Sikkim- Darjeeling travel Guide: From the summit of the third highest mountain in the world, the 8586m high Kanchendzonga, to mighty rivers that roar at the bottom of deep valleys. From alpine landscapes full of flowers and meadows between rugged mountains to dense subtropical forests. All of this is wrapped in intense greenery and where the morning mists create spectacular decorations among its more than 200 Tibetan-style Buddhist monasteries. This is Sikkim, the world’s first organic state.
Located, next to Darjeeling, in this small wedge between Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan, Sikkim was the last state to form part of the Indian confederation and continues to maintain a strong personality. The towns are located at a certain height, often in passes between two valleys, far from the mighty and unpredictable rivers, so that they all have impressive views. Winding roads, but in good condition, make their way through these valleys and mountains, where sometimes you have to descend to the deep valley to cross to the other side of the river and ascend again until we find that destination that we saw so close from our starting point. . And as you have already guessed, the topography of Sikkim and Darjeeling is complicated and, although Darjeeling belongs to the state of West Bengal, it has a topography, a landscape, a population and an economy much more similar to Sikkim than to the river plains. of Bengal that open a little further south.
In short, Sikkim and Darjeeling comprise a culturally unique trip, in their own territory, neither Tibetan nor Hindu, and with spectacular and surprising nature. Ah! and without forgetting tea, with two of the most recognized production areas of this international drink in the world.
India entry “visa”
To obtain the visa, your passport must be valid for six months from the date of departure from your country. Read carefully the information provided by the government of India or the embassy in the web addresses that we provide, since the information that we write here is only a brief reference.
Currently the entire process to obtain a visa to India can be done online, so there is no need to send the passport to the embassy in your country. The steps to follow for this procedure are clearly explained here in English visa and you only need to have a passport scanner in pdf, a passport-type photograph in jpg format and a credit card to pay. For Europian or Andorran citizens the cost is US$48 plus banking procedures. You will receive the visa receipt by email and you must formalize it upon arrival. You can apply online between one month and four days before your arrival in India.
For those of you who prefer to do it via the embassy, the procedures are carried out by an agency, it is the only one authorized and costs about €88.50. You must also fill out the form online and send a printed copy along with all the required documentation and your passport. Read carefully and attentively all the information you have in their website.
Sikkim Entry Permit
Due to its special location bordering Nepal, Bhutan and, especially, China, Sikkim is a restricted area that requires a special permit called “Restricted Area Permit (RAP)” or “Inner Line Permit”. This permit is free and we will take care of processing it.
It will always be advisable for you to carry a few passport-sized photographs and photocopies of your passport in your luggage.
In addition, there are some areas of its territory that cannot be visited by foreigners, such as the Nathu-la pass with Tibet or Gurudongmar Lake to the north, or others such as Lake Tsomgo or the northern area from Singhik, in which travel through an official agency is required.
The rupee is the currency used in India and of course in Sikkim as well. Below the rupee is the paisa, although as tourists you will rarely see these currencies below the rupee.
As is normal, you have exchange offices at the airport. There are authorized exchange agents and some stores also change currency, although not entirely legally. Never change in the street. In banks the exchange rate is usually better, although there is some paperwork. As always, make sure to keep some of the exchange receipts that you may be asked for when you want to exchange the rupees you have left over when leaving the country.
Apart from Calcutta or Delhi, in Sikkim there are ATMs basically in Gangtok so, as usual, do not trust the entire trip to the availability of cash through ATMs, they may not work, or may not accept your card. , or other problems.
Sikkim is safe, with rare cases of theft. However, naturally consider the minimum basic security measures. We usually move with a large amount of cash without problems.
It is normal to tip in India and Sikkim and Darjeeling are no exception, although it is not an obligation. There are no rules regarding how much to tip, but here are some guidelines that you can take as a reference.
In hotels, a 10% service charge is included, but normally some money is left in the hotel rooms for cleaning service, on the bed or the table, about 50 or 80 rupees. Porters are usually given between 20 and 30 rupees. As a general rule, 50INR or 100INR bills are very useful for tips for small services.
For guides and drivers it is usually calculated between 300 or 500 rupees per traveler per day, while for taxis (although you will rarely use them) a tour price is usually agreed upon so you do not have to leave a tip.
In restaurants you can calculate between 10% to 15% of the bill or round the price.
Telephone (Mobile Networks)
In many areas of Sikkim, the use of satellite phones (and the use of drones!) is strictly prohibited.
