A visit to the stunningly scenic North Eastern state of Sikkim is definitely incomplete without experiencing the joy of trekking through the terrain blessed with an abundance of natural resources –forests, valleys, gorges, rugged peaks, lakes, rivers, bird and animal life, breathtakingly beautiful flowers and a spectacular backdrop of the snow clad mountain ranges, which indeed are a pleasure to observe. The colours and hospitability of this landscape tend to change with the seasons, making it important for travellers to plan their visit accordingly.
Trekking is no casual walk, especially at Sikkim. Getting acclimatized to the climatic conditions and altitude is a must and so is the need to be healthy and fit to make these trips, even if short/easy ones. Let this not discourage you from trekking but rather encourage you to fully gear up for the trip ahead.
Trekking in Sikkim – Difficulty Levels/Grades
There are several trekking trails or routes that run through the state. All of them are definitely picturesque, but each one is unique and has its own challenges. Based on the nature of the route, hospitability, altitude, gradients, remoteness and availability of basic amenities, the treks are usually graded as easy, moderate, strenuous, challenging or similar categories that indicate the difficulty level of the trip.
It is important to check with your operator on the best treks that match your preference and fitness level and not just go by the grades advertised, as each operator may grade their trips differently. Custom treks are also offered by different operators based on specific requests.
That said; let’s introduce you to some of the popular destinations that make trekking in Sikkim a memorable experience. The actual routes, itineraries, the duration of the treks, stop-over/camping and of course costs, typically tend to vary across tour operators or guides who organize these treks.
Trekking in Sikkim – Popular destinations
The trek to Dzongri is ideal for visitors on a short trip, offering spectacular visuals of snowy peaks such as Kanchenjunga, Pandim, Ratong, Kabru and others, virgin forests, gorges and valleys, mountain streams and an occasional encounter with rare birds or mountain sheep. The trail to Dzongri Top starts from Yuksom, taking trekkers through Tshoka and Phedang to the view point where one can witness the entire span of Kanchenjunga National Park including the Khecheopalri Lake. Dzongri is an acclimatization spot for longer high-altitude treks
2. Goecha La
The trail to Goecha La presents stunning views of Mt. Kanchendzonga and several other imposing peaks such as Pandim, Frey, Kumbhakarna as it winds through green colourful meadows and valleys, semi-tropical forests, lakes and few quaint villages. Trekkers get a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the settings. Starting from Yuksom, this route typically covers Tshoka, Dzongri, Thanshing and Lamune before reaching the Goecha La pass.
Famous for its spectacular Rhododendron blooms that line the trekking path, the trail to Varsey is a pleasure for nature lovers. Prominent presence of Mt. Kanchendzonga, captivating flora such as orchids, rhododendrons and wild birds for company, Khecheopalri and other lakes enroute, the short trek to Hilley and visit to sulphur spring Phur Cha Cho are few key highlights of this casual trek.
4. Green Lake
This high-altitude trail up to the Kanchenjunga base camp on Zemu Glacier is indeed thrilling, challenging and of course scenic as well. Alpine forests, mountain rivulets, sprawling green expanses welcome trekkers on this trail which begins at Lachen and runs through Talem, Jakthang, and Yabuk before reaching a rest camp and further to the Green Lake scaling an altitude of about 2000m and roughly 6 hrs of trekking to reach each destination. Often, one day of rest and local hiking is planned around the Green Lake area before the return trek.
Trekking along the Singalila ridge on the Indo-Nepal border is a great way to experience the some of the nature’s best preserved settings. The trek is a long one. Setting off from Uttarey, the route usually includes Chitrey, Chewabhangyang, Megu, Dhoor, Phedang dara , Lampokhari, Pangding, Dzongri, ,Lamune, Goecha La, Thangsing, Tshoka and ends in Yuksom. Sighting of Mt Everest, Mt. Lhotse and Mt. Kanchenjunga standing over 8000m and several other peaks in Nepal and Sikkim are highlights of this challenging trip.
