Sikkim, Indian Slice of the Himalayas

Sikkim is a semi-autonomous state of India, connected to West Bengal, and bordered by Neal, Tibet and Bhutan. The whole of Sikkim requires a Protected Area Permit for foreigners. Permits for the main, southern parts of Sikkim are available from a number of channels, in theory, the most convenient being on arrival at the land crossings from West Bengal at Melli and Rangpo. Permits for more ambitious trips to more remote areas layer on additional requirements depending on destination and duration.

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The nearest airport is at Bagdogra in West Bengal, a 4-hour drive to Gangtok. There is a daily helicopter at 2:30 pm, subject to weather conditions and complicated booking process. For one passenger the fare is about US$48, similar to chartering a prepaid taxi.

I did not want to go all the way to Gangtok, so I thought I was being clever by going to the nearer Namchi via the Melli crossing. The crumbling, twisting roads ate up the distance savings. 3.5 punishing hours on a bumpy tilt-a-whirl.

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Namchi is beautifully situated, with two religious attractions on the peaks above, both built in the last two decades.

Namchi Sikkim 07At Char Dam is the Siddesvara Dham, a festive collection of monuments from the various religions of India.

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On the mountain opposite at Samdruptse is the Buddhist monument and statue of Guru Padmasambhava. The place was deserted so I didn’t find out who he was.

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The town has a bustling center and some small guest houses.

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Sikkim’s big attractions are the mountains to the north providing great trekking opportunities like its neighbors. I did not see enough to judge. Certainly it is a much cheaper than expensive, glorious Bhutan.

I wanted to fit in Darjeeling back in West Bengal, and had to fly out the next day. The taxi driver was quite surprised, when after this brutal snaking up the mountain, I then asked how much for him to drive right back down and over to Darjeeling.

We reached the border by 8 pm, and I was stamped out by candlelight.

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Namchi to Darjeeling took 3 hours because the direct road has crumbled away and it is necessary to go back through Melli.

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  1. I once went on a trip to Sikkim and Darjeeling, assuming I would have the most fun in Darjeeling because of its fame. But, no, I stayed in Gangtok and did change my plans so I could stay there more than Darjeeling. Sikkim is my favorite place as of now in India (but, I went 10 years ago)

  2. I think you meant Nepal. How many days would be good to visit Sikkim? Also can you provide info on helicopter ride? Does it fly from Gangtok to Bagdogra?

  3. I think you have painted not a very good picture for Sikkim. Sikkim is amazingly beautiful, with it’s pristine snow clad mountain peaks, Drive from to Gangtok is all along the Tista River with white shores. This drive will provide the adrenaline rush as well as amazing scenery. Gangtok also provides amazing view of Kangchenjunga (Third highest mountain) especially early morning where the peak become golden with morning sun.

    Not sure about the process required for a foreigner to get access and not sure what you mean semi-independent state. Entire Sikkim to take to organic farming by 2015 and Sikkim has banned the use of chemical fertilizer and pesticides.

  4. @pabaks – I do not suggest it is not part of India however they maintain their own borders and immigration process, which implies a level of autonomy greater than some other Indian states, probably “semi-autonomous” is the better word and I will update the post.

  5. @Enigma – I tried to note that the highlights, due to the road conditions, require much more time than I could allow. I would have liked to see the great beauty in the north.

  6. @murtuza – the helicopter is scheduled to depart Bagdogra daily at 14:30, they have a website with old info but has the booking process. Many of the flights to Bogdagra arrive around noon so it lines up. The return is late morning to catch the early afternoon flights out of Bagdogra. I met a guy who recently took it, and similar to many reports, there were lengthy delays so relying on a tight connection is not best.

  7. Adding to my original comment and also to the other ones, it looks like you did not get to see anything interesting in Sikkim at all. To give you a context when I visited there, my initial plan was to spend 2 days here and 4 in Darjeeling. On the second day, we were chatting with a taxi driver who told us we did not see anything and promised to take us the really beautiful ones. Not completely trusting a guy trying to be a paid tour guide, we did took him up and he showed what Sikkim/Gangktok is all about, including food(the best momo) and the beautiful mountains and places and people.

  8. @sriki – I enjoyed Namchi, though I agree with the broader point that because of the dreadful transport situation, at least several days are needed, which I did not have to give. I would have liked to go up to Pelling and the mountain views, but not at the cost of another day or more on the road. For those with time I think it is a good place to visit.

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