Ideal for those who want to experience the posh of the past, this aristocratic homestay will give travellers a taste of local life with the added comfort of luxury. Decorated in local style with bright cheery interiors and local Sikkimese textiles, the house is a charming old-fashioned retreat.
The family-run ‘hotel’ offers local hospitality along with lovely local spreads for discerning foodies. Festooned with Buddhist prayer flags and a warm and friendly vibe, Netuk House comes with an added charm: expect enriching evenings listening to local lore over many cups of chai. There are also gorgeous uninterrupted views of the snowclad mountains. Tibet Road, Gangtok
To get the real local feel, you must experience living with a Sikkimese family in a typical village. Stop by Pastanga village, in Assam Lingzay just outside Gangtok, a truly beautiful spot right in the lap of nature. This little village is flush in rhododendron and magnolia flowers and a wide variety of bamboo species. It is truly a fascinating destination for nature lovers as it provides spectacular walks and breathtaking views of the surrounding mountain ranges.
Pastanga is also the starting point for the exciting Khedi trek, rich in biodiversity, popular with adventure enthusiasts. You can enjoy local traditions, dances and music during your stay here. There are nearly ten government approved homestays which are all very reasonable and accessible. 28 km from Gangtok; www.keeppastangasikkim.org
The teen jhurey trek
Starting from a place called Golitar, this is a wonderful nature trek for all those who seek adventure. The richly forested area is known to be the home for various species of wild animals and birds. For those who like the peaceful sport of angling, the hike to River Bhusak is perfect. This is a one day hike but the scenery and the fish at the end of the line are worth the journey. The hike starts from Syari, four km from Gangtok. One can get equipment on hire from local travel agents and you take a local guide along. 25 km from Gangtok
Sikkim has three major communities–the Lepchas, the Bhutias and the Nepalese–and each of them contribute to the state’s varied cuisine and culture. Apart from the regular momos and thukpas, available at nearly every corner store and restaurant, the foodie should not return from Sikkim without trying some of the local pickles. A must try is sidra ko achar, a pickle made out of a small dried fish called sidra and eaten with rice and dal. For vegetarians, there is the exotic chhurpi ko achar.
Chhurpi is a local fermented cottage cheese and is widely used in Sikkimese cuisine; the pickle in mustard oil and spices is quite a tasty accompaniment with plain rice. There is also mesu or fermented bamboo shoot pickle, shimi ko achar or the string bean pickle and the extremely delicious hot dalle and bamboo shoot pickle. Pick up a bottle at Gupta Tea House or Rainbow, on M.G. Marg. Also check Sikkim Supreme Factory near Singtam
Less known brews
A butter salt tea churned inside a bamboo container is a popular drink that helps keeping you warm, and thus is consumed in large quantities in the winter. While chaang or the local beer is the most popular drink, other variants of it are also worth a try. These include simal tarul ko jaanr, which is a fermented cassava root alcoholic drink and raksi, a clear rice wine with a strong aroma. Homemade rhododendron and ginger wine can be found in local villages. Kanchan berry juice, a recent favourite, is also rather delicious and comes with medicinal values.
A local homestay would be the best place to find these unusual brews
Established in the year 1981, this monastery, one of the less known in the state, belongs to Nyingmapa School of Tibetan Buddhism. Located on the outskirts of the city, the peaceful environment and the prayer chants make it a destination worth a visit, especially it is fairly free of crowds. One can also admire the beauty of the town from here. A host of annual events and festivities add colour to the calm.
While in this lush green state you will be surrounded by a mindboggling variety of plants and vegetation that will immediately serve to soothe city-jangled nerves. And while all of them are beautiful, some of them even taste good. Locals have learnt how to use many of the local leaves and ferns in their cooking and have turned them into great delicacies. Try the popular nettle soup or sisnu, prepared out of the local edible varieties of nettle which is served with steamed rice.
