When I wrote Heading To Sikkim… without a return ticket, I had only a vague idea of what Sikkim would offer me. I am happy to say that I got to experience much more than I expected. And I am even happier to say that I managed to travel at a slow pace. It was indeed a deeper travel experience for me – I pushed myself harder at times, mingled with strangers, took spontaneous decisions and learnt a lot of things along the way.
Sikkim is a land of mystic and beauty. It is certainly not a usual destination. If you think I am going to give a guide on things to do in Sikkim, I would say I have experiences to share. I wouldn’t say that I experienced everything on a silver platter. Travelling in Sikkim was tough. Yes, it was pretty challenging in terms of commuting, choosing where to go (there are so many beautiful places) and how to go. I’d say I stepped out of my comfort zone many times, but it was rewarding and how!
I delved deep into the natural wonders of Sikkim. I went on quite a few forest treks, which helped me discover various kinds of flora – some usual and some really unusual ones. I witnessed the lush cardamom plantations in Darap village (west Sikkim), orchids farming in Assam Linzey village (near Gangtok) and many other wild flowers and foliage.
Meeting the tribal people
I chose to skip the more sought after Khecheopalri Lake and explored the tribal life of Darap village. It was a new experience for me to discover different communities – Limboo, Lepcha and others. It’s fascinating to see centuries old houses, the lifestyle the tribal people follow and the simplicity with which they live. The layer of contentment they had on their faces made me realise how much we need to learn from them.
Almost every single house that I came across invited me in for tea.
Discovering the village life
After an uphill hike in Assam Linzey village, I was served a glass of lukewarm water by my hosts. There was a subtle whiff of smoke in the water, which felt nice and homey. Even their style of making tea is different – either they make a very milky tea or a little light tea with a sprinkling of salt instead of sugar.
Sipping Tongba around a bonfire
I already knew about Sikkim’s traditional drink known as Tongba. However, I didn’t really care to try it until I was invited for a bonfire in Darap Village. The moment I saw the Bamboo glasses placed in a corner, I exclaimed, “local beer”! Later, my host introduced us to their much loved local beverage, which is made from fermented millets. It is consumed in a very interesting style – you have to pour water into a large bamboo glass (which is full of millets) and wait for five minutes. Once it’s ready, it has to be consumed in one sip. Since I am a total non-alcoholic, it was fun for me – I liked its sweet-sour taste. I was quite drowsy after a while, but it didn’t hit.
Tongba (or Chhang) is not just Sikkim’s traditional drink, but it’s equally savoured in all the eastern Himalayan regions.
Monasteries blend very well with the Himalayan beauty of Sikkim. You have to hike up a lot to visit a monastery in Sikkim, but it’s worth it. As you get your breath back after an uphill walk, you have serene mountain views to soothe you. However, the crème de crème of the deal is the colourfully beautiful architecture of the monastery along with its charismatic aura that just mesmerizes.
|Little lamas at Ranka monastery
My heart really went out for the little monks at the monasteries. I was told that at least one boy child in a Buddhist family is offered as a monk. The young boys at the monastery ran around playfully and teased each other, but I could see a certain undertone of discipline among them. One of the little lamas was a bit clumsy with his attire, but he still played around without a care.
|A sumptuous Sikkimese breakfast table looks like this
|Tasting the Sikkimese cuisine
I really enjoyed the experience of tasting the typical Sikkimese cuisine. I relished the wild nettle green veggie and Ningro in particular. I also tried cottage cheese rolls, sheep soup, Sikkimese fried rice and various local snacks. The locals mostly eat salty stuff while some of their foodstuffs are a bit bland, too. Their pickles are too hot, especially Dalle, which I gulped in one bite as they looked like cherries.
|Cacoa cafe at MG Marg
Cafes at MG Marg in Gangtok
If you are able to wake up early during summers, enjoy a cup of tea or coffee with a view of Kanchenjunga at Baker’s Café. My personal favourite was Cacoa, which served great cappuccino and didn’t hurt my pocket much. The Coffee Shop was lovely, too.
|Worship room of a typical Buddhist family
Sikkimese culture and communities
I got a chance to stay with quite a few Sikkimese families – the Bhutia family at the Shire Guest House, the Gurangs at Darap Village retreat and the Limboos at Limboo home stay in Yuksom. I interacted a lot with my hosts at the Shire Guest House in Gangtok, who educated me on a Bhutia way of living, their faith and culture.
There are three chief communities in Sikkim – Bhutias, Lepchas and Nepalese.
Well, with some amazing Sikkim Tour Packages, you can also explore the mystical Sikkim.
Sikkim’s environment conservation
I also got a chance to meet the members of the KCC while I was in Yuksom. It’s one of the organisations that work for the environment conservation of Sikkim. What I really liked about their conservation initiative was that even the home stays in Sikkim contribute towards nature conservation. Mr Shiva Gurang of Darap village retreat has a committee through which he awakens school children to be conscious about their environment. They discourage school children to consume junk food and that way minimise garbage on the roads.
Is Sikkim your kind of a destination? What would you like to explore more – its natural charms or culture?