To begin with, the history of Sikkim goes back as far as 1642 when India and Nepal were still many different princely states. Sikkim, around that time, had already become a country with Chogyal or Dharma King as its main ruler. King PaldenThondupNamgyal was the last King of independent Sikkim. Following a few incursions from Tibet and Bhutan, Sikkim became a polity in its own right. In the early 18th century, Sikkim fell under the British suzerainty when the British established trade routes with Tibet. The country only enjoyed varying degrees of independence only until 1975 when it was merged with India.
So far as the history of Darjeeling is concerned, it covers the hilly areas belonging to Sikkim and both their histories are intertwined a little. Darjeeling formed a part of Sikkim prior to East India Company acquiring it in 1835. The original inhabitants of the place were native tribe named Lepcha. As per the Treaty of Sugauli in 1815, the British took one-third of the Nepalese lands which included part of Darjeeling and made it a sanatorium. Eventually, many tea estates were established in the area. Gradually, the area grew to become famous as a popular tourist destination.
After independence in 1947 and the merging of Darjeeling with West Bengal, thousands of Tibetan refugees migrated in 1950. Eventually, it led to an increase in the population of the place. And ever since, the ethnic population has been demanding a separate state for the Gorkhas, which, as of now, is yet to come to a conclusion.
How to Reach
If your first stop happens to be Sikkim, you have to know that other than by road, you pretty much have no other option to choose from in order to reach the destination. However, the airport that is closest to it happens to be at Bagdogra near Siliguri in West Bengal approx. 125 km (4-hour drive) from Gangtok. Once you reach Bagdogra, you can always take a helicopter ride to Gangtok.
Similarly, Bagdogra happens to be the closest airport to Darjeeling as well, which is about 96 km and (2.5-hour drive). If you’re coming from Delhi, you could directly fly from there to Bagdogra, a journey which will be nothing more than two hours. And from Kolkata, the flight will hardly take an hour to reach Bagdogra. A number of flights namely Jet Airways, Air India, Spice Jet, IndiGo, GoAiretc. have flights almost on a daily basis from Delhi, Guwahati andKolkata. So reaching the destination isn’t difficult if you’re coming from these cities. If you’re coming from any other city, then you’ll have to take connecting flights.
Once you have reached Siliguri, taking a bus ride to Darjeeling is pretty easy as there is a regular bus service. Not only that, if you don’t mind sharing your ride in a shared jeep, you might as well consider that option too, but it will cost you double the rate of thebus.
The nearest railway station is New Jalpaiguriin Siliguriwhich is connected with all the major cities in India. Darjeeling Mail runs every night for passengers coming in from Kolkata and a number of trains also run from Delhi.
Best Time to Visit
Needless to say, for most of the destinations autumn and spring happen to be the best time periods to visit. Similarly, if you are planning to visit the beautiful Sikkim-Darjeeling duo, the best time would be around autumn (March to May) and spring October and November). This is probably the time you’ll see beauty at its best in Sikkim-Darjeeling. Although summertime (May through July) is also apt to visit as the temperature ranges anywhere between 11 and 19 degrees C, which is quite pleasant. However, monsoon usually strikes around the month of June which makes it quite unpredictable for tourists.
Clothes to Carry
Travelling conditions in Sikkim-Darjeeling can be extremely harsh around high altitude places like Changu Lake, Nathula Pass, and Yumthang Valley etc. irrespective of when you visit these places. So heavy woolens and warm clothes are recommended.
If you’re traveling to Sikkim-Darjeeling in spring or autumn, it is recommended that you still keep stock of warm clothes. You could do without heavy and bulky woolens though and instead carry a few layers of light woolens, which should suffice. Evenings during this time can get a bit chilly, so don’t forget to carry a warm cap to cover your head and a pair of gloves.
As for summertime, you’re free to wear the clothes of your liking - shorts, dresses, t-shirts and jeans… Even in summers, the evenings tend to be colder, so for the evening-night time, keep a pair of warm socks, shoes and a light sweater/jacket.
Places to Visit
Located in East of Sikkim and constructed on a cloudy ridge at an elevation of 5,410 feet above the sea level, Gangtok is not only Sikkim’s capital but also its largest town. Gangtok is an important center of Buddhism and gives picturesque views of the snow-capped Mt. Kangchenjunga. This thriving town is a tourist destination like no other and you’ll be glad you paid it a visit
- Nathu La Pass
About 3 hours east of Gangtok and one of the most significant Himalayan passes, Nathu La Pass is one of the highest motorable roads in the world. A word of caution though, because of its high altitude (approx. 14500 ft. above sea level), the oxygen levels drop down more than you’d expect.
