Touring stunning Sikkim
Trip Start Jun 30, 2010
58Trip End Jun 01, 2011
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Where I stayed
Season's Guest House, Lachung
Hotel Kabur, Pelling
Hotel Yangri Gang, Yuksom
Dungmali Guest House, Namchi
Mingtokling Guest House, Gangtok
Modern Central Lodge, Gangtok
Our three weeks in Sikkim were spent touring via the ubiquitous and beyond 'cosy' public jeeps (14 inside and 4 on the roof of a 10 seater was not uncommon), taking an organised tour around North Sikkim (an extra-restricted area because of its proximity to China) with a great young Sikkimese guide called Bemjamling and driver (with the stamina of an ox), and hiking eight days into the wilderness of the Sikkimese Himalayas with a local guide, cook and porter team to a high pass called the Goecha La to look out over the Khangchendzonga mountain range (see separate entry for more on that)
Sikkim’s landscapes range from deep humid valleys such as the Jorethang valley at just 300m above sea level to pine and Rhododendron forest, alpine valleys and soaring Himalayan peaks, including Khangchendzonga (3rd highest mountain in world and worshipped as the guardian deity of Sikkim). Wooden villages cling to steep, forested mountain slopes and the larger, rapidly modernising towns such as Namchi (meaning 'Sky High'), Pelling and the capital, Gangtok have developed along ridgelines. Waterfalls cascade and freefall down the green mountainsides, providing stunning spectacles and, of course, the ideal car-wash where they cascade roadside.
Most settlements are connected by a network of tortuous, vertigo-inducing, bone-shaking roads that take a battering every monsoon and are disrupted by large, frequent landslides. The uncharacteristically late monsoon this year meant landslides were still occuring at the end of September, into the tourist season. Even the jeeps were struggling with the conditions. The roads are a lifeline for Sikkim's communities and its economy and the scale of work underway across the state in a bid to keep the roads open was quite staggering. We came across numerous women work-parties squatting at the road edge in their colourful saris, hammering away at big grey rocks to create high mounds of gravel
Despite the road conditions, and some poor weather, we were able to get around Sikkim easily; Sikkim's small size, just over 7,000sqkm, enabled us to gain a good appreciation of its historic sights, the local communities and culture, and its incredible scenery. Sikkim is one of India’s greenest states both in terms of forest cover and environmental awareness and policy. It is ‘one of the 26 global biodiversity hot-spots’ and over 82% of its land area is ‘Recorded Forest Area’ (Sikkim Tourism). Plastic bags were banned years ago, polluters are fined for river spills and people are positively encouraged to plant trees. It was interesting to see a number of hydro-electric dam projects were underway; street banners advertised information and consultation events. One hotelier in Gangtok told us that local people had protested against a dam to try to protect the livelihoods of the fishermen, to no avail. He put it simply, 'more people wanted electricity than wanted fish.'
In the mist at Solophok, outside Namchi, we wandered around the giant Shiva statue and Hindu temple complex, still currently a building site. Our Catholic guesthouse owner, Mr Dungmali, was very excited about this complex, less than a mile up the hill, which would undoubtedly bring hundreds of Hindu pilgrims to stay
Yuksom was once Sikkim's capital, three lamas crowned the first chogyal (king) of Sikkim there, and it remains a quaint, rural village, despite being the trailhead for the increasingly popular Dzongri/Goecha La trek
Nickie & Phil