shared jeep taxis to nearby monasteries like Phodong and wander on the mall road for two days. The hilly walk needs a lot of your energy, but the fresh air and great food are always rewarding. Mall road was not yet contaminated with fake”Made in elsewhere” products in 2017. Plus, during non-tourist seasons, friendly shopkeepers want to have a chat with you when free. So it is a great place to observe Sikkimese culture that was once under British rule.

There are several viewpoints to watching Kanchenjunga. Most viewpoints are “Tok”, meaning temple in Sikkimese. Hanuman Tok is literally a temple in the clouds because it is the highest point in Gangtok. Indian army is maintaining the temple since several years. So receiving prasad and offerings from an army officer is a rare and unique experience.

Best places to eat in Gangtok

My favourite food joints are Nine Native (which is permanently closed on google, so check before going) and Taste of Tibet near MG road.

Dos and dont’s in Gangtok

Spend two-three days in Gangtok.

Gangtok has many affordable guesthouses and hostels along with star hotels. So you can make it a luxurious stay at resorts like Mayfair or go for the cheapest hostels.

Choose your neighbourhood carefully – Because walking on the Gangtok sidewalk is mini trekking. If you stay closer to MG road and Tibet Road, you are near to shared taxi stands, restaurants and other touristy needs. Hardly Gangtok ever gets noisy, but this neighbourhood is crowded. If you want to stay away from the town, there are fewer options, and you must be prepared to walk a lot to get shared taxis and get to eateries.

Where to Stay in Gangtok

I stayed in Hungry Jack. It is a mid-range budget hotel, and I feel you get better rooms in Gangtok at a similar price. Ashrith stayed in Modern Central Lodge at Tibet Road. It is more of a hostel and hence super cheap.

Tourist traps in Gangtok

There are hardly any particular scams in Sikkim. Being the heart of the state and tourists hub, Gangtok has a few traps. The Botanical gardens and Waterfalls are in every taxi driver’s combo plan. You may get disappointed if you go there in the non-flowering season. The waterfalls may look like a thin layer falling from the water supply pipe.

Visit Big Buddha at Rawangla

After touching the cold and holy water at Gurudongmar and witnessing the sunrise at the incredible views of the snakelike winding road, I thought I had seen the best of Sikkim. There can’t be a more quietly serene place like Zuluk, I thought, until I went to Buddha Park in Rawangla. The government opened the park with 40m tall Buddha statue in 2013 to develop tourism along the Buddhist pilgrimage circuit. 

I wondered how I fell in love with a “made for tourism” religious place! Reading my other posts, you know my love for old and heritage buildings. The whistling wind, flapping sound of Buddhist prayer flags and soothing chants enhance the beauty of this park hugged by mountains. I am not a Buddhism follower, but I could feel the spirituality and the holiness in an artificial religious place like this.

 Plus, I always wondered what is so wow about having Maggie in the mountains. Here, where I had maggie in a local shop on a cold morning, and I understood the magic behind Mountain Maggie.

Rawangla Travel Tips

The main monastery is Ralang which is home to 200 monks. Many Buddhists go to this 250yr old monastery since it has actual religious significance. 

There is a limited accommodation option here as Pelling and Namchi are opted by tourists to stay. So making a day trip to Rawangla is better.

Head to Pelling for pristine nature and a hippy vibe

Writing about Pelling is giving me goosebumps – I was in Sikkim in February, and the sun hadn’t shown his face past 10 days. So that view of Kanchenjunga that is obvious to all tourists wasn’t part of any of my days. I woke up at 4, though the sunrise time was 5.20ish and waited for the sun’s mercy. That moment when the mighty Kacnhenjung came out of the glittering cloud of gold got me screaming and wet eyes. Apart from the Kanchenjunga view, the best part of the town is that it is a backpacker’s hub and not yet commercialised like Shimla and Ooty.

What makes Pelling Special?

Every place receives a certain particular type of tourists. Pelling receives all types – On the run City dwellers who are there for a change of pace and place, Honeymooners who want to keep it easy and not adventurous; Big bus families visiting the town for a few hours; Travellers like me wandering and pondering for three days tasting local food and taking long hikes; Writers/Artists/Digital nomads who seemed to be not in the mood to leave the town for a month more – You got them all here. Apart from Sikkimese, you find many Bengali tourists here as it is closer to Siliguri. Yet – the charm of the town remains undisturbed.

