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.
HOW TO GO
Bagdogra is the closest airport but it is difficult to reach Gangtok from there. Plus, the next closest airport, Guwahati Airport, is 550 km from the city. 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.
WHEN TO GO
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.
THINGS TO DO
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.
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 the 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.
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.
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.
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, Manchurian along with Maggi and other staple food.
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.
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.
Nathu La & Tsomgo Lake
The most attractive of all the itinerary is the trip to Nathu La. It is a dream of travelers to go there, but during peak season that is May it is too flooded with tourists and during the Monsoon the roads suffer from landslides and during winter it is blocked with snow. It all depends on luck, whether you will be able to make a trip to Nathu La or not, because in May also the roads get blocked.
Anyone going here needs a Protected Area Permit and for that reason an Identity proof is required. Sadly it is only applicable to Indian, 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 like the rest of the Himalayas.
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.
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 few long breaths of air helps.
This area is military protected, and there is nothing much to experience inside the monastery if you have had your share of them in Sikkim. But the winning factor is the bird’s eye view of the place.
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.
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.
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. So the language here is also the Nepali, Lepcha is also spoke by few locals. But English is enough to help you communicate with the locals. You can also learn few Hindi phrases, which also is widely understood.
Rupees is the currency used here like the rest of the Country. Indian nationals have no problem whatsoever in withdrawing the cash. But there are ATMs in the MG Marg where foreign Nationals can withdraw the money with their cards.
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 sight seeing 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 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 is very strict for the good of the public.
It is not just the foodies who will enjoy coming to Gangtok, but anyone who eats will. The favourite is Momos and it is a must try. You can have the vegetarian on the non- vegetarian version of it with the htt Schezwan sauce. Momos is found in avery nook and cranny of Gangtok . Take a stroll of MG Marg and you find many food stalls lined up one after other. Another street food worth mentioning is Bhutta , which in English is the roasted corn, sprinkled with salt and lemon.
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 driver to help you see around because they know the place like the back of their hand.
Gangtok Trip Cost
Hiring a local cab is wise, they charge per day, so you can expect to pay 3K for each day if you are hiring a private cab. The cost is much lower if you go on a share. The trip to Nathu La, Tsomgo and Baba Mandir costs 700 INR. Add up the accommodation and you can do your Gangtok Trip within 8K.
How Many days of Travel
Gangtok can be covered up in Three days minimum. You can lengthen your stay as much as you want. But keep one day for North Silkkim, One for South and the other for Nathu La and you will have covered the whole of Sikkim.
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 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