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Backpacking In Sikkim (A Journey To A Hidden Himalayan Paradise)

Backpacking in Sikkim is a journey to a hidden land, an off the beaten path paradise known as a Shangri-La, which makes it perfect for an adventure, 

It was during the winter of 2006 in the quant hill town of Darjeeling in the Indian Himalayas that I first decided to visit Sikkim.

I had heard about the beauty of the place and it was only several hours drive to its capital Gangtok from where I was.

Many travellers can’t be bothered to get to Darjeeling never-mind organising the special permit to visit Sikkim and start getting off the beaten path.

But it’s worth the effort, and then some.

Backpacking in Sikkim

backpacking in sikkim

Sikkim is a small state in-between Nepal and Bhutan high up in the Himalayan Mountains and home to many historic Buddhist monasteries.

The first place I headed to from Gangtok (the capital of Sikkim) was Tsomgo Lake which is around 30km from Gangtok.

It’s a small relaxing lake and climbing up the side of the hills surrounding it you are rewarded with great views across the mountains.

Hiking up a mountain by Tsomgo Lake.

It is Rumtek Monastery that is the most important of the Buddhist monasteries around Gangtok and as I was studying Buddhism at the time it was of great interest to me.

Tip: My favourite book on buddhism that I was reading is ‘The Art of Happiness‘ by the Dalai Lama (you can get the book with that link).

I spent the first week around Gangtok, day hiking in the nearby mountains and staying with Buddhists in a monastery meditating.

Find places to stay in Gangtok here (my favourite hotel booking site for India).

I was lucky enough to see a cham dance where the Tibetan monks get dressed up in traditional costume and music is played in an offering to the gods, and for meditation.

Rumtek Monastery.
Rumtek Monastery.

It was such a peaceful time being with the monks and I loved the whole area.

Monks study at Rumtek Monastery.

But after a while the adventurous side of me kicked in and I met other travellers in a budget hotel who were talking about renting a four wheel drive to head up into the mountains.

It was in the middle of winter and not the best time to do it but we arranged the vehicle and a guide to drive us anyway.

Along with doing an epic trip into the Himalaya from Delhi to Leh in the northwest of India, this Sikkim road trip had been a dream of mine for a long time.

Maybe as it was not the best time made it the best time.

The Journey Into The Sikkim Himalaya

In the beginning it was a winding road going through gorges and valleys, slowly heading up more in altitude.


The lush scenery became more barren the further up you got.

Yaks on the drive up.

It started to get very remote and you begin to see why some people describe it as the hidden land.

For sure Gangtok gets its share of visitors, but leave that behind and drive several hours into the mountains towards the Tibet border and you can see the Himalayan paradise that had been described.

We crashed in a cheap shabby hotel at a small settlement for the night and after a freezing sleep woke up to continue the journey.

Further up we went, on and on until eventually we reached a high mountain pass and Tibet was not far away.

We could go no further.

Getting out of the vehicle we decided to go trekking around the area. With Buddhist prayer flags watching over us we hiking in the valley.

backpacking in sikkim
Hiking in Sikkim
backpacking in sikkim mountains
Keeping warm with a local shawl on.
Buddhist prayer flags.
backpacking in sikkim prayer flags

The driver had left us and taken the vehicle a few miles back to a small military outpost, where he said for us to walk back to when we were done trekking.

After several hours of hiking the weather started to turn nasty.

In the mountains it can go from sunshine to storm very quickly. It started to snow lightly to begin with.


Three of the women travelling with us were from Israel and had never experienced proper snow before, part of the reason why they wanted to go on the trip.

Well they were about to experience it now 14,000 feet in the Himalayas in winter.

backpacking in sikkim
Israeli girl covers herself to keep the snow off.

The light snow soon turned into almost whiteout conditions.

We had left the road an hour beforehand and knew we were going in the right direction, but just had no real idea exactly where the road or the settlement we were trying to find was.

Visibility got worse.


Thankfully the weather started to improve after an hour or so and when the visibility got better we saw that the small settlement was nearby.

We strolled into the village looking forward to a hot drink.


The three Israeli women sure got what they wanted!

Israeli girls.

The driver saw us coming and called for us to come inside a small house for a hot cup of chai (tea). We were so happy to huddle around a warm fire place.

Aside from the three Israelis there was a German guy and an Austrian girl.


With the weather getting worse again it was decided that it would be best to find a place to sleep for the night.

Driving back down for a while we came across a simple cheap lodge to stay in.

Having to jump out for a piss in the snow during the drive back.

Inside the lodge we all cuddled up together by a fireplace as a woman cooked up a hot filling dinner. We all got along well and were very happy to be warm!

Cuddling up.

After another freezing night we woke up to glorious sunshine. Yes!

Buddhist stupas and prayer flags.

Taking a different road from the day before we headed towards a new area to explore. This was higher in altitude than the previous day, and after a few hours of driving up a winding road you could feel it in your breath ( tips for adjusting to altitude ).

But the road eventually levelled out and I ended up in what felt like a fairytale land.

Surrounded by the steep Sikkim Himalayas, we had entered the mountain paradise.

Snow covered everything, Buddhist prayer flags flew everywhere, a river ran through the valley, mystical stupas cropped up all over, and there was even a hot spring.

Buddhist prayer flags.

