By Herb Kavet
That’s the first question I got when telling friends I was going to Sikkim on a bike tour.
Nestled between Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet is where you find Sikkim, a small Indian state. It joined India in 1975 but is still a bit independent — for one thing, it has separate passport requirements. Known as a mountain getaway for Indian travellers, it’s also home to Darjeeling, world famous for its tea.
You would think a 77-year-old would know better. I have biked Nepal, Kashmir and Bhutan, so I was well aware of the 40-mile uphill climbs in the Himalayas that I would most likely face on this trip. But I do love buying tea directly from the plantations.
A love of tea and a true sense of adventure is needed because, first, there is no airport in Sikkim. A five-hour drive awaits after arriving in Bagdogra in West Bengal to get to Sikkim’s capital of Gangtok.So it’s not hard to imagine that there were no other Western tourists when we arrived.
Like other Himalayan countries, flat stretches are few and far between. Mostly it’s either up or down. And “down” here can be a breath-taking, white-knuckle journey down narrow gravel roads with sharp switchbacks. Not for the faint of heart. It could make a rider look forward to the more strenuous uphill climbs. Most of the biking was at altitudes from 4,000 to 7,000 feet. Luckily there weren’t that many vehicles on the roads. One less thing to worry about.
It was also cold and foggy in the mornings. The hotels were clean with little heaters to keep you warm. The people are beautiful and friendly. There were no beggars or pushy salespeople, only smiling locals, some who helped us push our bikes up hills.
We visited gorgeous incense-filled monasteries with chanting monks to beating drums, blaring horns and clashing cymbals. Some of the sites date back to the 16th century and seem untouched by time. The sense of peace was awe-inspiring.
The countryside was lovely. Prayer flags dotted the scenery where Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest mountain, presides over verdant valleys that are home to rushing waterfalls and occasional terraced farms.
The natural and cultural beauty of this hidden spot is well worth the challenge.
SpiceRoads Sikkim tour is by no means for the faint of heart, but they understand the need for breaks and have worked in scheduled stops, a full rest day in Darjeeling (time to buy tea!), and full vehicle support.
In the end, I did struggle a bit with the climbs, and modern comforts we have at home were sometimes lacking. It was but a small price for an awesome experience in a hidden mountain gem. And I have a few years’ supply of tea, too.
Challenge your sense of adventure for journey of a lifetime in the stunning Himalayas with SpiceRoads’ Cycling the Sikkim Tea Trails