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Places to visit:
Perched at a height of 5500 ft, Gangtok 'top of hill' lures visitors with its fabulous views of magnificent Mt. Khangchendzonga. Its strategic location, a strong Buddhist presence and heady cultural offerings are a tempting insight into this stimulating land. Sample some of its treasures before heading out of town to savour Sikkim's other delights.One of the most delightful ways to do this is to sign up for one of the heli-tours.
A good time to be here is around Buddha Purnima (May) to enjoy the famous Saga Dawa festivities. Walking in colourful pro-cession, the holy monks carry the holy books of Buddha's teachings from the Tsuklakhang Monastery in the palace to different parts of town.


Enchey Monastery
One of the most important monasteries of Sikkim and the Nyingma order of Buddhism, the Enchey Monastery (5 km) is constructed on a site blessed by Lama Druptob Karpo, a revered tantric master reputed for his power to fly. Over 200 years old, Enchey has within its precincts many icons and religious artifacts of great veneration and antiquity.


Namgyal Institute of Tibetology
This world-renowned centre for Buddhist philosophy and religion, the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology is the world's largest treasury of invaluable old Tibetan books and manuscripts on science, medicine, astrology, etc. It attracts Buddhist scholars from around the world.
The centre also has a wide range of Lepcha and Sanskrit manuscripts and scrolls of ancient vintage. The museum attached to it contains over 200 icons, old tankhas and some ritual vessels amongst the various objets d art on display. Upstairs you can observe the cataloguing and restoration of these treasures. Open 10 am - 4pm.


Himalayan Zoological Park
Covering an area of 205 hectares, the Himalayan Zoological Park (8 km) is the semi-natural habitat of the endangered red panda, barking deer, spotted deer and bear.
Khangchendzonga Viewing
Tashi View Point (8 km) is a popular picnic spot offering grandstand views of Khangchendzonga. The Enchey Monastery too has one of the best views of the entire mountain range.


Tsomgo Lake and Nathu La Pass
You can drive up to the hallowed, oval-shaped glacial Tsomgo Lake (3780 m) to enjoy its mystical environs (just 38 km from Gangtok) and yak rides. In winter, these snowfields are breathtaking. Your travel agent will arrange entry permits to Tsomgo - daily trips.
This holds true for the historic Nathu La Pass (14200 ft) too, as by the late afternoon, it generally gets enveloped in mist. (Open Wednesday, thursday, Saturday and sunday only). Recognised local travel agencies arrange transport and handle all the details.
Shared taxis are available. Best time to visit: March - late May and September - Mid December.


Rumtek Monastery
The picturesque 24-km drive from Gangtok to the impressive Rumtek Monastery takes you through some of the prettiest areas around the town. This lavishly built monastery is said to be a replica of the Tsurphu Monastery of the Kagyupa order, in Tibet. It is an important Buddhist pilgrimage site, but visitors can imbibe of the tranquil air and beautiful location while soaking in the significant cultural elements, which make it a must-visit.
When the Chinese occupied Tibet, His Holiness Gyalwa Karmapa, the 16th incarnate of the original Gyalwa Karmapa of Tibet and head of the Kaguypa sect of Buddhism, took refuge in Sikkim. The Chogyal of Sikkim gifted him some land to establish a new monastery. With its beautiful traditional architecture, carved and painted woodwork, magnificent murals and treasures of manuscripts and icons, Rumtek is a splendid example of the Tibetan monastic art in Sikkim. It is now the residence of His Holiness and the headquarters of the Dharma Chakra Religious Centre. The monastery also offers employment, education and medical help.
The old Rumtek Monastery (now entirely renovated), built in the reign of the fourth Chogyal, is a short distance away A Sikkimese lad who learnt his trade from the lamas has embellished it with monastic paintings in the traditional style. Enshrined here is a stone slab marked with the footprint of Guru Padmasambhava.


Tashiding Monastery
Up a steep track, perched atop a conical hill, close to Pemayangtse, is Sikkim's most venerated shrine, the Tashiding Monastery, built in 1717. Countless prayer-flags whisper in the breeze as you approach this holiest of holies. Sikkimese believe that just a glimpse of the nearby, famous chorten (stupa) of the holy lama Thong-Wa-Rang-To (saviours by mere sight), is powerful enough to cleanse you. The sonorous repetition of Om Mani Padme Hum fills the air. Every spring, thousands of devout Buddhists trek to Tashiding to participate in the Bhumchu Festival and sip the sacred water from a sacred bhumpa (water vessel), filled with waters collected from the Rahthong and Rangit rivers.


Jawaharlal Nehru Botanical Garden
Stop over on your way to the Rumtek Monastery at the Jawaharlal Nehru Botanical Garden established here in 1987. This entire tract comprises of virgin temperate forestland rich in oak and about 50 varieties of trees.


