travel & outdoors: Sikkim and Bhutan fact file
Saturday 19 April 1997
British visitors need visas for India: these cost pounds 13 (for three months) from the Visa Section, Indian High Commission, India House, Aldwych, London WC2B 4NA (0891 880880 for recorded information). Permits for Sikkim (15 days) are reasonably easy to obtain, at no extra charge, from the Indian High Commission in London or, in India, from the permit office in Siliguri.
Flights: Harriet O'Brien paid pounds 408 (including tax) for a flight from Heathrow to Delhi with Lufthansa, booked through Trailfinders (0171-938 3366). Internal flights to Bagdogra on Indian Airlines or Jet Airways cost around pounds 70 extra each way. There's also a train to Siliguri but you need plenty of time for this.
Travel within Sikkim is fairly restricted. Visitors are permitted to travel west as far as Pelling (visiting the monasteries of Tashiding and Pemayangtse en route). For journeys further west and to the north you may only travel in groups of four foreigners and you need a special permit. Travel agents in Gangtok are helpful and numerous - and will look after the paperwork as well as teaming tourists and arranging transport and accommodation.
Guest houses, offering "fooding and lodging", are generally clean and comfortable. Harriet O'Brien paid 500 rupees (pounds 8.70) a night at the Anola Hotel on MG Marg in Gangtok (03592 23238), and at the Norbu Gang in Pelling, west Sikkim (03593 50566, similar prices). Bring a hot-water bottle; most places are unheated and get very cold.
When to go
April and May are prime months to see the Himalayan flowers in their full glory - entire hillsides covered with wild rhododendron blooms. The tourist season ends at the start of June (when the monsoon begins) and resumes in October. December to February it gets jolly chilly at night.
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