I needed to be moving on from India, but I wanted to checkout what I could of West Sikkim. I wanted to experience someplace… different and scenic. I had only three days to spend between Pelling and Yoksam. That isn’t a lot of time, so I collected highlights from a common Buddhist pilgrimage route.
Sikkim feels nothing like the rest of India. Somehow, it just feels more laid back, tranquil, and you won’t experience any tout action here. There’s a limited amount of tourist agencies, but prices are fair. The panoramic landscape is hilly, with deep valley gorges and stretches as far as you can see. You can even catch a glimpse of the Himalayas. Small villages and housing settlements are nestled in these mountains as you travel higher and higher. It’s hard to imagine anyone can live so remotely. But surrounded by the echoes of nature’s serenity, you can understand why.
To Know Before you Go
Due to the fact it borders China, foreign travelers are required to get a Restricted Access Permit before entering and additionally, before trekking. You can get this permit from Sikkim Tourism Offices in Delhi, Kolkata, Silliguri, Rangpo, Darjeeling and Melli (border) with your Indian visa and passport (have two passport photos, in case). Foreign tourists are allow 60 days on this permit. Indian travelers are excluded from this. The permits are free of charge but it takes a little effort to get. I got mine in Darjeeling.
As a region in Northeast India, the population of Sikkim centers around its neighboring influences of Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet. Major ethnic minorities are Lepcha (aka Sikkimese), Bhutia, Nepali (Gorkha) and Tibetan.
Religion in Sikkim
Buddhism takes a larger role in Sikkim and many will say that Sikkim is a safe region for female solo travelers to visit. A popular Buddhist pilgrimage route of historical sites tend be largely be engineered by first king of Sikkim, Lama Lhetsun Chempo. They are: Sanghak Choeling Monastery, Pemayangstse Monastery, Khecheopuri Lake, Norbugang Coronation Throne, Dubai Monastery , Yuksom and Tashiding Monastery. But you’ll find many noteworthy sites in between.
Pelling: Nature Unleashed
Pelling is a quiet Sikkimese town located 2085 m above sea level. For me, it’s an escape into nature and some of the highlights in and around the area.
If you’re not looking for nature walks, panoramic mountain views and a remote country village escape, then Pelling might not be for you. But for those looking for a good detox, a safe place untouched by tourist crowds, then Pelling is as far removed from craziness as it can get. Pelling is the heart of nature.
~ Watch my experiential version of Pelling ~
West Sikkim Travel Guide Pelling
Things to Do and See in or around Pelling
While sites like Sanghak Choeling might be accessed on foot, seeing the majority of Pelling’s highlights is best done by car. Much of the sites are spread out as nature coos to you to make an effort to explore her.
1. Sanghak Choeling Monastery
Sanghak Choeling Monastery was built in 1697 by Lama Lhatsun Chempo and is one of the oldest monasteries in Sikkim. It The monastery practices Vairayana Buddhism. The Monastery is located on one of the highest points of Pelling and has a breathtakingly high panoramic view.
Getting to Sanghak Choeling Monastery from Pelling central is about a hour walk north, past the helipad towards the mountain.
2. Pemangyangtse Monastery
44km from Pelling, Pemangyangtse Monastery is one of Sikkim’s oldest and most heralded monasteries, built by Lama Lhatsun Chempo in 1705. Constructed to house ta-tshang (aka pure monks), it accepts only monks of celibate and pure Tibetan lineage. This is located 4 miles from Gyalshing/Geyzing
3. Rimbi Waterfalls
Traveling from Pelling to Yoksum, you’ll find many small waterfalls along the side of the road, but Rimbi Waterfalls is one of the longest and most impressive waterfall I’ve seen.
4. Khecheolpuri Lake
In the village of Khecheolpuri, Khecheolpuri Lake is known as the wish fulfilling lake. Upon entrance, there’s a building that houses a large prayer wheel and then you’ll find a walking path decorated with prayer flags. At the end of the walk, there’s the lake. Ring the bell at the entrance of the wooden walkway, spin the prayer bells counter clockwise and make your wish out at the lake. Locals like to feed the fish in the lake for good merit.
5. Khangchendzonga Falls
While driving you’ll come across a pair of roadside waterfalls called Khangchendzonga Falls. For approximately 100 Rupee, you can zipline across it. The waterfalls also provide a nice rest stop with small shops selling chai and snacks.
List continued on Yuksom Travel Guide for West Sikkim
What & Where to Eat in Pelling
Traditional Sikkimese foods can be challenging to find. In Pelling, the hotel restaurants have the best food and drink.
Hotel Garuda (the Crossroads of town) has a decently stocked menu of Indian, Chinese and traditional Sikkimese foods, like gundruk.
Hotel Kabur (Upper Pelling, near the Crossroads) has slightly similar menu as Garuda, but a welcoming and lively spirit with an outdoor terrace perfect with a beer and sunset view.
Gundruk is fermented leafy green vegetable soup of cauliflower, root . It’s a popular soup in Nepal and Gurkha households. Momos are steamed Tibetan dumplings filled with either chicken, vegetables or cheese.
I hired a driver for the day at Himalyan Ranges Adventure tours & Trek in central Pelling. They had full tours and half day tour menus; the best packages includes both, Pelling and Yoksum. Yoksum is the key town and the old kingdom of Sikkim (see the Yoksum guide). They offer around 6 tours to slightly different locations, depending upon interest. Cost: 1500- 2300 Rupee. Duration: 5-6 hours.
With the tour, I could negotiate as much time I wanted to spend at each place, which was perfect for filming and wandering. Although they’re called tours, you actually don’t get a guide, which is why I call it I renting a car/driver.
Where I stayed
Hotels stretch along the town’s inclined, zig-zagging road for 2km. Hotels in Upper Pelling offer better views. Peak season when hotel rates increase are March to May, September to November. I went around October/November, when a light jacket was nice to have. Check here for hotels in Pelling.
Hotel Kabur, Pemayantse Road
The rooms in Hotel Kabur are moderate to basic. But they have hot showers and warm blankets for chilly nights. The main social atmosphere of the hotel is the restaurant gathering area. There’s an outdoor terrace with a breathtaking view of the valley and the Himalayas. Restaurant is one of the best options for travelers to Pelling. The hotel can book your onward travel or pickup transport for you.
Getting to Pelling
Pelling can be reached via Silliguri Station, New Jaigalpuri Station and Bagdogra Airport. Foreign travelers must have a RAP permit and may need to check in at the Meilli border. I got to Pelling via Darjeeling (via New Jaigalpuri Station), but I had to make a side trip to the Meilli checkpoint border to show my permit.
In some cases you might have to transfer at Joretheng or Gezying/Gyalshing. Buses from Jortheng stop running after 1p and you’ll need to find a jeep or regular taxi. On my return, I did a journey from Pelling to Bagdogra Airport (watch my video). My journey was not direct – I went from Pelling to Silliguri Station (4-7hours, 250Rs) to Bagdogra Airport .
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Watch the experiential video of Pelling to Yoksum
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