The tiny and beautiful state of Sikkim lies to the south of Tibet, sandwiched between Nepal and Bhutan. Measuring just 65km by 115km, Sikkim's landscape ranges from swelteringly hot valleys just 300m above sea level, to lofty snow-capped peaks such as Kanchenjunga (Kanchendzonga to the locals) which, at 8586m, is the third-highest mountain in the world. A small but growing network of tortuous roads penetrates this rugged and beautiful Himalayan wilderness. In 2018, Sikkim became a role model for India, and the world, by becoming the first-ever organic state, and earning a Future Policy Gold Award in the process.
The best travel tips for visiting SikkimHistorically, culturally and spiritually, Sikkim’s strongest links are with Tibet. The main draws for visitors are the state’s off-the-beaten-track trekking and its many monasteries, more than two hundred in all, mostly belonging to the ancient Nyingmapa sect.
Tashiding, a Nyingmapa monastery built in 1717, surrounded by prayer flags and chortens and looking across to snow-capped peaks, is considered Sikkim’s holiest. Pemayangtse in West Sikkim is the most historically significant, and houses an extraordinary wooden mandala depicting Guru Rinpoche’s Heavenly Palace. Rumtek is the seat of the Gyalwa Karmapa – head of the Karma Kagyu lineage – and probably the wealthiest monastery in Sikkim.
The capital, Gangtok, a colourful, bustling cosmopolitan town, is Sikkim’s gigantic mountain walls and steep wooded hillsides, drained by torrential rivers such as the Teesta and the Rangit, are a botanist’s dream.
The lower slopes abound in orchids, sprays of cardamom carpet the forest floor, and the land is rich with apple orchards, orange groves and terraced paddy fields (to the Tibetans, this was Denzong, “the land of rice”).
At higher altitudes, monsoon mists cling to huge tracts of lichen-covered forests, where countless varieties of rhododendron carpet the hillsides and giant magnolia trees punctuate the verdant cover.
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What to do in SikkimFrom towering peaks to vibrant monasteries, Sikkim offers a myriad of unforgettable experiences for nature lovers, adventure enthusiasts, and spiritual seekers alike. These are the best things to do.
#1 See masked chaam at Enchey MonasteryRight at the top of town, just below a colossal telecom tower, sits Enchey Monastery, a small two-storey Nyingmapa gompa. The monastery was built in the mid-nineteenth century on a site blessed by the Tantric master Druptob Karpo, who was fabled for his ability to fly.
Built by the chogyal on traditional Tibetan lines, the prayer hall’s beautifully painted porch is filled with murals of protective deities and the wheel of law, while the conch shells that grace the doors are auspicious Buddhist symbols. Surrounded by tall pines, and housing more than a hundred monks, the building suffered some damage in the 2011 earthquake, but remains a gem of a place.
Rough Guides tip: Visitors are welcome, but go between 7am and 8am when the monastery is busy and the light is good. It is also good to know that Enchey holds an annual masked chaam, during the Losung festival (December).
#2 Visit one of Sikkim’s most venerated monasteries, RumtekVisible from Gangtok, and a popular 24km day-trip southwest of the capital, Rumtek is one of Sikkim’s largest and most impressive gompas. The main seat of the Karma Kagyu lineage – also known as the Black Hat sect – it was founded during the twelfth century by the first Gyalwa Karmapa, Dusun Khyenpa.
Foreigners need to register passport details at the checkpoint off the village bazaar; even Indians and locals are sometimes asked for ID.
#3 Head to Pemayangtse, a monastery perched on a commanding ridgeThe hallowed monastery of Pemayangtse, the “Perfect Sublime Lotus”, was founded in the seventeenth century by Lhatsun Chempo and is one of the three lamas of Yoksum. Extended in 1705 by his reincarnation, it’s one of the most important gompas in Sikkim and belongs to the Nyingmapa sect. The views and the surrounding woods create an atmosphere of meditative solitude.
Perched at the end of a ridge, with a grand panorama of the entire Prek River watershed including the Kanchenjunga massif, the monastery is poised high above the Rangit River. It’s a 9 km journey along the main road from Gyalshing; or you can take a steep, 4km shortcut, walking through the woods past a line of chortens and the otherwise uninteresting remains of Sikkim’s second capital, Rabdantse, now made into a pleasant park.
#4 Wade through the botanical paradise of Varshey Rhododendron SanctuaryThe Singalila Range’s rhododendron forests, lauded by the famous botanist Sir J.D. Hooker, who travelled here in 1848, are best visited between mid-April and mid-May when the flowers are in full bloom.
