The Best of Sikkim in 5 days

  • Travel experiences, insights and TIPS for those visiting scenic and lovely Sikkim and crowded Darjeeling.


Introduction and Background

Feeling weary and exhausted, my eyes were beginning to droop, as our plane took off from Bagdogra. When a fellow passenger asked me about my impression of Sikkim, I said “War and Peace” referring to the extensive presence of the Army and the Buddhist Monks visible in every corner of the state.  Both coexist to achieve the same objective-peace. 


Sikkim shares an extensive border with Tibet.  Civilians can reach the Indo China Border at Nathu La and Zero Point.  Nathu La was the site of the Indo-China conflict in 1967. The 2020 Galwan Valley conflict in Ladakh makes one realize the need for the overwhelming army presence.


The state lies in the heart of the Himalayas with altitudes varying from 5,600 feet in Gangtok to 28,000 feet in the peaks.  The terrain is marked by colossal, gigantic mountains with snow clad peaks, which are both foreboding and scenic. Narrow winding roads snaking through high altitudes are barely broad enough to take one SUV.   


Some stretches had old single lane wobbly bridges. Signboards at both ends indicated (warned is a better word) that only one vehicle should drive on the bridge at a time. It is an instruction that was religiously obeyed by all drivers.


Driving in Sikkim is not for the faint hearted or those accustomed only to city driving. It calls for a very good judgment and discipline.


The remoteness of the state can be gauged from the fact, that Sikkim got its first airport-Pakyong, as recently as 2018. The operation of the airport is at the will of the weather gods.  The first railway line is under construction. The terrain is hilly so road and rail connectivity is a challenge though things are improving.


What was rejuvenating during the long, exhausting drives are the small eating places that dotted most of the drive. Family run – little outlets that served the most incredible momos, maggis and more. Pricing was modest, Rs 50-70 per plate of eight hot steaming vegetarian momos. The best part was that they were served with such warmth that it made us feel welcomed. A spicy sauce was the icing on the cake. 


Relishing Momos at close to Zero temperatures is an experience I will cherish for life.

 Local home with lots of flowers.

Flower nursery in Gangtok.  

One of the most captivating sights of the villages and towns are the cottages of the common people. Most homes have a row of small colorful pots with beautiful flowers of several hues. A great climate and low pollution are probably the ingredients.

Buddhist flags.

One of the most ubiquitous sights across Sikkim is the presence of flags of various colors with Buddhist inscriptions written on them. Typically planted by monks in the most remote of areas, they are considered auspicious.


North Sikkim has two main places for tourists namely Lachen and Lachung. You can do either or both depending on the number of days on hand and what you are looking for. We did Lachung i.e. covered below so here is some information about Lachen. We visited in March 2023. 


About Lachen

Lachen is app 105 kms from Gangtok. It takes 4-5 hours. Enroute to Lachen is town of Mangan. Shared vehicles ply from Gangtok to Mangan. In the hills anything can happen for e.g. accident, landslide so plan accordingly.  


The places to visit are Lachen Monastery, Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary, Gurudongmar Lake (17,100 feet), Chopta Valley, Thangu Valley, Tso Lhamo Lake, Lhonak Valley or Muguthang Valley and Green Lake. Source Visit Phensang Monastery, very beautiful, that goes back to 1721.  


Chopta Valley is enroute to Gurudongmar Lake. Get acclimatized before you visit the lake and eat before going. Was told the Army does not allow anyone at the lake after about 2 pm so reach early and check Army rules before going. “Located just 10 km from Gurudongmar Lake, the Tso Lhamo Lake is the highest altitude lake in India and 14th highest in the world, and is also one of the must visit places to see in Lachen.”


To see Gurudongmar Lake album

To read a good travelogue on things to do in Lachen, North Sikkim


Here is a day wise program that we did across Sikkim.   

