Where exactly is Sikkim?
Sikkim is a landlocked state in northern India that is bordered on its north by Tibet; on its east by Bhutan; on its west by Nepal, and to its south the Indian state of West Bengal.
What is the best way to reach Sikkim?
Sikkim is one of the few states of India without an airport. We recommend that guests fly to Bagdogra (IXB) airport in Siliguri, West Bengal. This airport has direct flights to: Bangkok (Thailand); New Delhi, Calcutta, Mumbai, and Guwahati.
From Bagdogra, we can organise personal transfers to Gangtok, along a scenic drive (included in your retreat price) up the River Teesta that takes you from the plains of Bengal, through lush jungle, and up to the fresh, crisp air of Gangtok. For details, click here.
What is the climate like in Sikkim?
The temperatures around Sikkim are heavily dependent on their altitude, and these vary quite considerably, and have very noticeable effects on the weather, even during the course of a couple of hours drive
Gangtok rests at 1,676m (5,500ft) and its Spring weather has a maximum temperature of ~21°C/70°F and a minimum of ~8°C/47°F. In the winter months, these drop to a maximum of ~14°C/56°F and a minimum of ~4°C/39°F.
What is the best time of year to go on a Journey?
Sikkim enjoys good weather throughout the year, though during the summer it receives a relatively heavy monsoon; and during a couple of months in the winter it can be quite cold. Our peak months are the Spring and the Autumn during which times the weather is sunny and mild, the mountains are in full, clear view, and many species of flora are in bloom. However, all seasons bring with them their unique characteristics and benefits.
What is the altitude in Sikkim? Will we have to acclimatize?
The altitude in Sikkim varies quite considerably, and ranges from 280m (920ft) in the south to over 5,490m (18,000ft). However, most journeys do not require acclimatization unless trekking above 3,9632m (13,000ft) is required.
Gangtok, the capital, is at a comfortable 1,676m (5,500ft) and while some guests may feel a little fatigue, there is generally no acclimatization needed.
What language does one speak in Sikkim?
While English is widely spoken in the state, Sikkim has 11 official state languages. However, the most commonly heard languages are: Nepalese; Bhutia (also known as Sikkimese or lhoke); Lepcha; Limboo; Tibetan; and to a smaller extent, Hindi.
I’ve heard that states in northeastern India are less secure than other parts of India.
Is this true? And is Sikkim safe?
In India there is a general perception that the northeastern region is unstable, however, Sikkim is generally considered to be one of the safest and most peaceful states of India, even for solo female travelers.
Mahalaya Journeys’ priority is your safety, comfort and enjoyment, and we keep abreast of all relevant situations political and non-political. We have the ability to change itineraries at the last minute and would certainly cancel a trip if we knew you would be in harms way.
Will we see wild animals in Sikkim?
Sikkim has a large and varied population of fauna and animals, however during most journeys guests will not encounter many, bar sightings and sounds of its rich bird life. On the drive from Siliguri, one will encounter monkeys; and in the villages one will usually see various traditional farm animals, includings dzos (a cow-yak hybrid) and possibly yaks. If you’re lucky, however, you may catch a glimpse of the red panda, our state animal!
What is the benefit of going on ‘Pilgrimage’?
As one of our favourite teachers once put it: “Those on a spiritual path sometimes need sources of inspiration that can’t be found in the teachings they listen to or the books they study. Visiting holy places can offer tremendous opportunity for encouraging such inspiration: seeing monks who prostrate themselves on the ground thousands of times a day; the aspirational glow of hundreds of butter lamp offerings; the meditative chanting and devotional instrumentals that fill the air, or the opportunity to simply sit still, like the Buddha.”
“However, it is important for us to remember that visiting sacred sites won’t solve all our problems: it is not a shortcut to the ‘realization’ that characterizes enlightenment. But, at the same time, the holy sites we explore during a pilgrimage will be yet another powerful conditioning influence on us, and a very positive one: Any method that reminds us to practice or to contemplate should be welcome in our lives.”
Why is Sikkim considered ‘sacred’? And by whom?
Sikkim—also known as Denjong—is considered one of the most sacred places according to Vajrayana, or Tibetan Buddhism.
Centuries old Buddhist texts offer us amazing descriptions of temples and shrines, as well as various ‘hidden’ sacred sites, around the world. These hidden lands, such as Sikkim, were ‘discovered’ by the great tantric masters of the past and they have subsequently become places where people dedicate their entire lives to practice.
