The second smallest state in India that is wedged between Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and West Bengal, the pristine Sikkim encompasses an astounding range of pristine natural beauty of the Himalaya. With unspoiled alpine forests, lofty snow-capped mountains, craggy landscapes dotted with quaint villages and a rich tribal culture brocaded with vibrant Tibetan Buddhist accents, Sikkim is a welcome diversion from all conventional notions of an Indian holiday
Undoubtedly, this is Sikkim’s most famous monastery and measured as one of Tibetan Buddhism’s most important centres, the magnificent Rumtek Monastery is a repository of countless invaluable artefacts including precious metal statues, gem-studded cenotaphs and exotic ritualistic paraphernalia stacked within its spacious entrance. Rumtek Village is 24 km away from Sikkim’s capital city Gangtok and the monastery is the headquarters of the Black Hat Sect (one of the oldest sects of Tibetan Buddhism). The Old Rumtek Monastery is around two km away from the newer one and the path is surrounded by white prayer flags. The exterior of the monastery is in a light shade of blue and is built in traditional Sikkimese alpine style, with latticed wooden windows. The monastery is especially attractive during the Mahakala Dance in February, when giant figurines of protector deities raise hell in the courtyard and fight off evil demons.
Tsomgo Lake cuts a pretty picture against a backdrop of rugged mountains rising towards the Tibetan Plateau. The outing is particularly enjoyable in early spring and late autumn when parts of the lake are frozen with clear water beneath the surface.
The drive to Tsomgo Lake is spectacular, and the lake itself is a pristine water body surrounded by wildflowers for most of the year. A particularly mentionable tourist attraction is that visitors can go for yak rides near the periphery of the lake. The best possible view of the lake would be perceived only after climbing up a nearby hilltop from where the entire lake is observable.
Towards North Sikkim, which is perhaps the prettiest region in all of the entire state, is an area of unspoiled natural beauty, framed by snow-capped Himalayan peaks. The road climbs around 18 km higher from the spectacular road that continues from Tsomgo Lake to the just about 4,200 m Nathu La (La means pass in Tibetan). An important pass on the crossroads of the Indo-China border, Nathula Pass forms a part of an offshoot of the Old Silk Road. Things haven’t changed much and the pass still indulges passing tourists in pretty much the same way as it once catered to traders and merchants. It is always windy and cold at this altitude, which enriches the strenuous ascend resulting in a unique experience of winter wonders. A trip to Nathula Pass can effortlessly be considered as an escape from the monotonous immorality of the big city life.
Considered as an appealing hamlet on the banks of Lachung Chu (meaning river), Lachung exists only 15 km away from the border of Tibet. It is beautifully located at 2,600 m above sea level and is the gateway to go to Yumthang and the last permissible place known as Zero Point (Yumesamdong – 4,600 m). The weather is quite cold throughout the year in Lachung and it usually snows as the winter sets in. Lachung has a small but picturesque two storey monastery, Lachung Gompa built in 1880. Arriving in Lachung is a pleasant experience as the Chungthang to Lachung road is littered with waterfalls. It is an apt place to sample local Sikkimese food in pure environs and wash it down with some Chaang or Tongba beverages.
Locally pronounced as Rabongla, the picturesque town of Ravangla in South Sikkim is located on a ridge between Maenam Hill and Tendong, with a valuable market. It is relatively a new tourist spot, which is located on the highway from Gangtok to Gyalshing at an elevation of 8,000 ft. offering undisturbed views of the Greater Himalayas. There are glorious views of Mount Narsing on the offering from Ravangla and also dazzling landscapes with snow-capped summits. Ravangla hosts the annual three-day Pang Lhabsol festival in August, which worships Kanchenjunga and draws thousands of Sikkimese to enjoy traditional sports. Chaam dance is also held, the festival of masked dances unique to this place, performed not by monks, but by locals. Another offbeat site is just five km away from Ravangla, is the YangdrungKundrakling, which is the only Bon Monastery in Sikkim.
Many hardened hikers consider this week-long adventure to be the best trek for sighting Mt Khangchendzonga (8,586m), the world’s third-highest peak. The Goecha La trek starts from Yuksom, an undersized village in the foothills of the Himalayas and goes through the Kanchenjunga Reserve Forest. Goecha La, a 16,000 feet high mountain pass in West Sikkim, is an experience of a lifetime that offers breathtaking views of the southeastern face of Mt. Kanchenjunga and other Himalayan peaks like Mt Pandim and Mt Tenzing Khan. Starting from the outpost of Yuksom in West Sikkim, the trail cuts up a dense alpine terrain to finally peak at a gravity-defying 4,940 m, from where visitors can take in sweeping views of the snows towering above. April and November are best for photo ops at Goecha La (Pass).