One of the Himalaya’s best-kept travel secrets, Sikkim is a welcome diversion from all conventional notions of an Indian holiday. Far from Rajasthan’s royal trail, Goa’s beaches and Kerala’s backwaters, this tiny Indian hill state prides itself on pristine alpine forests, lofty snow-capped mountains, craggy landscapes dotted with quaint villages and a rich tribal culture brocaded with vibrant Tibetan Buddhist accents.
Considered one of Tibetan Buddhism’s most important centers, the magnificent Rumtek Monastery is an artifact. The main attraction of the monastery is the Mahakala Dance in February when giant figurines of protector deities raise hell in the courtyard and fight off evil demons.
Trek to Goecha La
Many hardened hikers consider this week-long adventure to be the best trek for sighting Mt Khangchendzonga (8586m), the world’s third-highest peak. Starting from the outpost of Yuksom in West Sikkim, the trail cuts up a sylvan alpine terrain to finally peak at a gravity-defying 4940m, from where you can take in sweeping views of the snows towering above. April and November are best for photo ops.
Sprawled across a remote northern region of the state, the sublimely beautiful valleys of Yumthang and Tsopta are scantly visited. Frequently ravaged by landslides and earthquakes, these mountains are tricky territory to travel in. But then, isn’t that what intrepid travel is all about? So jump into a sturdy four-wheel-drive and hit the bumpy road to paradise. To adjust to the altitude along the way, spend a night in the quaint and scenic hamlet of Lachen.
Sip Temi’s tea
The tiny village of Temi in South Sikkim stands its ground as the only tea-growing region in the state. Producing a mellow and delightfully aromatic brew, ‘Temi tea’ has a loyal following around the world, and the good news is you can now relish the nectar right where it is harvested. Simply schedule an excursion through Temi’s picturesque gardens, and savor grand 360-degree mountain views along with every refreshing sip of the amber beverage (best had without milk or sugar).
Spanning a valley at a height of 3780m, Tsomgo Lake cuts a pretty picture against a backdrop of rugged mountains rising towards the Tibetan Plateau. The outing (a four-hour return journey from state capital Gangtok) is particularly enjoyable in early spring and late autumn, when parts of the lake are frozen over and the stalls by the lake serve piping hot tea and momos (meat-filled dumplings) to fight the numbing chill. A lakeside joyride on a friendly yak? It’s got that too!