Zurmang Kagyud Monastery
Just 20 km out of Gangtok is the Zurmang Kagyud Monastery at Lingdum, The present Gharwang Rimpoche is the 12th successive incarnation of the glorious emanation of Zurmang Gharwang. It is reputed for its exquisite architecture.
Bakkhim
Bakkhim, the base for Dzongri, is a feast for the senses with more than 20 varieties of rhododendron. The lush green environs are a riot of colours and medley of shades. Bakkhim is also the base for mountaineers and trekkers going to Dzongri 10 km away. Take time to breathe in the scented air and enjoy a few moments alone soaking in this serenity. The crisp air charges you and the close-up views of the Khangchendzonga range mesmerise.


Dzongi
Home of the red panda, black khaleej pheasant and the yellow-necked woodpeckers, the fascinating mountain trail up to Dzongri is a trekker's delight. In the season, the slopes are aflame with great varieties of rhododendron.
Situated at an altitude of over 3962 m, it offers the most fascinating view of the Khangchendzonga massif. Sunny, crisp mountain air or swiriling mistsit's magical up here anytime. Rhododendrons drench the glades. Just opposite is thePandim Peak (6890 m) cloaked in thick snow. At Tsoka, before Dzongri, the villagers are prosperous and the fields well maintained; some of the villagers are said to have travelled to Switzerland to learn about high altitude farming. So now they've set up ginger, potato and cabbage farms - though the village may be short on power supply!
about 7 km way from Dzongri is the Khangchendzonga base camp established by Darjeeling's Himalayan Mountaineering Institute.


Pemayangtse
The 17th century Pemayangtse Monastery (Perfect Sublime Lotus) of the Nyingmapa order is perched at a height of 2085 m surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Soak in the haunting beauty of Khangchendzonga and its retinue of peaks. It is Sikkim's second oldest monastery. Enshrined within are numerous ancient icons and objects of worship. Its walls and ceilings are embellished with bright-hued frescoes of gods and demons. Pemayangtse is an ideal base for trekking to Yuksam( 1630 m) where the Nyingmapa order of Tibetan Buddhism was established and where Sikkim's first Chogyal was crowned in 1641.
Nearby, Rabdentse, with its ruined palace, was once Sikkim's capital.


Yuksam
Literally means the "meeting of three great lamas" who came from Tibet and established the Nyingmapa order of Tibetan Buddhism here. They also consecrated the first ruler of Sikkim here. It is also the entry point of the Khangchendzonga National Park. Yuksam is the base for mountain climbing course organised by the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, which also has its base camp at Chauriganj nearDzongri.


Zunheboto
The Semas live in homes strung along a cluster of hillocks in Zunheboto (150 km). The martial race among the Naga tribes are renowned for their dazzling war dance, folk songs, and ceremonial war dresses. Tulunits one of the most important festivals observed in the second week of July every year.

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The Nepalese called it Sukhirn - 'The New Place'; for the Bhutias seeing those endless tracts of paddy fields it was Demazong, 'The Valley of Rice'. But its original inhabitants - the Lepchas understood this land best - for them it was simply 'Nye-mae-el lang' - abode of the Gods.
Spread over 7096 sq km, it enfolds the upper valley of the Teesta River, the major tributary of the mighty Brahmaputra River. Its southern borders with West Bengal are shared with the Rangit and Rangpo Rivers; the Singhalila Range acts as a natural barrier with Nepal in the west and the Dongkhya Range runs along the borders from the north to the north east. Elevations range from 270 m above sea level in the south to over 8589 m in the north and northwestern region.
This land of intense natural beauty, imbued with a mystic aura, is steeped in legends and history. profusion of lofty peaks, holy lakes, ancient monasteries, orchid nurseries, heli-tours and stunning trekking routes make Sikkim a multi dimensional holiday destination.
Gangtok (1572 m)> the capital city in the east district, is the seat of governance and the primary hub of commercial activity. The drive up the Teesta gorge to this prettily located first town of Sikkim is spectacular. The pile of white water rafting equipment near the river bank, at one point, reminds you how popular this tumultuous waterway is becoming for adventure sports enthusiasts. Situated a short distance from it is the ancient Rumtek Monastery. The town is a convenient base for trips to the ethereal environs of the mystical Tsomgo Lake and Nathu La.
Flower-filled meadows and hot springs, splendid vistas and tribal culture lure travellers to the north district - just perfect for cultural tours and tribal village visits.
The stunning environs of the west district are adventure sports country. There's white water rafting down the Teesta and Rangit Rivers and trekking through rhododendron forests amongst the mountainous tracts. The misty, fairytale-like village of Belling, the great tourist attraction, has sensational views of Mt Kanchendzonga. Close by is the sacred, prayer-flag encircled Khecheopalri (wishing) Lake.
Some of the oldest monasteries in Sikkim are located in its south district, which is the starting point for treks to Maenam and Tendong Hill. This is mountain biking country and a haven for naturalists.

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