Gangtok is a bustling, friendly hill station, and the capital of the Himalayan state of Sikkim. The name Gangtok is derived from the Tibetan word for 'hillside,' and the city currently has a population of around 80,000 - a mixture of indigenous Sikkimese and people of Nepalese and Tibetan ancestry.
Gangtok is popular place with tourists heading on treks, though the facilities do not reflect the number of international visitors. However, efforts are being made by the government to improve the conditions. Gangtok would be easily one of the most cleanest cities you would ever come across, highly organized and beautifully maintained. It is the Switzerland of the east. Tourists are of paramount importance, hence rules have been laid in order to prevent tourists from being cheated. Fares of Cabs are mostly fixed for such reason. A really nice place to unwind. Quite a few places for vegetarians to eat since it is mostly dominated by Buddhist culture. The city resembles the Bhutanese capital. Devoid of large stores, book shops this place is an nice break away from typical city lives. Still, the city is a fascinating place to spend a few nights, the winding side alleys hide some unexpected gems, and the main street (MG Marg) is pedestrianized and a pleasant place to take a stroll.
The city sleeps by 9 pm mostly, except for a few pubs which are open till 11 pm.
The best season to Visit Gangtok is Jan-March.
The nearest airport is at Bagdogra (IXB) at a distance of roughly 120 kilometers. The Bagdogra airport (14 kms from Siliguri) is served by direct flights from Kolkata and New Delhi. From airport you can hire a taxi or cab to reach at Gangtok. Frequent direct flights are also available for Bagdogra and a lovely highway passing through beautiful scenery, waterfall and mountains will take you to the Gangtok. A helicopter flies between the Bagdogra and Gangtok once a day around 2.00PM and requires pre -booking, as it carries only 8 passengers.
Once you arrive in New Jalpaiguri, you can either hire a taxi from the station itself or take an auto-rickshaw to the Siliguri bus stand. From there, you have the option of travelling to Gangtok by state bus, roughly a 5-6 hour journey.
The roads in the area are all winding mountain roads in poor condition. The average travel speed between Gangtok and other cities is around 30 km/h.
Jeeps to Namchi, a nearby tourist destination with many holy sites, costs around ₹110 and takes about 3 hours. Jeeps to Kalimpong cost ₹120 and are available from Deorali (or Mainline) Bus Stand, distance of around 80 km and time around 3.5 hours.
Fare of the shared cabs is generally fixed, around ₹155 to Gangtok from NJP station. Drivers might try to charge high so check for the fare with other cabs before taking one.
Taxis are the dominant form of transportation due to Gangtok's hilly and steep roads. There are standard charges within the main areas: at least ₹100 for private service and ₹10-₹20 for shared. Taxis are available from designated taxi stands.
Gangtok provides beautiful views of the surrounding valleys and hills. There are also several viewpoints near the city that provide views of Kanchenjunga.
One popular day trip is to visit Lake Tsomgo, a scenic lake around 40 km from Gangtok at an elevation of 3,780 m. Stops along this day trip include Hanuman Tok and Ganesh Tok, monasteries with views of Kanchenjunga. Enchey Monastery is a two hundred-year-old monastery in the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, located above Gangtok, just off the road to Lake Tsomgo.
Another popular day trip winds around the valley which Gangtok overlooks, to Rumtek Monastery and Ranka Monastery. Rumtek Monastery, 15 km from Gangtok, is one of the most famous things to see near Gangtok. Ranka Monastery, 20 km from Gangtok, is newer and quieter but also very beautiful. Nearby Ranka Monastery is the Kanchenjunga Tourist Complex, a combination hotel and family amusement park.
These day trips can be booked from travel agencies and hotels. Without booking, Jeeps may be available from the private taxi stand a few minutes downhill from MG Marg. However, most of these will be shared Jeeps that are one-way so it would be prudent to inquire ahead of time.
Mahatma Gandhi Marg (MG Marg) is a pedestrian only avenue which forms the main shopping district. Near the main entrance of MG Marg is the tourist information office and a taxi stand, the final destination of many taxis from other parts of the city.
In the Deorali district at the bottom of Gangtok, there is Do-drul Chorten, a Buddhist stupa complex constructed in 1945.
Dodrupchen Monastery is another monastery in the Nyingma tradition. Famous for its large chorten. When in residence, Dodrupchen Rinpoche receives devotees to offer blessings from around 8AM to 9:30AM.
