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Planning January in Sikkim - all help much appreciated

Planning January in Sikkim - all help much appreciated

Old Mar 31st, 2016, 06:07 PM
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Planning January in Sikkim - all help much appreciated

Well, I've begun to plan our January trip to Sikkim, Darjeeling and Kolkata. Kolkata and Darjeeling will be a breeze to plan myself but Sikkim - not so much.

Here's the deal. My husband and I fly into Kolkata from Los Angeles, arriving January 5th at 1:50AM!!! I'm tempted to get a room near the airport and take the earliest flight out to Bagdogra. From Bagdogra, up to Darjeeling first, then Sikkim. I know from reading Kathie's trip report to Darjeeling and Sikkim that it might be wiser to hit Sikkim after Darjeeling, thus avoiding a big letdown in Darjeeling.

Are two nights in Darjeeling enough?

Are nine nights in Sikkim too many? I haven't decided on an itinerary yet for Sikkim - any advice?

Then Kolkata for two nights?

Maybe seven nights in Sikkim are enough, adding a night to both Darjeeling and Kolkata?

I know it will be very cold in Sikkim so our hotels must have heating of some sort in our room. I don't care about the hallways or common areas, but a good night's sleep is where it's at.

I have contacted three travel operators in Sikkim (Yak n Yeti, Dikcha and Blue Sky Tours) for air from/to Kolkata, hotels and transportation in Sikkim. First of all I hope one or more gets back to me. Secondly, I know they will all try to shackle me with a tour guide, which I usually hate. Does anyone think a guide is necessary for Sikkim? I'd rather just hire someone in one or more cities or towns if I feel we need one.

I love art, history, culture and meeting and talking to local folks. Short hikes are always something we not only enjoy but NEED, especially after a few hours pounding our way along North Indian roads. There is a harvest festival January 14thm Magh Sankantri, and I'm wondering if there is any particular place where that celebration will be more festive? I know it is called by a couple of different names, but I think it might be fun to celebrate.

Well, that's it for now. I will keep you up to date on any decisions I make or questions I have and welcome any comments. Thanks all of you...this will be an exciting adventure.
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Old Mar 31st, 2016, 08:07 PM
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No guide necessary for Sikkim. No travel agency necessary for Sikkim either. And, depending on where you go it may well be nice and warm. Do some research and choose the places in Sikkim you want to visit. Without that info no one can help you on questions like how much time you need in the country. Tell us even a little about where you are planning to go, what are the must-sees on your list?
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Old Apr 1st, 2016, 09:25 AM
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Hey Kathie, that makes sense so I'll get off my lazy butt and do some planning ...and thanks for the heads up on travel agencies and guides. I'll just arrange for air and hotels online, booking drivers or getting any necessary permits through my hotels. That's easy -

Rumtek - the temples and gompa
Lingdum - gompa
Gangtok - shopping in markets, traditional handicrafts (Gvmt. Institute of Cottage Industries), Ganesh and Hanuman Tok, Royal Palace, Institute of Tibetology, whatever I've left out
Tsomgo Lake ? Is it worth the long drive? Unless there are interesting things along the way...no.
Namchi - Chardham, short trek Tendong Hill/Damthang
Ravangla - Handicrafts, Carpet Centre, Maenam Sanctuary, Ralang monasteries,
Varsey Rhododendron Sanctuary - walks, walks, walks.
Pelling - waterfalls and walks, Tashiding Monastery

That's just my wish list. Since we won't go on long treks, I think northern Sikkim might not be worth the travel time. Beautiful, yes but I'm not sure if there is something else to lure me up there.

I'm hoping the above is doable and know I can bundle some of the destinations, taking day trips and thus avoiding too many hotel moves. Rumtek, and Lingdum can be visited on a day trip from Gangtok. But how many days in Gangtok? One for Gangtok and one for R&L? That's three nights in Gangtok?

Travel time from Gangtok to Namchi is googled at about 3 hours. One night in Namchi?

Travel from Namchi to Ravangla is googled at 1 hour so we can easily spend the day handicraft shopping, hiking around, etc. An easy day. One night in Ravangla?

Travel from Ravangla to Pelling is googled at about 2 hours. So again, nice walks and an easy day. One night in Pelling?

Ravangla and Pelling could probably be combined into one night as well?

Travel from Pelling to Varsey - googled at 14 hours! Really? Then that might not happen.

Since travel time from Pelling to Bagdogra googles out at over 6 hours, maybe it's wiser to place Namchi at the end of the Sikkim trip? The drive from Namchi to Bagdogra is about only 3 1/2 hours Pelling to Namchi about 2 hours.

That makes six nights in Sikkim if I don't bundle Ravangla and Pelling. Adding two or three nights in Darjeeling for a total of eight or nine nights up north. I have 13 nights total in India. What do you think?

Is it possible to add Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary onto this itinerary? I'm bonkers about elephants.

Of course I understand the road conditions and travel times depend on the whims of man and nature and if anyone has personal experience with the above roads I'd love to hear about it.

One thing I'm wondering is that I would love to see Red Pandas and wildlife but after a couple of bad experiences in Asian zoos, I am a bit concerned about the Himalayan Wildlife Zoo in Gangtok. I've read that it isn't that bad...?

Please tell me what fantastic experiences I can add to the above. I'm crazy about market days and I don't care what kind of a market it is - I can't resist so if any one day is better in any one place, I'll try to schedule accordingly. There's nothing worse than hearing that a fabulous market happened yesterday!

