Gangtok, Sikkim. Photo Credit @chettriraja

Gangtok at an elevation of 1,650m (5,410ft) is a city, the capital, and the largest town in the state of Sikkim. Nestled at higher peaks towering by the Himalayan Mountain Ranges, is a heritage for rich culture and traditions with a touch of modernity. It is one of the most famous tourist Hill stations in India.

Gangtok, being blessed with spectacular natural landscapes and a pleasant temperate climate that exists all around the year also serves as a gateway for campers and trekkers to the Himalayan mountain ranges. While giving a picturesque view of Mount Kanchenjunga- the world’s third-highest peak on the west side of the city, Gangtok offers heart-rending opportunities for exploration. Gangtok thus has always been the heart of Sikkim’s tourism industry.

Buddhist monasteries, Stupas, and Pagoda-roofed houses add radiance to the already awe-vista beauty of the place. Expansion of the place in accordance with tourism aspects as such being tagged as the “Switzerland of the East” is justified because of its cleanliness and the abounding greenery.

The best time to visit the place is during March to Late May when the wild Rhododendrons blossoms give out vibrant touch to its surroundings and October to Mid-December.

One can never get enough of the beauty and culture it has to offer coupled with the hospitability of the people where every tourist is being treated as one of their own.

Culture and Traditions

Major native tribes dwelling in harmony are the Lepchas, Bhutias, and Tibetans. Besides the nationwide celebration of various festivals, some unique festivals like Buddha Jayanti, the Birthday of Dalai Lama, Saga Dawa, Lhabab Dhuechein, etc. are regarded with great esteem. Folk dances and folk songs of the Sikkimese go hand-in-hand with the rich culture the state is known for. Famous folk dances include Lu Khangthamo, Gha To Kito, Chi Rimu, Gnungmala Gnunghey, etc including mask dances such as Enchey Chaam, Kagyed Dance, Rumteck Chaam and Gouthor usually performed on ceremonial and festive occasions.

Though known throughout the country, nothing beats the popular and traditional touch in every veg and non-veg momo (vegetables and meat wrapped in thin flour wrapper) the Sikkimese are known for. Famous noodles-based dishes include Wai-Wai, Thukpa, Gyathuk, and Wonton, while other cuisines famous cuisines include Shah-Phaley (Sikkimese patties), and Gack-Ko soup. Churpee (hardened cheese of cow’s or yak’s milk) and Chhang ((local frothy millet beer) are also well known among locals and an attraction to tourists.

The abundance of culture and local food varieties in addition to nature’s beauty it has to offer have always played a major role in the Gangtok Tourism industry.

Football and cricket are the most popular sports in Gangtok while archery is a traditional sport.

The best places to visit in Gangtok

The natural beauty and the soothing ambiance of rich culture together turn the hill city of Gangtok into heaven. The picturesque beauty of the Kanchenjunga and the Teesta River flowing on the rocks are the added-on gifts to mountain lovers. Gangtok Tourism offers a bunch of attractions for visitors.

Tsongmo Lake

Tsongmo Lake, also known as Changu Lake, always remains at the top of the bucket list of tourists. It is a glacial lake, 40 kilometers (25 miles) away from Gangtok city. It is situated at an elevation of 12,313 ft from the sea level. If you visit there in winter you can find the oval-shaped lake to be fully frozen. At seven seasons of the year, the surface of the lake reflects seven different shades of colors.

A small temple of Lord Shiva, situated on the bank of the lake is quite popular among the visitors. During Guru Purnima, people gather at the lake with the faith that the lake water possesses a healing quality. If you are a nature lover then the middle of May will be the perfect time for you, when the flowers of rhododendron, primroses, blue and yellow poppies blossom. Gangtok Tourism offers some joy rides also there during summer.

As this region is a restricted area, the Indian nationals require an Inner Line Permit and the foreign nationals require a special permit to reach there.