- Flower show (1818 mtr), Ridge Park (Ridge Park Complex). 10am-5pm. Near the White-Hall, flower show is at its best during the flowering season which is mid March to end of May in spring and October to mid December in autumn. But by far the annual Cymbidium Orchid Show which commences invariably from mid March to mid April is the best and the finest in the entire south Asian region. ₹10.
A few minutes walk down the hill from Do-Drul Chorten is the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, a small but informative museum providing a general introduction of Tibetan Buddhism using authentic artifacts such as thankas and statues. Entrance fee is ₹10. About 5 minutes from the museum is the Gangtok Ropeway (or Damodar Ropeway), a cable car which connects Deorali to a hill above Gangtok. One way or round trip cost is ₹80, with a children's discount.
- Banjhakri Falls. This waterfall has an entrance fee of ₹30 for two people and parking fee of 20₹. The site is developed with pathways and bridges around streams leading up the waterfall, decorated with sculptures. The waterfalls are accessible and soft enough to swim in. There is also a restaurant and gift shop.
Sikkim is famous for its fruit processing and tea aside from the local handicraft.Passion fruit Squash, Alpine Cheese, Temi Tea & Maha Gurudev Tea are some of the local products.
- Curio Craft Gallery Curio City, ☎ +91 3592 220-551. Below Hotel Mayur, PS Road (just above the main hospital). One of the better quality handicraft stores in town. Excellent selection of Buddhist artwork.
- Rachna, ☎ +91 3592 204-336. Development Area. (www.rachnabooks.com). Also organises events and exhibitions on The First Floor upstairs. By far the best bookstore in town. A wide selection of titles and knowledgable owner. Rachna is located about a ten minute walk from the main bazaar.
- Souveneir, MG Marg. Good place to buy prayer wheels, flags and other handicraft. Little expensive.
- The Wayside Gardens & Nurseries Pvt. Ltd. (1060 mtr), Sixth Mile, Tadong (Near Sikkim University), ☎ +91 9832060555. 9am to 4pm. Well known House of exotic plants including Orchids. Azaleas and Cattleya hybrid orchids, besides range of Citrus, are their specialities. A must visit place for any plant lover. Run by illustrious Pradhan family. Visit stricty by prior appointment. Conducted tour in the well spread out Garden for groups conducted by Travel Agents and interactions about Himalayan flora with Sr. Pradhan, authority on Himalayan flora and environment, over cup of tea on payment of nominal fee, possible. Contact person: Sailesh Pradhan. Mobile: 98320 60555. Entry Free.
There are many great and cheap places to eat in Gangtok.
- Agarwal's, MG Marg. Serves south Indian and north Indian snacks and sweets. Good place to have breakfast. There are two outlets, one on MG Marg and other on the way near the taxi stand. Dosas are not so good.
- House of Bamboo, MG Marg. Authentic Tibetan and Indo-Chinese fusion cuisine. The beef/pork chilli, the momos and the tea momos are recommended. The beef chilli is not so good.
- Potala, 1st Floor, Sypraj Plaza, Opposite Denzong Cinema Hall, Lal Bazaar. 12:00 to 21:00. This place has excellent Sikkimese and Tibetan food. You might find yourself to be the only tourist/ non-local at any time of the day. Good selection of thenthuk, thukpa, faley, momos, chowmein, meat dry fry, rice plates, etc offered with beef, pork or chicken. Vegetarians may have some problem getting food here. a big bottle of beer starts from ₹90.
Do definitely try their pork thenthuk and pork momos. ₹100 to ₹150.
- Parivar's, on MG Marg down a short flight of stairs, serves some of the best food in town, and is very popular with locals.
- Porky's, Deorali (10 mins from downtown Gangtok). Amazing sizzlers and momos.
- Quick Bite, and numerous other sweet shops up and down MG Marg, serve up everything from samosas to momos.
- The Roll House, tucked on the side of a stairway between MG Marg and the main market, serves up Veg Momos & hot chapatis (Roll)with various fillings (paneer, egg, veggies). This place is always packed with both tourists and locals and deservedly so.
- Tangerine Restaurant, Chumbi Residency, Tibet Road, ☎ +913592-226618-226619-226620, fax: +91(0)3592-222707, e-mail: email@example.com. Stunning food, some unusual options and far cheaper than it might be.
