Waking up to the cacophony of chirping birds in the midst of nature, while still in bed I look at the mesmerizing view of the Himalayas from my window. Sipping on a hot cup of chai with dreams still lingering in my mind I walk out to the balcony and spend the morning spotting birds. Some places that I’ve stayed at while traveling were so refreshing that I could be in the resort all day with a camera and binoculars or a book, and still feel I was on a holiday!
What do you look for in accommodations while traveling? I prefer traditional homestays to hotels, and cottages in the mountains & jungle are my favorite kind, as most come with a view! Other than getting an immersive experience of the place I also get a glimpse into the lives of people who call it their home, and of course, there’s local food to devour!
On our trip to Sikkim in the monsoons (September) last year I wanted to make sure the places we stayed at had something interesting to see or do, so we don’t feel stuck in case it’s pouring outside. An all-organic and eco-friendly state, the best way to experience Sikkim is to get local and opt for government registered responsible travel companies that offer unique & sustainable travel experiences while supporting local communities. We booked a customized tour and stay for two through a local company Our Guest who arranged some really unique accommodations like home-stays, luxury tents and nature resorts.
Dominated by the enormous Kanchenjunga massif at 8586m, the highest mountain of India and 3rd highest in the world, the tiny state of Sikkim is India’s Jewel in the Himalayas. One of the smallest states nestled between the Eastern Himalayas bordering Tibet, Bhutan & Nepal it was a part of the Silk Route to China and its own mountain kingdom before it became the 22nd state of India in 1975. Extreme variations in the landscape give tropical, temperate and alpine climates within the small state and proximity to the Bay of Bengal makes it one of the most humid and biodiverse regions in the Himalayas.
Sikkim is divided into four districts out of which we decided to explore the North for a week, traveling to Mangan, the district headquarters of North district, the picturesque mountain village of Lachung, Yumthang valley of flowers and Dzongu, an area reserved for Lepchas – the original inhabitants of Sikkim.
- Elgin Nor-Khill, Gangtok – A heritage pet-friendly hotel in Gangtok
It’s an exhausting 18-hour journey, including 2 flights & 130 km (5hours) on the road, getting to Gangtok from Singapore but waking up to gorgeous views of the city enveloped in monsoon clouds surrounded by lush green mountains in Gangtok makes it all worth it! We stayed recovered from the tiring journey at the resplendent Elgin Nor-Khill, a heritage hotel built by the King (Chogyal) of Sikkim in the 1930s as his guesthouse. Furnished in elegant Burma teak furniture, oak floors, lush upholstery, walls adorned with black & white photographs and Thankas, it’s a gorgeous property with an old-world charm. Overlooking Paljor stadium we sat under the gazebo in the garden as it rained all day where Hilton, the resident Samoyed dog, who we’d named “Ghost”, gave us company when he wasn’t chilling at his favorite spot under the tree. Belly rubs were his favorite!
2. Malla Kothi homestay, Mangan – A heritage homestay with a great view of Mt Kanchenjunga
I hadn’t seen the sky or the mountains since I’d arrived in Sikkim. Shrouded in thick monsoon clouds half the frame of my pictures was white! As we drove north from Gangtok and reached Mangan, the district headquarters for North Sikkim, the clouds started to clear and show the ridges of the mountains. Revealing layers of green with a backdrop of the mountains covered in a dreamy haze, I could see the fascination with Sikkim in the monsoons! With a gorgeous view from our first homestay at Mangan, a home in the mountains surrounded by the jungle, I could sit here for hours sipping on chai & looking through the binoculars. Though after a while I secretly wished the clouds to disappear so I could get a view of Mt Kangchenjunga!
With its reputation of being an elusive mountain mostly covered in clouds, I was fairly warned not to be disappointed if I don’t get to see Mt Kanchenjunga on my entire trip to Sikkim, as we were traveling in the monsoons. Our host told us that the view from their home is great if there are no clouds. So the next morning we woke up at 4 am and there it was unfolding like a dream, Mt Kangchenjunga – the highest mountain of India glistening in the dark.
