Gangtok lies at a height of 1676m, along a mountain ridge. On clear days, you can see the legendary third highest peak in the world, the deeply venerated Mt Khangchendzonga, towering above all else in the distance.
Back in the day, Sikkim's capital served as an important transit point for those travelling between Tibet and India. Today, it is the administrative and business hub of Sikkim, and a town with a very cosmopolitan vibe that has its share of multiplexes, shopping complexes, cyber cafes, nightclubs, pubs and cafes.
Gangtok used to be a sleepy hamlet. The construction of Enchey Monastery in 1840 transformed it into a major pilgrimage center, and further traffic was added when it became a major stopover between Tibet and British India. In 1894, Sikkimese monarch Thutob Namgyal shifted the capital from Tumlong to Gangtok, and built a new palace along with other state buildings here. Today, Gangtok is considered to be a center of Tibetan Buddhist culture and learning.
The town’s people are from different ethnicities such as Lepchas, Bhutias, and Nepalis. They celebrate major Hindu festivals such as Diwali and Makar Sankranti, along with Buddhist festivals like Losar, Loosong, Bhumchu, Saga Dawa, Lhabab Duechen and Drupka Teshi, and also Christmas. Most government offices and tourist centres are shut for about a week during the Tibetan New Year, Losar, which falls mid-December.
From picking up orchid bulbs for your garden to checking out live gigs, and having a bowl of limphing, here's part one of the ultimate Gangtok checklist. For part two, click here.
Flower Exhibition Centre (and Ridge Park)
If you are an urban gardener, you must visit this place. Situated just below Ridge Park and adjacent to the White Memorial Hall, this small, greenhouse-like space houses a collection of flowering plants found in Sikkim, including orchids, anthuriums, and liliums. The best time to visit is during the annual flower show (April-May) when the place is packed with flowers from around Sikkim and neighbouring states. A small shop outside sells seeds and pods of different local flowers.
Entry is ticketed (free for kids below 5).
Timings: 9am to 5pm
High Court Museum
Located in Forest Colony at Baluwakhani, this green and white bungalow dating back to 1910 houses historical documents and photographs that showcase the state’s judicial history. This used to be the chief justice’s bungalow till 2016, after which it was converted into a museum. Statues of Sikkim guards clad in bright red uniforms greet you as you enter. It will take you a good part of an hour to browse the collection properly. Distributed across five galleries, it includes fascinating old documents, sepiatoned photographs, illustrated manuscripts, antiquities, coins, archaeological objects, armour, natural history specimens, and more.
You can also catch up on your souvenir shopping at the attached shop that sells various kinds of handicrafts and products made in Sikkim.
Timings: 10am to 5pm (Wed-Mon). Closed on Tuesdays and other holidays of the High Court Registry.
You can get some of the best views of Khangchendzonga from here. Valleys and villages from this place located are about 8km from Gangtok, along the north Sikkim highway near Pangthang. Come here at dawn when the first sunrays light up the mountain peaks in shades of pink, orange and gold. It has a resting shed, a park, a small eatery serving basic dishes, and a souvenir shop.
Himalayan Zoological Park
Located at Gangtok’s hill crest, Bulbulay, and with a splendid view of the Khangchendzonga, the Himalayan Zoological Park is spread over 230 hectares with a varied terrain that houses several Himalayan species such as the Himalayan monal pheasant, red panda, leopards, goral, palm civets, black bear and others. It also serves as a conservation and breeding place for endangered species.
The best time to visit is during mid-February to May and mid-September to December.
Entry is ticketed.
Timings: 9am to 4pm
Ganesh Tok and Hanuman Tok
Ganesh Tok is located at an altitude of 6,500ft on a hill adjacent to that of the TV tower. Hanuman Tok has an altitude of 7,200ft and is maintained by the Indian army. Tok means a temple. At both places, you have to climb a staircase to the temple and viewing areas, which offer a spectacular panorama of the peaks. At Hanuman Tok, you will come across Sanjeevani signs — legend says that when Hanuman was flying with Dronagiri Parvat that had the life-saving herb which was meant to save Lakshman, he had rested at this very spot.
