Utopia does exist, in the quiet valleys of Gangtok. The clean streets, scenic charm, friendly people, no-smoking policy and various other attributes bring Gangtok closer to a utopia than any other Indian City.
If you think that India is unsafe, then Gangtok will change your mind.
Things To Do in Sikkim
It is not the monuments nor the tourist sites that appeal to travelers. Gangtok holds an inherent mystic charm in its spinning prayer wheels, robed monks, pagoda roofs, gushing Ranipul River and the Kanchenjunga (the third highest mountain in the world).
Tourists from overseas need an inner line permit, as well as a restricted area, permit if they want to reach the trekking trails leading to Tashi Viewpoint.
While at Gangtok the first place everybody goes to is MG Marg. The heart of the city which is also meant only for pedestrians is a perfect place to sit and while away your time. You can eat, shop, look at the locals get around their day to day chorus or just sit in one of the benches and soak in the vibe of the city.
Photo: MG Marg during monsoons/ CC0
If you have come to Gangtok there is no point going back without watching a football match at their stadium. What cricket is to the rest of the country, football is to them.
You don’t have to be a football fan, you just have to go sit in the stadium. Watching the match you get their craze, their intensity and you start supporting like the rest of them. It is an amazing feeling, must watch especially since many matches can be seen for free.
Photo: View of Paljor Stadium from the road / CC0
Tashi View Point
About 8 km from Gangtok you reach Tashi which offers you the enchanting views of the Kanchenjunga. And on the other side of the mountains, you can see a clear view of the monasteries Phodong and Labrang.
The viewpoint has a shelter where you can stand and gave the sweeping views of the snowy peaks. There is no entrance fee whatsoever here, so feel free to drop by while you do your road trip around Sikkim. But there is a guarantee you will be able to view the peaks, it depends on the skies that day!
Photo: Sunset from Tashi View Point on a cloudy day / Photo credit: Pranav Bhasin
Ban Jhakri Waterfalls & Lhasa Fall
Ban Jhakri gets crowded during the peak season as it is the first choice of many travelers. It is actually a park made inside a forest, where locals believe the first Shaman learned how to control the evil spirits. You can stroll around, or have fun in crossing the drawbridge. The entry fee is just Rs. 20 INR.
The natural waterfall is the Lhasa, it is generally used by tourists for rock climbing. It is steep so you need to be careful while doing the climb and clicking pictures. There is a small Dhaba near the falls, you can sit inside or outside, and enjoy the food.
It serves the standard Chinese cuisine like the Chowmein and Manchurian along with Maggi and other staple food.
Photo: The waterfalls along with adventure sports activities at the park / The Art of Travel Partners
Sikkim Himalayan Zoological Park
The best time to visit this giant Park is dusk. In the mornings it is too crowded and you really will not get the feel of this park actually being a forest. There are rare species of animals here like the Snow Leopard which you can only find at these altitudes.
The cages of the animals are very far from each other, which gives you the feeling that you are really strolling in a forest. The entry fee is only Rs. 25 INR, but if you have a vehicle with you then you need to pay an extra Rs. 100 for parking.
Photo: A red panda hanging out / CC0
Flower Exhibition Centre
You can just take a walk around the Gangtok city and find Ridge Park near which you will find the Flower exhibition center. The best time to visit this place is from March to June because the Orchids are in full bloom during this season.
There is no entry fee to Ridge Park but you need to buy a ticket of Rs. 10 INR to enter the Exhibition Center.
Photo: Flowers displayed at the exhibition / CC0
Nathu La & Tsomgo Lake
Nathu La is a dream of travelers to go there, but during peak season that is May it is flooded with tourists and during the Monsoon the roads suffer from landslides and during winter it is blocked with snow.
Anyone going here needs a Protected Area Permit and for that reason, an Identity proof is required. NRIs, OCIs or Foreign Nationals do not get to visit Nathu La. On the way to Nathu La, comes both the Tsomgo Lake and the Baba Mandir which are as serene and mysterious.
