Though the tiniest state in the north east—112km north to south, and 64km from east to west, Sikkim ranges in altitude from a mere 244m in the valley of the Teesta river to 8,540m at Mt Kanchendzonga, the guardian deity of the state. The extreme north of the state (beyond Yumthang) is a high-altitude desert. There are flights to Bagdogra from Delhi and Kolkata. From Bagdogra you can either take a bus, or a taxi (4 hrs).
West Sikkim Circuit:
The haunting Pemayangtse monastery, 118km from Gangtok and a mere 2km from the town of Pelling, is poised high above the river Rangit. It’s a 9km long journey along the main road from Ghezing; or you can take a steep 4km short cut through the woods, past a line of chortens, and the interesting ruins of Rabdantse, Sikkim’s ancient capital. In Pelling, stay at the Norbughang Resort (03595-258245/258272), which consists of cottages spread over along a hillside. Or head 40km south west of Pelling to the Yangsum Farm in Rinchenpong, a delightful working farm that is also a good base for your travels (03595-245322, www.yangsumfarm.com). About 33km northwest of Pelling, the Khecheopalri Lake, also known as the ‘Wishing Lake’, is sacred to the Lepchas. It is hidden in a mountain bowl (2,000m), and is surrounded by dense forests. The budget Trekker’s Hut and Pilgrim’s Rest House are the only options.
North Sikkim driving holiday: Gangtok-Chungthang-Lachen-Thangu-Chopta Valley
The spectacular terrain of North Sikkim makes for some rough, but excellent driving. Mangan, the small headquarters of North Sikkim is 65km north of Gangtok. Chungthang, 40km further north, is set in a deep valley at the confluence of the Lachen and Lachung rivers. The road then forks—Lachen, 24km further north, stands on a small bit of grassy flatland, from the periphery of which rise snowy peaks. About 30km further you come to Thangu (13,000 ft) where the high altitude desert starts. Head on to the Chopta Valley (20 minutes from Thangu), which is a riot of colour in summer.
East Sikkim: Changu (Tsomogo) Lake and Nathu La
The Changu Lake (3,780m), 35km north east of Gangtok and just 20km from the Tibetan border at Nathu La, is well worth a visit. It is also possible to visit the Kyongnosla Alpine Sanctuary en route, where a profusion of wild flowers bloom between May and August. A number of people go up to Nathu La to take a peek at the Chinese lines, and the exchange of post that happens at 4pm every day here, has become a ceremony of its own.
Sikkim is probably the only state in the Northeast that offers sightseeing by helicopter. All flights, run by the Sikkim Tourism Helicopter Service, are thrilling—so you’ll be hard-pressed to choose. The 20-minute Gangtok Flight takes you over the Gangtok area. The 90-minute Kanchendzonga Flight takes you around the mountain. Remember that it can get a little chilly though at altitudes of 17,000ft. The 70-minute Yumthang Flight and the West Sikkim Flight are the other options. Contact Sikkim Tourism (011-26115346, 03592-222064).
Marco Polo World Travels (03592-204116, 229407; www.worldmarcopolo) offers interesting tours like the Lama Anagarika Govinda (meditation) and the Joseph Dalton (botanical) tours apart from the regular ones.