Sikkim was an unexpected surprise. This tiny state had astounding natural beauty. It was hard not to feel something when your eyes fell onto the tall mountains, the swerving rivers and the prolific green valleys. I hadn't heard of Sikkim until we took this trip. The natural scenes on this route were nothing like what I had seen before. Although British Columbia boasts beautiful Rocky mountains and I have often been mesmerized by the snow covered mountain peaks back home, the Himalaya mountains were a whole new dynamic level of mountain experience, a notch above Whistler/Blackcomb or any of the Vancouver mountains. I had never imagined anything could be bigger until I landed in this north east region of India. The river along the highway at one point merged into another river, creating a Y, which was a unique sight.
For quite some time tourism was restricted to this state and even presently tourists must obtain a permit to enter the state. When we arrived at the Sikkim and West Bengal border we had to visit a government office and present our Canadian passports.
Sikkim is the state north of West Bengal, even higher into the Himalayan mountains than Darjeeling. Maneesh and I hired a private taxi and went on another mini road trip. It took us five hours to get from Darjeeling to Gangtok.
On this road trip we were able to get a very good sense of the Sikkim country side, which is mainly mountainous.
Once we reached Gangtok the city view was stunning. Before we started the climb upward into the city, from below we were able to get a glimpse of how vast this city is and how wide it sprawls along the mountain side. I had never seen any such cities built like this before. The population is roughly 100,000 people. Being located so high the temperature remains mild most of the year.
Like Darjeeling, Gangtok also has viewing points marked for sightings of Mount Kanchenjunga. It was quite foggy and misty due to the monsoon season. As a result we were not able to see Mount Kanchenjunga from any of the typical lookout points in Gangtok either. We were unlucky for the second time.
We did visit a Buddhist monastery, that has made Gangtok quite famous and, some other temples. There were many lookout points around the city for great views and vistas. We had a very short visit in Gangtok, thus were running around trying to touch all the main points of the city in the early morning hours. From 6am to 10am we crammed in quite a bit of activity that gave us a vibe of the city, but its definitely on our list to re-visit to catch up on rest of the natural sights.
Initially we were planning on spending four or five days in Sikkim and visiting other cities beside Gangtok. We had learned about the natural beauty of this tiny state beforehand and each city from the east to the west has something different to experience. However, while we were still in Darjeeling we heard of an airline that recently started flying a new route to Kathmandu, Nepal. Being fairly new, it was said they were offering very cheap rates to attract customers. Maneesh and I were attracted to this juicy piece of news and decided to investigate. As it turned out the rumour was true. We in fact found cheap tickets that seemed too good of a deal to pass up. We had two options now; either continue to explore in Sikkim or to go discover Nepal. In the end Nepal won, as we felt we would probably get more opportunities to return to Gangtok.
Similar to Darjeeling, we found the people in Sikkim to be quite hospitable and warm. The the population was a mix of Nepali, Tibetan and ethnic Sikkamese people. Buddhism was also quite prevalent in this state along with Christianity.
Maneesh surprised me with a helicopter ride which took us back to the international airport in Bagdogra (Darjeeling), where we were to catch our flight to Kathmandu. Due to the foggy and wet weather the helicopter was almost grounded. We waited very anxiously in the heli-pad wait room and didn't find out until the last minute whether we would fly. And while we were waiting, the customer service rep announced a snake had gotten into the premises, which made the hair on our back stand up! We were even more anxious to get out of there now. Fortunately the weather stayed clear enough for the few hours at the peak of the day when we were scheduled to fly and we rushed out of there as soon as the helicopter landed to pick us up. The helicopter ride was a neat and new experience for the both of us. The views were unimaginable and I was quite astonished to see how many villages and people live at very high altitudes in the mountains. It was a pretty incredible experience to see how creative humans must be to carve out livelihoods in these very remote areas.
Journey by road: Darjeeling to Gangtok