In addition to the standard visa, foreign visitors must be in possession of an Inner Line Permit. This, together with your passport, must be carried at all times. If you wish to travel north of Gangtok or Pelling, you will require an additional endorsement or Protected Area Permit from Sikkim Tourism in Gangtok.
Sikkim Tourism (Mahatma Gandhi Marg; tel. 03592/22-1634; www.sikkimindia.com) is open Monday to Saturday, May through August, 10am to 4pm; March through April and September through October daily 9am to 7pm. The center has a computerized touch-screen kiosk that will provide more-or-less up-to-date tourist information (when it's working). This is where you can book highly recommended scenic helicopter rides. The office downstairs is where you must have your Sikkim permit endorsed if you intend to visit certain restricted areas in the state. There's also an Information Counter (tel. 0353/269-8030 daily 10am-2:30pm) at Bagdogra Airport.
Bagdogra in neighboring West Bengal is the closest airport, and is served by flights from major cities like Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi. From Bagdogra, Sikkim Helicopter Service runs daily 30-minute flights to Gangtok for around Rs 1,700, well worth it just for the views. Alternatively, taxis (4 hr.; Rs 2,500) and buses are available. Shared jeep services are also available from Darjeeling, Siliguri, and Kalimpong, all in West Bengal. These are highly affordable; book more than one seat for yourself, preferably the two front seats for the best views. If you're coming from Kathmandu, fly to Bhadrapur in east Nepal, and head to Gangtok via Kakarbhitta (on the Nepalese-Indian border) and Siliguri in West Bengal.
Getting Around Sikkim
Unless you pick up a helicopter from Bagdogra Airport, you will travel in Sikkim by road. Use either a private or shared jeep. Although roads are open throughout the year, bear in mind that all of Sikkim is mountainous and routes inevitably take far longer than they appear on maps. The shared taxi and jeep services from Gangtok to Pelling (Rs 175) that depart twice a day at 7am and 12:30pm are served by Nam Nam taxi stand; book your seat in advance. Again, book both front seats, for the views, and also because drivers tend to pack way more people into the car than you'd have imagined possible. Sikkim's roads invariably traverse steep mountains and deep valleys, so travel can be exhausting (the journey to Pelling, via Ravangla, takes 5 hr.), but the scenery is spectacular. Alternatively, you could break journey at the delightful Yangsum Farm (reviewed later) at Rinchenpong (1 1/2 hr. from Pelling). Within Gangtok, you're best off doing most of your wandering on foot; because of one-way roads, taxis are frequently required to skirt much of the city. To get to the Tibetology Institute and to Rumtek Monastery, you'll have to use a taxi.
Guided Tours & Travel Agents
For all kinds of adventure tourist activities as well as tour arrangements, contact Jimmy Singh of Gurudongma Tours and Treks (tel. 90-0269-2611 or 94-3406-2100; www.gurudongma.com). Blue Sky Tours & Travel (Tourism Building, Mahatma Gandhi Marg; tel. 03592/20-5113; www.blue-sky-tours.com) specializes in jeep tours of northern Sikkim. They can also help you with local sightseeing, and offer a 2-day Monastery Tour that takes in several Buddhist monasteries in the state. Like all tour operators in Gangtok, their rates depend on the number of riders.
For trekking arrangements, try Sikkim Tours & Travels (Church Rd.; tel. 03592/20-2188; www.sikkimtours.com). Tashila Tours & Travels (tel. 03592/20-2978; www.tashila.com) undertakes a range of services, including trekking, rafting, and specialist tours. Siniolchu Tours and Travels (tel. 03592/20-5569 or 94-3402-4572; email@example.com; Mon-Sat 9am-1pm and 2-8pm) is reliable. Headquartered in Gangtok, it undertakes a wide range of spectacular treks and tours in various regions of Sikkim and beyond. Most treks cost in the vicinity of $80 per person per day, and include tents, food, porters, yaks, and guides.