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Best Places to Visit in Sikkim


Occupying a snug corner in the copious bounty of nature between Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan, lies the small state of Sikkim. Vast, manicured paddy fields on green slopes stretch as far as the eye can see in the ‘The Valley of Rice.’ The climate gifts the province a thick woodland floor with snow-tipped mountains wrapping the Eastern land. Home to Kanchenjunga, the highest peak in India, myriad ponds and larger lakes, colourful valleys, and torrential waterfalls, Sikkim’s small package is a profusion of ethereal grandeur. 

Sikkim has been a leader in sustainable food practices and has made continuous efforts towards introducing organic methods in the state. It impressed the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation to win the Future Policy Gold Award in 2018 to become the world's first fully organic state, for its holistic policies which helped more than 66,000 farmers, boosting tourism. 

Brief history: Sikkim's heritage traces its ancestries to an amalgamation of animist practices, Buddhism, and Hindu influences from Bengal and Nepal. An independent monarchy for several centuries, it had to forcibly relinquish control over Darjeeling after a dispute with the British, in the 19th century. As a result, in exchange, the remaining Sikkimese empire maintained its internal autonomy with no external authority. The agreement was upheld after India’s independence, however, refugees pouring into Sikkim from China pushed India into intensifying its military presence in the region. Substantial immigration from Nepal too had contributed to altering the cultural ethos of Sikkim resulting in a Hindu majority. Eventually, a referendum abolishing the monarchy was held and Sikkim was formally incorporated into the Indian Union in 1975. 


Getting There:

Sikkim’s improved accessibility to the rest of the country has made it reachable from most parts of India.

Via Air:. The other airport close to Gangtok is Bagdogra in West Bengal, with several connections to cities in India. 

A 35-minute helicopter service is also available between Bagdogra and Gangtok. 

Via Train: The nearest stations to Gangtok are and New Jalpaiguri, with numerous trains from Kolkata, Guwahati, Mumbai, and Delhi. 

Via Road: The Sikkim Nationalised Transport has buses plying from Siliguri and New Jalpaiguri to Gangtok. Taxis can also be hired from Bagdogra airport and the train stations. The route passes through the Teesta area with the river flowing alongside, making the drive scenic.

Places to Visit:

A plethora of panoramic beauty is abundant in Sikkim. The state’s rich cultural history juxtaposed with its natural elegance make it a coveted holiday from the constant commotion in big cities.

Sikkim is roughly categorised into 4 districts. The Northern District encompasses high altitude meadows, West Sikkim is known for its mountainous beauty and viewing point for Kanchenjunga, East Sikkim for its greenery, and the Southern District for smaller and remote tourist destinations.

Gangtok:  Holding pride of place as Sikkim’s capital city, exuberant Gangtok, with its garland of clouds, steep-tiered hillsides, and fragrance of Rhododendrons, offers a captivating welcome. It is often a must-see base station for a Sikkimese tour, with an enjoyable climate with five seasons, including monsoons. Temperatures range from a cool 22 degrees in the summer to a comfortable 5 degrees Celsius in winter. 

Gangtok lies in the centre of Sikkim’s tourism industry. Previously it was a focal transit point for traders travelling between India and Tibet. A cheery blend of cultures, spirituality, communities, and countryside, Gangtok serves magical marvels up close.


Banjhakri Falls: 7 kilometres from Gangtok lies a 100-feet long cool cascade. The natural waterfall born from water springs, falls with brute force from an impressive height. It is encased in a thickly wooded area of an Energy Park which is spread over two acres. 

The themed energy park is centred on Shaman culture and the legend surrounding Ban Jhakri, a Nepalese shamanic healer and a god of the forest. Nepalese mythology reveals the tale of the first Shaman or Jhakri who possessed the power of defeating evil spirits but needed help from young men to do so. By teaching them his healing technique he was able to overcome the satanic forces and subsequently, the men trained by him were also known as jhakris. Interestingly, the male jhakris protected human beings, and their wives, or jhakrinis, were the evil spirits who would harm humans.

The falls tumbling in a pool of clear water are surrounded by gazebos built with Sikkimese architectural elements, tiled pathways, ethnic figurines and statues, a landscaped garden, and even a man-made lake. Renewable sources of energy are used to power electricity.


Tsuklakhang Palace and Monastery: Built for the ruling royal Namgyal family in 1898, the Tsuklakhang Palace and monastery lie at the end of the ridge in Gangtok. Welcoming visitors with a colossal Tibetan-style gate with a pagoda, it is fringed with thick coniferous trees and flower gardens. The palace building resembles a bungalow without a showy façade. The former imperial two-storied gompa is constructed in traditional Tibetan temple architecture, facing east, with a gabled roof. The large assembly hall on the ground floor houses an extensive collection of ancient Buddhist scriptures and literature with altars of paintings of Buddhist and tantric deities, and wooden sculptures fashioned in a Snow Lion's head. The mural-walled interiors are seemingly cleansed with the fragrance of juniper looming in the air, adding to the tranquil setting. A steep descent after the palace leads to the Roro Chu River, calmly snaking its way through the valley below. 

