Isolated Splendor No Longer Off-Bounds
One of the least touristed of India’s twenty-two states, Sikkim is bordered by Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan. Sikkim is still regarded as one of the last Himalayan Shangri-las, a palace where ancient Buddhist gompas (monasteries) are perched on almost every outcrop of the awesome mountain landscape.
The last Namgyal Chogyal (king) made headlines in 1963 by marrying an American; their daughter, Hope, has chosen to return to the country she loves and to operate TrekSikkim out of Gangtok, the provincial capital. Hope has trekked since the age of five and leads most of the trips through these foothills of the eastern Himalayas, where mountains aren’t even named unless they’re over 20,000 feet. Straddling the border of Nepal and Sikkim is the sacred Mount Kanchenjunga (its Tibetan name means “Five Treasure Houses of the Great Snow Mountain” for its five peaks), rising to 28,146 feet – the third highest mountain in the world and worshipped as a guardian deity.
The land is a botanist’s fantasy: during a typical trek, you can pass from subtropical jungle to alpine meadow within hours. There are 454 species of orchids and 46 varieties of rhododendrons here, and magnolias and luxuriant forests abound.