Gangtok, also known as the ‘Gateway to Sikkim‘ is a perfect destination for people who love anything and everything about the mountains. It is the municipality, capital and the largest town of Sikkim. Situated about 5, 500 feet above the sea level, this city is known for its scenic beauty. Mount Kanchenjunga – the world’s third highest peak is visible to the left of the city and the views of it is mesmerizing in its own. Gangtok can be safely said to be one of the most beautiful hill stations in the country.
In this blog post, I’ve tried to provide with all the information which would be required to plan an itinerary for a perfect Gangtok trip.
Gangtok is abundant in natural beauty. It has a mild temperate climate all year round, due to its elevation and sheltered environment. It is not only the largest city of Sikkim but also one of the cleanest places in India. It is a perfect place for fun lovers.
It not only has good food and good music in the pubs and restaurants, but it is also filled with speculative views and culture and heritage. In short, it is a perfect blend of cultural identities as well as urbanization.
One can easily be absorbed for days in Gangtok with attractions & entertainment activities. There are great viewpoints to watch Kanchenjunga snow peaks & sunset, monasteries & gompas with awesome architecture, museums, gardens, waterfalls, lakes, art & craft, rides, paragliding, etc.
Sounds interesting? It certainly is! Following are the details which would help you plan your perfect trip to Gangtok
What is the best time to visit Gangtok?
- Spring (March to April) and Autumn (October to November) are great times to visit Gangtok when there will be a chill in the air but still very pleasant throughout the day.
- One can also visit Gangtok during Summers (May to June) where the average temperature hovers around 22°C.
- However, most tourists avoid Gangtok from December to February and July to September as the average temperature hovers around 4°C during this time.
The overall weather is quite comfortable during Autumn, in spite of a bit cold weather in November. One of the major positive points is that the sky remains clear during this time and one can usually get mesmerizing views of Kanchenjunga and the snow mountains. This is an excellent time for sightseeing and for those who love adventure activities.
Summers can get quite warm sometimes during the daytime, but overall it remains quite comfortable and you will need to wear a light sweater only at night.
It becomes extremely cold especially early in the mornings and at nights during winters. The routes to high altitude places from Gangtok like Tsomgo lake and Nathula Pass often get closed due to heavy snowfall, accompanied by fog. Routes are also cut off during the Monsoons which is characterized by continuous rains, cloudy sky, and severe landslides.
How to reach Gangtok?
The airport nearest to Gangtok is at a distance of about 124 kilometers in Bagdogra, West Bengal. One can reach Gangtok in a matter of two hours by hiring a shared cab or a private vehicle from the airport. The drive from Bagdogra to Gangtok is absolutely stunning with gorgeous mountains and River Teesta as a backdrop. One can reach Gangtok in 20 – 35 minutes by taking a TSA helicopter from Bagdogra, but their services depend upon the weather conditions.
The nearest railway station to Gangtok is about New Jalpaiguri in Siliguri. The station is well-connected to major cities like Kolkata and New Delhi. Private and shared taxi services are available in plenty between Gangtok and New Jalpaiguri. From NJP station, one can take a taxi to Gangtok which will take about 3 – 4 hours. One can also go to Siliguri Bus Station and board a state-run bus to Gangtok, which will take about 5 – 6 hours.
Main tourist attractions in Gangtok
Sikkim is full of marvels for those who love nature and adventures. Gangtok, being Sikkim’s capital and most prominent tourist attraction, has loads to offer to tourists – be its unparalleled natural beauty or an adrenaline rush through adventure activities.
A two-hour drive from Gangtok, Tsomgo Lake is located on the Gangtok-Nathu La highway. Located at an altitude of 3780 meters above sea level, it is also called the Changu Lake and is crossed by the Nathula Pass on the north. About a kilometer-long and 50 meters deep, Tsomgo Lake is popular as a tourist attraction and a holy site as well.
The lake surface reflects different colors with the change of seasons and is held in great reverence by the local Sikkimese people. Surrounded by steep snow-covered mountains during the winters, this snow melts and forms the source of the river during the summers. Alpine forests cover the catchment of the lake.
There is a scenic bloom of flower species of rhododendrons, primulas, blue and yellow poppies, irises and so forth at the periphery of the lake during mid-May. Tourist attractions at the lakeside include joy rides on decorated yaks and mules where kiosks offer varieties of food and drinks. There is a small temple dedicated to Lord Shiva here. It’s encircled by lush green landscapes on all sides and is a habitat for the brahmini ducks.
