The Great outdoors
Dramatic, varied and remarkably beautiful, the north's great highlight is the Yumthang Valley, though required permits and rushed tours can make a visit more stressful and less rewarding than it need be. For Indian citizens, a second great attraction is crag-rimmed Gurudongmar Lake but it's out of bounds to foreigners, who must stop short at Tsopta (or even Lachen if full regulations are enforced).
Top Sights in North Sikkim.
If you love forgotten, naively painted temples, little Resum Gompa is likely to be one of the highlights of your monastic wanderings in Sikkim. Adding to the fun is the lack of any access road, forcing you to walk around 20 minutes through the forest, encountering occasional collapsing stupas and mani walls with sacred inscriptions. With 360-degree views, this wobbly old place is a peaceful delight with an incredible mountain panorama.
Like Tashiding Gompa way, way below, Silnon (see-non) was founded by Ngadhak Sempo Chempo, one of Yuksom's three crowning lamas. Its fairly modest central temple has a spectacular backdrop of snow-tipped mountains Narsing and Siniolchu and a ridge of mountains sharpened in Patagonian splendour. While not necessarily worth a special trip, the monastery makes a fine stop when hiking between Yuksom and Tashiding or Gangyap.
The ridge between Ralang and Yuksom ends with an upturned promontory (1450m) on which sits the multi-building complex of Tashiding Gompa, an important Nyingmapa monastery. At its heart, a beautifully proportioned prayer hall has a delicate topknot that contrasts with the two lower stone floors. The murals inside are somewhat time-darkened and the main images fronted with numerous colourful butter sculptures. Behind the Guru Lakhang building is a unique 'forest' of chorten stupas, mantra stones and a dharma bell, overlooked by two ancient Kashmir cypress trees.
YUMTHANG HOT SPRINGS
In a log cottage across the river from Km21.9 is a naturally heated communal hot pool. Taking the five-minute stroll to get here across one of two suspension footbridges festooned in colourful prayer flags, with magnificent valley views from a variety of angles.
If you're visiting North Sikkim for just two days, you probably won't have time to wiggle up the endless hairpins that take you on from Yumthang, but the rewards are a complete change in flora, a wobbly river footbridge at 4825m, and an Alpine feel that you can toast with shots of Honey Bee (a local brandy) over plates of black chana (spiced chickpeas), sold by a huddle of hardy vendor women till around noon (in season).
The Lachung Valley has 24 species of rhododendrons, which burst forth in riotous blossom between March and early May. While you'll see many more further up the valley, this protected (though unfenced) patch offers a chance to walk amongst the blooming bushes, set amid beautiful mossy rocks.
Explore the fertile heartland, showcasing lush forests, rugged mountains, and steep gorges. Get off the beaten track and you'll be richly rewarded.