Day 1 Drive from Bagdogra Airport to Gangtok

The drive of approximately 120 kms took 4 hours.  The route is scenic and passes through thick foliage of Sal trees alongside the Teesta River. River Rafting is a popular activity.


Hacking through the forest, are huge blocks of concrete and steel for the construction of the first railway line from Sevoke in the plains to Rangpo (1093 feet) in Sikkim. This railway line will further extend to Gangtok and ultimately to the border at Nathu La.

MG road, Gangtok has a festive atmosphere. 

We spent the evening at MG Road. It has a pedestrian plaza, outdoor mall and a festive atmosphere. It seemed as if the entire city had congregated here. The road is full of restaurants, bars and shops selling anything and everything.  Benches in the centre were occupied by the senior citizens, non-shoppers (mostly married men) or those wanting to enjoy their ice-creams and coffees. Overall, a very pleasant experience


Day 2 Baba Harbhajan Mandir/Tsomgo Lake 

Drive from Gangtok to Babaji Mandir took about 2.5 to 3 hours.

View enroute. 

Our first halt was the “Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir. It is a Samadhi of an Indian soldier who went missing in the mountains four decades ago. Legend has it that he appeared in the dreams of soldiers who eventually found his body after three days. 

Living room of Baba Harbhajanji. 

The entire region was snowbound and the atmosphere festive. Indian soldiers serve prasad and patriotic songs were played in the background. At that moment we felt “proud to be Indian”. There were strict instructions not to photograph the soldiers. 


Nathu La is close to Babaji Mandir. Nathu la is closed on Mondays so had to skip.

Tsomgo Lake. Pic Pashminu Mansukhani. 

On our return we stopped by the Tsomgo Lake (also called Changu Lake). At an altitude of 12400 ft, the lake is surrounded by beautiful Alpine forests. An incredible sight-shimmering cold, crystal, clear waters with change colors. Buddhist monks analyse the colors of the lake to forecast the future.  Yaks were outside the lake for those wished to take a ride. Many posed with the Yaks.


Day 3 Drive to Lachung/Lachung Monastery

The drive from Gangtok to Lachung is a fascinating one as we go from an elevation of 5,500 ft to 9,600 ft. Long stretches are marked by small hamlets, villages and towns, with clean roads, neat well-painted houses are indicative of a high income. Several cars were visible in these remote thinly populated villages.

Lachung monastery.

Monk at monastery.  

 Inside hotel at Lachung. 

The air was biting cold when we reached the top.  After checking in, we went to visit the 200 year old Lachung Monastery. Fortunately, we entered when the Monks were performing the evening prayers. We sat in blissful silence. They gave us biscuit packets as “Prasad”. 

Author with monk. 

The monks were friendly and welcoming. When we mentioned, we were from Mumbai, their first reaction was Bambai se aaya mera dost.


Day 4 Zero Point/Yumthang- The Valley of Flowers 

Early morning, inspite of room heaters, we were shivering so we skipped the shower. It needs a mind and body of steel to bathe at close to zero degrees.

Drive from Lachung to Zero Point.


From Lachung we headed to Zero Point (local name Yume Samdong) which is at a height of 15,000 feet. It is so called Zero Point because it at the end of a motorable road meant for civilians. 

Restaurant close to Zero Point. 

Enough options for vegetarians. 

It takes app 2 to 2.5 hours from Lachung. The drive offers magnificent views of Himalyan peaks. Photography of army camps was strictly forbidden.


Three Cheers to the Indian Army. Weather is harsh and biting cold. They undergo these hardships and risk their lives to protect the nation’s borders. 

Zero Point is an open stretch covered in snow. There was ample car parking and the road lined with stalls selling snacks. Hot Maggis were very popular. At Rs 70 per plate, no one complained. For some–beer and scotch was also available.


On the return, sadly “Yumthang – the Valley of flowers” (11,800 feet) did not sport a single flower. The Valley is carpeted with flowers only at the end of winter and after the first rains. We consoled ourselves by gazing at colorful flowers in private houses and balconies.


