Views of lofty Himalayan snow peaks, forest trails and ancient ruins, colourful monasteries and a laidback lifestyle is what makes Pelling, the gateway to West Sikkim, a pleasant attraction.
The town is divided into lower, middle and upper Pelling, with hotels and homestays strewn across the stretch. The bus and taxi stands are located in lower Pelling. The town is best explored on foot but you can also hire a car (rates vary according to season) to cover the major attractions.
Things to see and do
Cars go right up to the base of this popular monastery from where you have to climb a few steps to reach the main complex. Prayer flags and statues of two snow lions mark the entrance to the monastery that was founded in 1705 and belongs to the Nyingma order of Buddhism. Do not miss the colourful murals inside.
A statue of Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche presides over the central hall on the ground floor. There are benches along the walls for those who want to meditate. A small door on the side leads to the upper floors.The first floor contains images of various Gurus, all reincarnations of Padmasambhava. The second floor contains the ‘Sangdogpalri’ or a wooden replica of Guru Rinpoche’s heavenly abode, decorated with miniature objects, a work of art. Neatly arranged votive objects, paintings, thangkas or painted scrolls, and cupboards full of old manuscripts, including Buddha Teaching Sutras, can be seen across the various floors.
On a clear day, Mt Khangchendzonga and other snow peaks can be seen from the monastery complex.
Timing: Between 7.30am and 4.30pm in summer and 8am to 4pm in winter. The entry fee has to be paid at the gate at the bottom of the hill. Visitors inadequately attired will have to cover themselves with a dress available on rent at the gate. Tickets are checked at the monastery gate. Photography inside the monastery is not allowed. Souvenir shops and toilets are available.
Tip: At the Guru Drakmar Chham (usually held in February/March), monks perform religious dances in colourful costumes. The festival concludes with the unfurling of a large scroll (thangka).
The main entrance is on the road connecting Pelling with Geyzing. From here, a kilometre long hike along a rough flagstone path through the forest will take you up to the ruins of Sikkim’s ancient capital. Part of the way runs parallel to the Sidkeong Tulku Bird Park. The climb is mostly gradual with a few steep inclines. There is a signboard at the start of the path indicating the presence of Simikok Chu (a mountain spring) from where water is sourced for the annual Tarkyap festival held at the Pemayangste Monastery.
Rabdantse became the second capital of Sikkim after Tensung Namgyal, the second Chogyal (ruler) of Sikkim, moved the seat of power from Yuksom, the first capital, in the late 17th century. Maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the ruins lie within a landscaped complex. The ruins include a residential complex and a religious complex, the latter marked by a throne and three chortens on a platform. The capital was abandoned following an attack by the Nepalese forces. Some of the artefacts recovered from the area can be seen in the small site museum.
The Sidkeong Tulku Bird Park covers an area of 13,000 square meters within a wet temperate oak forest. Exotic birds, such as pheasants, have been kept here. Visitors have to walk along raised platforms beneath a large protective net canopy.
Timing: The ruins and the bird park is open between 10am and 4pm. No entry fee to visit the ruins. Bird park entry is ticketed. Photography is allowed at both places. Toilets are also available near the museum.
Sanga-Ngang Choling Monastery
This 17th century monastery shares the hill top with a modern tourist attraction named Chenrezig Shinghkham Riwo Potala. Cars go up to the base of the monastery from where it is a short uphill walk.
It is believed that the Sanga-Ngang Choling (pronounced Sangacholing) monastery was founded by Lama Lhatsun Chempo but rebuilt after being gutted by a fire in 1950. There are several chortens on top of a rough-hewn platform, overlooked by prayer flags fluttering in the wind. On a clear day, it is possible to see the snow ranges from here. There is a monastic school for young lamas at the bottom of the hill.
Timing: Sunrise to sunset. No entry fee. Photography inside monastery not allowed. Couple of shacks sell momos and other snacks near the monastery school.
Chenrezig Shinghkham Riwo Potala/Skywalk
A modern addition to Pelling’s horizon, the 98 feet high statue of Chenrezig (Avalokitesvara) -- believed to be an embodiment of compassion -- towers over a sprawling complex consisting of a garden and decorated fountains, approached by a spiral walkway from the foot of the hill. You have to ascend another 10 steps to reach the base of the statue.
To one side of the complex is the Sky Walk, perched at 50 feet above the ground and made of specially reinforced glass. However, for safety of visitors, only 50 people are allowed on it at a time.
Timing: Everyday between 8am and 6pm. Ticketed entry. Photography allowed but may be chargeable (check at the ticket counter). Serious photographers visit early in the day or in the late afternoon to avail the best light.
Pelling is nearly 135km from state capital Gangtok. But if you are coming from West Bengal, you may proceed straight to Pelling via Jorethang, Geyzing and Legship; takes around five hours by road.
Apart from the restaurants attached with many hotels, there are also standalone eateries. Owing to an increase in number of tourists from all over India, there are restaurants offering only vegetarian, including Jain vegetarian food. One of the popular restaurants is Kabur in Upper Pelling. They have both outdoor and indoor seating.
However, do remember, people in Sikkim start the day early. Hence breakfast, lunch and supper times differ from that of the plains. Usually, supper is over between 7.30pm and 8pm.
Local handicrafts such as scrolls and prayer wheels and tea from Sikkim’s Temi Garden can be bought at the local market.
From Pelling, you may continue further into West Sikkim, including Yuksom. Pelling may also be combined with a visit to South Sikkim.