One of the most iconic Buddhist masters in the Vajrayana tradition is the 8th century Indian pandita, Padmasambhava (or Guru Rinpoche). Guru Rinpoche is credited with introducing Buddhism to Tibet, where he stayed for 50 years. According to dharmic legend, Sikkim was blessed by Guru Rinpoche, who subsequently spent years meditating in Sikkim, sanctifying it. He then ‘hid’ the whole of Sikkim as a ‘treasure’ and made a prophecy for its ‘discovery’ and ‘revealment’ 800 years later when Sikkim’s first monasteries were built, and Buddhism took root. This is why in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Sikkim is known as Guru Rinpoche’s ‘hidden land.’
Historically, it wasn’t unusual for fervent Buddhist students to sacrifice their homes, families, jobs and worldly possessions so they could relocate to a ‘hidden land.’ Some have become quite well-known, like Tashiding in Sikkim and some have been blessed again and again throughout the ages, and have been visited by thousands of pilgrims; this is what makes them so alive and so profoundly affecting.
Is Mahalaya Journeys a religious organization?
Mahalaya Journeys aspires to encourage a curiosity of, and an affection for, wisdom within its guests, and in turn support the people of Sikkim in the preservation of their cultural landscapes. As a former Buddhist kingdom, the majority of Sikkim’s sites in need of preservation, are Buddhist sites. To this end, during your journey much of the knowledge shared will be inspired by Buddhist thought and practice.
Mahalaya Journeys is non-discriminatory and non-sectarian, but it does believe in the universal values of equality, interdependence, compassion, and – of course – wisdom.
Will it still be interesting if i do not know much about Buddhism?
Yes. At Mahalaya Journeys we take care to understand our guests’ travel needs and spiritual leanings, experiences, and expectations; and we craft an itinerary that we hope will be of most interest and benefit to you.
Similarly, we hope that by coming to Sikkim with the right motivation and with an open mind, one will reap enormous positive benefit, regardless of what one knows or understands of Buddhism. Such retreat-places are ideal for people who may have no interest in religion at all — but who crave a kind of peace, a quiet and a silence that isn’t simply the absence of car horns during rush hour. A place to do what is hardest: Nothing at all. It is the kind of contemplative experience you’d pay anything for: Some may say, it’s priceless.
Will we meet any spiritual masters or Buddhists teacher?
Sikkim is home to over 100 Buddhist monasteries. It is also considered one of the most sacred places in Vajrayana, or Tibetan Buddhism. As such, there are many qualified and authentic teachers to be found either residing in Sikkim or who are themselves on pilgrimage, or in retreat, in Sikkim.
Buddhists—and therefore many Sikkimese—believe in karma, the law of cause, condition, and effect that is dependent on the merit that one accumulates over many, many lifetimes. It is often believed that meeting an authentic teacher requires an enormous amount of merit. Needless to say, this is something that we at Mahalaya Journeys cannot control. We can however, help to create the conditions favorable to meeting a lama during your journey by planning for it as much as possible. The rest is up to you…and your karma!
Is there opportunity for spiritual practice on your journeys?
The very act of going on pilgrimage is considered a form of spiritual practice that’s been encouraged by many world religions for millennia.
In the Buddhist tradition at least, it is important to remember that the main point of pilgrimage isn’t just to visit a saint’s birthplace, or to stare at the site of an extraordinary happening, but to help us remember all the teachings of the Buddha.
Mahalaya Journeys can build time into one’s schedule and provide our guests meditation cushions for their own practice—whatever tradition that may be—whether in the comfort of one’s room, or in the inspirational environment of the sites themselves.
We believe that knowledge is power, and so we also travel with a well-curated library of books that we encourage our guests to explore during the course of their journey.
Does going on a pilgrimage mean roughing it out?
Not necessarily. But, your comfort level might be challenged on rough roads, visiting multiple locations, and the number of guests in a given vehicle. There are certainly some locations that are more difficult than others. Accommodations can be very basic, infrastructure unsophisticated, food simple. While on your Journey, you may be off-road and can be out for many hours, no matter how much we try to cushion the edges. As long as you are willing to be flexible and are not married to creature comforts you will be able to get the most out of your Journey. And we can always end your journey with a night in a comfortable, character-filled hotel.
It is also worth bearing in mind that the conveniences and the inconveniences will depend on which Journey you select. Let us know what level of comfort you prefer, and we can plan around it.
Can I travel alone with Mahalaya Journeys?
Yes, the Indian subcontinent has a certain allure for the solo traveler – male or female—and Mahalaya Journeys provides a comfortable environment to do so in which travelers are always met by a local host, checked in to their accommodation, and escorted to their locations.
