2016 was a beautiful year for me, with a new job in a new city and lots of travel and exploring on my own. 2017 so far has been rough - lots of low points, dilemmas, tough decisions - and it has left me drained of all creative energy and desperate for a new beginning. I'm longing to travel again, to find a place that would remind me of all that's good and positive in this world - beauty, clean air, quiet moments spent in the lap of nature, cool wind in my face, and the sight of still water.
I long to go back to the Himalayas - to the home of my heart. And where in the Himalayan belt have I had my best times ever? Why, Sikkim, of course!
I travelled through South and East Sikkim at the end of last year. As luck would have it, both my SIM cards were out of order for the duration of the trip (for silly reasons), so connectivity was non-existent. But there were some times when I had Wi-Fi, and I made sure to put up pictures and stories on Instagram from all the gorgeous places I was seeing. Little did I know my pictures were inspiring many of my friends to plan their own trips to Sikkim. I was surprised at the beauty of Sikkim coming as such a 'revelation' to so many people. People clearly don't know enough about this tiny Himalayan paradise. So I decided to put together a list of 6 reasons why Sikkim should top your travel wishlist.
1. Deep blue lakes against a rocky landscapeWhile people of my generation are busy obsessing over the surreal landscape of Ladakh, I've discovered that Sikkim has the same vistas to offer but without the throngs of tourists that don't let you breathe. I was there in December, when the lakes were just beginning to freeze over. At an altitude of 13,000 feet and set against the barren rocky terrain, it was a truly fascinating sight.
2. Unbelievable views of the Kanchenjunga mountains
Having seen the Pir Panjal, Shivalik and Dhauladhar ranges in the North, I believed I had seen a lot. But Sikkim threw such stunning views of the Kanchenjunga mountains at me, I was instantly humbled. I'm not an early riser, even on holiday, but catching the sun rise over the snowclad Eastern Himalayas was totally worth waking up at 4 am.
3. Buddhist monasteries and the spiritual aura
I've always maintained I will embrace Buddhism the day I feel the urge to turn to religion. Buddhist principles and prayer methods are simple, practical, and suited to my sensibilities. No wonder Sikkim, with its spiritual vibe, beautiful monasteries and high-altitude stupas, is a Buddhist wonderland. I even learned to chant the Buddhist mantra 'Namu Myoho Renge Kyo', which I guess is the only Japanese I can speak. Achievement, much?
4. The majestic Yak (Try petting it!)You must have heard about the Yak rides offered as prime attractions on the banks of Lakes Tsomgo and Gurudongmar in Sikkim and Lake Pangong in Ladakh. It might sound like a fun thing to experience - it did to me when I went to Tsomgo lake. But I couldn't believe the cruelty with which these strong, majestic creatures were treated by their handlers and just how submissive their eyes looked. A few of the yaks even seemed irritable and surly. I strongly urge travellers not to encourage such abuse of the beautiful creatures for commercial purposes. Don't ride them. Click their pictures instead, or pet them if you are of the adventurous kind (do tell me how it was). Choose to be a responsible traveller. Always.
5. The famous Sikkim Flower Show in GangtokThe Flower Exhibition Centre in Gangtok city is home to countless species of plants, flowering and otherwise. During March, when the orchids are in full bloom, it hosts the famous Sikkim Flower Show that should be on every nature-lover's travel wishlist. The indoor area where the show is held even has a pretty little water body with a bridge over it, and you can purchase any of the plants on display to take home.
6. A glimpse of China at Nathu-LaNathu-La is a mountain pass that connects Sikkim with China via an open border. As you climb up the stairs that lead to the red-tiled outpost at 14,410 feet, breathing becomes a tad more difficult and you have to stop often. But once you're at the top, the knowledge that you're seeing China on the other side of the barbed wire makes the experience surreal. You can try striking up a conversation with the young Chinese soldier on the other side, but he won't entertain you. Trust me, I've tried. And then the Indian soldiers on your side will yell at you to get back. :D Photography isn't allowed at the border, but you can always sneak out your phone while no one's watching. Whether I managed to get pictures or not, I will not say (*wink wink*).
Mind you, none of my pictures are edited except for minor light adjustments. The skies in Sikkim are really that blue, the water really that clear, and the landscape really that stark. Isn't that reason enough why Sikkim should top your travel wishlist? I was as happy as a child in that little hill state, and so will you be. Give it a try, September and October in fact are perfect months to visit Sikkim.
P.S. I only saw a part of the state on the first trip. But I'm off to North Sikkim in September - so watch this space for my next travelogue! Meanwhile, check out more pictures and stories on my Instagram.
Update: The first travelogue from my September trip to Sikkim is live. Check out - Stairway to Heaven | Yumthang Valley