Photo: Close to the India China border at Nathu La / CC0
Temi Tea Estate
A trip to the North-East without a visit to the Tea Estates is not fair. And the only Tea Garden in Sikkim is Temi Tea Estate. Sikkim is a small state which you can cover up in two days, one for North Sikkim and the other for South Sikkim.
The estate is a whole range of Mountains which was once a village. You get to ride around the slopes of the mountain till you bump into an entrance. It gives you the Switzerland vibes with coniferous trees and tea plantations around. There are snakes around the estate, so look down before you step.
Photo: Tea plantation during late monsoon period / The Art of Travel Partners
Fambong Lho Wildlife Sanctuary
Located at a distance of 30 km from Gangtok, it is a sanctuary which lets you camp the night there and enjoy the sunrise through the Kanchenjunga in the morning.
You require a permit to get in which you can get from the forest guards near the entrance and enjoy an evening relaxing in the midst of nature while looking at the city of Gangtok on one end and they Kanchenjunga range on the other.
You can even venture into the jungle for a trek to the peak – Tinjure which makes for a wonderful day hike.
Photo: View of the Kanchenjunga Range from Tinjure / The Art of Travel Partners
The highest you can go other than the Nathu La Pass is the Samdruptse Hill which is at 7000 ft. People with breathing problems might face unease and discomfort but taking a few long breaths of air helps.
You can see the mountains no doubt, but you see clouds rising above from beneath you. That is a surreal experience. The Humungous Statue at Samdruptse is of Guru Padmasambhava, the patron saint of Sikkim.
The place is generally known to be Namchi, so when your guide tells you that they are taking you to Namchi then you are bound here. There is ropeway here which you should not miss at any accounts.
There are two ropeways you find in Sikkim, one inside the city and the other at Namchi which is the better option. You get to ride through the valleys and Mountains from 7000 ft high, what more can you ask for? It cost 150 /- INR, and the cable car stops for a bit so you can enjoy the view around you properly.
Photo: The Shiva statue at Namchi / CC0
Temples and Monasteries
Tok means Temple and this temple is dedicated to Lord Hanuman. The legend says that Lord Hanuman took rest here, while on his way to Lanka. This place is hence a sacred one for Hindus. It also gives an exceptional view of the Himalayan ranges. There is no admission fee here because it is a temple but donations are welcome.
Photo: Hanuman Tok / CC0
Enchey Monastery & Rumtek Monastery
There are many monasteries around Gangtok which you can visit but the most popular among them is Enchey. It can be crowded at times because it is one of the busiest destinations around there, but if that happens to be the case there is Rumtek Monastery which is the largest one in Asia.
Both Monasteries do not take any entrance fee, but you need to have your identity card with you. These are the best places to soak in the Buddhist ambiance of Sikkim.
Photo: Rumtek Monastery / The Art of Travel Partners
What to Wear
No matter which season you visit, it is mandatory you carry windcheaters with you. Thermals are also a must. Make sure you carry enough pair of socks and delicates as the weather here does not permit your clothes to dry up fast. A sturdy pair of boots comes in handy while trekking.
How To Go
Bagdogra is the closest airport. From here you can take a private or share a taxi to reach Gangtok. You can also take a taxi to Siliguri and take a bus to Gangtok instead too. Takes around 4 hours for you to reach from here. Sikkim now has its own airport too, but it does not have connectivity from all airports yet.
It is better if you take a train from a major Indian city. Bhubaneswar, Kolkata, Delhi, Chennai, Puri, Jodhpur and many other cities to New Jalpaiguri. Once you reach here, there are cabs you can hire to take you to Gangtok, or you can travel to Gangtok via Darjeeling.
Best Time To Visit
Gangtok is not unbearably hot or bone bitingly cold. The city boasts nice weather all year round, but from June to September it receives monsoon rainfall. Trekking and sightseeing become difficult with rain pouring down. Avoid the rainy season by visiting between March and May. If you prefer a cooler temperature visit between December and February.
Photo: Winters in North Sikkim gets snowy with frozen water bodies / The Art of Travel Partners
Unlike Darjeeling, Gangtok is a typical North-East Indian State. The majority of the population is Buddhist, which you can deduce from the number of monasteries you visit and see along the way. The language here is Nepali, Hindi, and Lepcha (a language spoken spoke by few locals).