At homestays, one has the opportunity to interact with the hosts or their other guests, and also gives one the option of ‘alone time’ while reading or engaging in self-reflection.
Will all the accommodation be in homestays?
As part of our commitment to the local communities with which we work, as well as for the authenticity of the experience for our guests, we encourage guests to stay at homestays as much as possible. However, there are multiple options for hotels if our guests prefer.
Can we stay at a monastery?
The monasteries in Sikkim tend to be quite small, and often there is a tradition of our monks staying at home with their families and spending their days at the monasteries. Consequently, most monasteries do not have the facilities to host guests. During your journey with us, however, we can arrange visits, meals, and prayer ceremonies at the monasteries.
What is the comfort level in a homestay?
While traveling with Mahalaya Journeys, you are ensuring that the money you spend stays locally, which often means staying in a cosy, well-appointed homestay in the midst of a cardamom field and facing the majestic Himalayan range, instead of a larger more homogenised hotel. It often means, that instead of boring and mediocre continental breakfasts, discovering eclectic and delicious combinations of local cuisine, that even we – as locals – were surprised by.
Is there any opportunity for exercise while on our journey?
At Mahalaya Journeys, we believe in cultivating holistic wellbeing. While you may not encounter a gym – in the modern sense – during the course of your journey, day-long hikes and morning walks are par for the course. Yoga mats and light weights will be available for use during your journey, as will meditation cushions and prostration pads.
What is the food like in Sikkim?
The food in Sikkim is rich and varied, representative of the ethnic diversity in its population. There are ample dishes for both vegetarians and carnivores alike. Rice is a staple, as are green vegetables including our traditional stinging nettle soup, and while pork is a favorite, chicken, fish, and beef are all eaten regularly.
Mahalaya Journeys is a social business. Why isn’t it a non-profit?
Mahalaya Journeys is structured as a for-profit enterprise. However, its commercial venture is a secondary motive: It is primarily a venture to help place value on Sikkim’s cultural and spiritual heritage, thereby strengthening traditional knowledge, and redefining our communities’ relationships with our culture and landscapes.
The decision not to register Mahalaya Journeys as a non-profit was made with its potential social impact and efficiency in mind: Rather than have its day-to-day operations dependent on donations and subject to approval from Trustees, we believe that by running Mahalaya Journeys as a for-profit we are maximizing its potential to earn revenue for its sister non-profit, Project Denjong.
Your sister non-profit is Project Denjong. What exactly does it do?
Project Denjong is community of thought that aspires to redefine our relationships with our communities, our cultures, and our landscapes. We invest in people, in creativity, in education, and in the dharma — in the revitalization, rather than the memorialization of Sikkim’s rich history— to ensure that our wisdom traditions continue to be an integral, living part of our contemporary identity.
Our first activity is the Digitisation of the Sikkim Palace Archives, 1875-1975
Over time, as our merit matures, we aspire to host a collection of initiatives focused on contemplation and innovation; on strengthening Sikkim’s cultural heritage, facilitating scholarship, and inspiring a more conscious living model that engages creatively with the unique wisdom traditions of this sacred ‘hidden land.’
Hoping to contribute to the growing archive of historical research and cultural revitalization in India, Project Denjong was born out of a search for wisdom and a thirst for knowledge, and exists as an exercise of scholarship and archive, of discourse and development.
With this in mind, it produces Sikkim-based content with consequence, and aspires to offer a positive experience for both our communities and our team.
To learn more about Project Denjong, please click here
How should we prepare for our journey?
Our journeys are as much journeys of the mind as they are of the body, and it is often said that the right motivation for going on a pilgrimage is to develop wisdom, love, compassion, devotion, and a genuine sense of renunciation mind.
In order to best prepare for your journey and to help you absorb as much benefit as possible from it, we recommend that guests spend 5-10 minutes a day reflecting on their upcoming journey with the aspiration that it will—one way or another—always remind them of the qualities of enlightened beings.
Sikkim is in the Himalayas and so most journeys will include at least a small amount of uphill walking. As such, we recommend that you maintain your regular physical activity of choice.
What if I don’t pack enough warm layers?
Between October and February, we can provide guests with shawls and in-room space heaters if needed; and during the monsoon umbrellas and rain ponchos will be made available.
What is the electricity voltage in India? Should I carry an adaptor?
The electricity voltage in India is 220 volts. We will have adaptors on hand throughout your journey, however, if you think you have a unique situation or a product that only takes 110-120 volts, we recommend you bring a voltage converter with you.