SIKKIM – A tryst with the boundless beauty of the Indian countryside
Sikkim is India’s first organic state where “eco-friendly” and “all-organic” are not loosely thrown around terms, but practiced in daily life. However, Sikkim didn’t achieve this by fluke; the state government and its people put forth the required effort.
The jewel-like state tucked in the North Eastern part of India is cradled by yawning valleys, lofty mountains, roaring rivers, fluttering prayer flags and zigzag mountain loops. A peak time to visit Sikkim is during the International Flower Festival where visitors will be dazzled by the exotic variety of flora.
“Sikkim Government runs lot of eco-conservation programs and hosts many exotic festivals, like the International Flower Festival for example, to spread the idea of an all-organic state,” Explained Chen Yang, my travel guide who works closely with the Sikkim Tourism Department.
May is a perfect month to visit Sikkim as the weather is picture perfect, nature is at its peak flowering season, and schools are closed for summer vacation.
INTERNATIONAL FLOWER FESTIVAL
The second smallest state in the country becomes a breathtaking flower bed from March through May. Thanks to the geographical positioning, Sikkim is a treasure trove of over 5000 species of flowering plants. The lush forests showcase magnolia, poppies, primulas, gentians and geraniums carpet the rolling hills and wide valleys. Rhododendrons, orchids, gladioli, poppies, azaleas and camellias set the entire state ablaze in a riot of colors.
[Photo to come]
To celebrate the floral wealth of Sikkim, the State Government organizes the International Flower Festival every year in Gangtok during the month of May. Unlike other festivals that are merely days long, this one lasts an entire month.
The main displays in the flower show are orchids, gladioli, roses, cacti, alpine plants, creepers, climbers, ferns and herbs among others. Experts hold seminars and lectures. A food festival with Sikkimese delicacies is organized. River rafting, Yak Safari, hiking and other activities are added attractions for tourists.
WHERE TO GO NEXT
Besides attending the International Flower Festival, Sikkim is great for adventure, wildlife, culture and spiritual travel. You can make Gangtok your base and explore different parts of Sikkim. Here is my experience of exploring the mystic land.
I woke up at 5 am to marvel the sweeping view of the snow-capped Mt. Kanchenjunga from the Tashi View Point. The revered mountain played hide-n-seek through the veil of clouds.
After soaking the grand view and stomach full of dhaaba food, I decided to invoke my spiritual side by visiting the nearby Gonjang Monastery. As I walked inside the monastery, I came across a huge courtyard embellished with colorful thangkas (Buddhist paintings). I made my way through the intricately carved woodwork maroon and golden prayer hall where huge Idols of Khen-lop Cho-Sum (founding Fathers of Tibetan Buddhism in 8th century) and the engraved statues of the twenty-five disciples of Guru Padmasambhava were standing tall. I spent close to two hours absorbing the peace of the monastery while occasionally indulging in small talks with the residential monk students.
The rest of the day was spent paragliding over the snow-capped mountains, enjoying the panoramic views of Gangtok from Ganesh Tok and revisiting the old-world charm at the Royal Palace.
Before arriving in Sikkim, I had heard a lot about the famous Organic Market of Gangtok, so I had to check it out. I shopped until my bags were full of different varieties of organic pickles, fruits and fresh vegetables. My driver-cum-guide, Sudharam, gave me some fantastic insight on why Sikkim became India’s first Organic State,
“The state government is very strict about the Clean and Green Sikkim image. The houses are asked to be painted in a particular shade of green. People themselves are cautious about cleanliness. Nobody takes a leak in the open or throws garbage on road. No fertilizers or inorganic products from outside can enter Sikkim’s territory. You could be jailed if found dealing in plastic bags or non-organic products.” Said Sudharm
After the organic market stroll, I wrapped up the day by walking to the nearby MG Marg. It is a social-commercial hub packed with restaurants, export surplus shops and travel agents.
For most visitors, a trip to Sikkim usually includes a trip to Gangtok, Rumtek and Nathula La via Tsomgo Lake and Harbhajan Baba’s mandir, but being an admirer of offbeat destinations, I managed to stay off the radar to visit the old silk route and the world’s highest golf course at Kupup. Within 15 kilometers we rose from an altitude of 5410 feet, to 12,310 feet. You can imagine how steep the grade is on this stretch of the road. Photography wasn’t permitted at Nathu La because of being a border post. Before the 1962 Indo-China war, this used to be the old silk route. The drive is beautiful with views of lofty mountains, azure sky, frozen water falls, high altitude semi frozen lakes and few homes dotting the zigzagged mountain slopes.
After spending two days in East Sikkim, I started a backbreaking seven hour journey from Gangtok to Lachen. The arduous journey was made more beautiful by the roaring jade green water of Teesta River rushing through massive boulders, soaring snow-capped peaks embroidered with long ribbons of waterfalls, lush green forests dimpled with alpine pastures and the piping hot pakodas made to order at Naga Waterfalls.
I spend the night at a Bhutia homestay listening to their folktales. Next day I woke up at 4 am to start my onward journey to Gurudongmar Lake. The majestic mountain peaks were glowing in the molten golden dust of the sunrise. Sacrificing my sleep was nothing when I saw the staggering vistas and crag-rimmed Gurudongmar Lake (17,800 feet above sea level). The lake was so phantasm that even the -19-degree temperature and AMS inducing thin air couldn’t make me stay in the car for long. But I was cautious not to get carried away.
After Gurudongmar Lake, I reached Lachung to explore the stunning Yumthang Valley and Zero point the next day before returning to Gangtok.
South Sikkim formed the next leg of my trip. The larger-than-life religious statues at Namchi, along with the state’s only Tea Estate—the Temi Tea Garden, the views of Majestic Mountain and valley from Tarey Bhir and Helicopter point is something I will never forget.
My trip had come to an end and I had fallen in love with the mystic all-organic land. If you’ve ever been to Sikkim, please leave a comment below and share your experience.
HOW TO REACH SIKKIM:
By Air: The nearest airport is Bagdogra in West Bengal
By Rail: The nearest railway stations are New Jalpaiguri (125 km) and Siliguri (144 km) in West Bengal
By Road: Regular bus services run by the Sikkim Nationalized Transport directly connect Gangtok to Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Siliguri. For local transport, Cars and jeeps are available for hire in Gangtok and other big towns of the state
FACTS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
- Sikkim shares international borders with three countries – Nepal to the West, Bhutan to the East, and China-occupied Tibet to the North.
- You need inner line permit to visit Nathula and Gurudongmar Lkae due to their proximity to the international border