There is Wi-Fi in practically all establishments, but if you want to be more independent and make sure you have a connection more frequently, there are different companies that operate with prepaid cards to browse data. The easiest thing for a trip of these characteristics is to purchase them at the airport, but there are also many telephone stores with the same services where you will also find help in case you have any problems during the trip.
Companies like Reliance, Airtel, Vodafone, Aircel, Idea, or BSNL offer different 3G connection packages for 14, 21, 28 days, etc. at affordable prices.
Security in India is an issue that is not taken lightly, so there are border states where prepaid cards from other states do not work. If you buy your SIM card at the Calcutta airport, that is, in West Bengal, in principle you will not have problems for it to work correctly in Sikkim, but if you want to buy it in Delhi it may not work in Sikkim. In any case, ask and make sure that you will have a data connection, since regulations may change. Obviously your phone must be “free.”
As you may have already imagined, you will need to bring two photographs, a photocopy of the passport and visa, a photocopy of your residence in your country, which with the photocopy of the DNI or driving license will be enough, and the respective original documents of course.
The voltage in India is 230V 50Hz
The plugs are type C, D and M and in some places, like in Nepal, multiple plugs are installed that accept several types, including those with two round prongs, which means that in principle you will not have any problems with your European format, whether it is a thin or thick plug. Sometimes there is a switch so check that power really reaches your device.
In many cases there will be few plugs, so if you have to charge more than one device (almost certainly you will) bring a “thief” or even better a small power strip.
The roads in Sikkim are usually in good condition, but we must take into account the mountainous territory through which we move, so in the rainy season there may be minor mishaps that delay or modify the established plan and sudden snowfalls may close some routes to the north. We put special effort into checking the status of the route before and during the trip, but it is not always possible to obtain information immediately.
Sikkim is located in the subtropical area, but since it is mostly in a mountainous environment at a certain altitude, its climate is cooler, going from a tropical environment in the south to a very cold climate in the north in a few kilometers. The proximity of the Bay of Bengal causes humidity, with fog in the mornings and abundant rains from spring to autumn, although its maximum intensity is concentrated, as usual, during the monsoon between July and September, and increasingly, October. Curiously, the Darjeeling area is colder than Gangtok, even though it is further south.
The winters are cold and in the towns at higher altitudes it may occasionally snow, while in the northern area the presence of snow leaves some routes closed to traffic. We can expect temperatures between 0º and 13º in most towns.
Spring is mild and cool, with occasional rain and temperatures that will range between 5º and just over 20º. It is perhaps the best time to visit Sikkim since we will have the opportunity to enjoy the different stages of flowering that offer spectacular landscapes.
The temperatures in autumn are similar to those in spring, although with somewhat milder minimums and somewhat lower maximums, and although traditionally the skies are much clearer, the truth is that lately the monsoon has been lengthening, causing the skies in October not to be are as clear as before.
Summer is the monsoon season, with more abundant rains and temperatures between 13º and 25º. Although it is not the best time of year, it is perfectly feasible to travel in Sikkim since it usually rains more likely during the afternoon or night. It is the time when we can find leeches in the countryside and, although they are not dangerous in terms of health, they are somewhat annoying.
Using plenty of mosquito repellent, especially on your legs, helps keep them away, or mixing moisturizer with plenty of salt also seems to work quite well.
Recommended General Clothing
The Sikkim- Darjeeling Travel Guide Based on what was explained above, the ideal is to dress in layers and it will naturally depend on the time of year you visit us. Keep in mind that in the northern areas starting from Lachung and Lachen, they can surprise with pronounced drops in temperatures at any time of the year due to their altitude. We also remind you that it is a rainy area, so you will surely use an umbrella, raincoat or whatever clothing you like the most to protect yourself from the rain, and also think about the most appropriate footwear for it, that is practical and comfortable but that Don’t soak in water the first time.
Not most houses and not many hotels have general and generous heating systems, so at night it can be cool, or even cold, so warm sleepwear will be interesting for those of you who are colder. Think that you can wake up with 4ºC inside the room in winter, not in summer! Humidity increases the feeling of cold.
We recommend some pieces to include in your personal clothing and/or luggage. Naturally the final decision is yours:
Clothing at your discretion and depending on the season and your sensitivity to heat and cold. Pay attention to rain and footwear. A small flashlight will be very useful in poorly (or not at all) lit streets at night. Replacement/s of batteries and power strip or thief to be able to plug in several devices at the same time, remember that there are few plugs in the rooms.
