Nestled in the lap of majestic Himalaya, Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, has gradually become the most popular tourist destination in North East India. Gangtok is also the largest town in Sikkim. Located at a height of 1650 m, the town of Gangtok offers a panoramic view of the Himalayan range and the surrounding valley. A clear blue sky and the mesmerizing view of Kanchenjunga (the 3rd highest peak of the world) is one of the major attractions of the city. Gangtok is also the headquarter of the district of East Sikkim.
From the 19th century onwards Gangtok has slowly started getting importance in the socio-political spectrum of Sikkim. In 1888 The British successfully expelled Tibetan forces from Sikkim. This made Gangtok a major checkpoint between Tibet and British India. At the time of Indias Independence, Sikkim continued to be an independent state. Finally, in 1975 the monarchy was abolished and Sikkim became the 22nd state of India and Gangtok remained the capital.
Siliguri is the gateway to Sikkim. NJP railway station is just 7 km from Siliguri city. Gangtok is 120km from there and is a 4 -4.30 hrs journey. Bagdogra is the nearest major airport from where Gangtok is around 125 km and takes 4.5 hours to reach. A new airport has recently come up at Pakyong near Gangtok (30 km 1.5 hours). At the time of writing this article in July 2018, the airport is yet to become commercially operational.
Lepchas are the native people. But Gangtok has truly become a cosmopolitan town now. People of different origin have settled here and made this place a cultural melting pot. The harmony and social blend between the different ethnic communities enriched the culture of the city. Nepalese people have settled here in large number. Also, a sizeable population of Bhutia Tibetans lives in Gangtok. In addition communities from the plains such as Marwaris, Biharis, and Bengali people have also settled in the town and all these cultural variations made the place more attractive.
The city witness lot of Festivals throughout the year. People here are fond of festivals and they love to indulge in fun and frolic. Since Buddhism is a major religion here so the city experience a lot of Buddhist festivals. Hinduism too is a dominant force so different Hindu festivals are celebrated with great gusto. But every festival in the town is celebrated by people together. The people of Gangtok has maintained their unique tradition as well as perfectly accepted the modern culture. This unique blend only adds flavor to the multi-dimension of this city.
Gangtok offers pleasant weather throughout the year. The maximum temperature hovers around 25 c in summer which is from April to mid-June. During winter temperature may vary between 4 -9 degree. July witnesses very heavy rainfall.
Tsomgo or Changu Lake - One of the major attractions of Gangtok tour. Situated at an altitude of 12400 ft it is 38 km away from Gangtok. The journey to Tsomgo is literally to touch and embrace nature. Through the breathtaking Himalayan mountains, the roads from Gangtok leads towards Changu lake. The word ‘Tsomgo’ means the source of water in Bhutia language. The lake is considered as one of the most sacred and holy lakes by the local people. The lake remains frozen during the winter. The place has earned a great reputation among tourists for its natural beauty. It is a 2 to 2.30 hrs journey from the town and a day tour is undertaken by most visitors. There is no provision of Night stay in Tsomgo. Close to Tsomgo lake is the Baba Mandir which is normally visited by tourists along with the lake.
Nathula Pass – 56 km from Gangtok, it is a pass in the Indo-Chinese border. This pass was originally used by the traders of India and Tibet. This place is mostly covered by snow. After the indo-china war in 1962, this pass and border were sealed. The border was reopened in 2006 and since then limited trade between the two countries takes place through the border. Tourists are only allowed to go to a certain point close to International Border. This is the only land border between India and China that is easily accessible to the tourists. Besides, this place also offers a wonderful view of the surrounding.
Tourist planning to visit Nathula must note that there is a limited number of permits issued for tourist vehicles on a particular day for visiting Nathula. During peak tourist season, there is always a shortage of permits and hence disappointment among tourists is common. The Nathula visit can never be guaranteed in advance and this must be borne in mind while planning your tour.
Enchey Monastery - It means ’the solitary temple’. The place is ideal for peace and serenity. Just 3 km from the main town this beautifully built monastery is approximately 200 years old and belongs to the Nyingma order of Buddhism. The architecture of the structure is simple and the main entry has several prayer wheels. The monastery currently houses nearly 100 monks. One of the major attractions here is the colorful ’Masked Dance’ (Chaam) festival that takes place in the month of January.
Namgyal Institute of Tibetology – This is a famous center for Tibetan and Buddhist studies and research. It was established in the year 1958 and the foundation stone of this building was laid by 14th Dalai Lama. The ground floor of the institute is the museum which houses rare collections of ancient manuscripts of Tibetan, Buddhist, Lepcha and Chinese origin. It also has a good collection of traditional art and ritual objects, paintings statues etc. The general library is located on the right side of the main building. It has got extensive collections of books on Buddhist religion, philosophy and history and also books in different languages covering different places and subjects.
The institute is open for visitors from 10 am to 4 pm from Monday to Saturday. It is closed on Sunday and other official Government Holidays.
Do Drul Chorten - This stupa is considered as one of the most important and biggest stupas in the state and was built in the year 1945. The Stupa is surrounded by Prayer Wheels. The Chorten houses a set of holy books along with mandala sets of Dorjee phurba and some other important religious objects.
The Government Institute of Cottage Industry – It was built in 1957 to promote, preserve and develop the traditional art and crafts of Sikkim. This place is very popular among tourists. The Emporium of the institute sells a wide range of carpets, bags, wooden masks etc which portrays the heritage and beauty of arts and crafts work of Sikkim.
Ganesh Tok - It is 7 km from the Gangtok town. Located on the top of a hill this place has a Temple of Lord Ganesha (Hindu Deity). This place also offers a betaking view of the town and surroundings.
Hanuman Tok - This is one of the highest viewpoints in the town. This place has a temple of Lord Hanuman (the monkey god). This place also offers a panoramic view of the mountain range along with Mount Kanchenjunga.
Tashi View Point - The viewpoint offers a majestic view of the mountain ranges including Mount Kanchenjunga and Mount Siniolchu. The place is built by the late king Tashi Namgyal and so it is named Tashi Viewpoint.
Flower Exhibition Center - It is adjacent to the White Memorial Hall and below the ridge park. Sikkim is home of different kind of Flowering plants and this center showcases the variety. Throughout the year the flowers are on display but the annual flower show takes place in the month of April and May. The center is famous for a wide range of orchids along with a display of some rare species.
Rumtek Monastery – Situated 23 km away from the town of Gangtok this monastery is considered one of the most important monasteries by the Tibetan Buddhists. Rumtek Monastery is the seat of His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa of the Kagyu sect. This is the largest monastery in Sikkim. The monastery houses some rare Buddhist religious scriptures and art objects. The road to Rumtek from Gangtok is also a nature lovers paradise.