To most visitors, Sikkim, the tiny Himalayan state in the eastern part of India, is all about Buddhist monasteries and spirituality. But now the state is emerging as a leading nature and adventure tourism destination. Gangtok, the state capital, can be your base for trying out forest hikes, mountain biking or paragliding. There are plenty of state government-approved travel agencies that can help you to arrange a trip. So what are you waiting for.
Spend some time in the verdant and tranquil Fambong Lho Wildlife Sanctuary, about 20kms away from Gangtok. Permission has to be obtained from the local forest department to enter the nearly 50-sq-km sanctuary. Vehicles are allowed only up to the entry gate. After that, one has to explore on foot.
The forest is home to the famous Red Panda apart from birds and other animals. In season, usually lasting from March to May and September to mid-December, you may go hiking in the forest with a local guide. Log huts run by the state forest department are located at Golitar and Tumin. But check on the facilities before booking. You may have to carry the provisions for the entire duration of the stay and manage your own cooking unless you can get the caretaker to cook for you. There is a watchtower at Tinjurey.
It is a test of your stamina to negotiate the rugged terrain. Also, it is a nice opportunity to explore some of the lesser known areas, away from the crowded touristy attractions. Cycling up the mountain will allow you to meet the locals, see the beautiful hinderland and enjoy the journey. Routes lie through quaint hamlets and forested areas, past hilly springs, old monasteries, and tea gardens. Several trails start from Rumtek near Gangtok.
Catch a panoramic view of the Sikkim Himalayas, including the source of the Teesta, on an exclusive helicopter ride from Gangtok. The mountain flights operated by Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation, offer a variety of routes.
Enjoy close-up views of Mt Kanchendzonga (the world's third highest peak) and Mt Siniolchu, catch a panoramic view of Gangtok and its surroundings, ride over the monasteries of west Sikkim or take a ride over Sikkim's Valley of Flowers in Yumthang. There are also daily flights to and from Bagdogra (airport in West Bengal) and Gangtok but do check for availability before planning.
With some very picturesque ridges and landing sites, Sikkim is slowly becoming a popular paragliding destination in India. On a clear day, you will catch a bird's eye view of Gangtok and its surroundings, the snow peaks and the hills.
Bulbuley Dara near Gangtok is a popular take-off site. You may fly solo or in tandem. Experts can go on a Mountain View flight where you literally float with the clouds and enjoy a panoramic view of the snow peaks. There are government-approved agents who employ properly trained pilots to help you on your paragliding journey.
If the heavy adventure sports are not your cup of tea, then go for a fun ride on a yak. You will find the gaily decorated animals next to the Changu Lake. Initially, the long-haired animals with their curved pair of horns look scary but they are docile.
As there is no fixed rate, many travellers have complained that prices skyrocket during peak tourist season. Bargain and fix the rate before starting on the ride to avoid arguments at the end of the tour. Also, if there are lots of tourists taking a ride, try to choose an animal that has got a chance to rest a little between taking passengers on a ride.