Friday, 13 June 2014

10 Highlights Of My Journey Through Sikkim


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!   

                 
Nature trails

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.     


Visiting the monasteries

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

The little lamas

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?

40 comments:

  1. beautiful pics, great post. So many amazing parts of the world out there to see, how can we get to all of them?

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    1. True, Andrew. :) So many beautiful places in the world and it's hard to see them all! Sikkim is truly an experience.

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  2. I loved this! I want to go to Sikkim so badly! Maybe 3 weeks from now I want to plan to go. I was thinking flying into Calcutta then toy train to Darjeeling then heading up to Sikkim... was it very cold? But I'm torn because I also want to go to Uttarkhand to valley of the flowers! Have you been there too?

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    1. Yeah, it would be good if you go to Darjeeling first and then to Sikkim. But don't stay in Darjeeling city. Stay somewhere around it. Nope, it's not cold. Both the valley of flowers and Sikkim are exclusively great places to visit. But choose one for now. :) I'm yet to visit the valley of flowers.

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    2. Hi Reunka,
      You mentioned don't stay in Darjeeling city, stay around it - do you have any suggestions for me? I'm traveling solo so I'd like to stay in a town where I can meet some other travelers and also I am on a budget so looking for somewhere around 1000Rp a night in mid Sep... But it seems impossible from my research so far?!
      Thank you kindly, Annie.

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    3. For both Darjeeling and Sikkim, it's hard to find accommodation within INR 1000. But you can find incredibly cheap deals in the lesser known regions like Yuksom and Darap village (Sikkim) and Dilaram Village and Kurseong in Darjeeling.

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  3. Nice pictures. Sikkim is a good tourist place, clean and peaceful, elegant and challenging.

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    1. Yes, Tomichan :) Sikkim is a great place for travelers - people who really have curiosity to explore.

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  4. Nicely written with every bit of details. Visit during the winters and it would be a totally different experience, though agree that it would not be very easy trip.

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    1. Yeah Avik. :) I agree winters will reveal another level of beauty of Sikkim. I will definitely travel to Sikkim again. As far as challenges are concerned, I think I can handle them as long as I am rewarded as a traveler and as a photographer. :)

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  5. Compelling pictures. I have to go back after reading your account ...

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  6. Beautiful ! Beautiful ! You have written an engaging summary of your trip of Sikkim with a great insight. You are getting better day by day :)

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    1. Thanks for your encouraging words, Puru :) I'm trying my best.

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  7. Frankly, haven't heard nothing about Sikkim before. This city was absolutely off my radar :( However, I should definitely add it to my next India trip. And how long does it take to get there from Darjeeling?

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    1. You are going to love Sikkim! It is an amazing destination, Elena. :) It takes only 3-4 hours to reach Gangtok (capital of Sikkim) from Darjeeling.

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  8. Beautiful pic's as i mentioned in the prvious post , I had gone a long time back with my NCC trek from kalimpong to Gangtok .. we trekked though beautiful places for 2 or 3 weeks.. visited some monastries too RUMTEK I think , if i remeber it was a long long time back..

    it is a beautiful place ..

    brought back a lot of memories


    Bikram

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    1. I missed out on Kalimpong. I think there are too many places and it's impossible to cover all of them in one trip. Nice to know that you trekked for 2-3 weeks. Yeah, I too visited Rumtek. It's the biggest monastery and quite beautiful too.

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  9. How lovely! It looks like a truly magical journey! I hope to make it some day :)

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    1. Yeah, Sikkim was truly a magical journey. :)

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  10. Sikkim is one place that I would love to visit. Cool place.

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    1. Yeah true. Sikkim is an experience that should not be missed.

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  11. Interesting account on your Sikkim travel experience. The place is looking heavenly, totally like a place out of nowhere!! And it's such a shame that they are overshadowed by lot of other regular touristy places. Would love to visit NE India sometime.

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    1. In fact, I saw many tourists hogging Gangtok. Sikkim is pretty touristy, but at the same time, it has an offbeat layer to it. I think it's a destination for 'real' travelers.

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  12. I'm trying to get a few girlfriends together for a trip to India, and this post made me want to add Sikkim! Do you think it's a must add for our first trip?

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    1. Absolutely Katie! Sikkim would be a great destination for your girl gang. But I would advise, make it there after September.

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  13. Such wonderful experiences. These will remain with you forever. Excellent article!

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    1. I know, Niranjan :) I can't even begin to tell what this trip meant to me. Now I am even greedier for travel!

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  14. Such beautiful experiences in Sikkim! Loved reading them...

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    1. Indeed! Sikkim is incredible. I'm glad you enjoyed reading it. :)

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  15. Some places in sikkim were too hectic but when you find the right place it was heavenly. And tongba is just out of this world, out hosts made an energy drink out of it by mixing raw eggs and served it to us after a 20km hike. The only thing missing in sikkim was you couldn't hang out like you do in manali or mcleodganj

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    1. That energy drink sounds incredible! Yeah, that's true. Sikkim is hectic to travel through. Even I had a tough time, but it was all worth it.

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  16. Renuka, you have covered the scenic Sikkim really well. Having been there twice myself, still I found this blog educating one. I would like to visit few places of your list during my next trip. From my side, I suggest you Jorethang for your next trip that side. This small town of sikkim is very close to River Rangeet and you can have all the fun and adventures near the River bed.
    http://www.traveljots.com

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    1. Thanks Rex Ri :) Yes, there is a lot of Sikkim that I still have to explore, so I'll be heading there again sometime in the future.

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  17. I have done Sikkim, but alas non to compare your experience. And to travel solo, absolutely marvelous

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    1. Sikkim was a tremendous experience. I think it's a refuge for solo travelers.

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  18. went for honeymoon there... so close to my heart ... lovely people and awesome place...i hope wife allows to travel alone someday :)

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  19. Awesome place !
    next year when i am doing marriage I will going to sikkinm and shimla manali tours

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