Part I in a series about Sikkim
The North-eastern part of India has a certain charm and mystery attached to it. This is probably because it is not widely travelled by the regular Indian tourist or maybe, because it is not easily reachable.
We planned to go to Sikkim in the first half of 2014 and started enquiring about the best time of the year to visit. Until March, the higher reaches of North Sikkim are snowed in and by May, the rains start. Knowing how wild the rains can be in the north-eastern states, we finalized April for our visit.
The Best Time to Visit Sikkim
In retrospect, I’d say that while April was a beautiful month to visit in, the month of May has an edge over April. The reason? In May, the weather is absolutely clear and the Rhododendrons, the flower Sikkim is known for, are in full bloom. This is particularly pertinent if you’re planning a visit to the Yumthang Valley.
Since we went in the first week of April and had a mixed experience. Having landed there on the cusp of the winter and spring, there were days of snowfall which added a lot of pristine beauty to the place, but are potential party-poopers because certain tourist spots are inaccessible in snow. If you have to go in April, try to plan your visit towards the end of the month.
The other great month to visit (and this we learnt from the locals themselves) is October, by which time the rains are pretty much gone, and you are treated with clear blue skies and perfect weather for sight-seeing. The down-side of May and October, of course, is that you won’t get to see snow.
Having decided by January itself that we planned to travel in April, the next thing we did was to book flight tickets. Maybe it was because we booked our tickets really early or maybe because the first week of April is just short of peak tourist season, we got a terrific deal on airfare: around Rs 2500 per head one-way from Delhi to Bagdogra. So the return tickets for the two of us (husband and I) totalled up to about Rs 11,000 only!
In case you are coming from the South of India, you may fly in through Calcutta instead of Bagdogra.
Booking Your Hotel
Once we had finalized our itinerary, it was time to book hotels. Trip Advisor is extremely useful in finalizing your lodging. You can choose as per your budget and the traveller photos and reviews can be quite insightful and revealing.
While booking hotels, keep in mind, that the ones nearest to the MG Road in Gangtok and Mall Road in Darjeeling are convenient because that way you are walking-distance from the main hub of the town (including tour operators, markets and restaurants). However, if you’re particularly keen on magnificent views from your room and a quiet, peaceful stay, look for a hotel a few kilometres from the town centre. This would mean that every time you want to head to the city-centre, you would need to hitch a ride with a cab.
While we looked up our hotels online, we didn’t book them on the net, but called them up or wrote to them directly. How that helped is that we got better rates than what were being offered online. Suhim Portico in Gangtok was available online for Rs 5500 a night, which we got for Rs 4300. In Darjeeling, we booked Summit Yashshree, which was available for Rs 3800 a night online, but was offered to us for Rs 3100.
Packing for the Trip
No matter what time of the year you go, carry enough woolens to see you through the coldest of weathers, especially if you’re planning to undertake the journey to North Sikkim and Gurudongmar Lake. One great big jacket that would save you in the snow would be perfect. And don’t forget caps, gloves and socks! Also throw in an umbrella because rains in that part of the country are unpredictable.
Among other essentials, carry loads of passport size pictures and an address proof for each traveller as one needs them for the permits to visit Tsomgo, Baba Mandir, Nathula Pass and North Sikkim. More about that in my blog about booking your tour operator.
If you’d like to see a few variations of a good itinerary for Sikkim, check out my post, ‘Sikkim: Making the Perfect Itinerary’.
Piyushi Dhir is the author of 'In Search of Love', 'I'm Yours, The Next Time', 'Silent Promises' and 'Enmeshed Evermore'. She is a contributor in 'Nineteen Tales of COVID-19', a collection of short stories. A voracious reader, a keen traveler, a businesswoman and a mom, Piyushi currently resides in Canada. A nomad at heart, she loves to discover new places and capture the hues of life with her pen.