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Published by: ANK SHRINIVAASAN on Sep 28, 2008
Copyright:Public Domain


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SHRI RAGHAVENDRA TOURS welcomes you to experience the rich

Cultural and Natural Heritage of Sikkim and the Himalayas. With a decade long experience in organizing tours, treks, rafting, mountain biking etc for a most satisfied clientele, we believe in providing efficient service with the warmth of the traditional Sikkimese hospitality.

The Himalayan Shangri-La

Sikkim, tucked away in India's Northeast corner, between Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal is, without question, a very special part of India beautiful, unspoilt, green, full of orchids, mountains, butterflies and monasteries, and home to some of the gentles t people you could wish to meet.

Just getting there is half the adventure. The first stage is to fly to Bagdogra, in West Bengal. From Bagdogra you reach Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, by road - either by Sikkim Nationalized Transport buses, or by a private car or taxi, which you can easily fix up at Bagdogra airport. Whatever the mode of transport, count on at least a 4 - 5 hour bumpy drive.

The drive is spectacularly beautiful: once out of the plains and the rice paddies of West Bengal, the road becomes very wooded, and zigzags its way up into the mountains, hugging the Testa river valley. Along the way, monkeys sit by all the bends on the road: they know exactly where the cars have to slow down - with any luck, they'll get a biscuit

or a banana.

Until 1975, Sikkim remained an independent kingdom, ruled by the Chogyal, whose palace is tantalizingly hidden by trees, and is inaccessible to the public. The Tsuk-La-Khang, or Royal Chapel, is not always open to the public - it's better to go and ask, for depending on the guard on duty, you may be able to gain admission.

Gangtok means, aptly enough "hill top" and the little capital of Sikkim are perched at 5,500 feet, high on the ridge of a valley. From Gangtok, you look over the hillside, down and across to terraced fields, with tall, white Buddhist prayer flags fluttering in the wind, and endless vistas of many shades of green. The town careers wildly and very steeply up and down the hillside, and no matter how you arrange it, you'll always end up at the top of the hill when you want to visit the little restaurant at t he foot of the hill, or you'll be at the bottom of the town, and remember you have to do some shopping at Cottage Industries, right at the top-just resign yourself to lots of steep climbs, and being a lot trimmer at the end of your stay!

Gangtok is full of tall, brightly decorated houses and is a happy, bustling place-you'll meet Nepalese, Tibetans, Lepchas, Bhutias, Bengalis from the plains and even dhoti-ciad Tamils, and they are all, without exception, welcoming and friendly. In all m y years in India, I don't think I've gossiped as much with people, nor answered as many detailed questions about myself, nor seen my children plied with quite so many toffees and biscuits

as in Sikkim.
If you love the atmosphere of Indian hill towns, then you'll love Gangtok, with its sweater-
clad locals; trekkers loaded down with equipment; and the busy Lafi Market, selling

everything from luggage to dried cheese on strings.
My children loved the deer park, to which we had to make a pilgrimage nearly every day,
to see the deer, and the red panda. They also fell in love with the yellow fire engines at
the Fire Station, but you can probably omit that from your itinerary!

The Namgyal Institute of Tibet logy in Gangtok is a "must". It is housed in a beautiful building, built in the traditional Tibetan style, with murals, decorated columns and a wonderful smell of beeswax polish from the creaky wooden floor. The staff of the institute is knowledgeable and delighted to show you their stunning collection of silk thanks (Buddhist paintings), statues and manuscripts.

Having seen the exquisite thanks of the institute, go and visit the Cottage Industries Emporium, which is high up on the hill leading to Raj Bhavan: in the workshops, you can watch young students being taught the traditional art of thank a painting, along with weaving, wood-carving, and carpet making. Once again, the gentleness of the staff and their willingness to explain their crafts ensures that you'll walk back down into town with a sheaf of addresses of your new friends, many more photographs the n you'd meant to take and, who knows, maybe a thank of your own.

The Tourist Office on the main Darjeeling Road is staffed by very helpful young people,

and is open until quite late every night but, unfortunately, they have very little literature that they can give you. If you come across a good map or guidebook before you leave for Sikkim, do buy it and take it with you. Before hiring a taxi to go on any trips around Gangtok, first check the list of fares displayed in the tourist office. As far as food is concerned, do go to the prettily decorated Snow Lion Restaurant of the Hotel Tibet, and eat typical Tibetan food and Sikkimese momos (a snack akin to steamed dumplings). The restaurant of the Hotel Mayur has good food, and lovely views. ; And on the steep road climbing up to Raj Bhawan, on the left, there is a little hotel called the Himalchuli-sitoutside on their little terrace in the evening, have tea and

samosas (a deep fried snack), and watch the sun set over the valley.

