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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.
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.
Namchi is beautifully situated, with two religious attractions on the peaks above, both built in the last two decades.
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.
The town has a bustling center and some small guest houses.
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.
Namchi to Darjeeling took 3 hours because the direct road has crumbled away and it is necessary to go back through Melli.