- Changu Lake
About 40 kilometers from Gangtok, Tsomgo or Changu Lake is located at about 12000 feet above sea level and remains mostly frozen during the winter season. It also happens to be one of the most popular glacial lakes in India and the beauty of the place is absolutely worth mentioning. It is not only a great tourist destination in Gangtok but also a holy site for travelers as you’ll see a small Shiva temple there too.
- Ban Jhakri Falls
About 6 kilometers from Gangtok, Ban Jhakri Falls is located amidst a landscaped park close to Ranka Monastery. It is a great tourist spot and recreation center that has a shamanistic theme. Although the falls are natural, yet you’ll see a number of man-made cascades around the park. Definitely worth checking out!
- Ranka Monastery
Located around 25 kilometers from Gangtok, Ranka Monastery is one of Sikkim’s most significant monasteries. Although it is a relatively new monastery, the beautiful scenic views surrounding it and the Tibetan architecture make it a worth mentioning and visiting spot.
At an altitude of about 7000 feet above sea level and located in West Sikkim, the small town of Pelling offers breath-taking views of the Kangchenjunga and its neighboring ranges.
- Kanchenjunga Falls
When in Pelling, you can’t possibly miss out on witnessing this Himalayan stream gushing down to the ground. Even though it is about 30 kilometers from Pelling, but the views are well-worth the visit. There are only two words that truly describe the beauty of this place - magnetic and majestic!
- Sewaro Rock Garden
On the way to Kanchenjunga Waterfalls and about an hour’s drive from Pelling, this Sewaro Rock Garden is a place you must visit. There’s a lush green path surrounded by flower beds that take you down the river bank. It’s a beautiful and serene location if you want some quiet time.
- Kangchenjunga National Park
If you’re an adventure junkie and don’t mind catching a glimpse of the snow leopard or other wild animals while trekking amidst marvelous flora and fauna, then this Biosphere Reserve is the place for you. You’ll come across theimpressive wilderness and some captivating views of the peaks.
- Rabdentse Ruins
Rabdentse was the second capital of theformer kingdom of Sikkim and after an invasion by the Gurkha army, there only remains the ruins of the palace and the chortens. Tourists don’t only come around this site to view the ruins but also the view of the entire valley below the site and the spectacular views of Kangchenjunga.
Darjeeling, famous for being the land that introduced different varieties of tea to India, is one of most sought after tourist destinations. And it is rightly so considering the beauty of not only the tea estates but also of the way people lead their simplistic everyday lives. It is a place that one must visit at least once in life.
- Tiger Hill
It is where the very first rays of the rising sun hit the third highest peak in the world, Kangchenjunga. Tiger Hill is one spot you can’t really miss when in Darjeeling. If you’re a morning person and don’t mind witnessing some of the most spectacular views, with Mt. Everest in sight, then Tiger Hill is the place for you.
- Batasia Loop
Another one of the very scenic and picturesque spots is the Batasia Loop. It’s a beautiful lush green pathway for the toy train made in order to lower the elevation of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. The Toy Train descends the loop through a tunnel and over a hilltop.
- Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park
This zoological park is home to the only collection of Siberian Tigers. It is known for its conservation breeding programs of Red Pandas, Snow Leopards, Tibetan Wolf and other important wild animals. It is also the largest high altitude zoo in India.
- Singalila National Park
Singalila National Park is at 7000 feet above sea level and is very famous as a trekking and adventure-sport spot. It offers some of the most breathtaking views of the Himalayan peaks and has over 100 recorded species of birds.
- Observatory Hill
Popularly known as The Mall, Observatory Hill offers spectacular views of the Kangchenjunga. Not only that, the hill has Mahakal temple at the summit which is a very famous spot frequented by tourists.
- Kalimpong Cactus Nursery
Specializing in the cultivation of exotic and beautiful flowers, Kalimpong Nursery makes for a great tourist destination. It is also home to more than 100 varieties of cactus and it is well worth a visit.
Lachung and Lachen
Lachung is a small hill station in the north east of Sikkim bordering Tibet. A trip to Sikkim is definitely incomplete without visiting this small town. It’s a popular tourist attraction.
- Yumthang - Valley of Flowers
Probably one of the most beautiful valleys out there, this is a must visit when traveling to Lachung. Snow-capped mountains, blissfully flowing river and panoramic views are all you’ll see at this spot. The right time to visit this around March-April when the valley is filled with flowers of all kinds.
- Zero Point or Yumesamdong
If you’re planning to travel to Zero Point, do expect a little drop in the oxygen levels because of its elevation. The natural and unspoiled beauty of the landscape is a sight to see. You’ll come across plenty of wild yaks and beautiful vegetation that makes for a perfect photoopportunity.
Whether you’re a tourist, adventure seeker, pilgrim or just a nature lover, Sikkim and Darjeeling have lured travelers of all kinds and from all over the world. These are places to be explored and marveled at. If you haven’t already been to Sikkim-Darjeeling, you’re truly missing out on witnessing some of God’s most beautiful creations.
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