Of these forests, the Varshey Rhododendron Sanctuary (aka Barsey or Varsey) covers 104 square kilometres, ranges in altitude from 2840m to 4250m and is home to black bear, red panda and pheasant. Entry to the forest is via Hilley, Soreng or Dentam and entry permits for the sanctuary are available from forestry departments at Hilley, Soreng, Uttarey and Gangtok.
The most popular route is the 8km round trip from Hilley to Varshey (3030m), which offers majestic views. You can extend the walk to Uttarey (3–4 days with tented accommodation), from where you can either take transport out or continue on foot to the small town of Dentam.
#5 Take high-altitude treks on the Dzongri and Singalila trailsTwo high-altitude treks are currently allowed in Sikkim:
- The first, from Yoksum to Dzongri, in the shadow of Kanchenjunga, passes through huge tracts of forest and provides incredible mountain vistas. The all-inclusive rates from a decent agency are available including permits.
- The second, the Singalila Ridge, explores the remote high pastures of the Singalila frontier range with breathtaking views of the massif.
Trekkers for either route must have special permits, travel in groups of at least two and organise the trip with an authorised agency.
#6 Tackle the Monastery TrailYou won’t need a guide for this rewarding circuit which has come to be known as the Monastery Trail, taking in the highlights of western Sikkim including several holy places and monasteries. Don't expect a totally wild experience, as parts of the trail nowadays are along paved roads.
Most walkers start the popular three-to-four-day trail from Pelling via Darap to Khecheopalri, then continue to Yuksom (with a steep descent and a knee-grinding ascent to the small town). Continuing from Yuksom takes in monasteries such as Dubdi (above Yuksom), Hongri and Sinon before descending to Tashiding. To return to Pelling, walk down to Sakyung from where there is an unrelenting ascent to Pelling.
Each section takes between four and seven hours, and the growing network of homestays allows trekkers to find comfortable accommodation.
Rough Guides tip: Ask for a trail map from Hotel Garuda in Pelling and details on the most scenic route.
#7 Explore the sacred monastic complex of TashidingConsidered the holiest in Sikkim, the beautiful gompa of Tashiding occupies the point of a conical hill 19 km southeast of Yoksum, high above the union of the Rangit and the Rathong rivers. On the fifteenth day of the first month of the Tibetan New Year, devotees from all over Sikkim gather in Tashiding for the Nyingmapa Bhumchu festival.
“The Devoted Central Glory” was built in 1717, after a rainbow was seen to connect the site to Kanchenjunga. While a paved road has eaten its way through the forest to the monastery, the climb is still recommended. The well-marked path leaves the main road near an impressive mani wall (inscribed with the Buddhist mantra Om mani padme hum: “Hail the jewel in the lotus” in silver paint). It leads steeply past rustic houses and fields, and along a final flag-lined approach.
#8 Hike the rhododendron-filled valley of YumthangAs the road north ascends past yak pastures, it enters the Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary, announcing the start of Yumthang (3645m), 25 km north of Lachung, with spectacular rock and ice pinnacles towering to 6000m on either side.
A pleasant purpose-made walking trail leads 10km along the valley floor, back to the sanctuary gates – due to the high altitude and problems with acclimatisation, descent rather than ascent is recommended. Past Yumthang, the road continues up the valley and emerges on the high plateau land at Yumesamdong or Zero Point (the end of the road), at an altitude of 4770m with a backdrop, weather permitting, of the snowy sentinels along the Tibet border.
This beautiful tree-lined valley does not have accommodation but boasts somewhat neglected hot sulphur springs.
Permits and trekking in Sikkim state access permitForeigners need to obtain a Restricted Area Permit (RAP; previously known as an Inner Line Permit or ILP) to visit Sikkim.
Permits can now be obtained online at Wsikkimilp.in, or in advance along with your Indian visa, but agencies abroad charge exorbitant fees so are best avoided.
If obtained within India, Sikkim permits are free and can be arranged through the tourism agencies, trekking operators or at the Sikkim border at Melli and Rangpo in a dedicated office.
In order to apply, you’ll need two passport photographs, and photocopies of your passport and Indian visa.
Check the latest information at Wsikkimtourism.gov.in. Permits are date-specific and initially valid for thirty days from entry (no return within three months); extensions are normally available up to a maximum of sixty days.
As well as Gangtok and its surroundings in East Sikkim, the RAP covers all of South Sikkim and most areas in the east and west of the state, apart from most high-altitude treks.
