9 things about Sikkim nobody tells you

A nation turned state, Sikkim only became a part of India in 1974, 27 years after Independence. This tiny north-eastern state is bordered by Bhutan, Tibet and Nepal. It is home to parts of pristine Himalayas, alpine meadows as well as the calming Buddhist monasteries. Sikkim is a perfect balance of nature and human history.

People

It is rightly said that people are the heart and soul of any place, and Sikkim has one of the warmest souls you’ll ever come across. The people of Sikkim mainly consist of three ethnic groups, that is, Lepcha, Bhutia and Nepali. Hindu Temples coexist with Buddhist Monasteries, Churches, Mosques and Gurudwaras. With such a diversity, as many as 11 languages are spoken in this tiny state and festivals like Diwali, Maghe Sankranti, Losar (Tibetan New Year), Eid-ul-Fitr and Muharram are celebrated with great pomp and joy.

Image by @aditya_khandar_captures, Instagram

These people whom I met on trip to Sikkim holds a special place in my heart. The bond we had only in couple of days was incredible. They were so warming and welcoming. The amount of efforts they put in day to day work is immense, they travel so much to do their vegetation and household activities and always have beautiful smile on their face. They let their doors open to each and every one and develop trust in them which nowadays is hard to witness. The conversation we had were full of joy and fun stories. Looking forward to meet such people from the world and witness happiness beyond everything.

Places

When in Sikkim, you are taken aback by the glorious mountainous terrains. The chants from the Monasteries spread all around Sikkim will bring you solace; one such Monastery is the Enchey Monastery. A little further away in the north of Sikkim is the Yumthang Valley which wraps you in the arms of colossal Himalayan mountains, a sight that will surely not disappoint. The Tsomgo Lake, a glacial lake, located in east Sikkim usually frozen during the winter season is beyond beautiful, and dare I say it, can be called the ‘Iceland of India’.

Image by @mastana_musafir_, Instagram

Wreathed in clouds, Gangtok, the capital city of Sikkim is located on a ridge at a height of 5500 feet. With a spectacular view of the Khangchendzonga, the town provides the perfect base for travel through the state. Once an important transit point for traders traveling between Tibet and India.

Image by @ipraveshchhetri, Instagram

Surrounded by the ethereal Himalayas Lachung Valley is the perfect picture of untainted and untamed nature in all its glory. A place you simply can’t get enough of!

Hot Springs

Sikkim holds five popular hot springs and a visit to Sikkim shall always remain incomplete until you enjoy a good dip in these natural sulphur baths in these tranquil environs. Right before the Chumtang valley located in Lachung there is a natural hot spring on the right side of the road on the top of a mountain that not many people are aware of. The hot spring is accessible to all and is not charged for either. The high sulphur content in these hot springs is said to hold distinctive healing powers for skin diseases and will also save you from turning into frozen goods on your way to the zero point.

FOOD

Sikkim has a variety of dishes to offer beyond the north-eastern classics Thukpa and momos. When in Gangtok, try aloo-chura, an irreplaceable street food that will leave you hungry for more. Another Tibetan classic Laphing is a cool and spicy dish, especially refreshing for the summers. Be sure to drown down the lip-smacking food with a glass of Tongba, cereal based mild alcoholic beverage, and have a little bit of that local kick!

Images by @pentwister (aloo-chura) and @food.yorker (laphing), Instagram

Aloo-chura, speciality of the Gangtok streets easily overlooked by the tourists, is definitely a must have! Laugh out loud while eating Laphing at the cafes in Sikkim. The mouth-watering Sikkim street food will leave you wanting more!

Prayer Flags

The Tibetan prayer flags hold much more value than being just a colourful accessory. They are steeped into the Buddhist tradition and go way back to Gautama Buddha himself. Each hue signifies an element. Blue represents the sky, white represents the air, red symbolizes fire, green symbolizes water, and yellow symbolizes earth. All five colours together signify balance. It is important to honour the flag with good intentions, thus spreading positivity far and wide.

Images by @acurlypotato, Instagram

Prayer flags are everything about positive vibes. You’ll spot them a lot in India’s North-Eastern part. We were told in Sikkim that people make a wish and tie a flag randomly anywhere on the roads. After following this tradition for SO MANY YEARS, Sikkim is full of these flags that make the already beautiful view further stunning! – @travelinmypics, Instagram

Weather

The tiny state of Sikkim observes five seasons; winter, summer, autumn and monsoon. Each season comes with its own beauty, but the ideal time to visit Sikkim is during the summer months with a relatively cool climate and some rainfall, if you’re lucky you might also be able to spot a double rainbow amidst the hills.

Flora and Fauna

Sikkim boasts of over 552 different species of birds and about 690 species of butterflies. The unique bearded vulture with its 10 feet wing span can be found in Sikkim. Other species of birds like the Himalayan Griffon and Impeyan Pheasant are delights of bird lovers. You can also spot the Red Panda in Sikkim. It also houses 35 species of Rhododendrons, as many as 600 types of orchids, 240 species of ferns and trees and 150 varieties of gladioli. Reason enough for the state to host the International Flower Festival every year!

Images by @rozan_dhungel, Instagram

Common Green Magpie

This bird seeks food both on the ground and in trees, and takes a very high percentage of animal prey from countless invertebrates, small reptiles, mammals and young birds and eggs. The voice is quite varied but often a harsh peep-peep. It also frequently whistles and chatters. – @_lifeandlens, Instagram

Images by @sketchinglights, Instagram

I spent a day in Sikkim running after these flapping beauties. It was such a fun experience chasing them and waiting for them to slow down as I hurried to click them!

Shopping

Sikkim is filled with tradition and history and it is important to commemorate a trip to this enchanted state and bring a little bit of this history back home. Located at the furthermost edge of Tibet Road is the large Sales Emporium. This is one of the best shopping destinations in Sikkim if you are looking for authentic Sikkimese handcrafted items and artwork. MG Road is one of the commercial areas of Gangtok and is largely famous for traditional Sikkimese cups, Thangkas and Choksi table designs. This vast road is lined with numerous shops on both sides! Market is closed on Tuesdays so make sure to plan your shopping trips accordingly.

Images by @ladakhtravelgram, Instagram

MG Road is a perfect place to spend your evening in Gangtok…filled with shops to buy anything you want and cafes to laze around and drink some delicious local teas.

Ashtamangala

The architecture around Sikkim has some unique features and one of them are these 8 auspicious symbols that you can spot in almost every Monastery.

1. The parasol, that offers protection from suffering.

2. The two golden fish that depict swimming through all troubles in life.

3. The conch shell represents the sound of the Dharma reaching far and wide, awakening beings from ignorance.

4. The lotus teaches us that we must rise above hardship in order to blossom.

5. The banner of victory for the victory over the evil.

6. The vase for a long and healthy life.

7. The dharma wheel depicts the eight-fold path to enlightenment, the circle of life and karma.

8. The eternal knot signifies cause and effect and the union of compassion and wisdom.

Images by @ta_shi_tse_ring, Instagram

The eight lucky signs, Ashtamangala.

Ashtamangala has a varied cultural history and it has taken different forms and attributes throughout the process of its evolution, but historically it has shared in the commonality of being honoured and revered for their divine attributes associated with the physical form of the Buddha.

This tiny state of Sikkim is one of the Himalayas’ best-kept travel secrets, an epitome of serenity. This traveller’s paradise has many hidden destinations waiting to be explored.