There's a lot more to Gangtok than the usual monastery and flower show circuit. It has developed into a contemporary hillside town with a thriving food, culture and art scene. You would get the common Gangtok trails from guidebooks, here are five things that most will not know about.
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Books And Coffee At Rachna Bookstore
Located in the Development Area, this quaint bookstore-cum-cafe has to be one of the best indie bookstores in India. They have won Publishing Next’s Bookstore of the Year award in 2015-16 in the South East Asia category. Owner Raman Shresta carefully curates the collection – the shelf section on the Northeast books has excellent books on Sikkimese, Nepal and Tibetan history, culture, folklore and arts. Others that stand out are the sections on Southeast Asia, the collection of women writers, graphic novels and literary magazines (from the Himalayan region), the classics collection. A speaker at the Jaipur Literature Festival, Shresta is known for hosting interesting events with writers, illustrators, publishers from India and abroad. You may also be able to catch a film screening or a poetry slam, music gigs or a shadow puppetry session. They also publish their own books - like Opening the Hidden Land: State Formation and Construction of Sikkimese History by Dr. Saul Mullard.
You can make your purchase, and go down to Café Fiction to fuel up. The coffee here is locally sourced from small farm holdings, and roasted in-house. The menu is not fixed but changes – so you get anything from momos and steaming bowls of noodles, to pasta and pies, or sandwiches, freshly-baked cakes, brownies, waffles, and cheesecakes.
Rachna also has a lovely BnB attached to it. And MG Road is just a 10-minute walk away.
Old Documents At The High Court Museum
Browse through rare and historical documents at this 1910 bungalow. It was the chief justice’s bungalow till 2016, after which it was converted into a museum. At the entrance you will be greeted by the statues of Sikkim Guards clad in bright red uniforms. Visit with some time in hand - it will take you an hour to go though the collection distributed across five galleries. It includes ancient documents, sepia-toned photos, illustrated manuscripts, antiquities, coins, archaeological objects, armour, and natural history specimens. Of particular interest are the documents that illustrate the ‘Sikhim laws’ or ‘Sixteen Laws’ of the state, said to be based on the sayings of Raja Melong-dong who lived here before the time of Buddha. A Mock Court Room lets you experience the feeling of being inside an actual one, the library is where you can view and read old judgments and documents, an audio-visual room screens documentary films and videos on Sikkim. You can also catch up on your souvenir shopping at the attached shop that sells handicrafts and products made in Sikkim.
Limphing And Bokhu At MG Marg
This traffic free pedestrianised zone is the main shopping, eating and hanging out area of Gangtok. In a short stretch of about a kilomtere, it packs in hundreds of eateries, shops, hotels, money exchange stops, banks and ATMs, salons, medicine shops, grocery stores, and even a few cosy tailoring outlets. Come here after sunset to catch the local scene, have a drink at a pub and listen to live music. The many restaurants and cafes here serve up a mindboggling variety of cuisines from Nepalese, Tibetan, Korean, to Italian and Indian. We loved The Local Cafe which served up some amazing locally sourced coffee and dishes, from the Tibetan limphing (jelly rolls made with green mung) to delicious cheesecakes. The shops are a good place to pick up souvenirs and gifts – from Buddhist masks and brass bowls to interesting headgear and bags made with local silk. Don’t go back without picking up a Sikkimese dress - bokhu (bakhu in Nepalese), or kho in local lingo. You will find stores in New Market selling them. Made with Chinese brocade, they have colourful flowers or Buddhist cultural motifs woven in.
Organic Foods At Lal Bazar
People head to Lal Bazar to pick up clothing and accessories at bargain prices. We suggest you hit up the produce shops. The first and second floor house shops selling local fruits vegetables, cheeses, grains and more. The building is located just below MG Marg, close to the Denzong cinema hall. The organic produce market here is a big draw. Mounds of different kinds of chhurpi (local fresh cheese), fresh-churned butter, homemade noodles, pickles, dried meats, a variety of beans, vegetables like nettles, nakema (a wild orchid variety that is made into a dish), fiddle-headed ferns, miniature eggplants – it is a feast for the senses. The produce is brought down from small village farms. It is busiest on Sundays.
Shop For Unique, Local Products
Everyone will tell you about the Directorate of Handloom and Handicrafts which is known for traditional, handmade products. We also love it, don't give it a miss. You can buy exquisitely carved wooden screens and mirrors, clay and wooden masks, thangka paintings, choktse (foldable tables), dhaka choli and saree (traditional dress of Nepali women), lepcha coats made with handwoven fabrics, daka topis, ponchos, and more. We especially loved the long strips of handwoven loin loom fabrics that you can use in different ways. And the diaries made of handmade paper that come from a small unit in Borong.
If you are looking for contemporary local stuff, designed by young Sikkimese, head to Studio Tetteluna on Nam Nang Road (about a 7-minute walk via the road between Denzong Cinema and Lal Bazar). They are professional photographers and print all images on high quality German paper. They have a small collection of photos of Sikkim on excellent quality photo paper that you can buy as souvenirs.
The Sikkimis store in the New Market area adjacent to MG Marg is a quirky lifestyle label that makes teabags, postcards, notepads and diaries, key chains, T-shirts and other products that tell stories of Sikkim. Even their packaging is lovely. Rachna Bookstore also stocks their products.