Wild edible fern or ningro is another leafy treat that is usually mixed with cottage cheese and turned into a delicious curry. Another leafy delicacy is gundruk, the fermented and preserved leaves of radish, mustard and cauliflower. These are soaked in water and cooked before consumption and form an excellent side dish with meat, fish and vegetable dishes. These dishes will be available at homes and homestays rather than restaurants–act like a local and ask for them and enjoy the surprised smiles. And the food. If you stay at a homestay, you will have the best option to try local food. Otherwise ask a your hotel for the best option.
Still waters performance
What’s a hill holiday without the strums of a guitar? This folk-rock band from Gangtok with a repertoire of punchy originals in English and Nepali is unmissable. To catch a gig, check out the schedule at the lovely bohemian pub called Little Italy in Deorali, or Cafe Live and Loud on Tibet Road, another popular hangout for music lovers. You can check the local paper for listings of their shows.
Stitch a baku
The lovely brocade dresses that the local women wear come in a variety of colours, patterns and fabrics. Pick up your desired fabric and take it to Lhasa Tailors or Classic Tailor to get an outfit tailored to your or your partner’s size and specifications. For a great range of designer bakus and honjus, a traditional Tibetan outfit, make your way to Gaari Designs. Lhasa is near Old Children’s Park; Classic is on M.G. Marg; log on to www.gaaridesigns.com
House of bamboo
This small restaurant tucked away on a quite lane is known for its food and warm ambience. Tibetan delicacies, spicy Chinese fare and a variety of momos, all at a very reasonable price, make this a great option. Definitely try their lip-smacking beef chilli and gyathuk, special noodles cooked with vegetarian or non-vegetarian soup. Their rice preparation with pork is also quite delicious and everything is between the astounding price range of Rs. 40 and Rs. 180. On Nam Nang Road.
Gangtok: Lily Tshering Bhutia
An avid trekker, Lily is director of a specialised travel company that organises high altitude treks. She lives in Gangtok but feels most at home in the great outdoors, especially the rhododendron forests in her home state. Lily is also a foodie and her two loves can be seen here!
Outside Gangtok: Trek to Rachela
This trekking route is an absolute paradise for nature lovers, with a wonderful array of flora and fauna all along the way. Starting from a place called ‘Hathicheray’, which translates to ‘elephant pass’, you walk for about three and a half hours, after which you reach a place called Mulkharga Lake.
This is a great place to set up an overnight base camp with lush greenery all around and a truly breathtaking view as the day breaks. Next morning, continue the trek towards Ramitey Dara. The trek takes approximately two and half hours and passes through stretches of evergreen forest and rocky terrain dotted with caves. The landscape keeps changing and the route meanders through dense bamboo forest and startling pink rhododendron trees.
This trek is also fantastic for the variety of birds that one can see along the way. This part of the trek takes most part of the day and will culminate at the gorgeous Rachela Pass. The area is dominated by the Lepchas and one can see their traditional houses along the way. The campsite has a small pond and an old forest reserve bungalow.
After a night’s rest, you can trek up two kilometres to the actual pass and enjoy the magnificent view. Rachela is on the border of Sikkim and Bhutan and thus a fairly sensitive and restricted area. While there are tour operators who might bring you up here illegally, please take care to take prior permissions from the forest and tourism departments; Tel: ; www.sikkimtourism.travel
Must do: Sikkim
Stay: Homestay in kewzing
Immerse yourself in local culture at Kewzing, a timeless Bhutia village that rests against a backdrop of magnificent mountains. This is the place to stay if you want a first-hand experience of Sikkimese rural life.
The rooms are simple but clean and cosy, and the meals, served in the family kitchen, are tasty and wholesome. Activities include birdwatching, excursions to the monasteries dotting the rambling countryside and even working in the fields with the villagers!Kewzing Homestays; Tel: ; www.mahindrahomestays.com
Shop: Thangka scrolls
This story is the reproduction of an article published in the magazine India Today.