Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, is cleaner and greener than any other state capital in India. I went for a 3-week long trip to Sikkim with my Mom and we spent almost two weeks in Gangtok and explored the entire city, mostly on foot. In this post about things to do in Gangtok, I will walk you through all the places we visited and how we visited them.
We also booked our trip to North Sikkim from Gangtok. To read about our trip to North Sikkim, read my blog post a two day conducted tour to North Sikkim.
How to travel around?
You have many options to explore the city.
1. Booking a cab that will take you to all the points of interest. Tour operators would typically ask you Rs.3000 for a day tour that includes Rumtek Monastery.
2. Shared cab tour options: A day tour to Changu/Tsomgo lake, Baba Mandir and Nathu La pass(if it’s open) can be done in a shared cab as well. 3. Go eco-friendly on foot and local transport: Many points inside the city can be covered on foot and shared cabs are the major local transport within the city. Gangtok is sprawled over a large area and these come in handy when you have to go from one part of Gangtok to another so there are many options to customize your tour.
11 Things to do in Gangtok while taking a stroll
The main market in Gangtok has many shops and restaurants to choose from. Sit back and relax on one of the many benches installed in the central area and observe the hustle and bustle of this lively city unfold before your eyes. Have your meals, eat ice-cream, buy a bubble machine and spend your evenings leisurely on the promenade. If you like lively places, you can even book a room in one of the hotels right here, in the centre of the city. Most booking offices are close to this place.
2. Cable car: Fee: Rs 117/person both ways
A 10 minutes walk from MG road will take you to the cable car station. The view of the city, surrounded by lush green mountains and terrace farms on those high mountains is a sight worth seeing. The ride is short and takes you to Deorali. You can get down there and explore Deorali, or ride back to the starting point.
3. Nam Nang view point
If you decide to come back to the starting point by cable car, you can take a 2 minute walk to the Nam Nang view point. Don’t miss the beautiful building of Sikkim Legislative assembly on the other side of the road.
Nam Nang view point will take you into the wilderness in middle of the city. A popular hang out spot for the youngsters, the winding trail offers stunningly beautiful views of the Himalayas that cradle Gangtok.
4. Namgyal Institute of Tibetology: Entrance fee: Rs 20/person
Remember that cable car ride? Well, instead of taking the uphill ride back, visit some places in Deorali. A short walk will take you to the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology. The museum has a beautiful collection of Tibetan artifacts, old manuscripts written in gold, ornaments and the likes. There are many beautiful statues of Bodhisattvas along with a brief history of Tibetan Buddhism and the four Buddhist sects.
On the way to the museum is a serene, secluded garden with hardly any people. The entry is free and perhaps this is the reason why people overlook it.
5. Do Drul Chorten
A short walk from Namgyal Institute of technology is the Do Drul Chorten, a stupa. It belongs to the Nyigma order of Tibetan Buddhism.
6. Black Cat museum:
Entrance fee: Rs.10
Since you are already in Deorali, you may visit this museum if you have time. From the market, where the shared cab from Gangtok drops passengers in Deorali, you can walk to the museum. After walking for 10 minutes along the road, a shortcut downhill will take you to the Lingding road. It is around 3-4 km from Deorali market. If you do not wish to walk a shared cab from market in Deorali will take you there.
The museum gives the history of Sikkim and the Chogyals until the unification of Sikkim with India. A voice recorder explains the events. Phones are collected at the reception desk and photography is not allowed.
7. Tsuk La Khang monastery:
Back in Gangtok, visit this beautiful monastery located in the former palace complex. The walk is quite pleasant. Based on your stamina, you can walk or hire a cab. Shared cabs ply to different points in the city and you can get down at a point closest to your point of interest.
8. Flower show: Entrance fee: Rs. 20/person
Basically a tourist trap, it is a greenhouse that has many flowering plants. It is so crowded with tourists taking their selfies that you will find yourself driven towards the exit in no time if you avoid photobombing people’s pictures. Everyone mentions it but it isn’t a garden. It’s close to the Jawahar Lal Nehru Marg char rasta.
9. Enchey Monastery:
We walked to the monastery but it can be quite a long walk. You can take a cab or a shared cab to Chandmari from Children’s Park taxi stand above MG Marg. From Chandmari, take a shortcut to the monastery. Locals will guide you to it. We reached the monastery at prayer time. You can enter the monastery during prayer time, sit quietly and observe the procedures. The experience was quite immersive as the monks chanted the mantras rhythmically to the beating of drums. The conch was blown at regular intervals.
10. Zoological Park: Entrance fee: Rs.25/person
You can either hire a cab or take a shared cab for 2nd mile from the Children’s park taxi stand mentioned above. The price for shared cab is Rs.40/person. The cab driver will tell you where to get down. Walk a short distance to the zoo ticket counter. The total walk inside the zoo is around 3km.
The animals for most part aren’t caged and live in their natural habitat and have access to huge spaces. Leopards, leopard cats and civet cats are caged. The major attraction are the red pandas, who just prance around eating bamboos and looking adorable. The Tibetan wolf and the snow leopard were not there when we were there.