The drive from Lachung to Gangtok took app 5-6 hours.  


Day 5 Rumtek Monastery and Drive to Darjeeling

We headed to the Rumtek Monastery that is an hour’s drive from state capital Gangtok. It is Sikkim’s largest monastery.


Spread over a huge expanse of beautifully landscaped area, the monastery is of the Karmapa lineage and an exact replica of the Tibetan Monastery. Built by the 16th Karmapa who fled Tibet in the 1960’s, it boasts of a huge golden Stupa, magnificent statue of Lord Buddha and scriptures from the 16th Century. We were fortunate to meet guide Monay Rai (Tel: +91 85970 89608) who enthralled us with his insightful knowledge of Buddhism. He spoke a few sentences in Marathi to keep us entertained… (obviously we were not the first Mumbaikars to go there.)

Inside Rumtek Monastery. Pranams.  

From Rumtek starts the Goecha-la Trek. To see album  

For a good travelogue on Lachung

To see album Monasteries of Sikkim

To see album on Sikkim including flowers and waterfalls


We skipped going to Siddheshwar Dham i.e. 5 kms from Namchi in West Sikkim. Namchi is app 3 hours drive from Gangtok. Here you see a replica of all the 12 Jyotirlingas and four Dhams and 108 feet high statue of Lord Shiva. If you are not going to Darjeeling consider driving from Pelling to Bagdogra airport/railway station. 


For us, the drive from Rumtek to Darjeeling was about 3 hours.


Day 6 Darjeeling

Our hotel was located at Ghoom i.e. 8 kms away from Darjeeling. Fortunately, close to us was the Ghoom Monastery. I did get a peep in.


The day was spent at the local touristy sites such as the Mountaineering Institute, Zoo and a Tea Estate.  The city is extremely congested, with extensive traffic jams even though it was not peak season. 


We saw the famed Darjeeling Toy Train. Ticket prices were Rs 1000 per person for a Diesel engine train and Rs 1500/ for the Steam engine.  It was over-priced and over-rated in my opinion, since it offered virtually no views. On one side, were the walls of mountains, and on the other – an extended traffic jam. Our driver joked that the only purpose of a seat in the train was that it will enable the traveler to count the number of cars caught in a traffic jam.


To see album on Darjeeling


The drive from Darjeeling to Bagdogra Airport took app 2.5 hours. If you go via Rohini you see tea estates, old style cottages. Some have hotels. Lovely drive.


Tips for Tourists

1. Please keep suitable medication incase you are suffering from Motion sickness.

2. High Altitudes may not be everyone’s cup of tea. It could be rather daunting for those of advanced age. 

3. Please use the Toilets at the Hotels before a Drive. Public Toilets are terrible.

4. If visiting in winter, warm clothing is absolutely essential. Warm coats, gloves are available at reasonable prices at the MG Road Market in Gangtok. 

5. Go off the beaten track and opt to stay at family run B&B’s for a more insightful experience.

6. Visit the Rumtek Monastery and or other monasteries. It is worth it. 

7. Enjoy the silence and solitude–it is not meant for the raucous, noisy travelers.

8. Nathu La is closed on Monday so plan accordingly.

9. Tourist season in Sikkim is April to June. For lower rates go in off season. It usually snows at altitudes of higher than 8,000 feet says a local guide.

10. JIO works well in Sikkim so our daughter's phone came in handy.  


What we liked about Sikkim was the extraordinary road discipline, houses with flowers and the general level of cleanliness. However, toilets were lacking.


We (Miloni Tours and Travels) plan to organize specialized Tours with a focus on Monastery Visits and living with locals. If this is of interest call me Nayan Marphatia at +91 98203 16986 or mail  Unless stated all pictures by author. 


Sikkim is a must visit for it is scenic and has lovely people.

Also read Haromonious Himalayan Highland  

Receive Site Updates