Irreverent, cheerful and pleasantly boisterous, Sikkim’s modern capital perches along a precipitous mountain ridge, descending down the hillside in steep tiers. A gradually growing sprawl of concrete, the town is blessed with a handful of sights, and doubles as a good base for excursions to places such as Rumtek and Tsomgo Lake.
Towered over by the sublime Khangchendzonga, West Sikkim's breathtaking landscape is strung out along formidable mountain ridges draped in evergreen alpine forests. A handful of intriguing monasteries, villages and waterfalls add to its overall appeal, and make it an ideal spot for footloose hiking.
Pelling’s raison d’être is its stride-stopping, jaw-dropping view of Khangchendzonga at dawn (weather permitting, that is). It's otherwise a fairly nondescript town, with a 2km stretch of boxed-out tourist hotels that line its main thoroughfare, frequented by hordes of local tourists through the year. Pelling is nominally divided into Upper, Middle and Lower areas.
The Monastery Loop
The picturesque western frontiers of Sikkim can technically be enjoyed on a day-long or overnight jeep tour from Pelling. Time permitting, however, you can do an adventurous three-day trip from Pelling to Tashiding via Khecheopalri Lake, using a combination of jeeps and hiking.
Loveable little Yuksom is historic, charming and unspoilt, although concretisation is fast taking over (the latest addition is an enclosed complex studded with gigantic prayer wheels along the settlement's main drag). Yuksom is the main trailhead for the treks towards Mt Khangchendzonga, and is a good place to kick back for a few quiet nights.
People visit the lofty hills of South Sikkim either to gaze at the sky-piercing statues of Namchi and Ravangla, or to find religion in the latter's atmospheric monasteries. This is also the state's only tea-growing region, and the gardens of Temi are a delightful stopover for anyone travelling the road between Gangtok and West Sikkim.
Lined by conifer forests and spectacularly perched on a ridge overlooking a wide sweep of western Sikkim, Ravangla promises some of the best mountain views in the region. The gompas of Ralang, Tashiding, Pemayangtse and Sangachoeling are all distantly visible against a horizon that’s sawtoothed with high mountain peaks.
The hulking religious superstructures that dot the jagged horizon of Namchi are perhaps the only reason why travellers swing by this tiny settlement. There are several internet cafes in the central pedestrianised plaza, along with an Axis Bank ATM, two ancient bodhi and pipal trees and an aquarium with angel fish, parrot fish and piranhas.
Literally translated as ‘Perfect Sublime Lotus’, the 1705 Pemayangtse Gompa is one of Sikkim’s oldest and most significant Nyingmapa gompas. Magnificently set on a hilltop (2100m) overlooking the Rabdentse ruins, the atmospheric compound is ringed by gardens and traditional cottages used by resident monks.
Little Tashiding is a single, sloping market street forking north off the Yuksom–Legship road. A 2.5km uphill track from the main junction leads to a car park from where a footpath leads up between an avenue of prayer flags to the atmospheric Nyingmapa-school Tashiding Gompa. It is about 30 minutes’ away via a steep 1km walk.
Geyzing & Tikjuk
Located 6km from Pelling, Tikjuk is the District Administrative Centre for West Sikkim. Permits can be extended at the Superintendent of Police office. Geyzing, its contiguous twin, is most useful as West Sikkim’s transport hub. Frequent shared jeeps go to Jorethang (₹90, 1½ hours), Pelling (₹20, 20 minutes), Tashiding (₹70, 1½ hours) and Yuksom (₹100, 2½ hours).
Rabdentse was the royal capital of Sikkim from 1670 to 1814. It is now in ruins and consists only of chunky wall-stubs with a few inset inscription stones. The selling point of the site, however, is the utterly fabulous viewpoint on which the ruins are located. The entrance is around 3km from Upper Pelling, along the road to Geyzing.