One of the smallest state in India, Sikkim is famous for its breathtaking landscapes and natural beauties. The most part of the state is covered by the high mountains, natural river streams and beautiful valleys. Public transport is available to travel around in Sikkim, but hilly terrains play very crucial role in these journeys.The availability of public transport depends on many things, and it requires a bit of planning and sometimes, advance bookings also.
One month ago, we travelled in some parts of Sikkim using the public transports. I did not travel to the most popular tourist spots in North Sikkim (Gurudongmor Lake, Yumthang Valley etc) and in East Sikkim (Nathu La, Change Lake etc) during my trip, but I travelled in the South Sikkim (Gangtok, Singtam, Ravangala etc) and West Sikkim (Peling, Yuksom etc) to get a glimpse of this beautiful state. I extracted some information (about North and East Sikkim) from the internet to prepare this post, while information about West and South Sikkim is based on my personal experience. Most of the public transports available in Sikkim are basically shared jeeps (Sumo, Marshal, Bolero etc). Public buses are very few and operate between the major towns. I did not use any bus, so these information are mostly for the shared jeeps.
Entry To Sikkim:
By Air: There is no airport in Sikkim, but about 30 kms form Gangtok, an airport is under construction near Pakyong. As of now, Bagdogra, in West Bengal, is the nearest airport about 130 kms away from the capital, Gangtok.
Public Transport at Bagdogra Airport: Bagdogra Airport has some good options for onwards travel besides the availability of prepaid taxis. After arriving at Bagdogra Airport, just walk out from the terminal building for 50 meters. After crossing the main gate, there is a local taxi stand at Bagdogra Airport. Shared jeeps are available for Darjeeling, Siliguri, Gangtok etc. If you are lucky and it suits your status, you can also get an auto rickshaw for Siliguri at much lower prices than the cab. The shared jeep to Darjeeling charges Rs. 200 per person, for Gangtok Rs. 250 per person and for Siliguri Rs. 100 per person. It takes 3 hours to reach Darjeeling, 4-5 hours to reach Gangtok and 45 minutes to reach Siliguri. For Siliguri, a reserved auto rickshaw charges Rs. 200 and a reserved cab charges Rs.400-500.
If you want to cut the cost further down, then walk for approx 700-800 meters till the main road outside the airport boundary. Lot of public buses and other vehicles pass through this road, but I am not sure whether they stop to pick a passenger or not. Additional walk of about 2 kms brings you to the main market in Bagdogra town, where lot of cheaper options are available for onwards travel.
By Train: Sikkim doesn’t has a train network also. The nearest major railhead is New Jalpaiguri, about 6-7 kms from Siliguri. Some trains also pass through Siliguri Railway Station. After reaching Siliguri or New Jalpaiguri, onwards travel is possible by road.
By Road: Siliguri can be considered as the main gateway to Sikkim. Most of the vehicles for onwards travel to Kurseong, Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Gangtok etc operate from Siliguri. You may get some vehicles directly from New Jalpaiguri Railway Station, but many times, it’s better to come to Siliguri for onwards travel to Gangtok. Shared jeeps, auto-rickshaws, buses etc are available at frequent intervals between Siliguri and New Jalpaiguri
1. Siliguri to West Sikkim (Best Route via Darjeeling towards Jorethang-Geyzing-Peling-Yuksom):
Siliguri to Darjeeling: At frequent intervals, normally from 0500 AM to 0600 PM, 3 hours trip, nice road, Rs.150 per person. Public buses also available.
Jeep Stand in Siliguri: Outside Tenzing Norgay Bus Stand near Siliguri Railway Station.
Direct jeep to Jorethang also available, may be only 2-3 jeeps, no idea of timings (Fare, Rs.124).
Darjeeling to Jorethang: Frequent intervals, Advisable from sunrise to sunset, one and half hour trip, rough road on hilly terrain, beautiful views of tea gardens, Rs.120 per person.
Jeep Stand in Darjeeling: In front of Old Super Market, Approx. one km from Mall Road.
Onward travel from Jorethang: Jeep stand in Jorethang is a multi-level parking. Shared jeeps to the different places leave from the different level of this parking stand. From Jorethang, shared jeeps are available for Peling-Yuksom, Namchi, Gangtok etc.
