The quaint little town of Namchi in Sikkim lives up to its name. 'Nam’ means ‘sky’ and ‘Chi’ is ‘high’ in Sikkimese.
Situated an altitude of 1,675m above sea level and offering spectacular views of the Khangchendzonga range and Rangit valley, the capital of South Sikkim has developed as a hotspot for trekking, birding, and for religious tourism.
People throng here to check out the two outsized statues of Guru Padmasambhava (at Samdruptse) and Lord Shiva (at Siddhesvara Dham). The trekking routes are peppered with breathtaking views of the surrounding valleys of Kalimpong and Darjeeling in West Bengal. The crowning glory is the view of the confluence of two rivers — Teesta and Rangit.
Here are 7 reasons to add Namchi to your Sikkim itinerary.
Guru Padmasambhava, Samdruptse
A jaw-dropping 135ft high statue of Padamasambhava, painted in copper and gold sits on a lotus plinth atop the Samdruptse ridge. A short distance uphill from Namchi (around 7km), it is the highest statue of Padamasambhava in the world.
Gazing out upon the town and across the hills, it is visible from parts of Darjeeling as well. The foundation stone was laid by the Dalai Lama in 1997. Also known as Guru Rinpoche, Padmasambhava had blessed Sikkim more than 1200 years ago. The statue is therefore a fitting tribute to this patron saint of Sikkim. Padmasambhava (or lotus-born) is known in Tibet as one of the founding fathers of Tibetan Buddhism. His visage is wrathful and smiling.
Be warned — it’s quite an uphill hike from the car park area. The views from Samdruptse Hill — known as ‘The wish-fulfilling hill’ — are spectacular with the Khangchendzonga massif visible from the right side.
Samdruptse is 7km from Namchi, 2km off the Damthang–Ravangla road. From the car park, a short cable car excursion takes you down to an atmospheric rock garden and back.
Timings: 9am to 5pm.
One of the oldest monasteries in India, Ngadak was built during the reign of Chogyal Gyurmed Namgyal in the 17th century. The place is a gorgeous reflection of old Sikkim architecture. It was previously the palace of Pedi Ongmu, the Sikkimese queen who temporarily overthrew her half-brother Chador Namgyal in 1700. It is supposed to be haunted perhaps because of its dark history. Pedi Ongmu was murdered by Chador’s followers in 1717. After her death, the palace was turned into a monastery.
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Due to its age and the fact that it has withstood several natural disasters, the old stone and wood structure is supported by iron scaffolding. A new monastery has come up next to it. Inside its prayer hall, you will find some of the best contemporary monastery paintings in Sikkim. It is believed that anyone coming here has to make a promise to come back again. The word ‘ngadak’ means ‘promise’. Far off in the distance, you can see the statue of Padmasambhava at Samdruptse, glinting in the sun.
It is located about 2.8km from Namchi town, off the Namchi–Ravangla road. Look out for Kolkata restaurant — you have to turn into the small, uphill path opposite.
Timings: 8am to 5pm.
This kitschy and colourful pilgrim centre complex, spread over a massive area of 7 acres on top of Solophok Hill, houses replicas of the four dhams (holy pilgrimage sites of Hindus) — Badrinath, Puri, Dwarka and Rameshwaram. In the centre of it all is a towering 87ft statue of Shiva placed on a 108ft high temple with murals depicting his story. Around the temple are replicas of the twelve Jyotirlingas, and a statue of Kirateshwar (a hunter incarnation of Shiva) and a Nandi bull.
Park your vehicle at the spacious car park. From here, you will need to walk. In case you, or someone in your party, has mobility issues, you can ask for a battery-operated cart to go around.
The complex also houses a budget hotel, the Yatri Niwas, with basic rooms and a vegetarian restaurant.
Char Dham is about 5km from the town of Namchi.
Timings: 8am to 7pm.
Shirdi Sai Mandir
Situated in Assanthang, a couple of kilometers away from the district headquarters of Namchi, the two-storeyed gold-hued building has two halls on each floor. The ceiling of the first-floor hall has been painted in blue hues and looks a lot like a planetarium for some reason. A marble statue of Shirdi Sai Baba seated on an elevated platform takes center stage. Wall murals in vivid colours depict the life of Sai Baba and also showcase Vishnu in different incarnations.
The temple has a garden from where — on a clear day — you can even get a panoramic view of Mount Khangchendzonga.
Timings: 8am to 5pm
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Namchi Rock Garden
You can only hear birdcalls and cicadas at this tranquil and secluded spot located between Namchi town and Samdruptse (it’s approximately 3.5 km from Namchi). Two kitchsy dragons over a gateway lead to a pathway winding down the hillside.
The garden has a variety of local plants, flowers and trees, as well as pretty water bodies, bridges over pools, and an old children’s playground. You get great views of the Khangchendzonga from here. The ropeway to Sandruptse makes a halt here. However, the ropeway’s lower station at the bottom of the garden has no ticket office right now, so you will need to pick it up from its Samdruptse point.
Timings: 8am to 5pm
If you like being suspended in a glass cabin high above the mountains, then take the ride for a different perspective of Namchi. You get to see Samdruptse hill, the gigantic Padmasambhava statue and even Khangchendzonga on clear days. Run by Damodar Ropeways & Infra Limited (DRIL), the ropeway operates between the PWD Guest house, Samdruptse Hill and Namchi Rock Garden, covering a distance of about 2.1km. At first, the ropeway was from Rock Garden to the Samdruptse monastery.
You have to take along a valid photo ID to book a ticket.
Timings: 10.30am to 4.30pm, all week (subject to weather conditions).
Treks, Hikes, and More
If you are an avid trekker/hiker and wildlife enthusiast, it has the Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary and Tarey Bhir if you love ridge walking. The Indian Himalayan Centre for Adventure and Eco Tourism conducts courses in mountaineering.
Geology buffs will find Mamley very interesting. It is home to the Buxa Formation, which are stromatolite bearing dolomite limestones declared as a National Geological Monument by the Geological Survey of India (GSI).
Sports fans must check out the Bhaichung Stadium, built to honour one of Sikkim’s most famous citizens, footballer Bhaichung Bhutia. A good time to visit — if you love football — would be during the football tournament, The Gold Cup, when teams from India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan take part.
Bagdogra Airport, Siliguri, (West Bengal) is an international airport with flights like Air Asia, GoAir, SpiceJet, Indigo etc connecting to major cities. Cab from Bagdogra (114 km/3.5-4hrs) to Namchi costs about Rs3,000-5,000. There’s also the helicopter service from Bagdogra to Gangtok (35min) to save time.
New Jalpaiguri (NJP), Siliguri serves as an entry point to Sikkim, NE etc with trains like North East Exp, DBRT Rajdhani, AGTL Sundari Exp, Mahananda Exp etc connecting to many cities. From NJP to Namchi (110km/4.5 hrs) by cab costs around Rs3,000
The town lies off the road between Melli and Jorethang and is well connected to other towns in Sikkim and West Bengal.
You can hire cars, and jeeps from the market area. And buses run regularly between Namchi to Gangtok, Pelling, Jorethang, Kalimpong and Siliguri.
Where to Stay and Eat
An upcoming tourist destination, Namchi has many stay options from standard to deluxe, as well as homestays where local hosts offer a memorable experience. Namchi town has quite a few decent restaurants and cafes where one can head to for some yummy delicacies. They serve anything from scrumptious alu dom-roti and steamed momos to pizzas and pastas. You can hit up cafes like Crumbs n Whips for Continental fare (think pies, pizzas, pastas and shakes).