Kanchenjunga, Kangchenjunga, Khangchendzinga or Kanzenjunga: there are many ways to write the third highest mountain in the world. Sikkim is the right place for a relatively easy way to see an 8000 Meter peak.
Kanchenjunga in the Himalayans
Kanchenjunga has 8586 meters and is located partly in Nepal and India. The little state of Sikkim is far in India’s north right between Nepal and Bhutan at the Eastern Himalayans. Sikkim is one of the smallest and most-unknown states of India and was, for many years, and independent kingdom.
The Himalayan Mountains stretch far from the West in Pakistan to northwest India (Kashmere, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh) to a piece of land between Nepal and Bhutan which is Sikkim. Sikkim’s Kanchenjunga is the third-highest mountain in the world, only Mount Everest and K2 are higher.
When you want to see an eight-thousender but have no real experience in mountaineering, this is the right place for you.
View from Pelling in Sikkim
The view from Pelling is great: in the mornings, the sun slowly rises and the mountain appears in many different red colors. You definitely should not miss this spectacular nature phenomenon.
Sikkim is now more than a secret for mountaineers. Sikkim has many ways to see and experience the Kanchenjunga. When you enjoy hiking, you can go to Gangtok. Here, you find many tour companies for hiking and mountaineering. Gangtok is the state’s capital. You need to plan enough time for the region: all the paved roads end in Yuksom. If you want to do some hiking from Gangtok or Pelling, you should plan several weeks for that. We could not simply do some hiking in the heights, I think you should always consider the altitude and be careful.
The see the mountain anyways, you can travel to Pelling. Traveling there is a bit exhausting, but Pelling itself has many hotels and a tourist infrastructure. After all, Pelling is basically a long road full of hotels. Choose a hotel with a good view (in fact, all of them have a great view) and you can see the sunrise in the morning from the rooftop terrace. In the end a very comfortable and easy way to see the sunrise at an eight thousander.
Traveling to Pelling: Crossing an Inner-Indian Border
Pelling is a bit difficult to reach. The best thing is to combine it with Darjeeling, in the more southern state Bengal. From Darjeeling it’s 90 km to Pelling but you need at least 4 hours for that.
In Bengal, the streets are still reasonably good but as soon as you cross the Sikkim border, the streets get much worse. For Sikkim, foreigners need an extra permit, the standard India visa is not enough. The borderline appears to be the one of a new country: policemen are everywhere with loaded machine guns, they check your passport and you need to fill out some forms. It helps to have a copy (Xerox) of your passport. The lady at the border was friendly and helpful, the paper work went quite smooth but it’s anyways something that has to be done. When leaving Sikkim, you need to go back to the counter return some of the forms and get a stamp in your passport.
This extra permit is enough to travel to all the developed areas, most importantly the towns of Pelling and Gangtok. All areas further north, most of them nature conserve areas, are restricted and require another extra permit. You can ask the tour companies to do the paper work for you.
All of these regulations are subject to change. Ask Sikkim Tourism for updated information:
Driving from Melli to Jorethang and Pelling
We did cross the Sikkim border at the Melli border control. After Melli, you drive along a valley for some time right next to the Rangeet River which also marks the border between Sikkim and Bengal. This part of the trip is still nice and relaxing even though the street is rather narrow. The next thing you reach is Jorethang, a very nice little town that makes a nice stop.
After Jorethang, the exhausting part of the trip starts: from now on the road constantly climbs up the mountain. For the last 60 km, you need three hours. There are no bridges or tunnel you just drive on a mountain street, sometimes on serpentines. We had a driver, driving ourselves would have been totally impossible, it was already exhausting the way it was. A big adventure! I have never driven that close to an abyss. The valley and mountain area are very beautiful: only a few streets and apart from that largely undeveloped area.
In Pelling: Khecheopalri Monastery and Kanchenjunga Water Falls
The following day, we went to see a Buddhist Monastery and a waterfall. The Khecheopalri Monastery and the waterfalls are close to Yuksom. Yuksom is, in East Sikkim, the last village that can be reached on roads. You can only do hiking to move further north.
Further information on the Monastery can be found in this article.
There are also the Rabdentse Ruins, leftsovers from the fallen Sikkim Kingdom and right next to it, the Pemayangtse Monastery. For Pelling, I would recommend to stay an entire day. Because reaching there is rather exhausting, you need an entire day for sightseeing in two nights in Pelling.
Hotels in Pelling
It’s not difficult to find a hotel in Pelling. Second only to Gangtok, Pelling has the most tourist infrastructure in Sikkim. There are also more fancy hotels. We did stay in the Seven Summit. Many of the other hotels were fully booked, the Five-Star-Hotel was all that was left for us. The rooms were clean, the hotel was really good. But even this place did not have a heating system. We had a heating pillow, a heating element for the mattress and warm water in the shower. But the rooms were still cold, really cold and the only warm place was under the blanket. Definitely consider that and bring warm winter clothes.
How To Reach Pelling
Sikkim currently does not have an airport, the closest airport in Bagdhora in Bengal. That is why most tourists travel from Darjeeling to Sikkim. There are busses from Darjeeling but also Shared Jeeps (Jeeps that come to meeting points and transport everybody who wants to). There are also train connections from Bengal. In the end all the standard ways to travel in India are available.
I would anyways recommend only two of them: per plane to Bagdhora and a driver from there. It takes a while to travel, distances are not long but slow. Driving yourself in the mountains is impossible; a driver is the easiest and least-stressful way to travel. We would not have made it without a driver.
Sikkim – A Big Adventure
Sikkim was a big adventure for us, an outstanding trip to more undeveloped areas at the outskirts of an Eightthousender. At the beginning I was not sure if all of that is worth it: all the time it takes, the border formalities and that exhausting drive. But I would not want to miss any of it. Sikkim is absolutely beautiful, great valleys and mountains, nature, plants and Buddhist monasteries and shine in sparkling beauty. We have by far not seen everything, but I would always comeback. It was a unique experience!