Towards Peling-Yuksom from Jorethang: Yuksom, a peaceful destination in the West Sikkim, is the starting point of the famous Dzongri-Goecha La Trek in The Khangchendzonga National Park. Direct jeeps (only 3-4 in a day) are available for Peling (Fare, Rs.85) and Yuksom (via Tashiding, Fare Rs. 150, via Gyalshing/Gayzing, Fare Rs. 130). These jeeps bascially arrive at Jorethang from Peling and Yuksom in the morning and return back in the afternoon (around 1 PM). Direct shared jeeps may not be available in the morning.
If a shared jeep is not available, then it’s better to catch a jeep upto Gayzing (Fare, Rs. 70). Jeep for Gayzing is available since the morning, but from Gayzing, jeep to Yuksom (Fare, Rs. 100 from Gayzing) moves between 1-2 PM. No jeep for Yuksom is available from Gayzing before that and not after 3 PM at the most. Jeep for Peling from Gayzing are available from morning till 4 PM approx.
Legship is another place to catch a jeep to Yuksom. It lies on the route from Jorethang to Gayzing/Tashiding and also accessible from Ravangala side. From here, you can get a jeep in the afternoon (between 3-4 PM approx) to Yuksom. These jeeps are basically coming from Jorethang and proceeding to Yuksom via Tashiding. But, the problem is that you may not get a seat in these jeeps, if they are full.
Some people may advice you in Legship to go to Tashiding to catch another jeep to Yuksom. Shared jeeps are regularly available from Legship to Tashiding, but they may not be available from Tashiding to Yuksom. This route is shorter than the route via Peling, but Legship and Tashiding, both are small places. If you get stuck in this area, it’s better to move via Gayzing, Peling rather than via Tashiding. You may get an assured vehicle on the first route or in case required, there are lot of places to spend a night in Gayzing and Peling.
Towards Namchi from Jorethang: There are many shared jeeps available to Namchi (Fare, Rs.35) throughout the day. From Namchi, you can travel onwards to Temi Tea Garden, Samudraptse, Ravangala, Gangtok etc.
2. Siliguri to South Sikkim (Best Route via Darjeeling towards Jorethang-Namchi-Samudraptse): Route via Darjeeling is described as above.
Direct shared jeeps from Siliguri to Namchi (Via Meli Bazar, Fare Rs. 140 ) are available from the jeep stand. No idea of timings.
3. Siliguri to East and North Sikkim (Towards Rangpo-Singtham-Gangtok and onwards to the North (Gurudongmar Lake, Yumthang Valley etc) and further East (Nathu La, Chhangu Lake etc)):
Shared jeeps from Siliguri to Gangtok (Fare, Rs. 200 per person) are available at frequent intervals till 11 AM. After that frequency reduces, but you can easily get a shared jeep till 3 PM for Gangtok. You may get a vehicle in the late afternoon also, but it is not recommended to travel on that road after the darkness. The hilly terrain and steep valley make it a rough road. There are lot of bad patches also.
If you get a jeep with West Bengal (WB) number plate from Siliguri, it normally drops you at Deorali Stand in Gangtok, about 2 kms prior to the main market M.G.Road. From Deraoli Stand, expect to pay extra Rs. 150-200 to reach your hotel in Gangtok or M.G.Road. If you get a jeep with Sikkim (SK) number plate, it normally drops you near the M.G.Road.
How to Travel in North Sikkim from Gangtok (Gurudongmar Lake, Yumthang Valley, Lachen, Lachung, Zero Point etc)? The northern part of Sikkim normally doesn’t provide any type of independent travel opportunity. From Gangtok, you can easily get a shared jeep to Mangan. But beyond Mangan, it’s very difficult to travel independently. On a lucky day, you may get a shared jeep to Lachen and Lachung, but no shared vehicle is available beyond that to Gurudongmar Lake or Zero Point. Also, you are supposed to have a valid permit to travel beyond Singhik, just after Mangan. Mobile Networks available till Chungthang, but after that only BSNL network works.
