No words said or written about Sikkim do justice to its beautiful landscape. I have never considered myself a ‘mountain person’. My idea of vacationing is sitting on a sandy beach and sipping margaritas. Well, that was before I journeyed through this land of monasteries, never-ending ranges, crystal lakes and gushing rivers. A myriad of hues – greens, yellows and blues which is ever so impossible to spot in the city sky. The incomparable beauty of the mighty Khangchendzonga is bound to take your breath away. With roads lined with blooming rhododendrons. Fresh Fruits and vegetables that are served right out of the garden – it’s not called the ‘organic state’ for nothing!
An independent nation before the year 1975, Sikkim is now an Indian state amidst the Himalayan Mountains and bordered by Nepal to its west; Nepali being its official language amongst Sikkimese, Lepcha, Tamang etc.
In awe of its beauty and the kindness of its people, I vouch to return to this Himalayan land. Here are a few of the many things you can do, eat and see in Sikkim.
Capital of the state, Gangtok is located in the eastern part of Sikkim. Soak in the relaxed atmosphere of the city for a day. And if you are an avid shopper, you mustn’t miss out spending the day at the spotless Mahatma Gandhi Marg market in the heart of the city. The best things to buy here are the traditional Sikkimese dresses known as Kho or Bakhu. Don’t forget to pick up a few packets of the locally cultivated tea, alpine cheese, Sikkimese cups that are made of porcelain and Thangkas – religious scroll paintings crafted by monks which are rendered on paper or silk, these in fact should only be purchased from the Directorate of handicrafts & handlooms located on Tibet road.
24 kilometres from Gangtok, the Rumtek monastery is one of the most sacred shrines in India. The monastery holds the ashes of the 16th Karmapa and also houses some rare Buddhist artefacts. Its walls painted with coral and gold murals. The monastery also houses schools and is bustling with lamas. You will certainly feel a sense of immense peace surround you as you enter the complex.
Guru Padmasambhava Statue
Considered the patron saint of Sikkim, this 118 feet high statue of Guru Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche, is located 7kms from the town of Namchi over the forested Samdruptse ridge and is visible for miles around.
Painted in shimmering copper and bronze, the statue was completed in 2004 on a foundation stone laid by the Dalai Lama.
Food all the way
One of the most popular foods that one should not miss here are definitely the momos (pork, chicken and beef) available all over Sikkim. It’s served with a light chicken broth and a red chilli chutney made with the locally available chili called Dalle.
On your way up to Tashiding monastery you should definitely try this heavenly dish of pork prepared in mustard oil, served with a soup made with millet leaves, a vegetarian preparation of potatoes and mustard leaves (saag), and a portion of butter rice.
Also, don’t forget to sip on the local drink called Chang (likely, with every meal) made from fermented millet seeds. It’s nothing like you’ve ever tasted before.
Last but not the least; the Sikkimese thali is a vegetarian’s delight. Comprising of dishes prepared with locally grown broccoli, beans, pumpkin, dal and millet leaves and is served with a portion of butter rice.
The most stunning views of the Khangchendzonga can be seen from the town of Pelling which is situated in the western part of Sikkim. The town is divided into upper, middle and lower areas. A quiet town by nature, Upper Pelling provides magnificent panoramic views of the snow-clad peaks of the Khangchendzonga at dawn.
Legend has it that the holy lake is the residing place of the Goddess Tara and that its shape is akin of her footprint and thus is considered holy by the Buddhist, Sikkimese and Lepcha people. Local monks come to the lake every day to pray and chant. A natural reservoir, the lake is surrounded with forested hills and dotted with prayer wheels and colorful flags.
Designed and founded by Lama Lhatsun Chempo in 1705, Pemayangtse is one of the oldest and most significant gompas in Sikkim. It is also one of the richest monasteries in the world and is located in west Sikkim. The ground floor features a central Buddha, while the upper area is painted with murals depicting the eight forms of Buddha.
For more inspiration, flip through a copy of Best Escapes East & Northeast India.