It should be noted that during the whole trip we didn’t come across any other traveller. Being in the middle of winter and so remote it was perfect for getting off the beaten path.


Get the best guidebook for India – Lonely Planet India

There was so much snow up there that the vehicle could no longer move.

This part of Sikkim wasn’t that far from Tibet so that didn’t matter anyway. We were happy to get out, and unlike the day before with the storm, we had perfect weather to see everything.

We walked for a long time and then came across a hot spring.

Hot spring building.

Even though the sun was out it was still bitterly cold with the wind, a fact that was not lost on me as I got undressed.


Inside was bliss!

Very hot soothing water to warm you up.


It got so hot after a while that I went outside to roll around in the snow to cool down, before jumping back into the water. We did this for a very long time.

Happiness in simple things.


It was so nice up there, but with no people around or anywhere to stay, and daylight running out, we went back to the vehicle to descend and find somewhere to sleep.

On the way back we passed more Buddhist Stupas and a very remote monastery.

Buddhist stupa.

In this small monastery there were some old Tibetan paintings, and even though it was not the most impressive in size that I had seen, the location and atmosphere more than made up for it.

sikkim monastery
Spinning the prayer wheel.

Driving further along we caught the sunset before arriving at a town to sleep in.

sikkim sunset

Sikkim is such a small state that it’s easy to see a lot of it, especially if you have a private vehicle.

In the space of four days we were happy with what we had done and decided to head back to Gangtok the next day for more trekking in that part of Sikkim.

Partly because we were limited on how far up we could continue with the weather getting worse.

This Sikkim journey was one of my favourite road trips.

I will be back again…

Road Trip and Backpacking in Sikkim

Backpacking in Sikkim is one of the best things you can do in India.

If you want to go there and do something like this then just hang out in the budget hotels where other travellers will be and meet up.

It’s better to go in a group for fun, and also to save money on the vehicle rental.

Take a driver as a guide as he/she will be able to get you to places you may not have known about, and also to help with talking with the locals.

You can find places to stay in Gangtok here.

I recommend using SafetyWing Travel Insurance for your trip, just in case, it’s best to be prepared.

As mentioned before my favourite book on buddhism that I was reading is ‘The Art of Happiness‘ by the Dalai Lama (you can get the book with that link).

This is my article about  backpacking through India after visiting Sikkim.

This is a good article that goes into detail about visiting Sikkim in general.

Liked this article about backpacking in Sikkim? A share would be appreciated!

backpacking sikkim

23 thoughts on “Backpacking In Sikkim (A Journey To A Hidden Himalayan Paradise)”

  1. This looks like a great aimless adventure – I say definitely keep posting the old stuff. But, dude…. you look so young in these photos!

  2. Your posts continue to inspire me, Jonny but don’t think I will do full-time travelling though 🙂 I”m happy to come across this post on Sikkim because coincidentally, I will be heading there sometime end of Oct!

  3. Wonderful post as usual. Thank you, Jonny.

    Visited Sikkim–via this road or what was left of it–during mid-monsoon. Totally worth it. I went at that time because the opportunity came, but if you can travel when the skies are usually clear to enjoy more fully the setting.

    Sikkim was an independent monarchy prior to its annexation by India in 1975.

  4. Thanks for the information, great blog.

    Which monastery did you stay while you were there? Is there a lot of choice to find monastery stays or are most closed off to that idea?


  5. It was over 9 years ago and I don’t remember the name, it was one of the smaller ones. Just show up in the capital Gangtok and ask around or just visit the monasteries and ask. It may have changed since I was last there, not sure.

  6. Though this trek is considered as a moderate trek, upon completing it, you will be rewarded with the most captivating views of a hidden colourful valley. As the name goes, the trek leads to a pictorial valley comprising of exotic and rare flowers in the lap of the Himalayan Range in Uttarakhand.


    Really a great Post about Indian state Sikkim, your All images Really Looking very fabulous and clearly showing Indian nature beauty. I think that you have got the best moments of your life in the Himalayas.

  8. Nice written post. Last year I visited Punjab and Kashmir. This year I am planning to visit Sikkim and Nepal. Please guide me the correct time to visit this wonderful land. Thanks in advance.

  9. विश्व में एकमात्र संत रामपाल जी महाराज ही हैं जो विश्व को एक तत्वज्ञान दे सकते है।

  10. संत रामपाल जी महाराज विश्व के लिये संघर्ष कर रहे है।

  11. hi Jonny,
    Good information. Very useful. Nice photos!!. hope you enjoyed your Sikkim trip a lot.Thanks for visiting our country.

    With love from India

  12. Hie Jonny, nicely done and written
    Your post on Sikkim travel is amazing.
    Honestly, first time, I read your blog and really impressed. Beautiful pictures of all. seems like you all had enjoyed. I never have been Sikkim. Next time, I will plan to visit Sikkim.
    Will start following your blog!
    Karan Grewal

  13. An awesome Post about Sikkim. Your all images are really looking very fabulous and it also clearly showing Indian nature beauty with its local food.
    I wish each and every readers of this blog enjoy similar moments of Sikkim as you enjoyed their.

  14. Pingback: The Best Things To Do In Kochi In One Day (India Travel)

  15. Pingback: Hyderabad To The Grand Palaces Of Mysore (Photo Story)

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