Ditto with festivals or any type of "happening."

I can't thank all of you enough. January is a long way off but I'm excited already.
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Old Apr 1st, 2016, 10:07 AM
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The zoo in Gangtok wasn't terrible. I don't usually go to zoos, but we enjoyed meeting the red pandas especially there. I know nothing about the Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary. I'd do some careful research before adding it to an itinerary. Do they have wild elephants there? (Best wild elephants I've seen was in Sri Lanka - a herd of 600 or so.)

I'd take all google estimates of driving times with a large dose of salt.

I love buying local handicrafts. But when we were there, we found almost none. I hope you will find more. Sikkim is really not oriented toward tourism so it is difficult to find local products. Do buy some of the Sikkim tea while you are in Gangtok. It is otherwise hard to find.

Three nights in Gangtok is a minimum - I'd opt for 4. I also wouldn't move around so much - at most have three stops where you stay one or more nights. And spend at least two nights in Pelling. One night virtually assures you will be disappointed.

We stayed in heritage properties: The Nor-Khill in Gangtok (a former royal guesthouse) and the Mt. Padim in Pelling. Both are lovely. Take a look at www.elginhotels.com Do as much reading as you can before you go - it will really enhance your experience to know the background. I believe I listed some recommended readings in my trip report.

Elgin arranged our cars and drivers - and they can provide the best estimates of drive times.

Enjoy your planning!
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Old Apr 1st, 2016, 10:38 AM
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Wonderful Kathie! You're right about moving around too much. I'm consolidating as we speak. I was checking out the Elgin hotel website and they have a very reasonable "Himalayan" package so I'm going to email them about tweeking it a bit, maybe adding a day or two to the above. I also might switch out Kalimpong in lieu of Namchi, staying at one of their hotels there. I have to do more research and figuring but when I'm done I'll post the new updated itinerary.

Did you go to Tsomgo Lake?

As for longer drive times, I have to admit that won't be entirely the fault of drivers or roads. My husband and I have a huge dose of ADHD when it comes to road trips, insisting on detours and checking out whatever strikes our fancies. It's always an adventure.

Thanks so much for all the help and encouragement and I will most definitely buy tea. We love tea - my husband's favorite is Darjeeling and mine Assam. Tasting new varieties will be a pleasure.
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Old Apr 2nd, 2016, 04:11 AM
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Hey you!!!
Yeah this is very right to do some research because if do not know and understand your destination that it is very much possible to stuck in any unwanted situation. And about the itinerary, all the places you have mentioned receives very cold temperature and snowfall in the month of January so be prepare to face all the chilly and icey breezes on your face. About the Tsomgo Lake, even there is long driving involves, the place worth visiting. Moreover, you will be visiting Sikkim, so you have to welcome everything that comes in a way because when I visited Sikkim I instantly fall in love with the place. The not-so-hurry lifestyle, the serene beauty and scenic view everything is just beautiful. One thing you have to look into about the transportation mode, try to hire a car if you are driving enthusiast because being situated on such altitudes you will encounter with many curves and narrow passage while driving or else hire chauffeurs driven cars and definitely no need of any kind of guide to explore this beautiful place.Good Luck for your trip..............
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Old Apr 2nd, 2016, 08:49 AM
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We did not go yo Tsomgo Lake. It would have been a full day of driving.

After our trip, I thought that we might have added in Kalimpong.

The tea grown in Sikkim was a project started for the Tibetan refugees. The tea is really lovely.

There is a Tibetan Buddhist Museum in Gangtok that is well worth the stop.
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Old Apr 3rd, 2016, 03:24 PM
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Thanks again Kathie. I've labored over the itinerary and have come up with the following:

Jan. 5 - arrive Kolkata at 1:50AM!
Jan. 6 - Kolkata
Jan. 7 - fly to Bagdogra, on to Darjeeling with driver probably from hotel
Jan. 8 - Darjeeling
Jan. 9 - Darjeeling
Jan. 10 - Pelling
Jan. 11 - Pelling
Jan. 12 - Gangtok
Jan. 13 - Gangtok
Jan. 14 - Gangtok
Jan. 15 - Kalimpong
Jan. 16 - fly to Kolkata
Jan. 17 - Kolkata
Jan. 18 - Fly home

I've booked the Oberoi for Kolkata nights and will stay in Elgin hotels elsewhere. I'll wait a bit for the air to/from Kolkata but I've flown on Jet Airways before and they were great. They have one flight a day and I'll be on the right one!

My husband and I are taking this trip to celebrate 47 years of marriage and after all those years of living and traveling together we know enough to take things as they come, enjoy every detail and not feel we have to see "everything." I really want to spend time talking to people and hanging out - enjoying (being amused by, repelled by or puzzling over) the chaos or tranquility or whatever we find.

My next task is to design a day to day plan that is flexible enough to change on a dime. I'd love to hear comments about the itinerary or suggestions.
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Old Apr 4th, 2016, 08:32 AM
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I think you have a god plan. Have a wonderful trip - and congratulations on your anniversary. The Elgin Hotel people will take good care of you!
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Old Apr 4th, 2016, 10:38 AM
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I revisited your trip report and outstanding photos, sharing them with my husband. Thank you for the inspiration!
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Old Apr 4th, 2016, 11:51 AM
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Glad to be able to inspire someone's travels!
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