Sikkim might be one of the smallest states in India, but offers a wide enough range of destinations and activities to launch a thousand trips. While views of Mt. Kanchenjunga -- the third highest mountain in the world -- continue to dominate the list of reasons to visit, the untouched forests, local monasteries and offbeat treks provide plenty of reasons to stay on.
Having been born here, South Sikkim holds a special place in my heart. The population is largely Nepali, and thanks to it being scarcely populated, it makes for an excellent offbeat destination. My perfect trip would start with Ravangla -- an idyllic town that makes for a lovely base for the other destinations and has a personality of its own. After a couple of days getting acclimatized to the cold in Ravangla, you can head to Namchi -- literally meaning 'sky high' and commanding magestic views of the Kanchendzonga range and the Ringit valley -- a destination that is fast catching on with travellers. Just a 45 minute drive from there lies my hometown -- Tinkitan -- a cozy village tucked away in the hills that I strongly recommend if you want a quiet few days to yourself in the lap of breathtaking beauty. If you are one for adventure and have a couple of more days to spare, you can head back to Ravangla and take a day-long trek up to Maenam Hill -- which, on a sunny day, will offer a view that you are likely to never forget.
Sikkim is a delightful place to call home. And though this is only a small glimpse, I hope it will leave you wanting more.
Ravangla is usually treated as a base for other journeys and treks -- mainly because it lies on the state highway and is easily accessible -- but it is also a great place to spend a few days. Located on the ridge between the Maenam and Tendong hills, it has magnificent views and -- at 7000ft -- is a perfect place to catch your breath before moving on to higher altitudes.
This is one of the most magnificent monasteries in Sikkim, and I am particularly awed by the amazing collection of paintings displayed here. Though the original Ralang monastery is located farther away and is slightly less accessible, the new one -- established in 1995 -- is well connected by road and lies only 6 kms from Ravangla. Though it is new, the monastery is constructed in the traditional Tibetan style of architecture and has a great sense of serenity about it. If you have some time to spare, I suggest you take a walk up to the old monastery too -- which, though smaller, is nestled between lush green trees and is worth every bit of the effort.
This brand new park -- housing a 130-foot statue of Lord Buddha -- can be clubbed with the Ralang monastery on a day trip. It makes for a pleasant evening walk with plenty of murals of different Buddhas behind the statue. Though I have never seen the statue lit up, I hear it looks spectacular by night.
Temi Tea Garden is one of the most lovely day-trips I have taken. It is beautiful in nearly all seasons -- if the skies are clear, the Kanchenjunga forms the perfect backdrop to swathes of endless greenery; if not, the cloud cover and fog only add drama to the landscape, making the green greener and the views more breathtaking. Tall trees line the tea estate, adding a spot of colour to the surroundings. It is a photographer's delight in the true sense -- every glance is a picture. However, if you want some of the actual tea, you will have to head to Gangtok!
Namchi is one of the most beautiful places to stay in Sikkim -- at 5,500 feet it earns its name (translated loosely as 'sky high' in the Bhutia language) and has developed into a popular site over the years. Apart from the panoramic views of the Himalayas, the Buddhist monasteries here lend it a mystical aura that is only further accentuated in the tales that do the rounds about Namchi's past. I love hearing the folktales from the locals, each one of them seems to take a different tangent. Apart from the natural beauty and the cultural landmarks, Namchi is also home to the biggest statue of the patron saint of Sikkim -- Padmasambhava.
This is one of the most popular destinations in Namchi. An imitation of the main Hindu pilgrimage spots -- the four dhams and the 12 jyotirlingas -- all within one compound. Situated at one of the highest points in the town, I enjoy the views and the serenity that pervades this place.
A 45 minute drive from Namchi, Tinkitam is my birthplace and a village I love to call home. Though it is still developing as a tourism spot and you may not find any of the luxuries you are looking for, it is a lovely spot to cut off from the world and just relax for a few days. It is the kind of solitude that I miss while I lead an urban life. Take lots of walks around the surrounding villages, acquaint yourself to the local Sikkimese people (who hardly speak anything other than our Nepali dialect) and take in the panoramic views without having to jostle for the perfect photo ops with other cameras. In addition, look out for the rare species of orchid Paphiopedilum Faireanum or Lady’s Slipper which has its natural habitat here.
If you are feeling particularly outdoorsy after your stint in Tinkitam and find yourself in the midst of favourable weather, I recommend that you take the trek up to Maenam hill from Ravangla on your way back. It takes about three hours one way and you will be walking through dense forest and an amazing diversity of flora all along. The views from the top, if the skies are clear, are ethereal. It is not a particularly steep trek, so it allows plenty of opportunity to look around and admire the spectacular surroundings.