From delicious local delicacies, stunning trekking routes to magnificent towering monasteries in India, Namchi in Sikkim has a lot to offer.
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I moved to North Bengal from the comfort of my sheltered life in Mumbai in December 2021, only to experience culture shock. “Food, language, public transport, everything is different here,” I told my parents at first. However, over time we (my husband and I) got used to life here and to a large extent the travels helped us overcome our homesickness.
After going through a few sights around Siliguri, we decided to go to South Sikkim to celebrate my husband’s birthday. Namchi, a picturesque town in the back of Sikkim, was our weekend destination. About 90 kilometers from Siliguri and situated at an altitude of 1,675m above sea level, Namchi is aptly named, ‘Nam’ meaning ‘sky’ and ‘Chi’ meaning ‘high’ in Sikkimese. The internet and locals have mentioned that the city is a hotspot for trekking, bird watching, and religious tourism. However, the other thing everyone warned us about was the fierce rains and wild fog in the North East, but to our surprise we survived and made it back in time to write this travel article. Therefore, here are a bunch of things we did our best to organize this adventurous weekend getaway.
To add abundance to our experience, Melli’s wonderful homestay, 40 minutes drive from Namchi. Far from the chaos of the city and the social life, nestled in nature, it is a family villa named Villa Nerola. Furnished with locally available wood, mainly teak, built like a colonial structure, a lush green courtyard with a small cactus garden, the villa offered a warm and inviting ambience. The top floor adjoins a small attic, reinforced by a collection of books. The best part of the homestay experience was spoiled by home cooked meals. The family sources their vegetables from their own organic farm and serve hot, delicious meals always with big smiles and even bigger bowls.
We were treated to traditional Sikkim snacks between our meals. One was Sael Roti which may look like pretzels but is made from fermented rice. Even though the dish has its origins in Nepal and Tibet, it is very popular in the cuisine of Sikkim. Another and my favorite was Khapse, a tea time cookie. Originating in Tibet, the sweet and (slightly) salty snack is hugely popular in Darjeeling and Sikkim and many savor it during Losar and weddings. Besides tasting local dishes, we were offered vegetarian momos, buckwheat pancakes and full organic meals.
On our way to visit the local attractions we were bored with trekking (sorry all you nature lovers) so we were naturally inclined to opt for the other thing. First on our list was Siddheshwara Dham. Located on Solophok Hill, the structure of the building replicates the four popular Hindus dhams – Jagannath, Badrinath, Rameshwaram and Dwarka. It also houses the replicas of twelve jyotirlingas, a 109-foot statue of Lord Shiva and a statue of Kirateshvar Mahadev. Packed with families and tourists from all walks of life, the place is extremely well maintained with spacious parking for vehicles, vegetarian restaurants, souvenir shops and clean public restrooms. (To note: You may have to walk a bit from the parking lot to visit the temples).
On the way back, we stopped in a rose garden. It is located a few minutes from Siddeshwara Dham but slightly perched at the top, almost easy to miss when passing. One of my favorite parts of the trip, this rose garden is enveloped in lush greenery and colorful flowers that overlook the Namchi landscape. Hosting a cafe and restaurant, an art gallery and a beautiful oasis, this was definitely the most immersive experience of the trip for me.
On the second day, we headed to another pilgrimage center, Guru Padmasambhava, Samdruptse. It is seven kilometers from Namchi, two kilometers from the Damthang-Ravangla road. A short uphill distance, even from the parking lot, you will notice a breathtaking 135-foot-tall statue of Padamasambhava, painted in copper and gold, sitting on a lotus pedestal atop the ridge of Samdruptse. Gazing out over the city and across the hills, the foundation stone was laid by the Dalai Lama in 1997. Padmasambhava (or Lotus-born) is known as one of the founding fathers of Tibetan Buddhism. Within the complex is a hall with a permanent photo exhibition, displaying archival footage of Sikkim’s history. The views from Samdruptse Hill – known as “the hill that grants wishes” – are spectacular with the Khangchendzonga massif visible on the right side.
After a dazzling experience, we drove to the famous Temi tea estate, located on the Tarku-Damthang road. Established in 1969 by the government of Sikkim, the 450-acre tea garden is one of a kind in Sikkim. The garden lays down a gentle slope from Tendong Hill and is a great stopover. The best experience of this layover was driving to the estate, with long widened roads, surrounded by dense and lush trees on the sides.
Before returning home, we made a stopover to visit the town of Namchi and its local market. Although Namchi is not visited by tourists with a shopping agenda, this hill station is no slouch when it comes to affordable fashion options. Explore the little nooks and crannies of Central Park (the market’s main hub) for great choices of long dresses, sweaters, jackets and tie-dye tees. We also had long drawn out lunches at local cafes, indulging in cheesecakes, drinking a day and warming up thupka.
Back home with wonderful memories and probably a unique driving experience in dense fog, the journey is now a heroic tale for our upcoming holidays. However, after six months in East India, all I can say is that it’s the culture, the cuisine; traditional ways of life or modernist attempts to achieve coveted “development”; the Northeast never fails to maintain their simplicity of being.
All images by author