ChaloHoppo to an Unorthodox Tour of Sikkim
In a state where the most difficult terrains have been tamed and homestays are as common as rhododendron flowers in spring, can one still find places that can be termed offbeat and experiences that are handpicked? Come and find out.
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Vacation Style Holiday Type
Activity Level Leisurely
Group Size Medium Group
Let’s avoid the word offbeat and simply describe this journey as an unorthodox tour of Sikkim. The perfect balance between ensuring that stunning places which have a heavy tourist footfall aren’t missed, but there are enough punctuations where you will be left alone at the behest of nature.
Homestays in lesser known valleys and resorts overlooking crispy clouds would shelter you during this tour. From tasting authentic Bhutia, Lepcha and Nepali cuisine, to experimenting with varieties of organically brewed variations of beers and wines, this tour of Sikkim can compel those who may have already seen Sikkim come back for a renewed perspective.
The journey starts from Lingtam, a village at about 5000 feet with pleasant weather, crisscrossed by gushing streams, serving as an ideal stop before reaching the super cold high altitude destinations along the Silk route. Gnathang valley at 13500 feet, erstwhile home to Tibetan Yak herders, will be one of the many pitstops we encounter circling up the silk route to arrive at the capital of modern-day Sikkim at 5500 feet. The trip ends at a farmstay in the protected village of Dzongu in North Sikkim.
- ChaloHoppo Guy as the tour leader
- Accommodation on twin sharing basis in village stays, homestays and farm stays
- Breakfast, lunch and dinner on day 1, day 2, day 5, day 6
- Breakfast and lunch only on day 3
- Transport from Bagdogra airport and back
- Parking, tolls, driver allowance, driver accommodation and driver food
- All necessary permits to enter North Sikkim and other restricted areas in East Sikkim
- Airfare charges
- All food & beverages costs apart from the ones mentioned above
- Trekking shoes and clothing ( Any personal equipment)
- Any camera fees
- Hotel & driver tips if any, since the locals earn low wages, your tips can show your appreciation)
- Any personal expenditure (Toiletries, medicines, etc.)
- Cost incidental to any change in the itinerary/ stay on account of flight cancellation due to bad weather, ill health, roadblocks and/or any factors beyond control
- Anything not specifically mentioned under the head “Inclusions”
A village that has been hosting travellers for generations
You probably haven’t heard of this little village that used to be a hub of activity during the days of the old silk route. What you see today and frequented by tourists, the ’Zuluk’ loops didn’t exist back then. But Sikkimese traders from all over used to come down to Lingtam with their donkeys and halt at this place for the night, before beginning their journey up the steep mountains, their burdens carried by their beasts.
As the elders of Lingtam recall, the concept of homestays existed even then as the people of Lingtam would host them for the night, feeding them copious amounts of ’chang’ (millet beer) and other Bhutia delicacies.
You will walk into the subtropical piece of historical land and the hospitality of the homestay hosts shouldn’t surprise you. This is not the usual way one enters Sikkim, but nothing is usual about this itinerary as you will find out.
Today you rest in the homestay surrounded by a thick forest and secluded from the town by a gushing stream. The homestay is only accessible by foot and it can be spotted only by those who like venturing into the unknown.
Overnight at Dhungkar homestay.
Letting Lingtam sink in
We will hike down to the riverside or up to the monastery. We can choose what we feel like. If we are in the mood for a picnic then we head out with our umbrellas and picnic mats. We’ll even try and make a simple over an open fire maybe? If we feel more athletic and are up for a hike grabbing our energy bars for a longer walk then the monastery would be a good vantage point.
Gangtok- Oh what a city!
After breakfast and bidding farewell to our hosts, it’s time to drive up the old silk route, passing numerous army units, including the one at Zuluk. This is the photograph that you may have seen a thousand times on the internet, the endless turns. How many? Perhaps you can count it for yourself? The beauty of the road and the drive becomes more evident and stark as you drive up from 5000 feet to 11,000 feet and more. At approximately 11,200 feet you get a really comprehensive view of the loops unless the weather gods are against your wishes.
