The Best View of Kanchenjunga: Gangtok and Pelling in Sikkim

The next morning Kanchenjunga beckoned, but before leaving we spent the morning in Barranumber’s school with some of the tiniest children we had met so far, trying to explain to them how and why we lived on a boat. None of them had ever seen the sea. They were astonished by our tale and laughed at my poor drawing of our boat with the cat on board. Oh well, it’s good to keep people amused.

Jiwan drove us over the border to Gangtok, Sikkim’s capital.

Oh dear

In 1975, pinned between Nepal, Tibet, India and Bhutan, the little Kingdom of Sikkim sloughed off three centuries of Chogyal rule and welcomed the protection of its neighbour, India. It is the only state in India with an ethnic Nepalese majority. Now the second smallest state in India (Goa wins the top prize) sits high and alone at the eastern end of the Himalaya.

Deep river valleys slice through its vertiginous mountains, each fold in the earth’s crust looming higher as it marches towards Asia. The Indian central government ploughed money into Sikkim’s infrastructure to woo the people’s good will, and it was a joy to find smooth well maintained roads in such a remote part of the world.

Declaring itself one of India’s “green states”, a plastic-bag-free-zone and banning smoking almost everywhere, you are required to apply for a visa in order to gain entrance to this Shangri-la. Stays for foreigners have recently been extended to 30 days, with the possibility of a further 30 day extension once inside Sikkim.

Gangtok was a strange city. Seemingly modern and made up of concrete boxes thrown at the side of the mountain, it lacked visual appeal, but the people were engaging and friendly and it had a fantastic view of the Kanchenjunga massif. We didn’t have long there, only two nights, but we enjoyed walking in and around the town.

People stopped to chat to us and passed the time of day everywhere we went. Like Darjeeling and Kalimpong, it was much quieter than the India to the south of the mountains. No chuckling, loud-talking or raucous trading goes on in this part of India. It felt like another country.

One word of advice: don’t be fooled by the Tripadvisor rating, or comments, for the highly rated Hotel Saikripa. I booked the hotel in a hurry as we left Darjeeling, being delighted to find that this top rated hotel, with 40 or more reviews, had a room available — I presumed it was a cancellation. It was rubbish. In so many ways that I don’t want to be reminded. We booked for two nights and stayed for one, then moved to the more expensive but professionally run (and not cheap) Sonan Delek. It was worth the extra bucks.

Kanchenjunga Massif

A little flickr slide show for your viewing pleasure. Click on it to begin.

Running out of time on this ad hoc trip, we decided to move higher up to Pelling for a closer look at Kanchenjunga.

Taxi rides are rather spectacular in Sikkim
Going up...

Really just another row of characterless concrete hotels perched along a ridge, Pelling is full of smartly but inappropriately dressed domestic tourists (high heels, elaborate hair, mountains of gold jewellery, and that’s just the men). Much to the relief of mountain tribal people, the occasional confused backpacker would drift in and out. Jamie and I were welcomed with open arms by the locals who told us that domestic Indian tourists were too noisy and didn’t really have a clue what living in the mountains was all about.

View eastwards from Pelling

We sympathised, but never ones to agree with generalisations had to point out we knew a few very nice non-mountain native Indians. It was all done in jest, mostly, but proves that wherever you are in the world, it’s usually that country’s closest neighbour (or in this case part of the same country) which is disliked the most.

Irrespective of annoying Indian tourists, the views from Pelling are hard to beat

Pelling, for all its faults, is close to some exciting treks and places of interest. The Rabdentse ruins, Pemayangtse Gompa, Kanchenganga National Park, Kechopari Lake and many more are all a day away.

Sitting with a beer later that first evening, we watched the sun go down behind the five peaks. The massif dominates the view from every balcony and no words are necessary as you watch the sky turn from blue to black as the birds race to find a home for the night.

Sun sets on Kanchenjunga
Sun rises on Kanchenjunga

Early next morning, just before dawn, we heaved ourselves out of bed to catch the sun’s first rays as they caressed India’s highest mountain. One kilometre below us, the valley was tucked under eiderdown clouds. This was the only time in Pelling when the town was still. And quiet.

To see monasteries, mountains and other things beginning with ‘m’, check out the slide show below by clicking on it to begin.

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17 thoughts on “The Best View of Kanchenjunga: Gangtok and Pelling in Sikkim”

  1. I don’t think Kirti misread the article.
    One of your clicks has the following caption …
    “Irrespective of annoying Indian tourists, the views from Pelling are hard to beat”
    Can you explain this ?!
    If you find Indians so annoying please do not come here.

    1. We didn’t say Indians are annoying. We lived there for three years, after all. Some tourists, however, no matter the nationality, can be annoying and on this occasion the beauty of the place was spoiled by some tourists.

  2. wow outstanding images. very curious to know can you mention the name of hotel in pelling where you stayed and also from where will i get to see that view of massif kanchenjunga snowpeaks.(the one which you have clicked) i am really impressed with those mountain peaks.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Kunal. I’m afraid I don’t remember the name of the hotel but there are a number in Pelling. Most have rooftops or terraces that allow the views of Kanchenjunga.

    2. Agree, amazing pictures, bring out the character of the place so well. Pelling appears to be a quaint little town.

  3. Very well written and expressed. But a word of advice, be kind to the natives of the country where you go. Also don’t generalize an entire population based on a handful of douchebags!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Kirti. We clearly state that we do not generalise and that it was a local person making the sweeping statememts, not us. We’re a little confused as to why you think we were being unkind to the natives. Perhaps you misread the article?

  4. Thank You for sharing your experience . Very well written , Can you also share about Temperature and Transport(Flights) and is it good season to visit Gangtok in First week of February..


    Thanks in Advance!!

  5. Wonderful travelogue! Where do you think is the very best place to see the mountains? We are traveling to Sikkim February 7, 2013, not interested so much in Gangtok, just want to go straight to the mountains. Thanks!!

    1. Well, we only went to Gangtok, Pelling, Darap and up to Kechopari Lake. If we’d stayed longer I would really have liked to have headed up to Yuksom, from where you can trek in the mountains. But the area which intrigued me most was in the far north east. I can’t comment on places I haven’t been, though.
      Don’t dismiss Gangtok, it’s a nice hill town, with fantastic views. Pelling also had views of the full range, but the town (just a string of hotels on a ridge) was a concrete, tourist mess.
      Do you have accommodation arranged? If not, I can recommend Sushil Tamang in Darap. He was a finalist in the Leap Local worldwide guides of the year. Here’s the Guardian article, and here’s the Leap Local web page.

  6. Stunning pictures, especially those of Kanchengunga, but the one that I enjoyed most was the one showing the jolly chaps in the Hair Dressing Saloon and the sulky lady in the mustard-yellow salwar-khamis (probably wrong words, but you know what I mean) outside!

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