This lake is also known as a venue for Guru Purnima or Raksha Bandhan festival when the faith healers known as Jhakris of Sikkim assemble to derive the healing qualities of the lake water.
Considered to be one of the highest motorable mountain passes in the world, the mighty mountain pass of Nathu La is located at a height of 4,310 meters above sea level on the India China border.
Around Nathula and the Tibetan side, the region has little vegetation beside scattered shrubs. Rhododendrons and junipers are the major species found in this region. The four-month growing season experiences abundant growth of grasses, sedges, and medicinal herbs.
This lake has a mesmerizing view and is a home to Brahmani ducks. It remains frozen 7 to 8 months of the year. A small number of nomadic Tibetan graziers or Dopkas herd yak, sheep, and pashmina type goats are found in this region. The presence of landmines in the area causes casualties among yak, Nayan, kiang and Tibetan wolf.
This opening shortens the travel distance to important Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the region. The pass is open to the citizens of India and a special permit is needed for the foreign tourists.
The pass is particularly useful for pilgrims visiting monasteries in Sikkim, such as Rumtek. On the Indian side of the pass, the citizens of India can only visit the pass on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, after obtaining permits one day in advance in Gangtok. The pass reduces the journey time to Mansarovar lake from a matter of fifteen days to two days.
Baba Mandir is a memorial of Major Baba Harbhajan Singh who has done his great work near Nathula during Indo-China war of 1962. Located between Nathula and Jelepla Pass at an altitude of 13,123 ft and about 52 kilometers from Gangtok, one usually covers this temple along with a visit to Tsomgo Lake or Nathula Pass.
Captain ‘Baba’ Harbhajan Singh was an Indian Army soldier. It is said that Singh drowned in a glacier while escorting a column of mules carrying provisions. His remains were found after a three day search and his body was subsequently cremated with full military honors. After a few days, he reappeared in the dreams of one of his sentry colleagues and asked him to make a memorial in his name. A shrine was built by Indian Army at an elevation of around 4,000 meters.
According to the army, Baba is a stickler for discipline and is known to admonish those who do not tow this line. As per common belief, any army official not maintaining a clean and disciplined attire is punished with a slap by Baba himself. A small sum of money is contributed by soldiers posted in Nathula to be sent to his mother each month.
Many sentries here believe that Baba comes here every night as his camp bed sheets get crumpled every morning and his polished shoes turn muddy by evening. In fact, there have been reports that the Chinese soldiers across the border have seen a turbaned sentry doing his rounds at night.
It is worth to visit here because the temple is in the Baba’s bunkers, the route is picturesque and there is another one Elephant Shaped Lake en route to the temple.
Places to visit in and around Gangtok
Rumtek Monastery, also known as the Dharmachakra Centre, is the biggest monastery in Sikkim. It is also a world-renowned center for Kargyu teachings. About 25 kilometers east of Gangtok and at an altitude of 5,800 feet, this monastery features a golden stupa containing the relics of the 16th Karmapa, with several other sacred Buddhist artifacts. This is one of the finest Monastery of Sikkim with the schooling of Monks nearby and a half day sightseeing worth it.
This 17th-century monastery at a height of 6,500 feet, is dedicated to the Nyingmapa order of Vajrayana Buddhism. Enchey literally means Solitary. It is situated about 40 kilometers from Geyzing. This Monastery was built with the intention that no other construction would be allowed near it. Built around a then small hamlet of Gangtok, this monastery became a religious center.
Perched on a hillock between River Rangeet and River Rathong and built on a stunning ridge of a hill above the Gangtok city, one can see many holy scriptures carved on stone plates. Its sacredness is attributed to the belief that Khangchendzonga and Yabdean – the protecting deities reside in this monastery. Every year around January ‘Chaam’ or religious masked dance is performed with great fanfare for two days.
Even though it is a small monastery situated on a strategic peak overlooking Gangtok, ut provides beautiful views of the Khangchendzonga peak.
Hanuman Tok is a temple complex dedicated to the mighty Monkey God, Lord Hanuman. It is nearly 5½ kilometers from Gangtok. This temple was constructed as this site was considered as the spot where Lord Hanuman rested while carrying the mountain with ‘Sanjeevani’ herb. Other than offering prayers one can enjoy the scenic beauty of Gangtok town. An alluring glimpse of the snow-clad Himalayan range and especially mount Khnagchendzonga can also be seen on a clear day, which is a treat to eyes.
The Tashi Viewpoint is a perfect spot to experience some of the most breathtaking views of the Himalayas. This viewing area is located close to Gangtok and near the Bakthang Waterfall.
