Sikkim is a land of dramatic contours. Rugged mountains, deep valleys and dense forests consort with raging rivers, lakes and waterfalls to create a visual feast. The state has the steepest rise in altitude over the shortest distance and has within its 7,096 sq. kms the entire climatic range, from tropical to temperate to alpine.
The mountain chains which run southwards from the main Himalayan range form the natural boundaries of Sikkim. The Chola range dividing it from Tibet in the Northeast and Bhutan in the Southeast. The Singalila range separating it from Nepal in the West with the Greater Himalayan range forming the barrier between Sikkim and Tibet in the North.
Located between these towering mountain ranges are passes like Nathu-la, Jelep-la, Cho-la and many others which were at one time important corridors of passage between Sikkim and Tibet.
Floating high over the cloud-covered lower Himalaya, Mt. Khangchendzonga dominates the landscape of Sikkim. At 28, 208 ft is the third highest mountain in the world and the highest in India.
Sikkim has two main rivers, the Teesta and the Rangeet, both of which are formed at high altitudes and flow in a generally southern direction till they converge at the confluence near Melli.
Suggested Itinerary SIKKIM
Wreathed in clouds, Gangtok, the capital city of Sikkim is located on a ridge at a height of 5500 metres. With a spectacular view of the Khangchendzonga, the town provides the perfect base for travel through the state. Once an important transit point for traders traveling between Tibet and India, it is today a busy administrative and business centre and presents an interesting mix of cultures and communities.
Gangtok is a cosmopolitan town which offers the tourist all possible amenities. Hotels are available in a range of prices along with a variety of eateries serving cuisine for all tastes. Shopping complexes, cyber cafes, night clubs and pool parlours abound for those so inclined.
MG Marg, the main street of Gangtok town is a great place to chill out. The countrys first litter and spit free zone, no vehicular traffic is allowed into the marg. You can sit at the Titanic Park or at the various benches stretched across the mall and take in the carnival like atmosphere, especially during the tourist season. The Mall is lined with shops on both sides of the road so shopping becomes an added pleasure.
MG Marg is also the venue for the annual Gangtok Food and Culture festival held in December each year when Sikkims multi-cultural cuisine, along with music and dance performances are showcased. This event attracts a large number of locals and tourists each year.
Tsmogo Lake Sikkim
38 km from Gangtok and at an altitude of 12,400 ft, the ethereally beautiful Tsomgo lake is a must on every visitors itinerary. A winding road through rugged mountain terrain and sharp cliffs takes you to Tsomgo, which means source of the water in Bhutia language. The lake derives its water from the melting snows of the mountains surrounding the lake. Of legendary beauty, the lake looks different at different seasons. In winter the placid lake remains frozen with the area around it covered in snow while in late spring the profusion of flowers in bloom adds a riot of colours around the lake. The lake is associated with many myths and legends and is revered by the Sikkimese as sacred. It is believed that in olden times, Buddhist monks would study the colour of the water of the lake to forecast the future.
The lake is also of special significance for the Jhakris [faith healers] of Sikkim who congregate here annually on Guru Purnima, which coincides with the festival of Raksha Bandhan, from all over the state to offer prayers.
For the tourist a visit to the lake offers a wonderful outing. Rides on colourfully decorated yaks and mules are offered at the lake site, which also has a variety of eating stalls serving snacks and beverages. Snowboots and gumboots can be hired here.
Tsomgo lake is open for both Indian and foreign nationals, however foreign visitors have to be in a group of two or more and have to apply for a visitors permit through a registered travel agency.
Nathula Pass was a major corridor of passage between India and Tibet before it was closed in 1962. Located around 56 kms from Gangtok at an altitude of 14450 ft, the road to Nathula passes through the Tsomgo lake. It is one of the highest motorable roads in the world and is richly surrounded by alpine flora. On a clear day you can even see the road winding down the Chumbi valley. Tourists are allowed to go close to the international border from where you can see Chinese soldiers on the other side of the barbed wire.
Nathula is open for Indian nationals on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturday and Sundays. The visitors have to get the permit to visit the place by applying to the Tourism and Civil Aviation Department through a registered and recognised Travel Agency. Foreign nationals are not allowed to visit Nathula. Photography is strictly prohibited. One can find ATM facility here which is the worlds highest Automated Teller Machine (ATM).
The picturesque mountain village of Lachung, at a height of 8610 ft, embraced by snow capped mountain peaks, breathtaking waterfalls, sparkling streams and apple orchards is the perfect holiday destination. Sprawled across the banks of the Lachung Chu [river] which slices the village in two, Lachung is famous for its apples, peaches and apricots. At Lachung you can visit the Lachung Gompa, built around 1880, the monastery is situated amidst apple orchards across the river from the town centre. Also go see the handicraft centre which has exquisitely woven rugs and blankets.
