Tsongmo/Tsomgo/Changu Lake, East Sikkim

I’m writing this with utmost satisfaction that I could complete my 12 day trip to Sikkim and Kolkata in a very economical way! The trip was partly solo. I had a friend to accompany me for the Sikkim part, and in exploring Kolkata I was alone!

₹1600 a day might not be a flashy figure at first sight, but if you consider that I took a train from Malappuram (Kerala) to Chennai, then a flight to Kolkata, then a bus to Siliguri and then to Gangtok, the countless taxi rides, extravagant lunches including trying out some hard core Sikkim delicacies, comfortable stay at every single place, then spending more than 2 days in Kolkata and coming back to Kerala, I think the expense I made per day makes me indeed proud! As you know there’s no definite rule for doing a budget travel. But I can surely give some info which I gathered or the lessons I learned during the trip which might help someone planning a trip in the same route.

  1. I did my trip in the month of December (18th to 31st, 12 days in total). December being the coldest period wasn’t really recommended by any to visit Sikkim, but I took a chance. It was kinda off-season in Sikkim and I definitely had the advantages of it. The only way to roam around Sikkim is by taxis as there’s no way of transportation by bus. The only buses running are long distance ones. Being off-season, the per head rate for 2D 1N trip to Lachung and Yumthang Valley was only ₹1200 whereas during season, it goes up to ₹5000 per head (as told by a lady solo traveller from Kolkata whom I met at Yumthang). Another advantage was I could test the adaptability of my body to such adverse conditions and to my astonishment, my body reciprocated the excitement of my heart. The night at Lachung homestay was one real ‘chill’ night with the temperature dropping up to -12°C and it was a joy to find that I can survive without any room heater like any other Lachung local. Adding to my excitement was the snowfall I witnessed that night!
  2. December being the coldest period had its disadvantages too. We had to stop 8 km before Yumthang as the road was closed due to extreme conditions. On another day, we couldn’t reach Nathula Pass (but Tsongmo Lake and Baba Mandir were extremely satisfying) as we didn’t get permit due to heavy snowfall. But all these things were acceptable as far as I was concerned because it surely was a different experience to visit Sikkim in the month of December.

    Baba Harbhajan Singh Temple, East Sikkim
  3. As I said earlier, the only way to move in and around Gangtok is by taxis. So it’s better to go with a friend or two when you’re visiting Sikkim. It saves you a lot of money! ‘Sikkim Tourism’ is a great app which gives you a lot of info about the places in Sikkim. Make use of it when you visit Sikkim.
  4. We stayed at MG Marg, Gangtok for 3 days which is the heart of the city. You can save a few bucks if you opt to stay somewhere a bit far from MG Marg (anyway you would be able to cover that distance on foot. Gangtok isn’t that big). And don’t hesitate to bargain if you’re trying some hotel out of MG Marg area.
  5. The way I travelled from home was by train up to Chennai, then flight to Kolkata, then bus to Siliguri. From Siliguri, there are NBSTC (North Bengal State Transport Corporation) buses running frequently in Gangtok and Darjeeling routes. Those are very cheap and comfortable. Most of my travels were overnight so that I could save room rent for 5 nights out of the entire 12. And in addition, I booked a ‘hand baggage only’ air ticket from Chennai to Kolkata but ended up spending ₹400 more for exceeding the weight limit of 7 kgs. So if you can take care of that also, more money can be saved!
  6. Kolkata to Siliguri and back, both tickets were booked via RedBus. It’s a warning that the buses starting from Siliguri can test your patience by starting late and stopping at every place unnecessarily. The bus which was supposed to reach Kolkata in the morning by 9.30am eventually reached at 1.30pm. So it’s better to book tickets from Siliguri bus stand (Tenzing Norgay Bus Terminus) directly. It saves you both time and money. Full sleeper berth can be tricky as some buses allot one berth to two persons which can cause congestion. Be careful!
  7. The total amount I spent on travelling was ₹8300. That includes all tickets from Kerala-to-Kolkata-to-Sikkim-to-Kolkata-to-Kerala (Chennai was only a connection point since I didn’t do any roaming around there). The total amount spent on travel, food, stay and everything was ₹19690. That’s for 12.5 days. So it comes around ₹1575 per day!
  8. My calculations went a little off-track when I went in search of a decent hotel in Kolkata. December may be off-season in Sikkim, but it’s peak season in Kolkata! Christmas and New Year is the time when majority of the tourists visit Kolkata. So after an hour of walking, I finally had to settle with a very small room for 1200 bucks!! Nevertheless, it helped me as the hotel was very near to Esplanade Metro. You can use Airbnb for getting good accommodation almost anywhere. It’s a really nice app but somehow it didn’t work well for me during this trip.
  9. The solo exploration of Kolkata was the most exciting part of my trip as far as time and money management are concerned (of course solitude is my weakness). I took everything from ferry to metro but never hired a taxi. (Ya, very much determined!). Trust me, metro and your tongue are the only things you need to explore the city of Kolkata. Just ask anything and everything. People over there are really helpful and will give you exact directions which no Google Maps can ever give!
    Howrah Bridge during ferry ride across Hoogly river

    Ray’s Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne open screening at Nandan
  10. As I’ve covered the travelling part, I’ll now move on to the food part! Being a budget traveller doesn’t mean that you have to starve or skip meals. In fact, I took more food at Sikkim than I usually do at home! Sikkim special Gyathuk/Thukpa, Pork dry fry, momos every now and then were some of the many dishes I tried. Among all, I can’t forget the taste of Pork dry fry. Oh my God! I’m out of words. If I had more days to spend at Gangtok, I would have tried every item of pork. Potala Restaurant is highly recommended for authentic Sikkimese food.

    The yummy pork dry fry!

I hope the piece of info I shared would benefit someone. Travelling is the best way to learn and understand the world around. And solo trips are addictive! People who have done it would surely be able to relate. So what are you waiting for? Just backpack and go. And do share your thoughts with me. It might inspire me as well 🙂