Gangtok offers dizzying views and a down-to-earth mix of old school momo joints and hip cafes and pubs. It has one of the best live music scenes in India.
These are the places to hit up when you are in this fascinating town in the Eastern Himalayas.
Food, Glorious Food
For a taste of quality local food, visit Solpon (Hotel Dhewhcen, NH 10, on Singtam - Chungthang Rd). They use locally sourced seasonal ingredients that are organic and sustainable (through partnership with farmers). The menu is driven by a minimalist approach to ingredients.
Café Fiction (attached to Rachna Books in Development Area) has excellent coffee and bakes. We recommend a tall glass of their Vietnamese Cà Phê Sá»¯a Dá. Upstairs is their bookstore, Rachna Books, which has won several awards and regularly hosts readings and live music sessions. 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. We loved the decor which included a retro pop-colour television set.
In the evenings, head out to the buzzing MG Marg (and around) which is packed with restaurants and cafes, including popular chains like Café Coffee Day and Domino’s. You'll hear strains of live music floating out of the open windows of cafes and pubs here.
Feeling cold? Have some Tibetan butter tea, coffee, thin-crust pizzas and laping (a spicy cold mung bean noodle dish) at The Local Café, a cosy space on the New Market stretch of MG Marg.
Another place for local food is Nimtho (MG Marg), which serves up local thalis and an à la carte menu of traditional dishes including nettle soup, shyapta (stirfried thinly sliced beef), and ningro churpi (fiddlehead fern cooked in local cheese).
Mu Kimchi in Vishal Gaon does Korean food. Taste of Tibet in MG Marg has excellent Tibetan food. The Café Royale Patisserie & Restaurant (inside the Tsuklakhang Palace Complex on Tashiling road) does Western-style dishes including caramelised BBQ ribs and pulled pork burgers. Have some aloo chura at a roadside joint — it’s potatoes topped with fried chidwa (flattened rice), whole grams and lentils herbs, and spices.
Light Up The Night
After a day of exploring the hills and forests, you may feel like hanging out and chilling with some beer and live music. Cafe Live and Loud on Tibet Road is a popular place because of their thrice a week live music sessions. You can set the dance floor on fire with your moves two days a week during their high-octane DJ nights. Downtown DJs on MG Marg has great local music, and ambience, and a nice rooftop seating area.
The town also has a few sports clubs where you can have a snooker game or try your hand at Xbox 360 gaming over some chilled beer.
If you are in the mood for real sports, hit up the Infinity Futsal Arena — a rooftop football arena with a pub. It’s especially great if you have friends with you on your trip so you get to kick a ball around and have a drink.
Sikkim also has casinos — on land. So roll up your sleeves and play a game of black jack or poker. Spread across an area of 7000 sq ft, the Casino Mahjong located in Mayfair Spa Resort is one of the best. Then there’s the Royal Plaza Casino inside Royal Plaza Hotel.
Pick Up Souvenirs
You can do most of your shopping in MG Marg. It has several souvenir shops with Sikkim-made products like masks, products with Buddhist iconography, along with bags, woollens, local pickles and condiments.
Head to the Directorate of Handicrafts and Handlooms at Zero Point for traditional, handmade products. Here you can buy exquisitely carved wooden screens, mirrors, clay and wooden masks, the eight lucky signs carved in wood, lamp stands, thangka paintings, handmade paper letterpads, choktse (foldable tables), dhaka choli and saree (traditional dress of Nepali women), Lepcha coats made with handwoven fabrics on loin looms, daka topis, ponchos, kids dresses, and more.
The High Court Museum has a small shop that stocks some handicrafts from Sikkim (including interesting local headgear and bags with unique designs).
At Rachna Books, you can pick up local coffee and tea, and postcards. They also stock the Sikkimis brand of T-shirts, notebooks, cups, and magnets — and of course, excellent books on the Himalayan region.
Want a postcard that stands out from the crowd? 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.
For clothes and accessories at lower prices, Lal Bazar is the place to visit. It is also a great shopping stop for foodies. Enrich your larder back home with supplies from here — organic kidney beans, chhurpi (local cheese made from yak’s milk), dried meats, pickles and condiments, fresh butter, and local spices. Fruit and spice-based liquors, brandy and whisky in interesting bottles (shaped like khurkis and footballs) are another must-buy here. The grocery stores here and in MG Marg stock the range of Sikkim Supreme pickles, marmalades and jams.
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 all tell stories of Sikkim and its people. Even their packaging is lovely.
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.
Some stores at MG Marg stock high-trend street wear from Bangkok and China if you are into that thing. Gangtok also has some khadi outlets which stock fabrics, clothes, and excellent handmade woollen rugs.
Local label My Beautiful Earth makes gorgeous handmade soaps from certified organic products like jasmine, apricot, and even tea leaves. Many shops in Gangtok stock them - you can check out the InHabit store on Nam Nang road, for iinstance.