Sensitive border areas, like Tsomgo Lake (also known as Changu or Tsangu) in East Sikkim, most of North Sikkim except for Mangan and its immediate vicinity, and all high-altitude treks including the Singalila Ridge and Dzongri, require the additional Protected Area Permit (PAP).
Foreigners can only enter these areas in groups of at least two accompanied by representatives of approved travel agents who arrange the permits.
Best places to stay in SikkimMany travellers will base themselves in Gangtok, but if you’re travelling around the state, Rumtek, Pelling and Yoksum are all worthy stops too.
Gangtok’s hotels are expensive in high season (broadly speaking April–June and Sept–Nov), but offer discounted rates at other times. As the town has spread, so has the choice of accommodation, with some excellent hotels and guesthouses springing up along the highway at Deorali.
Rumtek has a limited choice of budget accommodation, but an increasing number of more upscale resorts offering a quiet alternative to crowded Gangtok.
Most of Pelling’s hotels, whose rates rise steeply in the high seasons (March–May & Sept–Nov) are spread along a 2 km stretch of road between Upper, Middle and Lower Pelling.
At Yoksum most options are around the small market area. The KCC at the Visitors Information Centre, at the head of the town, organises several homestays around the village
Accommodation around Tashiding’s Sinek Bazaar is generally disappointing, though there are some good homestays on the footpath up to the monastery and a few in the compound itself.
Browse the places to stay in Sikkim.
How to get aroundTransport is extremely limited in Sikkim. There are buses by most travellers will get around using shared jeep or taxi.
Due to the mountainous terrain in Sikkim, most travelers will make their way around the state by shared jeep.
Sikkim State Transport (SNT) operates regular bus services connecting different towns and villages in the state. However, it's important to note that the frequency and availability of buses may vary, particularly in remote areas.
Taxis are readily available in more popular destinations like Gangtok and Pelling.
How many days do you need in Sikkim?For a well-rounded Sikkim experience, allocate a week to 10 days, maybe more if you’re planning to hike. That will allow you to spend 2 to 3 days in Gangtok and discover local attractions like Enchey Monastery, Rumtek Monastery, MG Marg, before embarking on day trips to Tsomgo Lake and Nathula Pass.
Pelling, known for its stunning Kanchenjunga views, merits 2 to 3 days on its own. Explore Pemayangtse Monastery, Khecheopalri Lake, and venture on a trek to the panoramic Singalila Ridge.
You will then need a minimum of 3 to 4 days for North Sikkim's Lachung and Lachen to immerse yourself in the beauty of Yumthang Valley, Gurudongmar Lake, and the region's incredible landscapes.
Looking for inspiration for your trip? Check our India itineraries.
What is the best time to visit Sikkim?Summer, from April to mid-June, is characterised by warm weather and clear skies. The monsoon lasts from June to September, when road conditions deteriorate and landslides are common.
From late September to November, temperatures are moderate, cherry blossoms are in bloom and the skies intermittently clear for views of Kanchenjunga. An influx of tourists during these two high spells means higher hotel rates, especially in Gangtok and Pelling.
Winter can be bitterly cold in the northern reaches, but still a good time to travel. Discounts are possible during low season, from February to March, when it’s freezing and the fog plays spoilsport. Remember to check for road closures when it snows.
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How to get here
By roadShared jeeps and taxis are far more popular and efficient than buses for accessing Gangtok. Due to occasional agitation in neighbouring Darjeeling, the busy route to and from Siliguri in West Bengal sometimes sees closures, though the authorities endeavour to keep it open.
By jeepMost travellers arrive by jeep from Siliguri (4hr 30min), the current transport centre for the railhead at New Jalpaiguri (NJP; 117 km). Jeeps to North Sikkim depart from the Vajra stand until 1pm. Destinations from Mainline taxi stand:
By busIf you’re determined to suffer the buses, you can choose between the state carrier, SNT (Sikkim Nationalized Transport), or a number of private operators.
All buses run by SNT use the SNT Bus Stand on Paljor Stadium Rd, but passengers may prefer to be dropped off earlier at Metro Point, MG Marg, which is more convenient for the tourist office and most hotels. Non-SNT buses stop at the Mainline Stand,
By trainThe nearest railway station to Gangtok, New Jalpaiguri (NJP), is 117 km away. SNT has a train reservations counter, but the reservations quota for Gangtok is highly inadequate so you are advised to book in Siliguri or online.
By planeSpiceJet flies to Pakyong airport, 32 km southeast of Gangtok, from Guwahati and Kolkata. Coming from elsewhere you must fly to Bagdogra (124 km) in West Bengal and reach Sikkim by shared taxi.
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