6. Lhaba Tarum Tsachu
This moderately difficult yet popular trek is all about the dense jungle, colourful flowers, open skies, hot spring, wildlife and a close encounter with Mt. Kanchendongza just 16 Kms away, easily reachable if well-prepared with emergency supplies and a porter! Starting off from Lachung /Yumthang, a trek to Luk Lakha and the Lake Tso Lhaku, a climb to the Lhabha Peak followed by a descent into the Lhaba valley will bring trekkers to the Cave Camp for a night’s rest before heading to the hot spring Tarum Tsachu, from where they may choose to take a 2 hour walk to Lachen as well. Alternatively one may choose to travel from Yumthang to Tsethang and then proceed to Cave Camp. Parts of this route are motorable as well.
Trekking in Sikkim – Easy Trails
Easy treks aren’t necessarily short ones as they are likely to involve at least 4 hours of continuous walking through the landscape (without any steep climbs uphill or downhill) to reach the next town/village on the trail. The route may have a gradual incline and may not always be flat! Trekking trails may not cover remote locations, and the trek organizers usually provide emergency evacuation services if needed.
Here are some such easy trails that travellers usually opt for. Check with your tour operator for detailed information before signing up for the trek though.
1. Yuksom Dzongri Trail
This short span of the arduous Goecha La trail makes a great trek that proves quite satisfactory and rewarding for tourists as it offers excellent views of Mt. Kangchendzonga along with peaks Kabru, Pandim, Simvo and others, plus a glimpse of the Laxmi Pokhari lake with Mt Pandim and Mt. Tenchingkhang in the background from the View Point at Dzongri. Starting from Yuksom, the route passes through Tshoka, to the Dzongri View Point, quite popular for its panoramic visuals.
2. Singalila Phalut Trail
While looking for adventure in Sikkim, choosing for the Silk Route cycling is the best option. The expedition starts from Sillery Gaon. You can reach this place via car from the New Jalpaiguri Railway Station. Professional organizers provide you with the cycles and other goodies necessary for the journey. The tour lasts for around a week and offers the most beautiful view of the mountain ranges. The trip involves camping overnight at particular halts where you can refill your food and water stock. The cost of this expedition is around INR 30,000 per person.
3. Varsey(Barsey) Rhododendron Trail
Trekking through the Rhododendron Sanctuary in Barsey proves a delightful experience as one gets to walk through a forested route bordered by Rhododendrons, orchids and other rare and beautiful trees and plants plus excellent views of the Kanchendzonga and other peaks. Starting from Hilley, a 4-km walk brings tourists to the Barsey, which is a small town housing the Sanctuary located right on the Singalila Range.
4. Sandakphu Phalut Trail
This trail boasts of impressive views of 26 different peaks that form the famous “Sleeping Buddha” posture. Trekkers are greeted by the natural beauty of the Singalila National Park that is home to the Red Panda, small hamlets of the Lepcha tribe, several rivers and the Kalapokhari Lake as well. Starting from Bagdogra, the route covers Maneybhanjyang, Tumling, Kalapokhari, Sandakphu, Phalut and Gorkhey, returning to Bagdogra through Jorethang. Mirik, Meghma Gairibas and Bikheybhanjyang are but a few stops on this trail.
5. Ravangla Maenam Trail
The trekking trail from Ravangla to Maenam Hill Top is roughly about a 9 km journey. Treks may continue further to Bhaledunga, or an easy walk to the village at Boronga or a challenging downhill trail to Yangyang. Trekkers do have an option to camp out at Maenam hill top to fully experience the beauty of the hilly forested surroundings in the background of the towering Kanchenjunga and sister peaks, as well as the vast plains of West Bengal bordered by hills of Darjeeling. The trekking route runs through the Maenam Sanctuary offering a lucky chance to view wildlife and birds as well.
Trekking in Sikkim allows tourists to become an integral part of nature, appreciating its beauty each step of the way. Choosing the right trek or opting for a customized one will help explore the terrain at a comfortable pace!
Trekking in Sikkim – Short and Scenic Trails
Short scenic trails that can be covered in a day or even half a day prove a boon for visitors who are unable to sign-up for longer treks.
