Gangtok is India’s gateway to the Himalayan Mountains, and it is quickly becoming an industry leading and world class destination for adventurous Indian travelers who are looking to enjoy good food, great wilderness, pristine ecosystems and exquisite hiking. If you are considering a stay in a one of the Sterling Holidays resorts in Gangtok or the surrounding area, or you are planning and expedition to climb Sikkim’s Himalayan Mountain ranges, then you should consider these travel tips and ideas before you go. Do your research to get the best deals before you embark on your trip?
Gangtok is famous for it’s numerous festivals. There is a festival nearly every month, and exciting things are happening year round. Sikkim, and in particular Gangtok, has a very diverse ethnic population, and that’s why there are so many different festivals celebrated throughout the year. You might be able to experience a festival not celebrated in the part of India you are from. Hindu festivals like Holi are celebrated, but so are Nepalese festivals like Dashain and Tibetan festivals like Losar. Even Christian holidays like Christmas are celebrated. Whenever you visit Gangtok you will be able to experience the local culture by attending a festival. The locals are always happy to get visitors from all other regions in India, and they are extremely accommodating to tourists who want to learn about the customs and cultural practices of the people in northeast India.
Food in Sikkim is varied and delicious. Local chefs take prides in the regional dishes which vary greatly from what most Indians expect when they think about Indian food. Nepalese and Tibetan foods are prevalent in the region. A thick and hearty noodle soup called thukpa makes a great meal, and it will give you a lot of energy to go hiking for a whole day. Momos, which are steamed buns filled with pork, are found nearly everywhere. They can easily be found in town on the side of the road. Momos are the most popular street food in Gangtok. They taste great when dipped in a sauce or even in a bowl of soup. To wash down your meal after a relaxing day trekking you should try some alcohol like jannr. Jannr is a mild alcohol made from millet, rice or barley, and it is typically drunk from a bamboo shoot. You might even be able to try something that is not commonly found in other parts of India: cheese. An herb-flavored cottage cheese called chhurpi is one of the many dairy products you can find in Sikkim. Buttermilk and dahi yogurt are common side dishes, too.
Opportunity for Hiking
Gangtok is the starting base for those looking to climb the Himalayan mountain ranges in the Indian state of Sikkim. The city itself offers spectacular views of nearby mountains like, which is the largest peak in India and third largest in the entire world. The monsoon season in Sikkim is typically between June and September, so you should plan your trip accordingly if you want to experience the best conditions for trekking and hiking. April, May, October and November will offer the best dates for hiking and mountaineering in calm weather. If your trek is expected to be a daunting one you are advised to hire a local guide to help you along the way.
Find Some Inner Peace with Tibetan Buddhism
Because of its relative closeness to Nepal and Tibet, Gangtok features many monasteries and temples. The area is known as a center of Tibetan Buddhist culture. Shared taxis regularly run from Gangtok to Yuksom – which offers fantastic hiking trails like the Yuksom-Dzongri trail. This trek is a popular high altitude excursion along the Rathong Chu River in western Sikkim. Yuksom also has many monasteries to see during your visit such as the Dubdi Monastery and Mallu Monastery. Be sure to stop by one of the monasteries and greet the monks for luck before you head out on your next adventure in the local hills and mountains.
Other Types of Ecotourism in the Area
Trekking, hiking and mountain climbing aren’t the only thriving types of ecotourism you can partake in in Sikkim. River rafting is gaining popularity very quickly in Sikkim. The local government has focused its efforts on expanding ecotourism in recent years while maintaining a balance of environmental sustainability, so you can be sure your adventure won’t damage the local flora and fauna.
Sikkim is one of the most interesting states in India that you can visit. It is a great place to go to if you are into mountain climbing, trekking, hiking or any other type of ecotourism. The area is filled with beautiful landscapes, peaceful monasteries and amazing festivals. The food is delicious and hearty, and the people are friendly and accommodating. They are happy to have visitors from all over India. Be sure to check out this part of India if you are an adventurer, foodie or a traveler looking for a peaceful time.
After coming back from the Kuari Pass Trek in June, 2006 I was restless as to where would we go in December. When a colleague suggested Sikkim, I liked the idea and when I told him, so did Sesha. We did check out a few packages for Sikkim Tourism but in the end we decided to do it on our own. We were visiting Pelling and Gangtok, the rest of the itinerary was flexible.
But my biggest worry was, “Would I freeze to death in Sikkim in December?” “Would there be too much snow?” Of course, I searched on the internet and was reassured that people do go to Sikkim in December and come back to tell the tale.
So, now that I am back I decided to do a FAQ for going to Sikkim in December.