That said, English is enough to help you communicate with the locals, as it is widely understood.
Majority of the homestays and the hotels provide you with the Wi-Fi Password. And it is easier to get the connection when you are inside the city, once you set forth in your road trip or sightseeing the network fluctuates. In places like the Rumtek Monastery and the Samdruptse, it is hard to get any connection because of the elevation.
You can hear the chants and see the pagodas to know that Gangtok is a cultural cauldron. But it is also one of the most laid-back cities in India. It is a place in India where you can have beef without being judged and drink whatever you want.
Having a good time here is easy because the locals are immensely friendly. But the travelers need to respect their culture and cleanliness of the city. And an important thing to know about Gangtok is the road rules. Nobody cares where you drive in most part of India, but the Gangtok Traffic police are very strict for the good of the public.
Photo: Buddhist celebrating their festivities at a monastery / CC0
When in Gangtok you have to try their momos. From pork to beef to sabji(veg) they have it all. Steamed or fried, in oil or butter, all varieties, all types.
But what is more especially local which you can’t get in Banglore of Delhi are their tee momo which is basically a big momo with no filling, steamed and had with a gravy. Considered healthy by them, and also very filling.
Or a taypo, which is a bigger tee mom with meat/ egg filling, all steamed. Eating one is probably going to fill you up.
Another dish similar to this is Phaley- they are semi-circular and filled with similar stuffing but are never steamed, always fried.
Even their aloo or meat Thukpa which is basically soupy noodles are tasty. Or their wai-wai, which are packet noodles eaten raw without having to boil them in water.
Hit or Dansberg which are the local beers are worth trying and are really cheap when you buy it in a local wine shop and not in a bar. Even their local millet based beer called Tumba/ Thomba is available in certain restaurants around MG Marg and is worth a try.
Photo: Local taipo/thaypo momo / CC0
Getting Around in Gangtok
The main Gangtok city is the focal point for tourists who start their journey here and come to rest here at the end of the day. The best way to travel is hire a local taxi to help you see around because they know the place like the back of their hand.
This road has everything you can ever want to buy in Gangtok. From local art to hanging bells and flags, you will get it all. Shops are open from morning to night and you have a variety of options to go to.
Photo:MG Marg during night time/ CC0
This is a store located on one of the gullies of MG Marg. If you are interested in shopping for shirts, mugs, books with innovative local designs this is the place to head to.
It even houses a collection of local flags and key chains, to their famous spicy chilli the Dalli. Head in there to explore what Sikkim has to offer.
Started by NID pass out, it is a must visit for people interested in gifting/ keeping a memory of Sikkim before coming back home with a touch of art and passion.
Nightlife Hot Spots
Gangtok has a good nightlife during the weekends. Some of the must visit places are
- Cafe Live and Loud
- Pub 25
- After Dark
- Infinity Futsal
- Mayfair Casino
Try Cafe Fiction for a day spent relaxing among books and good coffee. Located away from the main MG Marg, it has an unlimited supply of comics and all types of books which makes it a warm place to spend time at.
Photo: Cafe Live and Loud near MG. Marg/ CC0
Road conditions in Gangtok
Hilly areas are risky places to drive. And if you are not an experienced driver then we recommend you do not dare take the wheels. The local cab drivers are seasoned to the unexpected twists and turns of the valleys.
In South Sikkim the roads are not at all in proper conditions, the rides get bumpy, and there is no railing on the valley side of the road. And the roads are very narrow, the drivers curb their speed, switch on the music and drive slowly through the clouded valleys.
How Safe is Gangtok
You are safe from people in Gangtok. But the elevation is other thing. Be careful while walking down the pavement because if you look down you get the view of the steep hills. And when on a ride the unpredictable U-turns and sudden change of height can make you woozy. It is a sound advice that you take medicines for a headache and vomiting, in case you need them.
For in-depth knowledge of Gangtok do check out our blog posts:
December 27, 2017 8:29 am
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