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The magical kingdom of Sikkim

Sikkim and her culture.jpg

A journey to a magical kingdom of Kings, Princesses and ancient sects. You'd be forgiven for thinking the storyline was stolen from the latest Disney blockbuster. But before Sikkim became part of India in the mid-Seventies, it had more than its fair share of fairy-tale romance.

If you’re feeling suffocated by the heat and hassles of India, Sikkim is the perfect antidote. It’s clean and the mountain air is fresh. Best of all the people are among India’s most friendly, with a charming manner that’s unobtrusive and slightly shy. Plunging mountain valleys are lushly forested, interspersed occasionally with rice terraces and groves of flowering rhododendrons. Tibetan-style Buddhist monasteries add splashes of vermilion to the green ridge tops and are approached through atmospheric avenues of colourful prayer flags set on long bamboo poles.

Situated in the Eastern Himalayas, this beautiful state of Sikkim is sandwiched between the kingdom of Nepal in the West and Bhutan in the East, Tibet in the North and the state of West Bengal in the South. 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.

If you are after a fantastic adventure off the beaten track, Sikkim is a place waiting to be explored.

Visit Temi Tea Garde, the one and only tea estate existing in the State produces one of the top quality teas in the international market. The tea garden is spread out on a gentle hill slope originating from the Tendong Hill and provides a magnificent view for the surrounding villages. The visit to the fact” could be an eye opener for those wanting to know more about the tea processing methods. A night spent in an old British built bungalow located just below the tea garden could be an enthralling experience of linking the past to the present. A visit to the garden, en-route to the Tendong Hill could be a rewarding experience for those who want to combine nature and culture as they keep trekking.

Visit Rumtek Monastery, considered one of Tibetan Buddhism’s most important centers, the magnificent Rumtek Monastery is a repository of countless invaluable artifacts (precious metal statues, gem-studded cenotaphs, and exotic ritualistic paraphernalia) stacked within its cavernous portals. The official – though currently vacant – seat of the revered Karmapa Lama, the monastery is especially attractive during 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, that is considered to be the best trek for sighting Mt Khangchenjunga (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 opportunities.

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!

Rushing down the length of Sikkim from icy glacial heights to tropical alluvial plains, the turbulent Teesta River promises some fantastic rafting opportunities on its foamy waters. From calm stretches for novices to curling rapids for experienced oar-wielders, the river packs a variety of challenges at every level. Whether raft or kayak, choose your preferred ride and let the adrenaline flow.

If you have got a thing for antique mountain cultures? Then swing by the fortress-like Namgyal Institute of Tibetology in Gangtok, and familiarise yourself with countless nuances of Tibetan culture and Vajrayana Buddhism. Don’t miss the museum, packed with relics such as ancient manuscripts, thangkas (religious scroll paintings) and Tantric ritualistic objects (human skull bowls and thigh-bone trumpets, anyone?).

Go on a magnificent village walk experience -  The purpose of the this Himalayan village walk is to facilitate an authentic "underfoot" experience and provide a snapshot of rural life in the Himalayan Mountains of Uttaranchal and Sikkim. The walks traverse the terraced foothills with overnight home stays in various villages where, as an honored guest, you will witness mountain life with no embellishment. Accommodation is basic, clean, and comfortable, and your hosts are incredibly accommodating and eager to share with you their way of life.

One of the Himalaya’s best-kept travel secrets, Sikkim is a welcome diversion from all conventional notions of an Indian holiday.

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