Uncovering the hidden gem of Sikkim

If you are someone that gets a lot of value out of spiritually enriching destinations, complete with natural beauty, there are very few places that stir the senses quite like Sikkim. Nestled away in the north-eastern corner of India, this land-locked region is one of the smallest states in India but what it lacks in size it more than makes up with its raw mystique and sense of adventure. Sikkim used to be an independent kingdom as recently as 1975, but the area was eventually taken over by India. It also borders Nepal, Bhutan and China.

There are very few places like Sikkim on this planet, with its fascinating ancient Tibetan Buddhist way of life amid the backdrop of its vast mountainous terrain. If you are looking for a vacation experience like no other, be sure to keep in mind the following facets of Sikkim that make it such an extraordinary part of India.

A special place for meditation

Sikkim has long held a strong connection with spirituality. In fact, it is a hive for meditators, with almost 200 monasteries lining the state’s hillsides. Two of the most popular monasteries to visit are in the north of the state; Labrang and Phodong Gompa are famed for their mesmerising murals that line the walls of these monasteries. The best time to visit these monasteries is on the 28th and 29th day of the tenth month of the Tibetan calendar. During this period, it is said that people feel the essence of god in all that they do, feeling at total peace with all that is around them.

Another special landmark of note is the sacred Labrang monastery. Located just a few kilometres from Phodong Gompa, it is well-known for its architecture and awe-inspiring frescoes. Its calming environment and hallowed atmosphere is another popular place for those seeking solitude.

Mesmerising flora and fauna

The state of Sikkim is also highly regarded for its unique, vibrant array of flora, fauna and bird life. Orchid-lovers will take great delight in exploring the 450 different varieties that can be found here, as well as 40 different species of rhododendron, 400 species of butterflies and 450 species of birds in their natural habitat. If you head to Gangtok, Sikkim’s capital – which we’ll talk about in more detail shortly – take a trip to the Deorali Orchid Sanctuary to the south of the city.

If you choose to visit the Rumtek monastery, you could always make a scheduled pit-stop en-route at the Jawaharlal Nehru Botanical Garden. With spectacular mountain views, flower shows and greenery to explore, it is well worth an hour of your time.

The Las Vegas of India

Sikkim would probably be the last state you’d think of to become India’s first state to legalize all forms of gambling. However, in 2009, Sikkim voted to do so in a bid to entice more tourists to the area. Other than Goa’s off-coast “casino ships”, Sikkim is the only place to play on-shore in India. Land-based gaming is very popular in hilly Sikkim, and so too is the mobile iGaming action that has also been legalized; reaching out to India’s mobile internet users who are expected to reach more than 492 million by 2022.

Sikkim’s capital, Gangtok, is loosely known as the Las Vegas of India. With its purified air and majestic Himalayan views, you would be gob-smacked to find the electrifying atmosphere inside Gangtok’s Casino DeltinDenzong. The state also recently made it mandatory for its land-based casinos to operate from inside five-star hotels, ramping up the glitz and glamour of casino gaming to Vegas-esque levels.

The Dzongri Trail is a trekker’s paradise

If you have a yearning for physical activity during your stay in Sikkim, be sure to head out on one of the organized treks from Yuksom to Dzongri Peak. You’ll meander through breath-taking unspoilt forests, the awe-inspiring free-flowing waters of Khangchendzonga National Park and much, much more. These return treks from Yuksom can take as long as ten days to complete, so only commit to this if you really enjoy trekking.

For the most enriching, safest trek along the Dzongri Trail, it’s a good idea to arrange a trek with Mountain Tours. This firm is operated by family members of Late Da Namgel Sherpa, who was in the first successful expedition of Mount Everest way back in 1953.

Combine these natural wonders with Sikkim’s unassuming yet highly hospitable locals and it’s easy to see why this north-eastern corner of India is increasingly on the radar of adventurous tourists.

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