The primary means of communication within Sikkim is by road: there is no railway and therefore it is not surprising that many people in Sikkim have never travelled by train. However Sikkim is well connected to rest of the country by rail(New Jalpaiguri railway station) and air(Bagdogra airport) through Siliguri in West Bengal which is about 115 kilometres from Gangtok and forms the railhead of Sikkim. To get to Sikkim you must reach Siliguri first. Siliguri incidentally is an important nerve centre also for Bhutan, the eastern part of Nepal and Darjeeling, another picturesque hill station 80 kms away. There are no direct routes from Sikkim to Nepal or Bhutan by road: one has to travel via Siliguri. Kathmandu is an overnight journey from Siliguri through Kakribitta on the Nepal border. One has to reach Kakribitta first by local bus from where long distance buses for Kathmandu are available. Phunsoling on the Bhutan border is about four hours away enroute to Thimphu the capital of Bhutan. The road journey from Siliguri to Gangtok is a wonderful experience. (Click here to read about it)
Siliguri has two railway stations: the New Jalpaiguri (NJP) Railway station on the Broad Gauge and the Siliguri Junction which is about 10 kms away. New Jalpaiguri Railway station in Siliguri is connected to almost all parts of India by train. There are many daily trains to Delhi which cover the distance betwee 22 to 30 h hours. Many daily trains are also available for Calcutta covering the distance in about 10 hours. Southbound trains to Cochin, Chennai, Trivanthapurum, Banglore and Mumbai are also available althought these are not daily
The airport of Siliguri is known as Bagdogra. Flights from all major airlines from Delhi, Calcutta, Guwahati are available. There is a daily Helicopter Service between Bagdogra and Gangtok. The railway and the air timetable towards the end of this book may be consulted for details. Prepaid taxis from Bagdogra airport to Gangtok, Darjeeling etc are available.
Many buses both State Government and Private and shared taxis (Tata Sumos, Commander Jeeps etc that acccommodate 10-12 passengers) ply the route between Siliguri/New Jalpaiguri and Gangtok and some other important places in Sikkim. Buses to Gangtok are available from 6.30 am to 3.30 pm from bus stands of the Sikkim Nationalised Transport (SNT), opposite the Siliguri Junction and the Tenzing Norgay Bus Terminal also opposite the Siliguri Railway Junction. Private taxis can also be hired to travel to Sikkim. From Siliguri, buses to Darjeeling (80 kilometres), Kalimpong (70 kilometres), Phunsoling (150 kilometres), Guwahati (480 kilometres), Calcutta (600 kilometres) and some other important places in Bihar, West Bengal and Assam are available.
From Siliguri, Darjeeling falls on a different route than Gangtok. From Darjeeling the usual two routes to Gangtok are the shorter and steep road via Peshoke and the longer one via Mongpoo. The shorter route can only be negotiated by small vehicles. Gangtok, Siliguri (NJP & Bagdogra) can be visualised as situated on the tips of a triangle. For reaching Kalimpong from Siliguri the usual route is to take the road for Gangtok till Tista from where a bifurcation branches to that town. As can be seen from the road maps, these places can also be reached by other routes which are used only when the shorter routes are blocked due to landslides or some reason or the other.
Buses of the Sikkim Nationalised Transport (SNT) ply within various places in Sikkim. The Tourism Department of the Government of Sikkim and many travel agencies organise conducted tours to the Yumthang hot springs in North Sikkim and the Changu Lake. Private taxis can also be hired to all the places of tourist interest at rates that have been fixed by the Tourism Department. As distances are small, travelling within Sikkim is not expensive specially if it is done in groups. Tourists are permitted to take their private vehicles to all parts of Sikkim. During the monsoons, due to heavy rainfall, road communication is frequently disrupted because of landslides and it is always safe to first check up with the Tourist Information Centre or Sikkim Nationalised Transport about the condition of the road before making a move. Taxis abound in Gangtok although distances within the town are rather short. Unfortunately, Gangtok does not have a city bus service worth the name.
You can also fly from Bagdogra to Gangtok by the five seater helicopter. Only 10 kg of luggage is permitted per passenger as handbaggage: no checkbaggage is allowed. So prohibited articles like knives, liquids etc are not allowed. The fare one way per person is Rs 3700/- Avoid taking the helicopter, if you have to catch a flight or a train the same day. If the copper flight is cancelled because of bad weather, you may miss your onward connection.
Taking your own Vehicles
Tere are no direct roads across the border between Sikkim and the bordering countries except at Nathula but no vehicles are permitted to cross over. In Sikkim, leaving aside restricted areas like Changu and Yumthang, you can take your own vehicles to all parts of Sikkim like Rumtek, Yoksum Pemayanste etc. The roads are generally good and even a dainty Maruti Car can negotiate most of the roads in Sikkim. But there are some stretches that are really bad and could give you a feeling of riding a horse that has gone berserk.
However good garages are available only at major towns and therefore it is wise to carry essential spare parts like fanbelt, ignition coil, CB point etc. It is also a good idea to keep a tow chain with you so that in case of a major breakdown you can ask a passing vehicle to tow you to where a repair facility is available. Fuel pumps are also far and in between and a jeriken to carrry extra fuel is essential. Be careful while driving on steep roads. Use the same gear to go downhill as you would to go uphill; this will ensure that the vehicle remains under control when negotiating steep downhill gradients: the engine acts as a brake. Also the road twists and turns on the hillside without any safety barriers. Lack of signages on road bifurcations can also confuse a traveller. Do not hestitate to ask directions from a passerby or a passing vehicle – that is if you come across one. Sikkim does not have a system of house numbers and to reach your acquaintance’s home the direction will perhaps be “the house below the Pine tree”
There are no regular bus services to Changu and Yumthang. You have to avail of conducted tours or government approved taxis.
There are no restrictions in taking your own vehicles to all parts of Darjeeling. For Bhutan you can take your vehicle to the places your permit allows you to visit.