Rumtek Monastery

Rumtek Monastery, also known as the Dharmachakra Centre, is considered one of the most important sacred places among the Buddhist people around the world as the most significant hub for Kagyu teachings. Although originally, it was built in the mid-18th century by the 9th Karmapa Lama Wangchuk Dorje, the attractive Gompa architecture that we can see there now, was built by the 16th Karmapa Lama Rangjung Rigpe Dorje.

It was initially restricted to Buddhist monks only. In the year 1966, it was opened to all. It is situated on a hill 23 kilometers away from Gangtok city. From the top of the monastery, the view of the whole of Gangtok city injects an aesthetic feeling into the visitors. The Gompa architecture, the golden stupa, murals, and sculptures make this place a point of artistic interest also.

The scheduled visiting hour of the sacred place is 6:00 AM – 6:00 PM and the required entry fee is 10 INR per person.

Nathu La Pass

A trip to Gangtok always remains incomplete without a visit to Nathu La pass. It is the mountain pass that connects Sikkim to the Autonomous region of Tibet. Nathu La, situated at an altitude of 14,140 ft from the sea level, is 54 kilometers (34 miles) long on the Indian side. As a consequence of the Sino-Indian war in 1962, the pass remained sealed for a long period. In 2006, following several Sino-Indian trade agreements, the pass has been reopened. If you add this pass to your bucket list, then you have to visit it in summer as it remains closed during winter due to heavy snowfall.

Gangtok allows Indian citizens only to visit the pass with an Inner Line Permit.

Tashi Viewpoint

Tashi viewpoint, located 8 kilometers away from Gangtok city, is the most popular viewpoint of the Kanchenjunga and Siniolchu. If the sky is clear then the picturesque view of the snow peaks of the mountain will mesmerize you. This viewpoint is quite popular among tourists for the aesthetic view of the sunrise from here. Phodong and Labrang monasteries, situated in the lap of the opposite hills will give you a photographic view under the soothing sunlight. It was named after Tashi Namgyal, the former king of Sikkim founded this viewpoint.

The viewpoint remains open from 5:00 AM to 6:00 PM. No entry fee is required there. But if you want you may get binoculars on rent, for only 10 INR. Several cafeterias and food joints are present there at the surroundings for refreshment.

Seven Sister Waterfall

Seven Sister Waterfall is a must-visit spot in Gangtok. It is the most beautiful waterfall in Sikkim. At a distance of around 32 kilometers from Gangtok city, the beautiful waterfall is located on the Gangtok-Lachung highway. The seven falls residing together side by side make the nomenclature justified. Also, the waterfalls are in seven stages, although only four are visible among them. During the rainy season, the waterfall comes to life and water makes a terrific roaring sound while falling on the limestone. A waiting spot and viewpoint have been made by the Department of Tourism and Civil Aviation. Gangtok has made a small footbridge also over the stream so that the tourists can get a close view of the mesmerizing beauty.

Phodong Monastery

Located at a distance of 38 kilometers from Gangtok City, Phodong Monastery is one of the six important Monasteries in Sikkim. It is situated at an elevation of 4500 ft from the sea level. It was founded in the first half of the eighteenth century by Chogyal Gyurmed Namgyal. It is also considered one of the three significant monasteries of the Kagyu sect. It is murals and sculptures attract art enthusiasts from all over the world. Each year, according to the Tibetan calendar, on the 28th and 29th days of the 10th month, the Phodong festival takes place there, where the monks together perform the Chaam Dance.

Do Drul Chorten Stupa

Do Drul Chorten Stupa is a significant point of spiritual interest among the visitors. It was built in 1946 by Trulshik Rinpoche, an important person of the Nyingma order of Buddhism. The myth behind the stupa says that the place became haunted by evil spirits. To drive away from the spirit the renowned hermit established the stupa. Holy religious antiques including a set of Dorjee Phurba and Kangyur are preserved there. 108 Mani Lhakors are present around the stupa. Murals of Padmasambhava and Guru Snang will never fail to grab the attention of art lovers.