Temperature changes drastically so do the vegetation shifting from Sal trees to pine trees. Today we stopover at Gnathang valley, an erstwhile Tibetan yak herder’s village at 13,500 feet. Depending on which season one goes there Gnathang presents itself in different shades. There are chances of catching some snow in the valley. In any case, biting cold and delicious hot food await us at Gnathang.
The beautiful Tsongmo lake and the other beauties of East Sikkim, including Baba Mandir will come after this as we drive to Gangtok.
We end the day by visiting the famous MG Marg in Gangtok and exploring the vibrant streets and going to some uber cool cafes.
Overnight in Gangtok
A walk through the capital city of Sikkim
You have to walk in Gangtok.
You got to be clear on this before you book your trip. Why? Because it is simply better.
From the Palace Ridge Road via the Cottage Industries School where one can view traditional wood carving, carpet, and textile weaving and even find items of interest to take away as souvenirs. Moving onto the Flower Exhibit Centre renowned for its cymbidium orchids after this visit Tsuklakhang Royal Chapel on the Palace Compound now home to over 70 younger monks preparing for their higher education in Nyingma Buddhist studies. The Tsuklakhang Trust which was created by Chogyal Wangchuk Namgyal sponsors all of these boys, many of whom come from poor families, giving them not only a place to live and a traditional monastic education but even sends them for “Sheda” studies and on to other monasteries as monks and teachers upon their graduation.
Proceed for a Tour of the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology and Dro-DrulChorten via the Gangtok Ropeway. The Ropeway isn’t the best but definitely worth a ride especially if you haven’t experienced one before.
In the evening, we can walk down the Development area road and while away time at the Rachna bookstore and then visit the Backpackers travel cafe.
Phew! Long day huh.
Overnight in Gangtok
You don't go to Dzongu unless it invites you
Amidst deep valleys and lush forests of the Himalayas lies Dzongu, an almost virgin territory with a scanty population of Sikkim’s native inhabitants, the Lepchas. In between these dense jungles and gorges cut by glacial streams rests the beautiful property accessible only on foot or aboard a 4 by 4 vehicle. Munlom resort is your home for the next 2 days.
Dzongu in North Sikkim, as the locals believe, can be described as a path to heavenly land. That it comes under the newly declared world heritage site of Kanchendzonga National park only validates the spiritual, cultural and natural significance of Dzongu.
Today have lunch and explore the village on foot.
Overnight at Mulom nature resort Dzongu.
Being Dzongu's guest
After breakfast, it is time to beat the cold and in the most natural way possible. A natural hot spring awaits you.
The drive from the resort to this spring will be a pretty one. One that cannot be left alone without a conversation about how important electricity is for a modern city to survive and the equal significance of river trouts for traditions to survive. Apart from looking down at the deep gorges that the river Rongyong has cut its way through, every now and then you may be distracted by some fantastic bird with iridescent plumes flying across the windshield. Eventually, we will come across Mantam beach. It’s not usual to hear of a beach in the upper Himalayas, is it? The story of this beach like the story of most things beautiful is a painful one. While the team prepares for a little picnic which, not long ago used to be Mantam village, now submerged, we will tell you the story of Mantam mayhem. No, it isn’t eerie, just a story that will act as a reminder to humans to stop pushing the limits of nature.
A hot water spring bath and lots of chi (millet beer) later we can watch the sunset before returning to the comfortable beds at Munlom.
Tonight is about a night of revelry since it is the last and no stone shall be left unturned to make it a memorable one.
Fly out or extend the journey
Post breakfast at Dzongu, we depart for the airport. Driving time approx. 5 hrs. Those who wish to extend their trip and head to North Sikkim (Gurudongmar lake, Zero point, Lachen, Lachung) can get in touch with us here.