A sweeping view of Kanchenjunga snow peaks can be seen on a clear day. The view of the sunrise from here is unforgettable, with the peaks dazzling with changing colors. One must reach the point before 5 am in order to experience this spectacular view. In the opposite mountains, one can see the Phodong and Labrang monasteries as well.
It is one of the most picturesque places to go to with a pair of binoculars, water, and some sandwiches. It is simply a circular viewing point where around 15 – 20 people can stand at a time. There are a gift shop and a small cafe.
Photo by: By Robin S Kishore [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
This is a temple of Lord Ganesha located about 6 kilometers from Gangtok. It is a small temple where only one person can crawl into it at a time.
While the Ganesha temple and the idol are small, the circular viewing area is marvelous. Its unique location acts as a spectacular viewpoint. Tourists come here not only to offer prayers to Ganesh but also to soak in the views from the viewing lounge and the circular balcony around it.
Some of the most picturesque views of the valley, snow peaks and parts of Gangtok town below can be seen from here. There is also a gift shop in the building and a cafe nearby.
Saramsa Garden was established in 1922 and it used to be a fruit garden during the Royal dynasty in the state. Later on, it became known for cultivating the medicinal plant ipecacuanha. For this reason, the garden is also known as Ipecac Garden. Today, it serves the purpose of the Darjeeling tourism for floriculture.
The lovely romantic atmosphere with many flowering trees and plantations and views all around not only makes it a popular picnic spot but also a great place for romantic couples. The garden has several sections known as blocks.
There is a section with a mini footbridge over a mini pool and a garden full of hedging plants that have been given different shapes. Another section has a mini pool, and a bench under a canopy of trees where one can relax in complete silence.
It is situated 14 kilometers from Gangtok on Pakyong road.
Ranka Monastery, also known as Lingdum Monastery, is well known for its vastness, the wonderful settings, lovely natural surroundings, and views. It has been a site for several Bollywood films.
The prayer hall consists of a huge golden statue of Buddha, great artworks and paintings, and also low tables where the monks read their religious books. There is a wooden donation box at the entrance to the prayer hall. Upon a hill and behind the main building, there is a retreat center where the lamas meditate.
The surrounding 2-story building along the periphery of the courtyard has several classrooms which are a training ground for many young lamas. During breaks, the courtyard gets full with the young monks wearing their red & saffron robes The view of the sunset from the terrace is simply spectacular.
A great attraction Banjhakri Waterfall is located close by. Paragliding or medium fly also takes place from an area nearby.
Ban Jahkri Waterfall
Close to Ranka Monastery is the well known Ban Jahkri Waterfall. This 100-ft waterfall is located in a wonderfully landscaped forested area. There are paved pathways and footbridge around the park which spreads across some 2-acres of land area with many trees and flowering plants in it.
Ban Jhakri means ‘Jungle Priest’. There is a manmade lake here with a dragon at the center. The entire park is themed on Shaman culture and one can see Sikkimese architecture visible all across the park. This park is also known as the Energy Park because of its use of non-conventional energy like solar. It’s a great picnic spot and a place to soak in the charm of nature.
Do Drul Chorten stupa
Do Drul Chorten stupa, situated 2 kilometers from Gangtok Town in Deorali area, was built in 1945 as a religious Buddhist monument to drive away the evil spirits that once lived here. It is surrounded by 108 prayer wheels on which Buddhist mantras have been engraved.
Inside the Chorten Stupa are Kanjur holy books, relics, complete mantras and several other religious objects. The Chorten Stupa is marked by a golden top dome. This golden top can be seen from various places in Gangtok.
The deity enshrined on top of the Chorten stupa is known as Dorjee Phurpa or Vajra Kilaya. This Chorten is regarded as one of the most important Chortens of Sikkim. It is now a major religious Buddhist shrine in Sikkim and also a Buddhism preaching center.
Gangtok is a land of attractions. A few more attractions apart from the above said sightseeing points can be as follows:
- An awesome ropeway cable car ride starts from Deorali below the town center and takes us along a 1km ride to the uppermost station at Tashiling. The whole of Gangtok township from the cable car can be seen. Wonderful views of the valley, the river below and of course the lovely snow peaks of Kanchenjunga on a clear day is a treat to eyes.
A walk along the road to the Raj Bhavan to get a view of the city of Gangtok.
- Near the lower ropeway station, one can visit the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology.
- Sikkim is famous for its fruit processing and tea aside from the local handicraft. Passionfruit Squash, Alpine Cheese, Temi Tea & Maha Gurudev Tea are some of the local products. One can get hold of such eatables here toolkit.