3. Ourguest Camp – Camping in luxury tents in Lachung
‘Ourguest’ based out of Sikkim, aggregates farm stays, homestays, resorts and retreats in Sikkim and offers enriching eco-friendly experiences to enjoy the natural beauty and culture of Sikkim sans the touristy crowd. Spacious tents with attached baths & facilities like a shower, room & water heater, this is definitely one of the most exclusive accommodations in the Himalayas! Surrounded by uninterrupted lush scenic views of the mountains the tents are located in Bichu, a quiet peaceful area at lower Lachung.
Adorned with wildflowers, the dreamy landscape of Yumthang valley shrouded in monsoon clouds.
After a breakfast of buckwheat pancakes, we drove to Yumthang valley of flowers & zero point through Shingba Rhododendron sanctuary. On the picturesque drive to Yumthang valley even though the Rhododendrons weren’t in bloom, the number of wildflowers dotting the entire mountain landscape blew me away! Monsoons are the best time to see these gorgeous Himalayan wildflowers at Yumthang valley. While getting back we got stuck in a small traffic jam but we found an army canteen nearby and enjoyed some hot vegetarian momos while waiting for the jam to clear. Back at the camp, our evening started with Tongba, a warm millet beer, followed by dinner and singing old Bollywood songs till late in the night.
4. Munlom Nature Resort, Dzongu – A cabin in the woods
70 km from Gangtok and bordering Kanchenjunga Biosphere Reserve amidst dense forests is Dzongu, which is an area reserved for the original inhabitants of Sikkim, the Lepchas. There are no hotels only a few home-stays in Dzongu and one requires a permit to stay overnight. Away from the crowds in the midst of nature surrounded by the jungle, a cottage in the woods enveloped in the mist at Dzongu was my favorite!
Surrounded by fruit trees and flowering plants, Munlom eco-resort at Gyathang, lower Dzongu is constructed with locally sourced materials and traditional building techniques. In the midst of lush greenery, the cottages are great to spot birds right from your room balcony! It was raining one of the days and we couldn’t venture out of the resort but we had a great time playing in the courtyard with the dogs and reading books on Sikkim other than spotting birds and eating traditional Lepcha food.
Chilling in a flowing stream from a waterfall surrounded by lush vegetation in the mountains is pure bliss! Bathing in the river and jungle walks were some of the things I would look forward to on our summer holidays as kids; picking fruits and chewing on sweet sugarcane we’d wander around all day! One of the best meals I’ve had outdoors, courtesy Munlom Nature Resort, was prepared next to the river with ingredients that were brought along while some picked from the forest nearby! Fermented spinach soup, Chicken curry, fern saag and freshly picked berries for dessert!
5. Netuk House, Gangtok- A traditional homestay with an open terrace
A traditional home tastefully decorated with Tibetan furniture, walls painted in traditional motifs and warm rugs rest over a wooden floor. There is a large open terrace in front of the rooms with a view of the mountains and it’s a walking distance from MG Road. We spend our last day in Gangtok walking around the market areas in Gangtok & the famous MG Road eating a traditional meal at NIMTHO restaurant. (There’s one in Delhi!) Other than shopping for tea and Tibetan incense sticks & local handmade chilli pickles (Dalle Khursani) we strolled around Gangtok before heading back home.
Thickly forested mountains studded with wildflowers, raging rivers, gushing waterfalls & Buddhist prayer flags fluttering in the wind, delicious organic food, and peaceful warm-hearted people; Sikkim is an enchanting little paradise in the Himalayas! Even though I didn’t get to trek in Sikkim or see the highest lake in India, staying in such unique accommodations in the Himalayas was a pleasure in itself! And I’ll definitely return to visit the lake and catch the Rhododendrons in bloom next time.
If you like this, check out my previous post on the resort with one of the best views in Pokhara – Raniban Retreat in Pokhara, Nepal.