Tsukhalang Palace was the prime location for royal marriages, victory ceremonies, and coronations for the Sikkim royal family. As a prime centre for Buddhist worship today, several festivals are held throughout the year including Phang Lhabsol in mid-September, and Losar, or the New Year in December. Cham or masked dances are performed by the monks in the monastery, significantly the Black Hat Dance, which displays the victory of good over evil.


Lal Bazaar: Initially established in 1956 and named after the dewan of the Sikkimese King, the open market plan of Lal Bazaar was torn down and turned into a multi-storied shopping complex in 2005. It has smoothly emerged as a place to visit in Sikkim. Apart from being a storehouse of souvenirs, the market is an assemblage of local artisans and farmers. The Haat day on Sundays is especially a melting pot of ethnicity and diversity to witness traditional Nepalese and Bhutia-attired folk along with Bihari traders in dhotis, and residents in fashionable western clothing. A medley of sounds and languages reverberates celebrating the cultural mix. 

Varieties of cheese from processed to unrefined are freely available here. Alpine cheese, made from pure cow’s milk, is an initiative undertaken by Sikkim Dairy Products in collaboration with the Swiss, and churpi, dried cheese made from yak milk, are both relished by the locals. The air is redolent with the tantalising smell of dried fish, vegetables, and cheese. Dallo, baskets made from cane and bamboo, khukri, curved Nepalese knives, incense sticks, Tibetan carpets, Temi or Sikkim tea, Dalle Achaar, pickle made from red, round chillis, intricate wooden, colourful face masks made from Zaru wood depicting local deities, wall hangings, and Sikkimese cups are the most-bought items by travellers.


A mention about the famous Rumtek Monastery, close to Gangtok as a must visit.

Pelling: Intimately settled on the foothills of Kanchenjunga, the icy mist and sight of the mountains call out even the staunchest citified person in Pelling. Its pastoral elegance and virgin territory, throw open several treks for avid hikers, especially for those eager to reflect on the lushness of West Sikkim. At 7000 feet, the weather is pleasant throughout the year. Pelling’s thick forests were home to several indigenous wild animals and myths surrounding the spotting of the ‘wildman’ or ‘yeti’ are commonplace. 

Bathed in an alpine thicket with spectacular waterfalls lining the hillsides, and trees weighted down with oranges, it is a routine sight to see farmers plucking the fragrant fruit in the winter months. Swooping in for the second position after Gangtok in the list of favourite places to visit, Pelling is a nucleus of tourist sites.


Pemayangtse Monastery: A mere two kilometres from Pelling, atop a hill with a striking snow-peaked view of Mount Kanchenjunga, the 300-year-old Pemayangtse Monastery comes into view. The three-storied ‘Perfect Sublime Lotus’ gompa was constructed in the early 18th century by Lama Lhatsun Chempo and is one of the oldest and most celebrated monasteries in Sikkim. The shrine’s rich architecture has been refurbished several times, surviving the elements of nature and earthquakes. The main prayer hall is ornamented with paintings of Tibetan designs on the walls, doors, and windows. There are multiple statues and idols of saints, most notably of Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche, one of the founders of Tibetan Buddhism, depicting his eight incarnations. The central figure of the saint portrays his wrathful form as ‘Dorje Bhurpa Vjarakila’ with multiple heads and arms.

The gompa was built for ‘monks of pure lineage,’ or ta-tshang and only the monks of Pemayangtse Monastery have the privilege of this title. They had to be perfect in physical form without any abnormalities and remain celibate – a practice that continues to this date. The chief lama held the honour of anointing the erstwhile royal family of Sikkim. Losar is celebrated here with great aplomb with performances of colourful, masked cham dances by the monks of the monastery.

Mount Khanchendzonga: The third-highest mountain in the world summiting at 28,000 feet in the Himalayan range, bordering India, and Nepal, Mount Khanchendzonga, or Kanchenjunga, appears as a massive cross with its arms extending in all directions. Considered a holy mountain in Sikkim, it holds an important place in the mythology and religious ritual of the local inhabitants. Fondly termed the ‘Five Treasuries of the Great Snow,’ denizens believe its five iced tips each represent an element: gold, silver, gems, grain, and the treasures of the holy books. They also recount traditional stories of a veiled valley of immortality in the mighty slopes. 

The views from Pelling of this majestic giant are second to none. The dull orange rays of the early morning sun lighten to a sharp, bright yellow as the day dawns, all the while polishing the immaculate white on the bleached peaks to a shinier shade. Rare species such as the snow leopard, red panda, and blood pheasant call the white peaks home. Mystical theories abound about a bipedal creature, ‘Kangchenjunga Demon,’ or rakshasa, which was ostensibly spotted in 1925 by a British geological expedition. The enormous massif also births one of the largest, perennial waterfalls in Sikkim. With water spouting from a height of over 100 feet, surrounded by green foliage, it is a welcome sight.


Lachen: Occupying northern Sikkim, Lachen, or the ‘big pass’ is a small village that serves as a gateway to the majestic Gurudongmar Lake and Chopta Valley. A six-hour drive from Gangtok, at 9000 feet, is also the home of Tibetan nomadic tribes during the harsh winters. Lachen practices a distinctive form of self-governance called Dzumsa. The idea is to include every household in matters of governance and administration. The entire village is involved in organising village activities. The annually held yak race, or Thangu, is held here in summer.

