A Travellerspoint blog

Living in the Clouds in Sikkim

rain 18 °C
View Asian Adventure on TessAndRach's travel map.

You may be disappointed to learn that our next journey was fairly uneventful, we left Darjeeling on time and it only took an hour longer than expected to reach Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim (an hour over being unremarkable in Indian travel terms). We were a little disgruntled to discover however that the jeep drop-off point was in fact still 3kms outside of Gangtok so requiring us to take a taxi the rest of the way, harrumph.

You may not have heard of Sikkim, not being as famous as some other Indian states. This north-eastern state borders Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan, and is India’s least populous (though only 2nd smallest by area, after Goa) its people are of Nepali descent and Nepalese is the local tongue, we also found Sikkimese folk to be the friendliest we have so far encountered. Sikkim was a kingdom until 1975, (it had been part of Nepal until the British stole it during the days of the East India Company). When it became part of India its people were effectively bribed not to rebel and as such the state has enjoyed large infrastructure spending. As a result it is relatively wealthy, its state government have pretty much eliminated poverty and do a lot to maintain its environment, it has even banned littering and spitting – both of which are a big issue in most of India. It is so different that we feel we have had a little holiday from India - we even needed special permission to travel there from the Sikkim tourist office in Darjeeling and got stamps in our passports when we entered and left!

Sikkim is known as the Switzerland of the East and it’s easy to see why. It is lacking cuckoo clocks and fine chocolate, however tThe entire state is made up of lush green hills backed by snow-capped mountains, and the streets of its capital are clean and orderly, very lovely indeed. Well, the views are amazing but unfortunately for us we did not get to enjoy them for most of our time there...

We were lucky to be out of the way of Cyclone Phailin which struck India’s east coast last week causing horrific damage and injury, however we could not escape its spin-off. As we left Darjeeling and drove into Sikkim the clouds came in and with it came rain, and lots of it, for two full days and nights. So we awoke on our first morning in Gangtok to a scene of white (Rach opened our window to take a picture of said whiteness and cloud came inside…) and so we had to re-think our plans of trekking and trips to hill-top view-points. Instead we donned our most (though not very) water-proof items and headed to the ropeway cable-car, which has, erm, great views, apparently. Actually despite the persistent rain the clouds did move around a bit and it was quite lovely to see what bit of the surrounding hills we could with cloud sitting below us clinging to the hills and valleys, so we did manage to get some atmospheric snaps.

We visited the Tibetology museum and monastery to learn yet more about Buddhism. After this, the only real indoor activity, we decided it had to be a drinking day. So we found a couple of bars and got merry (booze is much easier to come by in Sikkim and is not so highly taxed as elsewhere in India so if you’re going to have a drinking session this is your state!) After unsuccessfully trying to eat in the much recommended Taste of Tibet (it was closed as it was still the Durga Puja holiday), we returned, soaked and with very soggy feet, to a pretty decent bar we had visited earlier in the day for food and yet more drinks. Before darkness had even fallen, the karaoke began, this is what the Sikkimese do on rainy days! We were too shy to have a go (and T's singing may have had us deported had we tried) but it was good fun watching the locals (plus Indian tourists) have a go, given we were the only girls in there for a good while and one guy was struggling with a Black-Eyed-Peas song, we did offer some backing vocals from our seats to help him out. We also had some interesting chats with locals and it was a pretty fun day in the end.

Waking up the following morning to the same scene was a little depressing, we really couldn’t spend another day in the pub! So we spent a lazy morning at our guest house which had a lovely chill-out restaurant area on the top floor, using the wi-fi and hoping the rain would ease up. We were lucky and it did become more stop/start by the afternoon so we went out for more walks around town including up on ‘the ridge’ behind our place, so that we could *imagine* the views of Gangtok below and the surrounding hills… Gangtok and around is not a place to venture of paved paths – its forests are filled with webs of massive black and yellow spiders and also leeches, apparently. So we tentatively took some eerie photos of spiders in the misty woods then retreated. (We are no arachnophobes, especially Rachel, but she had to admit that if she accidentally walked into one of the blanket-sized webs and/or had one of those spiders on her, she would’ve screamed like a baby). We spent the evening in the restaurant at our place with a bottle of wine and watched Avatar as they had dvds and neither of us had seen the film, but then got talking to an American lady who was traveling alone, so still pretty much have no idea what that was about.

We couldn’t believe our eyes upon opening the curtains on our final morning in Gangtok, we could see all the way to the Himalayas with Kanchendzonga looming above the Sikkim hills. It was great, we had about an hour to enjoy it before our jeep left for Namchi… So we enjoyed breakfast on the terrace with lovely views and bathed in sunshine, then packed up our stuff and trudged down for our jeep. A big chunk of the day was therefore spent tightly-squished into a jeep for another up and down journey, but we could enjoy the scenery again at least.
We arrived in Namchi in the afternoon and were pleasantly surprised by its lovely central square complete with fountain and aquarium. We found a room in a simple place on the square, overlooking said fountain and had some yummy momos (Tibetan dumplings). Namchi is a very small place with not much to it in the centre, but what it does have is two very large statues on its outskirts looking out over the town and surroundings. So after the momo snack we set off to find one of them (the two are in opposite directions out of town so it was one at a time). A 6km or so uphill trek, via a pretty but somewhat bizarre rock garden (which had swings and other playground items so Rach had some fun playing) got us to the Buddhist statue of of Guru Padmasambhava (known as the 2nd Buddha) which was definitely worth the walk (see photos). We headed back towards town racing the approaching darkness and had a rather boring evening since there is very little to do in Namchi, we even struggled to find somewhere to get dinner.

The following day we headed out early in the opposite direction to see the Hindu Shiva statue and surrounding temples. We cheated on this journey and took a taxi (as we were struggling to find the correct road out of town, which seems silly as there are only about 4 roads in and from Namchi!) We were definitely impressed with the statue, temples and views (we could see back to Darjeeling) and spent an hour or so just wandering and taking in the atmosphere (and inhaling the incense). We had breakfast there then strolled back to Namchi, ready to make out next move which was yet another jeep-ride back down to the plains. This journey was fairly good, nice driver, amazing views and we fed monkeys out of the window. :-D We reached Silliguri which is essentially a junction town for most travelers and spent the night in a grotty but cheap hotel before our morning train to Guwahati in Assam. And that will be the next chapter of our journey, hoping our next update tells tales of jungle retreats and seeing one-horned rhinos!

Posted by TessAndRach 05:44 Archived in India Tagged sikkim gangtok namchi

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents


Sounds really interesting, although the spiders & insects would certanly put me off, have fun, & keep safe

by Gran & Gramps

Definitely not the place for me!

by Felicja Zajko

Comments on this blog entry are now closed to non-Travellerspoint members. You can still leave a comment if you are a member of Travellerspoint.