Namgyal Institute of Tibetology

Namgyal Institute of Tibetology is an institute for studies and research on Tibetan Buddhism. It was established in 1958 to promote research on Tibetan culture, history, religion, art, language, and philosophy. For tourists who want to explore Sikkim as the only hub of Tibetan culture in India, this is a place that must not be missed. There is a museum of Tibetan iconography and artworks which is considered the largest collection of Tibetan documents outside Tibet.

Visitors can visit there every day of the week except Sundays, and the second Saturday of each month, along with the holidays declared by the Government. The scheduled visiting hour is 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM. An entry fee of 10 INR is required to enter there.

Ganesh Tok

Ganesh Tok is a place where Hindu culture is made fusion with Tibetan culture. It is a small temple, decorated in Tibetan style, with colorful flags. The temple dedicated to Lord Ganesha is situated 11 kilometers away from Gangtok city, at an elevation of 7200 ft. Although it is too small to accommodate two people inside at a time, it is quite popular among tourists as a viewpoint. This place, surrounded by nature, always gifts a piece of tranquility to the visitors.

No entry fee is required there. The temple remains open from 6:00 AM to 7:00 PM.

Baba Harbhajan Singh Memorial Temple

Baba Harbhajan Singh Memorial Temple is not any temple dedicated to any mythological deity. It was established to express reverence towards an Indian Army personnel named Baba Harbhajan Singh who was drowned in a glacier. Several folklores about his moving spirit are quite popular among the local people. The temple is situated at a distance of 50 kilometers from Gangtok city towards the Nathula border. Each year, during summer, Gangtok tourism permits tourists to visit there issuing an inner line permit.

Ban Jhakri Falls

Located 10-12 kilometers away from Gangtok city, Ban Jhakri Falls has become a new attraction of Gangtok. A beautiful waterfall along with an Energy park and statues of Lyam Lymay, Mangpas, Lepcha, and Ban Jhakri ancestors, is considered one of the most favored picnic spots. It includes several food joints and a swimming pool also.

An entry fee of 50 INR is required there. From 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM it remains open.

M G Marg

A trip remains incomplete without shopping and M G Marg is the shopping hub of Gangtok. This place is considered as the heart of the city. As this area is made for pedestrians, vehicles should be parked outside the marketplace. The buildings on both sides are painted in green as per the Government’s instruction to convey the ‘Green City’ message. Gangtok tourism offers a smoke-free, litter-free shopping experience to visitors. The marketplace remains closed on Tuesdays.

Himalayan Zoological Park

If you want to explore the wildlife living in the climate of Sikkim, Himalayan Zoological Park is there for you. At an elevation of 1780 meters, the zoological park has been made in a place named Bulbuley, at a distance of 3 kilometers from the heart of the city. It was established in 1991, in such a way that all the creatures can live there safely in their natural habitat. You can meet snow leopard cats, Himalayan red pandas, Himalayan monal pheasant, crimson horned pheasants, and Himalayan palm civets with an amazing view of Kanchenjunga.

You can explore on foot as well as by car. But since it will take a long time to reach one habitat to another by walking, most of the visitors decide to hire a car available there for half a day. For refreshments, café, food corners, and a watchtower are present there.

The zoological park opens at 9:00 AM and closes at 4:00 PM every day of the week except Thursday. For adults, the entry fee is 25 INR while for kids it is 10 INR and for foreigners, it will cost 50 INR. Additionally, for the small vehicle, you have to pay 40 INR and for the big vehicle, you have to pay 100 INR there.

