India 🇮🇳: Sikkim – a VERY different side of India

Sikkim is a tiny state in the North of India nestled between Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan. Until 1975 it was actually an independent kingdom, but then an uprising removed the monarchy a d voted in a referendum to join as India’s 22nd state (a status long contested by China). At 610,000 population (0.04% of India) it is truly a minion even though Goa is smaller by area. It stands out though with a high literacy rate and fully organic farming – the first state in India.

Sikkim doesn’t feel like India at all to be honest. Its organised, clean, green… You get my point. Culture and language remain distinctly different to North India (even more vs. South) with Nepali the main spoken language (despite Nepal’s status of arch-enemy in the past) and Buddhism the 2nd religion (27%) after Hinduism (58%).

Getting to Gangtok

Initially i wanted to go to Darjeeling first and sort a few things for my 1trekking plans in Sikkim. However, i ended up sharing a ride to Gangtok (the capital of Sikkim) with two other travellers – Lizzie and Trey from the US. Saved me a lot of hassle too.

They are both into teaching and spent the last year in South India teaching english under the umbrella of a Christian organisation. It appeared that they were really happy with their experience be it not always easy. Now they were on a busy schedule checking out India in their last month.

On the way to Gangtok, in what turned out as a pretty wild ride along Sikkim’s narrow serpentine roads, i acquired my Inner Line Permit. It is required for all foreigners wanting to enter Sikkim – you need is a passport foto and a passport/visa copy. Very quick process. However, depending on your plans further permits may be required (north Sikkim, most multi day hikes etc).

Impressed in Gangtok

Gangtok felt soooo different as soon as we arrived. No-one hassled us (literally nobody asked me for anything in two days), there was a pedestrian area, almost no honking 🚙 🔊 and an order like nowhere else in India i had been to.

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Sikkim puts a lot of value on a clean state and has heavy penalties for littering (something that seems to be the sport of choice in many other parts of india). Well done! It looks and smells really different.

A statue (two) of Mahatma Gandhi on the main street reminded me of doing a bit of reading on the big man. See the blue box for a few highlights.

Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948)
Mahatma Gandhi is very present when you stroll through India – be it banknotes, posters or statues – and likewise is he a ‘household name’ in the developed world though he was less important for my German history lessons – time to catch up.

Key facts

  • Led independence movement against British colonialists
  • Known for his non violent approach
  • India call him Father of the Nation
  • Born to a merchant caste (yet family relatively poor), he studied law in London and gathered first experiences of non violent civil disobedience as expat lawyer in South Africa
  • His birthday (2nd October) is a national holiday in India as well as International non-violence day
  • He was assassinated by 3 gun shots and his killer (Hindu nationalist) hanged. The motive was mainly around Gandhi’s stance  on India’s partition with some thinking it was too favorable towards Indian muslims during the partition of India & Pakistan in 1947

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A few Ghandi quotes i like

“Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

“An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

“Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” 

“Poverty is the worst form of violence.”

Cruising around East Sikkim on a Royal Enfield Himalaya

Having spent my first day to secure my hiking trip (see separate post) , i had a day spare before departing for the village of Yuksom. So i rented a motorbike and took it for a spin.

I managed more than 150km that day on windy roads – at times on decent tarmac, at times completely off-road and always with a steep drop on either side of you. Scary? Sure, sometimes. Amazing? Absolutely!

The bike i got was a Royal Enfield – a very popular brand in India yet not elsewhere. I comes mainly in two popular variations – an offroad tourer called Himalaya and a classic road version. There are more models though. I got myself the 411cc Himalaya (and was glad i did… As the advertising says: “Built for all roads. Built for no roads.”).

On my tour i visited viewpoints, monasteries and many mountain villages. Amazing memories. The rental agency was a little surprised how dirty the bike was after one day ‘local sightseeing’ 😉

Royal Enfield motorbikes

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With the first Royal Anfield produced in 1901, this indian motorcycle brand is the oldest in continuous production. Originally they were commissioned for police and army. You’ll find the bikes all over india with close to 700,000 produced per year. Selling their bikes in over 50 countries globally, royal anfield surpassed Harley Davidson in unit sales in 2015.

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