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Discover Sikkim: India’s Himalayan sanctuary

Deep in the Indian Himalayas, Sikkim sits nestled between the neighboring countries of Bhutan and Tibet. Hidden in pristine natural landscape, Sikkim is the least populated part of India but is not short in history, culture, and incredible sites. Once a kingdom founded during the Silk Road era, Sikkim is traditionally Buddhist like its neighboring Bhutan. However, it’s rich history of international crossing and trade has left Sikkim with eleven official languages and a very influential mix of cultures of the centuries.

Sikkim is also a place of renowned biodiversity with multiple climates and terrains in one region ranging from subtropical to alpine with drastic changes in elevation. It is home to India’s highest peak and the third highest in the world. For those who want to discover amazing views, rich culture and history, and seek adventure, Sikkim should be on your list.

Best visited during the March-May and September-October, we did 11 days through the region during the prime season. Connecting with locals and visiting the hidden, off-the-grid favorites, we experienced Sikkim and the Indian Himalayas at their truest.

 

Here is our journey through the Eastern Himalayas and Sikkim:

 

Day 1-2: 

We began our journey in the Sikkim capital of Gangtok where we stayed in a local hotel. Gangtok is known as the center of Tibetan Buddhist culture and learning. This is our first day of riding, so we take some took a little time to get used to the 1,400m + altitude. We rode to the 200-year-old baroque Enchey monastery. We rode to ridges and down through valleys with the Kangchenjunga mountain range as our view. We stopped at a few more historical monasteries to further learn about and understand the Buddhist influence in the region. We had the chance to enjoy tea the traditional way from local plantations.

 

Day 2:

Today, we were even more immersed in Buddhist culture, beginning our day in prayer and meditation at the Enchey monastery. We explored Bangtok a bit more today on foot as well. We visited the Institute of Tibetology where we learned more about neighboring Tibet and its influence on the Sikkim region in terms of culture and religion through ancient art preserved here.

 

Day 3:

We rode further down on our journey to the 16th century Rumtek Monastery. This is the largest monastery in Sikkim. It is home to important an rare Buddhist art and a center for Kargyu teachings. We payed a visit to Ban Jakhri falls during our 23 kilometer ride. Local guides tell us legends of witch doctors from Sikkim’s kingdom days. The rest of our ride to our next destination included rolling green hills, plantations and farms high in the mountains, and traditional villages. Our stay this night was at an original farm stay with very accomodating locals with home cooked meals.

 

Day 4:

We spent the morning and the beginning of our day with our local hosts. They gave us a tour of their plantation and showed us first-hand the traditional Sikkim way of life high in the Himalayas. After an amazing meal prepared from their own produce, we continued to ride to the Temi Tea gardens where we had an authentic Buddhist tea experience in an unbelievable setting. The rest of our ride today was 55 kilometers full of short climbs and downhills through stunning views of the mountains and valleys.

 

Day 5:

Today was an easier, more picturesque day to really get some amazing photos and take in the scenery. We connected with local and our guides to put stories to our backdrop of traditional Buddhist stories and myths from the area. It put the whole experience in a more personal context. We arrived at Buddha Park where we enjoyed the serene views. This night, we stayed in another beautiful farmstay as the perfect end to a relaxing day.

 

Day 6:

This day we made up a lot of ground. Early in the morning, we visited a bird sanctuary that houses and protects the important biodiversity and traditional nature knowledge Sikkim is known for. It is one of the world’s 18 biodiversity hotspots. We rode mainly downhill today through some unbelievable look outs, visiting a monastery along the way to our next destination of Yuksom.

 

Day 7:

Today we took completely off from riding to explore the mountain town of Yuksom. Yukom is an incredibly historic town with the original thrown used to crown the king of the original Sikkim kingdom as well as prayer wheels paying homage to the heavy Buddhist history and influence. We had a late breakfast at our homestay and went on a hike up to some stunning view points before exploring the town personally. We visited a famous religious site of Norbogang lake to make a wish at the meeting site of the three Lamas.

 

Day 8:

Today was another great day of distance riding downhill for the most part. This was a great day for views and photos. Our destination of Pelling has the best views possible of the Kangchenjunga mountain ranges. We stayed in a homestay here where we had the most amazing views from our rooms. We had the most amazing experience on a quick dusk ride up to the Pemayangste Monastery to hear the monks’ evening prayer songs with beautiful views.

 

Day 9:

Today we biked through the border into Western Bengal and out of Sikkim. It was by far the best cycling day yet with a wide variety of views and terrain. We went from Buddhist Sikkim to Hindu-influenced West Bengal which is a really interesting way to experience the diversity and mystery of India and its culture. The architecture, people, language and food completely changed during our ride alone. This was once a British territory and so we got to see that influence in the tea plantations we visited today.

 

Day 10:

We took today off at Darjeeling to visit the oldest tea estate. We got to experience the entire tea making process from start to finish which was fascinating and a great way to spend a day off he bike. We take a traditional steam train ride from the old days through the town to take in the well-preserved authentic town.

 

Day 11:

On our last day, we drove to Tiger Hill at sunrise to get one of the most amazing views of the Kangchenjunga mountain ranges as the perfect goodbye to the eastern Himalayas.

This trip was the perfect balance of active adventure, culture, rest, and amazing views. Sikkim is the perfect destination for anyone who wants to explore something completely different from the typical vacation or cycling tour. The mix of landscape, history, and off-grid authenticity cannot be beat.

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