Gangtok is arguably the most tourist-friendly place in the Northeast. It is inhabited mostly by communities like the Nepalis, the Lepchas, the Bhutias and the Tibetans. This blending of various people and their cultures has made Gangtok more colourful and its people more tolerant to outsiders. My first impression of Gangtok, as our taxi crawled up the Tibetan Road, was that of a congested yet beautiful city. Gangtok is a small city, with a population of a little more than one lakh. The city is sprawled on one slating face of a mountain. Gangtok, perched on an altitude of 1650 m, is the capital of Sikkim.
Not much of Gangtok's history is known, but it came to prominence when the capital of Sikkim was moved to Gangtok in 1894 during the reign of Sikkim King Chogyal Thutob Namgyal. Gangtok's importance grew and it became an important stopover place for traders traveling the route from Calcutta in India to Lhasa in Tibet. The influx of traders and outsiders grew along with its religious significance. It is today a popular Buddhist pilgrimage centre as well.
Gangtok can be reached from Siliguri and Darjeeling by road. There are lots of shared taxi services but limited bus facility because of small and difficult roads. Siliguri to Gangtok is around 113 km, and takes six hours to drive. Taxis drop only at the station, and since the roads are steep, it's impossible to walk with your luggage in Gangtok. Local Taxi fares are high compared with other cities.
Where to Stay:
Tibet Road, at a walking distance from MG Marg, is very close to the main bazaar and there are many budget hotels all along the road.
What to Eat:
Good food and clean hotels at affordable price are what attracts tourists and Gangtok has plenty of that. In Gangtok, restaurants have a culture of karaoke singing, which makes it a great hangout place for youngsters. Sikkim is one of the few States in the Northeast where wine and alcohol are served openly in restaurants.
Best time to visit Gangtok:
The best time to visit Gangtok is from October to November, and March to April. At these times, the sky is clear and weather favourable. Gangtok receives a large amount of rainfall during the monsoon season, and this time of the year should be avoided.
Gangtok is a well maintained city. It has many attractions, and the distinct culture and the people living in it make for an interesting visit.
The Mahatma Gandhi Marg is the glamorous shopping area of Gangtok. A spacious pavement runs in the middle, with shops on both sides. The best time to visit MG Marg is in the evening, when the pavement is brimming with busy shoppers and youngsters who have come just to hang out. It is definitely the most popular hangout place in Gangtok. It was fun to sit by the pavement and sip coffee as I watched the city buzzing with life.
Monasteries in Gangtok:
Gangtok became a popular pilgrimage place after constructing the Enchey Monastery in 1840. Monasteries in the city are very popular with both tourists and pilgrims. They are one of the best tourist attractions in Gangtok. Some other important monasteries are Rumtek Monastery, Tsuklakhang Palace Monastery and Do-Drul Chorten.
Flower show near the Ridge is a major attraction in Gangtok. Sikkim boasts of more than 500 rare orchid species and around 5,000 flowering species. The flower show is a small floral exhibition in a small space, but it showcases some important plants and orchids species of the state. It offers a rare peek into the flora kingdom of the state.
The best place to get a good view of Gangtok is from Ganesh Tok, a hill that stands at 1980 metres above sea level. The peak has an observatory tower and also a much revered temple.
Himalayan Zoological Park, Bulbuley:
The one-of-a-kind park is designed to provide natural habitat to animals. Built over an area of 205 hectares of forest, it is a perfect place for nature lovers and an easy escape from city life. The park is just 3 km from Gangtok.