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Trekking in Sikkim

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Although the potential is huge, high-altitude trekking in Sikkim remains a restricted and expensive business. This is partly due to the stringent system of permits and the fact that foreigners have to pay for the services of Gangtok-based tour operators in US dollars.

Trekking permits (aka Protected Area Permits) for high-altitude treks are only available from the Sikkim Tourism offices in Gangtok and Delhi; trekking or tour operators in Gangtok make the necessary arrangements. Check papers before you set off, as the slightest error can lead to problems later on; check itineraries too as you don’t want to be rushed, especially at altitude. Trekking parties consist of a minimum of two people; tour operators charge an official daily rate that ranges from $40 to $150 per head per day depending on group size and route.

The high-altitude treks most commonly offered by the operators are the Dzongri–Goecha La route (plus its variation starting from Uttarey) and the Singalila Ridge. The exhilarating trek from Lachen to Green Lake is possible, but permission must be obtained from Delhi (most easily arranged through a Gangtok agent) at least three months in advance. At the moment, Dzongri still bears the brunt of the trekking industry in the state, and the pressure is beginning to tell severely on the environment. Softer, low-level treks such as the rhododendron trails around Varshey are a pleasant alternative (and only require local permits for protected forests), and there are numerous other rewarding possibilities throughout the state that you can do on your own. A word of warning: don’t go trekking unaccompanied in forest areas due the threat of attack by black bears. The Ecotourism and Conservation Society of Sikkim (ECOSS) in Gangtok (t03592/228211, whttp://www.sikkiminfo.net/ecoss) is an independent organization seeking to develop sustainable tourism while protecting natural resources, customs and the environment.

While most major peaks require special permits for mountaineering and permission from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation in Delhi with at least three months’ notice, the Sikkim government, through the appropriate Gangtok trekking operator, hands out permits for Frey’s Peak (5830m) near Chaurikhang on the Singalila Ridge; Thingchenkang (6010m) near Dzongri and Jopuno (5935m) in West Sikkim; and Lama Wangden (5868m) and Brumkhangse (5635m) in North Sikkim. On top of operational costs, fees starting at $350 (Rs15000 for Indians) are levied according to group size. Recommended Gangtok agents include Namgyal and Yak & Yeti.

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