Q. Is December the right month to visit Sikkim? Will it be too cold?
A. Right month would depend on what you want to do in Sikkim. Flowers would not be in bloom but most of the tourist areas are accessible in December and less crowded. So if December is the only time you can manage to get those leaves, a visit to Sikkim is possible.
At lower regions like Pelling and Gangtok, it was not really that cold in December. Pelling is at a height of 6,800 feet (2,085 m) and Gangtok has an altitude of 5,840 feet (1769 m). The weather forecast may say that temperatures vary from 15 degree Celsius (high) to 0 degree (lowest) in December. The thing is that days are quite sunny and 15 degree does not feel bad. 0 degree happens (if at all) when you are safely tucked inside a bed at night.
Of course, heavy woolens are required but I could keep the cold at bay by using multiple layer of clothing and a heavy jacket. And I am a person who finds cold extremely difficult to handle. So, my feeling is that at places like Pelling and Gangtok, December is quite OK.
In fact, it became quite crowded in Gangtok from 25th December to 31 December. Since we do not book our hotels in advances, that gave us a mild anxiety attack but there were still vacant rooms available in Gangtok in December.
Q. Will a trip to Yumthang be possible in December or the routes get closed due to snow?
A. No, the routes do not normally close. We were able to visit Yumthang (11800 feet, 3596m) in December without any difficulty. In fact, there was no snow at the Yumthang valley itself. To see the snow, we had to go to what is called as ‘Zero Point’ (14,600 feet, 4450m). It is definitely much more colder at these heights. But Yumthang Valley and Zero Point do not offer accommodation. One has to visit the area and come back. So, wrap yourself properly and when it becomes too cold outside, crawl back into the vehicle that took you there. Our shared jeep group could take Zero Point only for 45 minutes but that was enough for everyone of us. For my visit (December 28, 2006) there was not really any need to wear snow boots in the area.
The place where night accomodation is offered on the Yumthang trip is usually Lachung (8800 feet, 2682 m) and I found it cold. But we carry good sleeping bags with us and I use it in addition to the hotel supply of quilts. This is also due to the fact that I find cold extremely difficult to handle. The hotel rooms at Lachung are very basic and not heated.
Q. Will a trip to Nathu-La be possible in December or the routes get closed due to snow?
A.A trip to Nathu-La is possible in December, the routes are open. However, as the Sikkim Government Website informs us “Nathula is open only for Indian nationals on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. The visitors have to get the permit to visit the place by applying to the Tourism Department through a registered Travel Agency.” For the Indian nationals, the trip is possible. On my visit (December 30, 2006) there was no need to wear snow boots in the area.
Q. Can foreigners visit Nathu-La, the India China border?
A. If you look at the Sikkim governemnt website link above, it says as of now Nathu-La is open only to Indian nationals on specific days (look under the Nathu-La section).
Q. Will the Tsomgo lake (also known as Changu Lake) be frozen in December?
A. Tsomgo/Changu Lake is on the way to Nathu-La and the tourist jeeps make a stop here for lunch (even otherwise). On my trip (December 30, 2006) it was not frozen. However, a friend who visited Sikkim in February said it was frozen then. I had my lunch here on my way back from Nathu-La, and I found it really cold but bearable. Also, while going we made a brief stop and the weather was clear. On the way back, a thick fog had developed and I could not take anymore pictures of the lake due to the fog.
Q. Can foreigners visit Tsomgo/Changu Lake in Sikkim?
A. Again, quoting from the Sikkim government website, “Foreign visitors have to be in a group of two or more and have to apply for the visitors permit through a registered travel agency.” (look under the Tsomgo Lake section).
Q. Do I need to book al the tours before reaching Sikkim in December?
A. That depends on your comfort level. We did not pre-book hotels, or tours for Yumthang and Nathu-La (December 2006) and had no problem with anything. But we are backpackers. So, if you do not want to pre-book from your city, it is OK. We asked for a trip to Yumthang for next day and we had no problem in getting the permit.
Nathu-La is open only on specific days,so the trip requires a little bit of extra planning. For example I booked my 30th December tour to Nathu-La on 27th December and got the permit.
If you have any other question for going to Sikkim in December, please leave a comment. I would try to answer it as soon as possible.
Also, the information above should be treated with caution, as the guidelines and rules of the Indian government could change.
The weather is a fickle thing and what is true in 2006 may not remain the same in other years. Also, what is reasonably cold for one person may not be so for another. I have tried to give you my impressions an hope that it may help you for planning a trip to Sikkim in December.
I started my India travel blog, Travel Tales from India in 2005. In 2016 I realized Travel Tales from India and Abroad better reflected my writings. I love to walk and ride in metros around the world. I have not been everywhere, I am not even close, but it is on my list. I also quit my job as a professor in 2015, it was a happening year! I did a Ph.D. from IIT Kanpur ages ago!
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