Plane sailing to Sikkim

Aug 31, 2018, 08:52 IST | Shunashir Sen

As the tiny state gets its first airport near Gangtok, three famous and Sikkimese persons play guide to the best places to eat and experience its culture

Plane sailing to Sikkim
Omi Gurung at Tsomgo Lake

Flights can be disorienting. For, there is no gradual transformation of landscape that train rides offer, helping you acclimatise yourself to your eventual destination even before you get there. Instead, you embark at a place you're familiar with. But then in only a few hours, you disembark in a world that can feel completely alien if you haven't been there before. Imagine, for instance, that you take a flight from Mumbai and pass through a sea of clouds to get off at some Scandinavian country. You don't even have to go that far — imagine getting off near Sikkim's capital, Gangtok.

Well, the latter scenario will soon be possible after the Himalayan state gets its maiden airport. It means Mumbaikars can leave their concrete jungle and arrive in the lap of the mountains in a mere three hours. So, if you want to make such plans, here's an insider's view of things to do there, thanks to three of its famous sons.

Note: Carriers have started dry runs at Pakyong airport. But commercial flights will start after the PM's inauguration.

Do it his style

Omi Gurung, fashion designer
The best part about Gangtok, feels Gurung, is that since it's so small, you can traverse large tracts of it on foot. "And if you are a foodie and want to explore Sikkim in terms of its cuisine, then Nimtho is the place to be," he says, adding that the name of the restaurant on Gangtok's MG Road translates to "welcome".

"You get indigenous dishes served in traditional style, with the ambience in symphony with the food," Gurung continues, before telling us about Momo and Co in the city, his favourite place for the state's most famous culinary import.

Traditional dishes served at Nimtho
Traditional dishes served at Nimtho

Then he talks about Tsomgo Lake, better known as Changu Lake, for a dose of scenic beauty. "It's just three hours away from Gangtok. And if you Google the images, what you see is what you get — it's Instagram perfect, complete with snow-clad mountains," he says. He also says that Sikkim is known for butterflies and bird-watching. "You get a complete picture of the birds in the Himalayas, especially if you head towards the northern or western parts of the state. There's also a place called Bulbule, which is a zoo. It's near Gangtok, but it doesn't have an authentic feel."

Cool tip: Lal Bazar is the best place for bargain clothes, most of which come from Korea and China.

Simply the best
Bhaichung Bhutia, footballer

Bhaichuing Bhutia at a holy site in Kabi Longstok
Bhaichuing Bhutia at a holy site in Kabi Longstok

Along with Sunil Chhetri, Bhutia is the most recognisable face in Indian football. He is also arguably the most famous Sikkimese person. And his advice for tourists in his home state is to ditch hotels and restaurants. "People should opt for homestays instead, because home-cooked food is the best way to savour the local cuisine. But make sure you don't miss out on the momos," he says, before adding that the hallmark of Sikkimese people is how simple and hospitable they are.

The view from Tashi
The view from Tashi 

His favourite view of the Himalayas is from a spot called Tashi in Gangtok. And he ends with telling us how the state is ideal for mountain biking, which is one of his favourite activities, meaning you can take a sportsman out of Sikkim, but not the other
way round.

Cool tip: The momos in Sikkim are something you won't find anywhere else in India. Try some for sure.

Notes on travel
Yogesh Pradhan, musician

Yogesh Pradhan at Enchey Monastery in Gangtok
Yogesh Pradhan at Enchey Monastery in Gangtok

It makes sense to take a musician's tips for the best places for live gigs. So, we ask Yogesh Pradhan, the bassist for Girish and the Chronicles, for what Sikkim has to offer in this regard. He answers, "There's a place called Café Live and Loud on Tibet Road in Gangtok. It's quite happening and I like going there myself."

MG Road
MG Road

And what about small joints? "MG Road is a market area that has lots of restaurants. There are no cars there, so it's also an ideal place for evening walks," Pradhan tells us, adding that his favourite memory from his childhood, however, involves a different time of the day. "I always remember how, when I would wake up every morning and step outside, I would see this golden orange-ish light falling on the Himalayas. It's something that would bring me a lot of peace, and I miss it every day now that I live in Bengaluru," he rues.

Cool tip: North Sikkim, with places like Lachung and Yungtham, reveal the rural face of the state.

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