Right after we re-entered India (this time on a short, 3 months long visa) we headed North to Darjeeling – a region famous for its tea plantations and a mild, mountainous climate. To get to Sikkim, a unique Indian state squeezed between Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet we had to apply for a permit in Darjeeling (free of charge). We heard a lot about Sikkim – it used to be an independent Kingdom until 1975 when people became fed up with the Chogyal (king) and asked India to take over the control. Nepali is the language commonly spoken by most of the people, and it is a particularly important place for Vajrayana Buddhism practitioners from the Kagyu school. Another thing that makes Sikkim a unique place is the strong push towards organic farming – the government wants it to become the first 100% organic Indian State by the end of 2015.
People of Sikkim really love nature – we could feel it wherever we went. Organic vegetables and fruits are being sold in every small village and we have never seen so many flowers planted in peoples gardens!
To get to Sikkim one must cross over the hills of Darjeeling, covered by tea plants. The climbs were long and very steep!
We did not know what to expect from Sikkim’s landscape – it turned out to be much more demanding than we thought, almost vertical slopes with narrow roads, and mostly covered by a dense jungle. To get from one village to the other, 60 kilometres away, we needed a whole day!
We visited a lot of Buddhist monasteries and temples in Sikkim, most of them belonging to Kagyu and Nyingma schools. They had beautiful decorations painted on the walls, with many protectors and wrathful deities of different shapes and colours. (Unfortunately photography inside the monasteries is strictly prohibited)
December is the month of the Tibetan New Year (sometimes celebrated in January, all depending on the moon). While visiting Rumtek – a monastery of high importance for Kagyu Buddhists since it is a headquarter of the Karmapa (the head of the lineage), we could witness the preparation for the traditional dance performed during Losar celebration.
Sikkim is a home to people of various tribes, different religions and origins. All of them are very friendly, warm and welcoming!
December is the time of Christmas for us, and when we cycled through Sikkim we were happy to find huge Christmas flowers growing everywhere!
We wanted to visit the high mountains on the North of Sikkim, but we quickly discovered that the only way to get there is with a hired guide plus vehicle (expensive). Since we always travel as we want and see the things that we are interested in, we decided to give it a try in the future when we are old and rich…