The best things to do in Pelling

  • Hike to Pemayangtse Monastery – The hilltop monastery view and the hiking trail are enthralling.
  • Go to Khecheopalri Lake to make your wishes come true. The panoramic lake holds sacred significance to Buddhists and Hindus. They believe that wishes prayed here come true. Any other interesting thing is, you hardly see any leaves fallen on the lake – The mythology says birds don’t let the leaves fall on the lake.
  • Walk down history at the Rabdentse Ruins with a fantastic view of the Himalayas. In India, you always find palaces and mansions of kings who ruled that particular region. Sikkim’s monarch palace is in Gangtok, which isn’t open to the public. But the second capital, Rabdentse, in ruins, is open for all. When I say palace, don’t think of Rajasthan or Mysore grandeur here. You can see half walls dividing throne halls, assembly halls, and stables. The invasion of the Gurkha army destroyed the palace so badly that it is a mere ruin with a fantastic hiking trail and endpoint view.

In 2018, a glass skywalk was constructed right opposite to 137-feet statue of Chenrezig. This gives a tourist a fantastic view of the religious place and the Himalayas up in the air.

Pelling Travel Tips

  • From Gangtok and Siliguri, you find many shared jeeps leaving from the main Taxi stands. 
  • It is easy to head to Darjeeling or Kalimpong from here.
  • Don’t underestimate the deliciousness of food that you get in dark petty shops built with wooden battens. The shop looks like it will collapse, but their chai and tenthuk are the best and super affordable.

Where to stay in Pelling

I stayed in Hotel Kingstone, and I don’t recommend it. Dingy and unhygienic rooms aren’t worth the money. I had food in Hotel Kabur and Garuda on all three days. Their food and ambience were excellent, so I think their rooms are also worth the money. These two are the best places to meet other travellers from around the globe and spend some “Me” Time with good food and great views.

Sign up for some adventures in Sikkim

Where there is a mountain and fresh air, you can always gear up yourself for some adrenaline rush depending on your will and calibre. Cycling and Mountaineering are something you must think of when you are in Sikkim. I am nowhere eligible to talk about Sikkim’s mountaineering experience or caving as I haven’t done any. Mt. Thinchenkhan peak from Goche La is super famous among foreign travellers. If you are physically fit, go to the Kanchenjunga base camp. All mountaineering and caving activities need special permits from Sikkim Government. So prepare yourself physically and put down a plan before landing in Sikkim.

Wander in the unique trekking town of Yuksom

Yuksom is the place where most travellers start trekking. Then why did I go there if I didn’t plan to trek? The last-minute plan of leaving Namchi and a conversation with a trekker in our hotel made me head to Yuksom. What that trekker said was absolutely true – The hamlet is smaller than Lachen. Still, the way it has accommodated itself to cater to trekkers and international travellers is crazy! Those 40sft shops sell probably one of the finest now mountain trekking gears!

The homestays and cafes served some continental dishes I had never heard of. There are smaller stupas and monasteries like any other part of Sikkim & more trekking agencies. Hardly there are any schools, but most shop and cafe owners speak good English. Yuksom was strangely beautiful and the most unique town I have ever visited! Plus, I was rewarded with a mild forest fire that created more than minor landslides on my way to Pelling in the taxi.

Get closer to China at Nathu La

The closest you can get to China while in Sikkim is this snowy region of Nathu-La. Located on the Old Silk Route, Nathula connects Sikkim to China’s Tibet region. Due to the India-China conflict, the region remained shut for visitors for a long time until 2006, after India’s then PM Atal Bihari Vajpeyi had a successful talk with China. 

PC –Sahil Pandita

Most tourists who go to Sikkim visit this place. I Ashrith both of us can’t talk about how beautiful the lake is – Because the weather didn’t favour him both the times and I had to take a detour to reach Zuluk. Ashrith went halfway, where he got stuck on the road and somehow managed to come back to Sikkim. So the most common thing tourist do here is riding on the yaks at the border, watching India and China soldiers standing a metre apart and going to Tsomgo lake.

Should you go to Namchi?

After that fun yet calm town experience of Gangtok, I expected Namchi to be similar. Though it is smaller in size, I anticipated it to be fun. But I find it to be the most artificial place in Sikkim. The usual monasteries weren’t as charming as Rumtek. The Namchi square wasn’t as happening as Gangtok MG road. Solophok Chardham had wonderful flora, but those imitation temples couldn’t get more plastic. The rolling tea estates weren’t new for someone from South India. Fortunately, I left Namchi after a night and spent more time in Pelling.

Which of these places made it to your bucket list? Let us know in the comment section below.

Published by Sahana Kulur

Traveller | Blogger | Architecture and history

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