The best way to travel from Gangtok to Gurudongmor Lake and Yumthang Valley is to travel by one of the group tour offered by many travel agents on sharing basis. The most preferred 3D/2N tour from Gangtok costs approx Rs 3000 per person. You have to share the vehicle with 9-10 other people in the group. The cost is all inclusive for a shared jeep, accommodation and two meals per day. Don’t expect luxury accommodation or delicious foods in that part of Sikkim. You can also hire an exclusive vehicle, but the charges for this would be approx Rs 18000 for the same trip.
How to Travel in East Sikkim from Gangtok (Nathu La, Chhangu Lake etc)? Just like in North Sikkim, it is difficult to travel to Chhangu Lake (Tsomgo Lake), Nathu La and Baba Temple without a group tour. The group tour costs Rs.1000 per person on sharing basis for Nathu La, Change Lake and Baba Temple. The Protected Area Permit/Inner Line Permit is also required to visit these places for Indians citizens.
How to Reach Ravangala from Gangtok? Direct shared jeeps available between 0700 AM to 1000 AM. Fare Rs.100 per person. May be available after that also till 0300 PM, but I am not sure. If not available in Gangtok, take a jeep to Singtam (Fare, Rs. 30) . From Singtam, you can get a shared jeep to Ravangala (Fare, Rs. 60) till 4 PM.
How to Reach Peling and Yuksom from Gangtok? Direct jeeps (only 1 or 2) available from Gangtok to Peling. But if unable to get a direct jeep, you can travel to Singtam. From Singtam, go to to Ravangala and from Ravangala, you can get a jeep to Legship. From Legship, follow the above describe routes Legship-Gayzing-Peling to reach Peling or onwards to Yuksom.
How to Reach Namchi from Gangtok? Direct vehicle available from Gangtok to Namchi. But, if it is not available in Gangtok, proceed to Singtham, you can get another jeep from Singtam to Temi and Namchi. Samudraptse is easily accessible from Namchi.
How to Reach Rumtek Monstery from Gangtok? Shared jeeps are available from Gangtok to Rumtek (Fare, Rs.50) till 0300 PM. The jeep stand in Gangtok is just below the M.G.Road Market. But, while returning back to Gangtok, a shared jeep may not be available after 12 PM, so plan accordingly. We booked a small alto car with two other passengers to reach Gangtok (Fare, Rs.100 per person) from Rumtek at 0100 PM.
Permit Requirements in Sikkim: Foreigners (Except the citizens of Bhutan) are required to have a valid Protected Area Permit (PAP) or Restricted Area Permit (RAP) to enter in the state of Sikkim. Individual tourist are allowed only at these places: Gangtok, Rumtek, Phodong, Pemaytangtse, Khechoperi, Tashiding, Yuksum, Mangan, Singhik, All 4 district headquarters and all sub-division i.e., Namchi, Pakyong, Soreng, Barapthing, Rongli, Aritar, Rhenaka, Roarathang, Rangpo, Mangan (except Chung Thang). All the foreign tourists are expected to stay at these places only and supposed to travel using the National Highways as far as possible. For all other places of Sikkim , they are expected to travel in a organised group with a travel agency.These permits are initially issued for 15 days validity and can be extended for 30 days in two spells of 15 days one by one by the competent authority. In most of the cases, it’s validity can not be extended beyond that.
For Indians, a permit is required to visit North Sikkim (beyond Singhik towards Gurudongmar Lake, Yumthang Valley, Lachen, Lachung, Zero Point etc) and parts of East Sikkim ( Chhangu Lake (Tsomgo Lake), Nathu La and BabaTemple) . No permit is required to Indian citizens to visit Yuksom, Peling, Ravangala, Namchi, etc.
There are many competent authority that can issue these permits. You can find the details online. Many tour operators in Gangtok arrange these permits in a single day. Since, these areas are possible to cover using a shared tour, it’s convenient to arrange the permit through the tour operator.
Important Point: While planning a trip to Sikkim using public transport, and using google maps for the idea of distance and time between the two destinations, always consider the average speed of the shared jeep as 20 km per hour. It provides you an exact idea of time required to travel between two places. Also, at some places, you are supposed to wait for 1-2 hours, because the shared jeeps don’t move unless they get the booking for all 10 seats. The system of public transportation is a bit complicated in this hilly state, but with proper planning, you can travel all around in Sikkim at lower cost.