The Ravangla Maenam Trail as well as the Varsey(Barsey) Rhododendron Trail are short treks that can each be completed in a day, should one wish so. It is however possible to stop over at these destinations and trek or visit nearby touristy locales if you have time at hand. Camping out, staying at motels or home-stays en-route is a great way to relax after a trek but be prepared to make do with just basic amenities.
1. Damthong Tendong Trail
Damthong located 14km down the Gangtok-Namchi road from Namchi, is the starting point of this short trek lasting roughly about 2 hours. The trail is indeed unique as it leads trekkers through heavily forested foot path to the Tendong Hill at 8530ft, from where panoramic views spanning the entire terrain- Himalayas to the plains of Bengal, are a visual delight. The serene verdant landscape is believed to have been the haunt of Buddhist Lamas who often spent years in silent meditation. The hill is still a sacred place for the Lepcha tribe, so do tread with care.
This offbeat Sikkim Trekking trip to the Tholung Monastery and further to Upper Tholung from Lingza via Changey is an enjoyable route marked by plantations and tea estates, lakes, rivers, rustic villages and monasteries, with forests and mountain peaks also an integral part of the trail. The trail is a short 5 hour trek right along route of Tholung River, extremely scenic yet surrounded by rugged cliffs and narrow ravines that run down the depth of the valley.
Challenging Treks For Seasoned Trekkers
Trekking tours to Goecha La, Green Lake, Kanchendzonga Base Camp and Singalila Ridge is a test for endurance and will. Their difficulty levels are likely to range from moderate to high depending on the course of the trail, terrain and weather conditions.
Trekkers wishing to push their limits further will find several challenging treks to destinations such as the ones below worth the effort.
1. Kasturi Orar
Trek to Kasturi Orar is actually an extension of Goecha La trail which runs further through Chamrea, Khula Orar, Kasturi Orar, Labdang, Tashiding and ending in Yuksom offering trekkers a unique experience of walking through the underbrush of heavily forested terrain adorned by beautiful orchids and other flora among other natural scenery. This round trip starting from Yuksom will first lead trekkers to Goecha La and then to Kasturi Orar before retracing the path to Yuksom.
2. Yambong Singalila Trail
This demanding trail is reportedly one of few that offer exceptional views of 5 impressive Himalayan peaks – Everest, Kanchendzonga, Makalu, Sincoclu and Lhotse and sightings of rare native wildlife including the Red Panda, Himalayan Black Bear and Tahr, Blue Sheep, as well as local birds such as Crimson Horned Pheasant and Blood Pheasant among others. The route typically winds through Nambhu, Sang Khola and NayaPatal, to Yambong (Lower Yambong and Upper Yambong), travels further to Gomathang and Pangding(highest point in the trail over 4000m), before traversing Dzongri, Lamune, Goecha La, Thangsing and Tshoka to finally reach Yuksom. It takes roughly 5 hours of trekking between each stop.
It is important to remember that altitude is just one factor that determines the difficulty level of the trek. Not all low altitude or short treks are easy! Trekking trails, including offbeat routes are aplenty, making it difficult to trade one for the other.
Casual travellers who simply wish to enjoy the scenic visuals and clean crisp mountain air will do well to settle for themed treks organized by several tour operators. Group treks to Monasteries, Lakes, and Sanctuaries usually include a great mix of vehicle commute, sightseeing plus trekking to select locations that are off the motorable routes.
Sikkim Trekking – Points to Note
- Not all treks to the same destination take the same route.
- Difficulty level of each trail /route is bound to vary and may require specific fitness levels to complete the entire trip.
- Guided treks are ideal so that you don’t lose your way en-route.
- Weather conditions can change without any prior warnings.
- Essential medications, as much water as you can carry plus energy bars often prove quite valuable.
- Sikkim Trekking is safe even for lone female travellers. However it is advisable to stay with the travel group when on the trail.
- Trails running through protected reserves and international borders do require special permissions. Make sure to check in advance.
- Tour operators are open to customizing the trekking tour based on specific requests. Explore the option should you wish to visit/avoid select places.
- Services of trekking guides and porters can be availed at popular trekking destinations.
- Accommodation options and facilities available en-route will mostly be just essentials.