By Molly Nickolson
I flew into Bagdogra, the closest airport to Siliguri, then took a shared taxi into Siliguri, and then another shared jeep up to Darjeeling (about 4 hours maybe). During the monsoon not many people tend to visit the area, so I felt I had the whole place to myself. I found transport easy to navigate, and pretty cheap. In the shared jeeps you pay for which seat you are in, the ones in the front being more expensive by a few rupees. It took me a few rides to get it right. There are several Gompa’s to visit, I walked to Ghoom, where there are some to see. There are several places to walk to to get great views of the mountains and had it not been so monsoonal, I might even have been able to enjoy them.
I took another shared jeep up to Siliguri and remember the scenery being pretty spectacular. (You have to first register with the Foriegn Office, but it takes just a few minutes. Then you get your passport checked in and out of Sikkim.) The lushness of the trees and rivers was pretty amazing. Lots of roads were washed out, we would spend alot of time on the side of the road while the workers were clearing the way. In Gantok, again, there are several monasteries to see. One of the most famous, Rumtek is about 25 KM away. I took a shared taxi there and walked back. It was very pleasant, and downhill for half of it. I spent alot of time wandering around the town, looking for views between the raindrops. I went to Tsongo Lake, which at the time you needed a guided tour. I believe my guesthouse arranged this. There were 4 or 5 of us. You can walk around the lake, I thought it was really pretty.
I went up to Pelling for a few days, more monasteries, more trees, more roads washed out. I really liked it. And I guess there is some good trekking. This is when I decided to call it a day and head home. I would recommend going with someone, I was by myself and there weren’t too many other travellers to share treks or rafting trips with unfortunately. I do remember it being pretty easy to get around, and being a woman, I found very little hassle. The people were friendly, laid back. Siliguri is fairly easily accesible by train from Calcutta, and you can get to Darjeeling easily from Khakarbitta in Nepal. I found Nepal so set up for tourists that you don’t need a guide book. Sikkim still seems to have a bit more of a mystique about it (thats what drew me there). It seems to attract people who want to get a little more off the beaten path. I would go back (with my husband this time) not during the monsoon (I don’t know why I picked September) and with a bit more of a direction. I have to admit, that in 1998, I wasn’t getting much info on the place, so I figured I would just have a look around. And, I loved it!