Hike the Himalayas in north-east India without the crowds.
We emerge from a forest of soaring chestnut trees into a scene straight from a picture book. A row of gaily coloured prayer flags leads to a Buddhist monastery topped with a series of flared roofs that look as if they might lift off in a breeze. Behind it looms a rocky summit and beyond that sits the snow-blanketed might of Kanchenjunga, the world’s third-highest peak.
What’s missing from this scene are other travellers. While Sikkim’s neighbours – Nepal to the west and Bhutan to the east – are hugely popular with hikers, this Indian state has remained largely undiscovered. Even in the peak seasons (March to May; October to December), you’ll often have trails to yourself, leaving you free to marvel at the wild orchids and hidden forest shrines and cool your feet in the mountain streams. And with visitors still a novelty, you may find curious locals invite you to inspect their lush cardamom fields or even their homes.
The downside of Sikkim’s under-theradar status is that once you head north from hectic Darjeeling, enticing lodgings are few and far between. That’s where Shakti Sikkim Village Walk comes in (it runs from October to April, closed in January). On these private tours, guests bed down in traditional houses that have creature comforts, including hot showers, king-sized beds and pot-belly stoves for heating. With a personal cook, porter and driver included in the package, and an itinerary that can be tailored to your interests and energy levels, it’s the best way to explore this Himalayan haven before everyone else gets in on the action.