454 types of orchid, over 600 species of butterflies, 500 species of birds, red pandas; snow leopards Sikkim is a naturalist's paradise, and there are many wildlife parks and sanctuaries. The largest and most famous of these is the Kanchenjunga National Park, covering an area of 850 square kilometers and whose centrepiece, naturally, is the sacred mountain of Kanchenjunga.

The best times to see orchids in bloom are April-May, July-August, and November. The Orchid Sanctuary in Gangtok, and the ipecac Garden, 14 kilometers downhill from Gangtok, has large displays of the state flower.

Buddhism is an integral part of Sikkim and its culture, and many of the recommended trips around Gangtok have a monastery as their ultimate destination. The monasteries that are closest to gangtok are Enchey, Rumtek and Phodong: much further a field is t he monastery of Pemayangtse, 140 kilometers away from Gangtok.

Enchey Monastery is three kilometers out of Gangtok, near the tourist bungalow. Follow the road up the hill towards Raj Bhavan, and then at the roundabout, ask for further directions. Enchey is a beautiful monastery, in an equally beautiful setting, approached along an avenue of hundreds of multicolored prayer flags.

Although, on an absolute scale, everyone we meting Sikkim was friendly, if I had to choose winners, it would be the monks of Enchey, who fussed endlessly over my children, and even wanted them to take one of the monastery puppies home as a present!

Rumtek Monastery is 24 kilometers out of Gangtok, on the other side of the Rain pool valley, and is easily accessible by car or taxi. The monastery is very large, and many of the local children study there: the children sit outside in the courtyard, studying their homework, and

reciting their lessons for the older monks, basking in the sunshine.

Phodong Monastery, in eastern Sikkim is a must - the monastery is small, but interesting but the drive is absolutely beautiful. The 28 kilometers drive to Phodong takes 2 hours each way, and the road is fairly good, though there are one or two hair-raisin g sections, where waterfalls seem to have swept most of the road away.

The bus timings are impractical; involving an overnight stay, so negotiate a taxi from the main rank in Gangtok, which is outside the Tourist Office. Phodong is the furthest you can go in eastern Sikkim on your permit. There is supposed to be a restaurant there but, when we went, everything was closed so take drinks and snacks with you.

Pemayangtse is the worthwhile focal point of a two-day trip to west Sikkim. The 18th century monastery commands a stunning view of Kanchenjunga, as does the Hotel Mount. Pandim, whose gardens face the mountain? The Hotel Mount Pandim is the only hotel at Pemayangtse, and is very busy, with both serious trekkers and overnighters staying there, so it's essential to book. There is also a

P.W.D. guesthouse. On the way to Pemayangtse, visit Kechopari Lake, or the "Wishing Lake". Legend has it that whenever a leaf drops onto the surface of the water, a bird will instantly swoop down to pick it up and, indeed, despite the surrounding dense forest, the surface of the lake stays remarkably smooth and clear.

Tucked away in the foothills of the Himalayas, Sikkim is a Himalayan wonderland with its lovely views and exotic orchids, and its forest-trails. A virtual Shangrila overlooked by Mt. Kanchenjunga, the world\u2019s third highest peak, Sikkim is attractive equally for the sightseer, the adventure sports enthusiast and those interested in Buddhism and Tibet logy.

Buddhism is the predominant religion here, with many fine old monasteries rich with frescoes, religious paintings on silk and statues of the Buddha\u2019s various incarnations. In Gangtok, the delightfully quaint capital, are pagoda like roofs of many buildings and the presence of crimson robed monks in the bazaars. The Institute of Tibet logy, the only one of its kind in the world, was set up by the erstwhile ruler to promote research on Mahayana Buddhism, and on the language and traditions of Tibet. Lower down the hill is the famed orchid sanctuary where 500 species of orchids indigenous to Sikkim are cultivated. Sikkim offers several treks that lead through pine forests, through picturesque valleys, monasteries and to mountain lakes. It is also the base for mountaineering expeditions and the rivers Teesta and Ranged offer excellent river rafting. All foreigners wishing to visit Sikkim \u2013 though travel formalities are being relaxed gradually, must seek prior permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. Permission may, therefore, be sought from Indian Missions overseas, or from offices of Sikkim Tourism, A number of good hotels and lodging houses exist in Gangtok.

Daily 5-Seater Helicopter Service Between Ganktok and Bagdogra connecting all civil

Flights to and from Bagdogra
Dep Gangtok - 12:30 hrs
Dep Bagdogra - 14:30 hrs*
Duration 30 minutes
Fare Rs 1500/- per Person
*On Monday/Friday Dep 15:30 hrs to cater for IA Calcutta Arrivals
For information/Prior Reservation


Entry to Sikkim is most convenient by coach, taxi or helicopter. The state of Sikkim lies in
the shadow of the mighty Kanchenjunga and its capital, Gangtok, is a picturesque
mountain clinging town with monasteries, parks, pagoda style houses and colourful

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