Gangtok & Environs

If you're traveling on a budget, Mintokling Guest House (tel. 03592/20-4226;; doubles Rs 1,500-Rs 1,800; all credit cards except AE) is a Sikkimese home with fairly spacious, clean guest rooms; our favorite is no. 304. The owner is a fantastic source of information on Sikkimese history, especially if you're interested in the political lowdown; his mother was the niece of the last king of Sikkim.

Sikkim's smartest hotel, Nor-Khill, also hosts one of the better restaurants, Shangri-La (tel. 03592/20-5637). Splurge on an all-inclusive full-course Sikkimese meal, which you will have to order beforehand. Find out if the stir-fried fiddlehead ferns or the popular sisnu (a dish made from stinging nettle) are available, and do try their juicy chicken/pork momos (Tibetan dumplings). Book a table at the window. Nor-Khill also has the best pub in town, the cozy Dragon Bar. Snowlion (tel. 03592/20-1024 or 20-3710; all credit cards accepted) is equally good for Tibetan fare, including chicken sha-dre (rice noodles with a curry sauce) and sumei, or open momos. Adventurous diners can sample traditional dre-thuk, a thick, porridgelike rice soup topped with a mountain of finely grated cheese. It serves delicious, body-warming beverages -- try the hot toddy with brandy, rum, and cloves, or the hot whiskey lemonade. Little Italy (SNOD Complex, Deorali; tel. 03592/28-1980) rustles up good pizzas and pastas and plays great music, with a live band on the weekends (bar attached). Bakers Café (M.G. Marg; tel. 03592/22-0195) is also a good place to hang out over coffee and freshly baked cakes and croissants.

Near Rumtek -- There are plenty of small guesthouses in the area, but the biggest and best would be Martam Village Resort and the Bamboo Resort (tel. 03592/25-2516;; Rs 4,200 double) set amid paddy fields. The rooms are small but clean; some come with balconies. Each has its own color scheme according to Feng Shui principles -- frankly, the red and blue is a trifle overpowering. Another option is the Teen Talay Eco-Garden Resort (tel. 98-3201-4867; Rs 3,100 double) -- more a homestay, it is run by an affable family who go out of their way to make guests feel comfortable, even throwing in tabla lessons for free. Sadly, the Shambhala Mountain Resort, located right next to the monastery, has become quite seedy and is to be avoided.

Pelling & Environs

With basics like electricity and water in short supply, don't expect luxury in Pelling. The town is spilling over with tour and travel agents, many of whom are quite suspect in their dealings -- single women travelers would do well to be cautious and use only accredited travel agents, based preferably in Gangtok. Aside from Norbu, the best place to stay is newly opened The Mount Pandim, set atop a hill, with the most terrific views of the mighty Kanchenjunga, and a 10-minute amble distance from the Pemayangtse Monastery (and 30 min. from the Rabdentse Ruins). The hotel had only just opened at press time, but guest rooms and facilities are in keeping with the Elgin chain of hotels: comfortable and positively luxurious when compared with your other options. Try to reserve deluxe room no. 203 (tel. 03595/25-0756 or -0273;; doubles Rs 5,100, include all meals). If you're keen on the homestay experience, your best bet is the delightful Yangsum, a working farm reviewed below, near the village of Rinchenpong. If you want to be based in Pelling itself (and you're watching your rupees), a good budget option is Hotel Phamrong (Upper Pelling; tel. 03595/25-8218 or -0660;; doubles from Rs 1,400-Rs 2,850), which have large en-suite rooms that generally come with fantastic views. Don't expect luxury, but the sunrises are brilliant. Pelling's best dining is at the Norbu Ghang Resort, but the restaurant at tiny Garuda guest lodge (next door to Hotel Phamrong) serves a solid selection, including Tibetan and Sikkimese specialties.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.