Sikkim is one of the smallest states of India situated in North eastern part. If you want to get a flavor of North Eastern India, then Sikkim is the best bet to go to. Best time to visit Sikkim is Nov to January during winters and then April to June in summers. Though the weather remains apt for a visit throughout the year but the given months are the best time of the year. Though avoid the monsoon season as the rainfall is quite heavy in North Eastern states.
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The nearest railway station is New Jalpaiguri around 148 Kms from Gangtok and if you take a plane then you have to fly down to Bagdogra Airport which is about 120 Kms away. A number of taxis are available to take you from Airport or station to Gangtok. The taxis that are registered outside Sikkim are allowed to go to only till a certain point in Gangtok and thereafter you will have to changeover to another local cab, if needed. The route to Gangtok is hilly and lush cover of forest runs on both the sides. Also note that it is “Plastic Free Zone” and they adhere to the rules quite strictly.
Where to Stay
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Its advisable to base yourself in Gangtok and move around from there. As Sikkim is not a very large state, most of the attractions can be covered during the day and you can return to Gangtok by evening. The capital also provides you with the accommodation options that can suit any pocket. If you are looking at luxury hotel then you can choose between Mayfair and Royal Demazong. Amongst the Budget hotels you can choose from Basar Residency, Denzong inn, Tibet Gallery and many more. It would be good to stay near MG Road unless you have shuttle service from your hotel to the Mall Road.
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Though Gangtok is the capital of Sikkim, but its no more than a town. And unlike other hill stations, the main area of Gangtok is very green and not a concrete Jungle. The mall road here, is one of the beat I have seen. They have rows of Tulips running between the Mall road. It looks more like a film set than a functional place. Mall road is the place where you can find very good restaurants, pubs, do shopping and find car rentals to get around. This place houses restaurants to please different kind of taste buds. Try the local delicacies there. I could not get over my Momo fixation here.
There is a nice restaurant here called “Gangtalk”, try to get a table in the balcony here and you can see the entire stretch of beautiful Mall road from there. In winters they usually put heaters in the Balcony to keep you comfortable. Great food and even better hospitality. Other than this one there are small eating places in all over that you can choose based on your choice of cuisine. MG road area is good for a shopping spree too, there is a Tibetan Market here which sells boots, Clothes, Bags , accessories and all those pretty things women cannot have enough of. Bargain hard and you will land great deals here.
Pub & Music Culture
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If you are some one who likes to spend an evening over good music and great drinks then Gangtok is ideal place to be. The music culture here has caught up and you will find a number of Local Bands playing in these pubs. There is Café Live & Loud with great local and guest bands playing here. The cocktails are relishing and Delightful. My favorite is the “Volcano”, you can try and choose your own favorite, they have ample options there even when it comes to knick knacks. Then there is pub 25, Indulge, all on or near MG Road. For a small place like Gangtok, I was surprised to see these many options. Each place is special and worth your evening,
Places around Gangtok
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You can start with renting a cab. Gangtok has quite a number of places holding tourist Interest but they are all located in different directions and therefore, hiring a cab is the best way to move around. There are number of Monasteries here however the nearest ones are Rumtek , 24 Kms from Gangtok and Enchey Monastery, 3 Kms away. Sikkim is famous for its fauna particularly flowers. Its a colorful place with flowers blooming in every nook and corner, the peak season is April. However, if you come a little off season then you can visit the Orchid Sanctuary.
There are hundreds of species of Orchids with an artificial pond in the middle. You can head to Banjhakri waterfalls for a nice picnic or lunch. There are parks and garden around these waterfalls and make for a great family getaway. 7 Kms from Gangtok is Ganesh Tok . You can get a entire view of Gangtok from this Temple including Raj Bhavan and Mount Kanchejunga. There are also Cable cars that run from one end to another here and take you over the city.
Nathu la Pass and Changu Lake
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Nathu la is the Indo- Sino Border and getting there requires a special permit so carry your photographs along. Usually your car rental agency will do the needful to get these permits. Nathu la pass is 56 Kms from Gangtok at a height over 14,000 feet. And therefore, the road to Nathu la climbs continuously. The temperature variations are extreme. Its better to stop and take breaks to acclimatize yourself.
It’s a mesmerizing ride and you can feel a little heady if you try to look down into the valley. On the way to Nathu la you will pass Changu lake. Its considered sacred by the locals. The lake is nestled between the mountain peaks on all sides and road on one. It is a riot of colors during summer season and frozen during winters. There are also Yak rides available here. Nathu La, due to its altitude is under a thick snow cover throughout the year.
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I have been to a lot of cold places and in sub Zero Temperatures, but they all seemed like a cake walk compared to Nathu la. This place is perennially windy and low oxygen levels make it a big effort even to walk a few steps. There is a small enclosed place erected by Indian Army there where you can find heaters, soup and sandwiches. On your way down , you can also visit a temple cum memorial of Baba Harbhajan Singh, a deceased army jawan. His spirit is believed to still patrol the border. Here, you can also find a small place where you can eat or just to get inside to get a break from the cold temperature outside!
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It s called Switzerland of North East located at 12000 feet, around 137 kms from Gangtok in North Sikkim. Also, known as valley of flowers, as the whole valley blossoms with hundreds of species of rhododendrons, poppies and Orchids during summer Season. During winter, this valley receives heavy snowfall. There are also natural hot springs in this valley. During summers, this colorful valley chirps with life all around and streams meandering through the meadows. The scenery is breathtaking! If you plan to go to Lachung, then you will have to stay there overnight. You can stay at Yumthang valley tourist resort. There are not many accommodation options here and its better to book beforehand.
Apart from above, one can also indulge in water rafting and trekking to Kanchenjunga. Sikkim is a fulfilling experience whether it is the picturesque landscape, food, music, culture or its people. And there is a lot to take in and explore. Even of you want a stretched stay here; there will be enough to occupy you for those many days.