Sunglasses and sun protection for your skin and lips if you go to mountain areas. At midday the sun can be intense anywhere. Small first aid kit, with scissors, tweezers, plasters, antiseptic, and a little of the basic medicines: paracetamol, ibuprofen, antihistamines and antidiarrheal. A small sewing kit always saves you from trouble. Some passport size photos and passport copies. If your Sikkim- Darjeeling Travel Guide itinerary includes trekking or sleeping in private homes, a thin cloth bag can make you feel more comfortable.
Since December 2015, Sikkim has been the first state in India declared “organic”, which means that after 9 years of work, all agricultural production in this small state is organic. Naturally, this is not the case for products that come from outside the territory, but a good part of the food that you will find on your plate is free of pesticides and chemicals.
Although you will naturally find Indian food, Sikkim and Darjeeling have little to do with “traditional” India and their cuisine is much more related to Tibet and Nepal.
In Gangtok and Darjeeling you will find a variety of styles and they are quite used to dealing with Westerners, but in the rest of the smaller towns this will be reduced and the food will be much more “local”. Better than better, because traveling involves knowing, adapting, experimenting and trying. In reality, the local food is not so “exotic” either, don’t be scared, and the MoMos, whether meat or vegetarian, steamed or “grilled” will create an addiction.
Tibetan pasta soups of the Thukpa type are excellent to get through the cold, and more in Nepalese style, Dal-bhat, rice with lentil and vegetable soup (sometimes also meat) are the basis of the traditional meal. Phakshapa, a pork stew, is also part of the country’s culinary tradition.
But it doesn’t end here, different dishes of pasta and rice, potatoes – such as Alu Dum -, eggs, and varieties of chapatis and Indian or Tibetan breads are easily found.
In Darjeeling you may notice a little more presence of Bengali cuisine, and its oranges are famous, which harvested in November and December you will hardly find outside the area.
The “pickles” are powerful, very spicy, and although the dishes are not as spicy as in other places in India, they can be too spicy for our palate, so if you are sensitive you can ask for less spicy cooking. Locals eat raw chilies directly during the meal, as an accompaniment, although it is a somewhat harsh experience for a Westerner.
There is currently no medical or vaccination requirement to enter either India or Sikkim as long as you have not visited a country with yellow fever. Sikkim and Darjeeling are relatively safe areas in terms of health.
There are pharmacies where you can find most of the basic medications that you may need on your trip, although you will need to know the generic name. They are medicines mostly manufactured in India, safe, at a good price and sold by “blisters”, not by boxes.
Place names may vary in their writing between the dossier, the maps, etc. This is because Nepali, the official language here in Sikkim and Darjeeling, is written based on its pronunciation and has many consonants, vowels and tones, so it is common for the same word to be written differently in Nepali.
Depending on the place, a difference that remains increased and corrected in Western spelling. In the case of Sikkim and Darjeeling it is even more complicated because there are more meanings of names and more dialects and languages come into play which, added to the fact that the maps are not very good, makes it difficult to locate a place on the maps.
TREKS IN SIKKIM AND DARJEELING
Being closer to the Bay of Bengal than Nepal is, the incidence of humidity is higher and implies more presence of fog and rain. Hence, the weather is usually quite unstable and it is really advisable to try to take advantage of the mornings, since from midday onwards we are more likely to see the clouds begin to gain ground. For the same reason, snowfall in winter in mountain areas can be quite frequent and intense, causing, for example, the Yumthang Valley to be closed to traffic, like much of the northern area.
As you can already draw conclusions from the weather information, spring and autumn are the best times for trekking, but April and May are also high season for inland tourism in India, so there are more hikers and tourists in general. .
In Sikkim, most treks are done while camping, since there are not many “lodges”, although it is a situation that will probably change as trekking develops in India. In Darjeeling we have what are called “Trekkers-Huts”, shelters that usually depend on the forest authority, and also Nepal-style “lodges”.
In Sikkim and Darjeeling the treks are not as long as most treks in Nepal and, in some of them, the nearest road to access in case of emergency is not that far away. For this reason, unlike what we do in Nepal, we do not consider it a mandatory condition that you have contracted mountain accident insurance, although, naturally, it is more than recommended and even better if it includes helicopter rescue.