Gangtok is the capital of Sikkim and is cleaner and greener than any other state capital. I went for a 3 week long trip to Sikkim with my mom and we spent almost 2 weeks in Gangtok and explored the city mostly on foot. 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.
You have the options of 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. The other one 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. Quite a few points can be covered just by walking. You also have the option to customize your tour. I will mention the places where we went and how we went there.
Some of the common sight seeing points in Gangtok which we covered on foot:
The main market with many shops and restaurants and benches to sit on. You can sit here and observe the life of Gangtok unfold before your eyes. If you have time, do spend some time here. In the evening, you can see many a young people making bubbles with the bubble making machine.
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 mountains is a sight worth seeing. The ride is short and takes you to Deorali. You can get down there or stay in the cable car if you want a ride back as well to reach 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 or less walk to the Nam Nang view point. You can also see 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
Instead of taking the ride back, you might have decided to get down at the end of one way ride in the cable car. You are 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. The statues are beautiful and a brief history of Tibetan Buddhism and the four Buddhist sects.
On the way to the museum is a beautiful garden. I highly recommend that you take a walk through it. Hardly any people go into it. 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. From the market, where the shared cab from Gangtok leaves you, you can walk till there. You will have to take a shortcut after about 10 minute walk and reach the Lingding road. It is around 3-4 km from Deorali market. You can aslo take a shared cab till there. The museum gives the history of Sikkim and the Chogyals till the unification of Sikkim with India. A voice recorder explains the events. You can go there if you have time but you don’t need to take special pains to get there. phones will be kept at the reception desk.Photography is not allowed.
7. Tsuk La Khang monastery:
Back in Gangtok, you can visit this beautiful monastery. We walked till there. It is in the former palace complex. The walk is quite pleasant. Based on your stamina, you can walk till there or hire a cab to take you there. Shared cabs ply to different points and you can choose the place where you want to get down.
8. Flower show: Entrance fee: Rs. 20/person
A number of beautiful flowering plants in a green house are kept there. It can get quite crowded as pople click their pictures with the flowers though it’s all covered. Everyone mentions it but it isn’t exactly 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 either take a cab or you can take a shared cab till Chandmari from Children’s Park taxi stand , right above MG Marg and take a shortcut to the monastery from there. We reached the monastery at prayer time. You can enter the monastery and sit quietly and observe the procedures. The experience was quite immersive as the monks chanted the mantras rhythmically along 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. The price is Rs.40/person. Tell the cab driver that you are going to the zoo and he will tell you where to get down. You can then 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. They all have access to huge spaces. Leopards, leopard cats and civet cats are however caged. The major attraction is of course the red pandas. They just prance around eating bamboos 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.
As you exit the zoo, you will see Ganesh Tok on the other side of the road. It’s a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Ganesha. It is also a view point. You can have a picture of you clicked wearing the traditional Sikkimese clothing.
We hired a cab to show us some points which are a little farther from Gangtok. We paid Rs.2500 to the driver and he showed us the places mentioned below:
1. 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. It has since been turned into a beautiful public space where 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.
2. Rumtek Monastery: Entrance fee: Rs.20/person
Located about 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 is not allowed.
3. Ranka Monastery:
By the time we reached the Ranka Monastery, the rain was coming down quite heavily. We made it in time to witness the prayers. The monastery premises are elegantly designed and offers 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 fell again until the chants again grew louder. 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.
4. 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 are also there.
5. Tashi view Point:
A view point from where you can see Kanchenjunga ona clear day, but this was not a clear day so we had to satisfy ourselves with the dreamy cloudy sky.
6. Hanuman Tok:
A Hanuman temple with a view. You can also reach there on your own. You can take a shared cab until two mile and then 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
The other day trip is to Changu/Tsomgo lake, Baba Mandir and Nathu La pass, if it is open. You will need a permit for the same. You need your id card, a photocopy for the same and two passport sized 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 the donkey. He told about the incident to one of his colleagues in a dream. A search team was sent to the place and the body was found. Babaji expressed a wish that his shrine be erected and it was done. It is believed that Babji patrols that area and whenever some activity is suspected, he tells about it to someone in a dream. Even the Chinese recognize him. Indians visit the temples to pay their respects to Babaji.
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 the waters just looked grey.
There is a story behind the lake. 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. She warned everyone but no one believed her and they stayed there. 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 then. It is considered sacred by the Buddhists.
Nathu La pass was closed when we were there.
We reached Gangtok by a 3 and a half hours long shared cab ride from Namchi. To read more about South Sikkim, read my blog post Exploring South Sikkim- Namchi, Damthang and Ravangla. 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.
However, most people arrive in Gangtok. If you are planning on visiting Sikkim, my blog post All you need to know to plan a trip to Sikkim will have you covered.
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.