Untrammelled by tourists, Lachen's hilly backdrop is laden with a bedspread of many-hued flowers in the spring and monsoon, and a sheet of sparkling white in winter lending a fairy-tale touch. Fewer than two hundred traditional wooden houses with daunting windows sprinkle the landscape, and walls laden with flower baskets can be spotted from afar. Saturated in its simplicity, the village folk spend their summers minding their yaks in the hilly valleys and the picturesque village sleeps by 8 pm. 

The Lachen monastery, built in 1858 by the Nyingma Sect of Tibetan Buddhism, is a short, elevated walk from the village overlooking the hamlet. The statue of Guru Padmasambhava looms large with colourful prayer flags. The sounds of weaving traditional blankets and carpets, and prayer wheels are the only sounds echoing in the great distance.


Gurudongmar Lake: A sacred lake bordered by snowy mountainous chains and ridges, Gurudongmar Lake is one of the highest lakes in India at nearly 18,000 feet. Revered by Sikhs and Buddhists alike it is named after Guru Rinpoche. Folklore suggests that when the saint visited Sikkim in the 8th century, the people pleaded with him to help them, as they had no access to drinking water because the lake froze in winter. The Buddhist teacher consecrated a section of the lake which thereafter stopped hardening with ice, enabling access to drinking water. Since then, the lake has been considered blessed and devotees carry containers of water from the lake back with them. It is venerated by the Sikhs as they believe their saint Guru Nanak sanctified the lake. 

Fed by glacial waters, the freshwater lake with its massive acreage shines a brilliant blue mirroring the sky above it. Snow-capped crests set amongst the clouds with varying gradients of brown and dark green, and shiny glaciers, stare benevolently at the magnificence of the tranquil lake. Gurudongmar Lake is one of the prime sources of feeding the mighty Teesta River – the lifeline of Sikkim and North Bengal. Non-locals require a permit to visit and foreigners need to have a special pass issued by government authorities in India. It is rapidly accelerating to become an unmissable place to visit in Sikkim.

Nathang Valley: East Sikkim’s gemstone, Gnathang or Nathang Valley is located ‘above the clouds’ at 13,000 feet bounded by mountains from all sides and crisscrossed by twinkling streams, across a valley transforming every season with changing hues. A blanket of flowers carpets the vale in the rainy season, golden grass glows at dusk during autumn, and a deep mass of snow styles into a picture-perfect floor matching the magical mist above. 

One of the remotest corners of Sikkim and once a community of Tibetan yak herders, the Nathang Valley fell under a vital section of the Old Silk Route with China. The decisive Battle of Nathang in 1888 between British forces and Tibetan powers for control over Sikkim, was fought here and resulted in the defeat of the Tibetans. One can visit a memorial park dedicated to the British warriors who lost their lives in the clash. 

Due to its high altitude, the weather remains cold throughout the year and holidayers gather here in winter to witness the majesty of snowfall on the Tibetan Plateau.


Zuluk: A four-hour drive from Gangtok leads to a quaint hamlet with winding roads that wrap around the hills. The drive on the 32-hairpin bends snaking around forested gradients and slopes, with a common sighting of rainbows and a waft of wild herbs and wildflowers in the air, makes for a dramatic drive. With its diverse forests abounding with rare Himalayan flora and fauna, Dzuluk, or, Zuluk, is a mecca for bird watchers and photographers. Himalayan Bears, wild dogs, and snow pheasants roam its woodlands amidst rhododendron bushes and silver fir trees.

A historic village, Zuluk was the first stopover on the ancient Silk Route and was used as a transit camp for trade connecting Lhasa with Kalimpong. Despite the harsh weather conditions, it was a preferred land route for the traders’ convoys, as it sliced a considerable distance between India and Tibet. Today it functions as a transit base for the Indian Armed Forces serving on the Indo-China border.

Sikkim Travel Tips:

  • Carry all permits: Many areas in Sikkim are restricted and travellers must ensure they have the correct documentation before visiting popular and offbeat sites.
  • Avoid local tour packages: It is best to plan a trip in advance as tours booked at the airport or train stations overcharge and book low-standard hotels.
  • Plastic bags and bottles are banned: Make sure to carry recyclable alternatives for your belongings. 
  • Smoking is banned in public areas: Smoking zones are marked and smoking outside of those is a punishable offence.
  • Pack according to the weather:  Winter clothes cannot be rented in Sikkim and it is crucial to carry warm clothing if one is travelling in winter. 
  • Spitting or littering is a punishable offence in Gangtok: There are bins all over the city and non-adherence to rules can lead to huge fines. 

Sikkim, a land that has been kissed by the Gods, is a mesmerising pool of nature’s abundance, culture, and myths. Respecting local traditions and connecting with the soul of its plenteous ground is the pivotal key to opening a piece of its rich history. Offbeat Tracks will fulfil your vision of an ideal Sikkimese holiday by cataloguing the best places to visit in Sikkim, to suit your interests.