Munlom Nature resort
Mazong hotel/ Traditional homestay
30 Days prior to arrival: 50% refund
15 Days prior to arrival: 25% refund
Less than 15 Days prior to arrival : 0% refund
What type of bag to carry?
Carry a small bag(10 to 15 litres) for your trek down to Nongriat village that can fit essential toiletries and change of clothes for 1 night to reduce the weight on your shoulders and make the trek easier.
Basic toiletries and allergy medications and tissue rolls (if you need)
head lamps/ Torches with batteries
quick dry towels
ID Proof – Voters card/ Pan Card/ Passport/ Drivers license/ Aadhar card (to be sent on mail upon confirming the trip to [email protected])
Other things that you may bring along :
Sun tan lotion
Playing cards and small board games,in case you don’t feel sleepy at night
Any sort of alcoholic beverages
Go pro for under water shots
We will have pick up and drop facility to and from the Guwahati airport once you share the arrival time of your flight.
Campsite: Please avoid carrying plastic bottles or even buying sealed bottles while at the venue as want to have a litter free zone as much as possible.
Swimming: You have to be careful as it’s deep and sometimes the current could pull you in. If you aren’t a swimmer, please mention that specifically and put a request for renting a life jacket on email.
Avoid plastic: Please avoid buying mineral water, specifically while in Nongriat(Double decker living root bridges village) since it is a major cause of pollution in the delicate eco system of Nongriat. Remember to take up whatever you bring down.
Service: Though we will try our best to give you great service, please understand we won’t be able to give you hot towels, bed tea and the like.
Entry to the states of Meghalaya does not require a permit.
A most definite yes, as long as you are okay travelling in a mixed group of other solo travellers or small group of friends.
Not all travellers who sign up for a tour with ChaloHoppo are swimmers so the experience doesn’t get hampered due to lack of that skill. It is certainly an advantage for those can swim but life jackets can be rented along with a guide to ensure safety of the travellers.
- Winter jacket
- balaclava/ beanie (something that covers your ears and your head)
- Sports socks and Swimwear for the Nongriat trek, you can also get swimming goggles or snorkelling masks, and swimming cap
- Raincoat (just in case, since you are travelling in ‘abode of clouds’)
- Trekking shoes (basic ones will do)
- quick dry towels (plastic bag/ ziplock to carry your wet clothes)
- Allergy medications and other medicines, since these are very remote places with very little access to most basic things.
- A non-disposable water bottle to fill water and AVOID BUYING MINERAL WATER
- ID Proof – Voters card/ Pan Card/ Passport/ Drivers license/ Aadhar cardYou can always buy these things from the Decathlon (1 km away from the airport) in Guwahati, if you wish.
Other things that you may bring along :
headlamps/ Torches with batteries
Playing cards and small board games, in case you don’t feel sleepy at night
Go pro for underwater shots
Ideally a 60-litre backpack should be convenient, however, there is no real hiking or trekking with the bags, so a suitcase or trolley is also fine.
Do carry a separate smaller bag(10 to 15 litres) for your trek down to Nongriat village that can fit essential toiletries and change of clothes for 1 night only to reduce the weight on your shoulders and make the trek easier.
The cultural diversity of northeast India is so vast that we can’t blame outsiders for not being aware of communities in the region who are purely vegetarians, so much so that they avoid eating onions( they are indigenous to the region, in case you are thinking about communities from mainland India who have settled here). Having said that, we must admit that the region’s food habits especially in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya are predominantly non vegetarian with a whole lot of red meat based preparations. But the states have warmed up to tourists recently and almost every place you visit will provide the Indian staple diet of rice, dal and sabji, even chapatis if you are lucky. As far as Tripura, Assam, Manipur and Sikkim are concerned vegetarians have decent number of options. Your craving for butter paneer may not be satisfied, but you will do just fine as far as maintaining your health and strength is concerned.