At the entry to MG Marg in the heart of town, you will see this floridly coloured temple perched just about the W outlet. It is one of the oldest Hindu temples in Sikkim built on land donated by the Chogyal in 1935. The new and bigger complex was built over several years and finally completed in 2019. Almost every Hindu god and goddess is present in various murals and idols. It also has Shiv Mandir. During September-October, it plays host to Durga puja celebrations.
Do Drul Chorten
Built by head of the Nyingma order of Tibetan Buddhism, Trulshik Rinpoche, in 1945, this is one of the most important stupas in Sikkim. Inside are mandala sets of the meditational deity Dorjee Phurba or Vajraklaya, a set of Kangyur relics or holy books and a complete set of zung (mantras). Around it are ten prayer wheels which are spun while chanting ‘Hail to the jewel in the lotus’ to invoke the Boddhisattva. Around it is the Chorten Lakhang, which has two huge statues of Guru Rinpoche/ Padmasambhava
Timings: 8am to 6pm
Namgyal Institute of Tibetology
This traditionally built Tibetan-style structure in Deorali is home to one of the largest collections of Tibetan works in the world outside of Tibet. You can dig deep into a treasure trove of Buddhist books, manuscripts, statuettes, and thangkas at their museum of Tibetan iconography and religious art, and at the general reference centre on Tibet and the Himalayas. It was established in 1958 to nurture research into Mahayana Buddhism and Tibetan culture. The 14th Dalai Lama laid the foundation stone in 1957 and Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru declared the institute open in 1958. A new building houses the conference hall, library, study rooms, and studios. The library’s vast collection includes antique Lepcha scripts, Tibetan and Sanskrit manuscripts and other prized relics of religious art.
Entry is ticketed.
Timings: 10am to 4pm
Closed on Sundays and government holidays
This double-cable zig back ropeway has three stations on a roughly 1km-long ride. The lowest station is at Deorali near the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology. A stairway leads to the ticket counter. An elevator takes you to the cable car station, about 100ft above. The cars don’t have seats – you have to stand. It stops at Nam Nang first and then at Tashiling, next to the Secretariat. You can enter or get off at any point. The ride takes about 10 minutes. You get good views of the town, peaks and valleys.
The ropeway terminals are at Secretariat, Nam Nang and Deorali (daily 9.30am-4.30pm) and tend to leave only when one car has filled up completely.
Timings: 9:30am to 4:30pm
If you want to pick up clothing and accessories at bargain prices, head to Lal Bazaar. The old market built in 1956 is now a modern shopping complex called the Khangchendzonga Shopping Plaza. The first and second floor shops sell local produce (including tea); the second and third floors sell mostly clothes, accessories, and utensils. The building is located just below MG Marg. Closeby is the Denzong cinema hall which screens mostly Hollywood or Bollywood blockbusters.
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.
Timings: 9am to 6pm
This traffic-free pedestrianised zone is the main shopping, eating and hanging out area of Gangtok. In a short stretch of about a kilometer, 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.
Gangtok’s Tourism Information Centre is located at the entry point to MG Marg.
The many restaurants and cafes here serve up a mindboggling variety of cuisines from Nepalese, Tibetan, Korean, to Italian and Indian.
Step into one after a long day of sight-seeing for a steaming plate of jhol momos with Nepalese spices, with a glass of bubble tea (or rose-flavoured lassi), energising cones of chilled ice-cream or frozen yoghurt, or just coffee and sandwiches. Some of the cafes serve up amazing locally sourced coffee and dishes that range from the Tibetan limphing (jelly rolls made with green mung) to delicious cheesecakes. You can sit on the benches strewn around the area, and indulge in people watching. 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. Some of the shops here also stock the latest fashion from Bangkok. The area is so densely packed with shops that it will take several visits to do justice.
Shops here are open from 10am to 7:30pm.