Fambong La Wildlife Sanctuary

Gangtok tourism offers another spectacular habitat of Himalayan flora and fauna, 20 kilometers away from the Gangtok SNT bus stand. The sanctuary, situated at an altitude of 1524 – 2749 meters, is an extension of the Kanchenjunga National Park. Various types of rhododendrons, ferns, bamboo, and oak can be seen here. For bird lovers, this place is heaven. Black eagle, maroon oriole, yellow-billed blue magpie, Nepal tree creeper and so many other species of birds are found there. Among animals, Himalayan brown bears, red pandas, and barking deer are very popular among visitors.

Visitors are allowed to go there between 8 AM to 3 PM. An entry fee of 5 INR is charged by the forest department.

Sa-Ngor-Chotshong Centre

Sa-Ngor-Chotshong Centre, also known as the Crown of Sikkim, is one of the most important monastic institutes for Tibetan studies. It has become an important destination for Gangtok tourism due to its architecture and artworks. This monastery of the Ngorpa sect was established in 1961. This is the only monastery in India where the Sakya order of Buddhism is followed. The murals and thangkas cover the walls of the monastery. This place is located around 5 kilometers away from the city. As from March to June the climate remains tourist-friendly, it will be the best time to visit. Also, if you want to see this beautiful monastery covered in snow, you have to visit it in winter.

So, if you visit Gangtok, do not forget to leave your footprints in the above-mentioned tourist places.

Best time to visit Gangtok

Tourists, trekkers, and honeymoon couples rush to Gangtok during the peak season ranging from September to June. Autumn is the best time to enjoy the breathtaking scenic views of the enchanting peaks and lakes. The months from October to mid-December and from March to June are the ideal time to visit Gangtok.

The months of July-August are not preferable due to the incessant rains, devastating landslides, and roadblocks. Dense fog covers the atmosphere, and it becomes difficult to drive through it. The temperature is quite pleasant during the monsoon months ranging from 17-22 degrees.

The temperature from October to February is usually when the climate is mystic and pleasing. It ranges between 4-7°C and is the best time for trekking, river-rafting, paragliding, mountain biking, and other adventurous activities. The cold, dry, and bright weather draws the maximum tourist during these months.

The spring months are also the best time for sightseeing as the roads are blooming with flowers. The bright, sunny weather accompanied by vibrant flowers provides a visual treat to your eyes. Most travelers find the months of October-February the best time to visit Gangtok.

How to reach Gangtok

One of the many reasons behind the popularity of Gangtok is its easy accessibility and scenic beauty. You can reach Gangtok by road, railway, and airway from any part of India.

The closest railway station to Gangtok is New Jalpaiguri which is 117km away from the hill station. The railway station is connected to all parts of the country, including minor parts. You can easily avail of railway transportation from major cities like Mumbai, Bangalore, New Delhi, and Kolkata to reach Gangtok. Most tourists prefer to avail of railway transportation to reach Gangtok.

You can hire a taxi or private jeep from New Jalpaiguri to Gangtok. Alternatively, you can take a state-run bus from Siliguri bus terminus to Gangtok. It will take you around 4-5 hours to reach the majestic hill station.

The nearest airport to Gangtok is Bagdogra Airport in West Bengal. It is located at a distance of 125km away from Gangtok. Many popular carriers like Air India, IndiGo, SpiceJet, and others run regular flights to Gangtok. All the major cities in the country are linked to this airport. From Bagdogra Airport, you can catch a shared cab or private car that will take you to Gangtok within two hours. The scenic beauty of the majestic mountains and shimmering river makes the car ride enchanting.

You can also avail of TSA helicopter services from Bagdogra to Gangtok. It operates daily and takes around 20 minutes to arrive at Gangtok. However, they often get canceled owing to adverse weather conditions.

Gangtok is well connected to the nearby tourist destinations by roadways. You can reach Gangtok from Darjeeling, Sikkim, Siliguri, and Kalimpong via the National Highway 31A. You can find an innumerable number of state-run buses between Siliguri and Gangtok. You can also opt for private buses, taxis, shared cabs and taxis from Bagdogra, New Jalpaiguri, and Siliguri.

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