The walk through the thick vegetation and numerous trees is pleasant and I would recommend going there just for the walk. Many other animals that live at high altitudes can be seen here. There is a pheasant section where you can see insanely brightly colored pheasants of different types.
Ganesh Tok is across the road from the zoo. It’s a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Ganesha and also a view point. Traditional Sikkimese clothing are available for getting pictures taken here.
Things to do in Gangtok by hiring a private cab
We hired a cab to show us some points which are a little farther from Gangtok. We paid Rs.2500 for a day to the driver and he showed us the places mentioned below:
12. Saramsa garden: Entrance fee: Rs 30/person
Located 17km from Gangtok, this garden is a treat to the senses. It was planted as a fruit orchard in the early twentieth century by the British but has since been turned into a beautiful public space. People can stroll leisurely amidst the lush green gardens, surrounded by high mountains. This is not included in the tour that is offered by the tour agencies but I highly recommend visiting it. It also has a banquet hall which can be rented for marriages or parties.
13. Rumtek Monastery: Entrance fee: Rs.20/person
Located 33 km from Gangtok, Rumtek Monastery is the most important monastery of the Kagyu order. Planned and constructed like the Tsurphu monastery in Tibet, Rumtek monastery represents the accumulated spiritual energy of the Kagyu order and is under heavy security. The Golden Stupa is built at the centre of the monastery complex and contains the precious and holy remains of the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa. The gold plated chorten embellished with gems such as turquoise and corals is a delight to the eyes but photography of the chorten is not allowed.
14. Ranka Monastery:
By the time we reached the Ranka Monastery, the rain was coming down heavily. We made it in time to witness the prayers. The premises are elegantly designed and offer instructions to a large number of monks. The sound of the collective prayers rose above the sound of the pelting rain. We went closer to the monastery and the sound grew louder. The chants gained momentum and the beating of drums grew louder and then faint until the chants grew louder again. The rain poured down noisily giving the entire experience a mystical touch.
The monastery has a beautiful statue of Gautam Buddha. This monastery is also not included in the regular tour package but I highly recommend that you visit this secluded monastery.
15. Banjhakri Falls: Entrance fee: Rs.60/person
These voluminous falls fall in three steps in a picturesque setting. It was raining heavily when we reached so the falls were fed with even more water. They had turned chocolate in colour and small eddies could be seen. There are also some activities like crossing the falls at a certain height for adventure lovers. A statue each of Lepcha, Bhutia and Rai is also there.
16. Tashi view Point:
A view point from where you can see Kanchenjunga on a clear day, but this was not a clear day so we had to satisfy ourselves with the dreamy cloudy sky.
17. Hanuman Tok:
A Hanuman temple with a view. You can also reach there on your own. You can take a shared cab until 2nd mile and walk 2-3 km to reach Hanuman Tok. The ascent has quite some gradient though.
Day trip is to Changu/Tsomgo lake, Baba Mandir and Nathu La– Things to do in Gangtok by booking a seat in a shared Cab
You will need a permit for the day trip is to Changu/Tsomgo lake, Baba Mandir and Nathu La pass( if it is open). You need your id card, a photocopy of id card and two passport size pictures. We went in a shared cab and paid Rs.450/person.
Legend has it that Baba Harbhajan Singh, a jawaan in th Indian military drowned while bringing back a donkey. He told about the incident to one of his colleagues in a dream. A search team was sent to the place and his body was found. Babaji expressed a wish that his shrine be erected and it was done. It is believed that he patrols that area and whenever some activity is suspected, he warns about it to someone in a dream. Apparently the Chinese recognize him too. Indians visit the temples to pay their respects.
A beautiful glacier fed lake, it is best visited when the sun is out. We crossed the lake on our way to Baba Mandir. The sun was out then and the reflection of the sky and the clouds in the lake was breathtakingly beautiful. By the time we returned, the sky had turned cloudy and it looked grey.
Folktale about Changu/Tsomgo Lake
The folktale about the lake goes thus. It is said that this area was once a cattle shed where the herders kept their yaks. Once an old woman had a dream that the area would be flooded so warned everyone. No one believed her and stayed. As she was leaving, she saw the guardian deity of the lake descend upon the cattle shed. Her epiphany came true and everyone drowned. The lake has been there since. It is considered sacred by the Buddhists.
20. Nathu La
Nathu La pass was closed when we were there.
How to reach Gangtok
We reached Gangtok by a three and a half hour long shared cab ride from Namchi.
To read more about Namchi and surrounding places in South Sikkim, read my blog post Exploring South Sikkim- Namchi, Damthang and Ravangla.
However, most people arrive in Gangtok from Bagdogra by cab. To know more about it, read my blog post All you need to know to plan a trip to Sikkim..
The trek to the Sacred Tendong hill is a must do for nature lovers. To know all about this trek, read my blog post An enchanting trek through the forest to the sacred Tendong Hill from Damthang.
And what trip to Sikkim would be complete without visiting West Sikkim. To know more about it, read my blog post Sightseeing in and around Pelling.