SIKKIM, INDIA

DestinAsian - - DESTINATIONS -

Bhutan’s near neigh­bour is also on our to-do list this year, just as soon as the new Paky­ong Air­port be­gins op­er­a­tions in Gangtok. A for­mer Bud­dhist king­dom tucked high in the east­ern Hi­malayas, the In­dian state of Sikkim has at­trac­tions to spare, from grand old monas­ter­ies and au­then­tic cul­tural en­coun­ters to spell­bind­ing views of Kanchen­junga, the world’s third-high­est moun­tain. But get­ting here has al­ways been an ef­fort: the clos­est air­port for now is a nail-biting, four­plus-hour drive away in West Ben­gal. The open­ing of Paky­ong (a long-de­layed project slated to be­gin ser­vice in the next few months) out­side the cos­mopoli­tan Sikkimese cap­i­tal will im­prove ac­cess con­sid­er­ably, with di­rect flights to New Delhi and Kolkata. the-grid ex­is­tence: there are no banks and ATMs, no su­per­mar­kets, and no mains elec­tric­ity, with lo­cals re­liant on so­lar and wind en­ergy. But that kind of iso­la­tion has its ben­e­fits. Last Au­gust, the en­tire is­land was de­clared the world’s third Dark Sky Sanc­tu­ary, and Res­i­dent Dark Sky Am­bas­sadors now ply vis­i­tors with high-qual­ity tele­scopes, binoc­u­lars, blan­kets, and bean bags for un­for­get­table stargaz­ing ses­sions. By day, you can ex­plore the 12,000-hectare Aotea Con­ser­va­tion Park, whose na­tive flora and fauna—kauri trees, pateke ducks, and chevron skink lizards—flour­ish in an en­vi­ron­ment free from in­va­sive species. Feel­ing am­bi­tious? Opt for a three-day trek along the 25-kilo­me­ter Aotea Track, which was re­opened in 2016.

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