Accommodation is no problem in Lachung which has many hotels and lodges including a Dak Bungalow. But despite throwing its doors open to tourists Lachung still retains its distinctive culture and tradition, including the unique system of self governance called the Zumsa where all local disputes are settled by a totally representative body of the village which is headed by an elected Pipon.
You can also visit the Shingba Rhododendron sanctuary through which flows the Yumthang Chu. The sanctuary is known for its abundance of Rhododendron trees and shrubs. Lachung is perfect for an overnight halt before you visit the spectacular Yumthang valley.
Yumthang, situated at a height of 11800 feet is popularly known as ‘Valley of Flowers’, Located at a distance of 148 kms from Gangtok, it is a paradise for nature lovers with a fascinating blend of flora and fauna and breathtaking scenic beauty. In spring season, wild flowers such as primulas and Rhododendrons bathe the landscape in rich colours, making it a tourist hot spot. The Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary over here has 24 species of Rhododendron flowers which bloom from April to May end.
A hot spring located on the right side of Yumthang river is a popular tourist attraction. In addition to a vast green meadow, lush green forest abounding in Pine and silver fir trees throngs the place. While driving towards the valley, one can see cascading waterfalls and streams.
Six kms away further North is Shiv Mandir. A drive or trek to this place can be very refreshing and exhilerating. Situated further up at a distance of 16 kms, at an altitude of about 16,000 feet is Yumesamdong. The rugged vegetation- free mountains, especially in the months of November-December and February¬March over here present a breathtaking scenario. The approach to Yumthang is from Lachung valley, situated at a height of 8000 feet. It is at a distance of 120 kms from Gangtok. It has a unique self-governing body called the Dzumsa, which substitutes the modern Gram Panchyat. The village, spread out on the either side of Lachung Chu, has managed to retain its unique culture and tradition.
At an altitude of 8500 ft Lachen is alluring in its simplicity. Not yet as big a tourist destination as Lachung, it retains a freshness which is very appealing. The village comprises of less than 200 houses, earlier inhabited only during winters by their owners who spend their summers on the alpine pastures bordering Tibet tending to their yaks. Lachen is the starting point for some of the most interesting treks in North Sikkim as well as the gateway to the holy Guru Dongmar and Tso Lhamu lakes.
You can visit the Lachen Gompa here and sample the simple village life of the ‘Lachenpas’.
The area is restricted for foreigners, but special passes can be procured in advance. A few lodges are available here for stay as well as Forest Department and a PWD Bungalows.
Situated at a height of 17,800 feet, it is considered one the most sacred lakes by the Buddhists and Hindus alike. The beautiful and awe inspiring lake (190 kms from Gangtok) remains milky in colour throughout the year. According to a legend, since the lake used to remain frozen most of the year, it was not possible to use its water for drinking purposes. When the Guru Padmasambhava passed by, while returning from Tibet, the local residents are reported to have approached him for providing source of water.
The Guru obliged. A portion of the lake touched by him does not freeze in extreme winter. Since water of the lake is considered sacred, visitors carry the ‘blessed’ water in bottles.
Ravangla is one of the most popular tourist destinations in South Sikkim. At an altitude of 7000 ft, located on a ridge between Maenam and Tendong Hill, Ravangla offers unmatched views of the Greater Himalayas. The beauty of its landscape and its location as a transit point to nearby destinations has made Ravangla a must-visit place. Ravangla stages the Pang Lhabsol festival in a grand manner every year around August-September. The festivities last for three days, culminating in the traditional dances known as ‘Chaam’ on the last day.
8 kms on way to Damthang is the Rayong sunrise view point that offers spectacular views of the first rays of the sun falling on snow peaks. Visit the Ralong monastery as well as the Tibetan Carpet Centre. The traditionally designed and woven carpets available here are said to be the best you can buy anywhere.
In April Ravangla stages its own Tourism, Culture and Crafts Festival.
Around 10 kms from Gyalshing (District Headquarter), Pelling is today emerging as the second biggest tourist destination in the state after Gangtok. Although in itself it is little more than a strip of road lined with hotels, its main USP is the breathtaking view it offers of the Khangchendzonga and surrounding ranges, as well as the easy access it provides to tourist spots in the area.
Pemayangste monastery is less than a kilometre from Pelling, while a 40 minute walk on the hill opposite the monastery takes you to Sanga Choling monastery built in 1697, one of the first in the state. Pelling’s serene environment and picturesque setting is perfect for nice nature walks and small treks. A destination for all seasons, Pelling has hotels and resorts catering to all budgets.
Named after the guardian deity of Sikkim, Khangchendzonga Festival is held at Pelling every year. It offers a host of fun activities like white-water rafting on the Rangit, kayaking, promotional trekking, mountain biking, sightseeing, traditional sports and bird- watching.
The festival also includes Flower exhibitions, traditional crafts and ethnic food and costume stalls. Cultural folk dances and music add colour and sound to the festivities. The festival is aimed at balancing all diverse aspects of the area to produce a holistic package showcasing its potential for tourism.
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