Roughly 20 minutes after the plane takes off from Kolkata for the relatively new Pakyong airport, you can sense the topography changing as snow-capped mountains and wisps of cloud create a lush white scenery right outside your window. We suggest grabbing a window seat because if you are lucky, like I was, you could also get a glimpse of the majestic Kanchenjunga as the plane lands shortly after at the table-top Sikkim airport.
Like most Kolkatans, my introduction to Sikkim had happened much earlier in my life and like most tourists, the introduction was restricted to the culinary and touristy cliches. But as I got into my car to get to IHCL’s luxury offering in the hills, I had the sense that my experience at Vivanta Sikkim Pakyong would be very different from anything I had experienced during my previous visit.
Let’s start with the location of the hotel that is ideal for air travel. Situated 7.5km away from Pakyong airport, the ride hardly takes 30 minutes, which is perfect for people travelling in large numbers or with family. Pakyong is located away from the hustle of Bagdogra airport but close enough to Gangtok and other attractions that can be driven to. A traditional welcome, a warm drink and chants of Om Mani Padme Hum greet guests as they enter the lobby of the hotel.
The architecture of the hotel is interesting as it has a semi-open layout that allows guests to interact with nature at will. Designed to work in the elements, each floor allows guests delicious views of the valley and each room and suite also opens to a good view of either the paddy fields or the valley. The decor of the entire property is inspired by local elements with paintings of rhododendrons and fixtures with bamboo weaves in each room. The modern in-room amenities promise you a comfortable stay.
The Jiva Spa at the property boasts of the standard of wellness that is promised by the brand and is a must if you want to unwind and relax. Choose from any of their massages or treatments and let them transport you to a cocoon of comfort. The heated pool is so inviting that you shouldn’t be surprised if you end up spending a lot of time there. Curl up with a book and a drink on one of their sundecks as you see the mist of the mountains float by and get in for a dip when you want. A fitness centre is present for those who like fitting in a good sweat too.
The food at the hotel is a different story itself. Mynt is their all-day dining that serves Indian, pan-Asian and continental food. But if you really want the best experience, then I recommend trying out their Sikkimese food, especially their thalis. The outlet itself is designed to let in the skylight and also allows for private dining. Wink, their bar, serves up a mix of great cocktails and local brews. The best part about its decor? The winking wall is designed in a three-dimensional way that gives the impression of a wink when you walk by it. The pool also allows for titbits to be served and has a gazebo-like set-up for those looking to have outdoor refreshments. In fact, the property with its ample outdoor space, ensured that I did not have a second meal at the same space. The hotel staff is accommodating and can serve you your meals in the front yard or even in the balcony of your room so that you can make the best of the scenic view outside.
The meals at the hotel could be anything from a south Indian thali featuring Pineapple Rasam, Chicken Chettinad, Lamb Pepper Fry, Urali Roast, Beans Poriyal and Tomato Rice to Tingmo with Pork Curry, Gyathuk, Kung Pao Chicken and Sel Roti with the local radish side. The last night also saw some delicious continental food being served with a guava and gin cocktail and a bonfire on the side. Emphasis on seasonality and fresh produce can be seen in the food being served as the executive chef also mentioned how he was growing an organic garden to source the freshest ingredients.
If experiences are what you are seeking for your Sikkimese sojourn then Vivanta Sikkim Pakyong has a wide variety available. From pottery classes, archery and camping for kids, picnics and walking trails to the local village with the expert companion of a local guide or sherpa; guests have plenty to choose from. I used my love for outdoor activities to go on a hike to the nearby Bassnett village with a delightful local guide for company who kept me regaled and in good spirits during the two-and-a-half-hour stretch. I also passed by an anniversary celebration in the suite next to mine and caught a glimpse of the personalisation that the hotel is able to offer.
Walking around the property as I explored the nooks and crannies, the stream that the hotel has been built around, discovering the little bridges built to allow the rocks and streams to be, with the ever-present sound of water was something I enjoyed doing on my own.
Gangtok and its bouquet of tourist attractions lie only 21km away. We made a day trip to the city where we enjoyed ambling along at MG Marg, after taking in the sights of Tashi viewpoint, Hanuman Tok and Ganesh Tok. A trip to the local handloom museum was worth the visit as I purchased a few handmade paper canvases painted on by local art students. A lunch at one of the many traditional Sikkimese eateries at MG Marg and some Dalle chilli paste shopping later, we were back at the hotel by the evening. The attractions outside of Pakyong are plenty and are dependent on the guest’s interests as the hotel is happy to carve out a customised itinerary.
Like most experiences, people are the ones who make them and the staff members at Vivanta Sikkim Pakyong are always ready with a smile to help you out — even when you give the wrong room number for your room service order or ask for a handful of Dalle chillies last-minute that one of them got from their house just for me.
Pictures: Courtesy of the hotel and the author
What: Vivanta Sikkim Pakyong
Where: Pakyong, Sikkim (7.5km from Pakyong airport; 21km from Gangtok; 85km from Darjeeling and 112km from Bagdogra International Airport)
Keys: 50 rooms and suites spread across four categories
Amenities: Mynt (all-day dining); Wink (bar); heated outdoor pool (and outdoor cafe); fitness centre; Jiva spa & meeting and banqueting space