- Thalung (Mahatma Gandhi Marg, about 3/4 of the walk away from the Tourist Information Center to the far end of the central pedestrian promenade, on the right side). A cultural relic not to be missed, this fast food outlet located in a wooden hut (perhaps the last traditional building surviving in the remodelled central area) serves a rigorous menu consisting of 2 items: beef momos (Tibetan dumplings) and beef noodle soup. The food is completely devoid of spices and salt. Chili paste, soy sauce and salt are provided as side condiments. The building is somewhat skewed and may present safety hazards, but it appears to have survived generations of customers, and the upper floor offers an agreeable view. An antique portrait of Dalai Lama XIV around the age of 30 graces the front counter. Visit this one before it has been replaced by another McDonald's, or (better still) try to do something to save it from impending destruction.
- Baker's Cafe, MG Marg. The only place in town to sell cappuccino, latte and offer a wide selection of Western-style pastries. Check out the pizzas.
- Cafe Culture, Ground Floor, Hotel Pandim, Secretariat Road (Below Royal Palace), ☎ +91 9832615236. Located at the ridge which is an ideal location for walk and best view of the mountain, the cafe offers fresh Himalayan cuisine like phale( local bread), shiafale ( local bread filled with meat and deep fried), momos and grilled sandwiches.
- Cafe Tibet. On the way up towards the Zero point, left side. Run by a Tibetan, serves very good coffee. Eatables are just decent. Coffee is way better than baker's cafe.
- Downtown Multi-cuisine Restaurant and Bar (Downtown), MG Marg (On MG Road, Opposite SBI Bank, About 2/3rds of the way from Titanic Park). Till 11 pm most nights. On Saturdays till the police come. :D. This is the best place to meet like-minded people, and make friends over a beer. They have a couple of guitars, a saxophone etc if you feel like playing. Don't be surprised if the whole pub starts singing along. The best time to go is Saturday or Sunday nights, when it is jam packed with both locals and visitors. Saturday night is Karaoke night, and if the mood is right, you'll be crooning along with the entire pub to songs ranging from bollywood evergreens, nepali and english rock, and modern hindi tunes. The owner Dheeraj Gurung is an amazing host. ₹150 to ₹300.
- Pub 25, MG Road, Gangtok. Till 11PM. An upscale pub right in the heart of MG Road. Great drinks, tasty food (especially the Malai Tikka and Sauteed Mushrooms), and an amazing ambiance. The price is higher than other pubs on the street, but its definitely worth it. High.
- Taste of tibet, MG Marg. Serves Tibetan food, thupkas, gyathuk and thentuk. It includes a bar too.
- Wa Chipa Organic Restaurant (Wa Chipa), 2nd Floor Star Hall (Star Hall is located on the extreme end of New Market towards Namnang. It is the building with the big Buddha face painted on it.). 11am to 11 pm. This place is a cheap local hangout. In addition to the ever popular Hit and Dansberg beers, you will get traditional Nepali and Sikkimese drinks such as Nigar, Raksi, Chhang, Tongba, and various fruit and flower wines/spirits. They may generally run out of food, but if there, have various meat sekwas (traditional barbeque), wachipa, momos (if available) ₹100 to ₹200.
- Central Lodge. A nice place for Budget tourists and a good base to meet other travellers - recently relocated to the main town near the Tourist Information Centre. It also organizes tours throughout Sikkim.
- Green Hotel, Mahatama Gandhi Road, ☎ +9779851121210. Check-in: 19 Oct 2010, check-out: 21 October 2010. ₹200-₹500.
- Hotel Nirvana, Namang Road, ☎ +91 63914473. Colour TV, carpeted rooms. ₹700-₹1500.
- Hotel Palbheu, (Cell: +91 98323 48837), A nice place for budget tourists and just above the popular MG Marg. Fair rooms and nice good food. Wise to book in per person per day format inclusive of fooding & loadging. It also organizes tours throughout Sikkim.
- Hotel Pandim, ☎ +91 3592 207540, +91 98320 80172 (Cell), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. A family run guest house with the best location, just above the Mall Road and below the Royal Palace offering the best mountain view. Also has a nice cafe called Cafe Culture offering fresh Himalayan cuisine.
- Hotel Sonali International, ☎ (033) 2552 3432+91 98302 87429 (Cell), , (033) 2584 0080 , e-mail: email@example.com. A nice place for budget tourists and a good base to meet other travellers - recently relocated to the main town near the Tourist Information Centre. It also organizes tours throughout Sikkim.
- Hotel Susantaawas (beside mall), ☎ +91 9051 115 228. ₹800-1200.
- Bamboo Grove Retreat, Bamboo Grove, Kazi Road. A Boutique 2 star hotel. Theme: Sikkimese design with modern amenities. Available: Car Parking, Peaceful Environment, Internet, Mountain View from Rooms, Mountain Biking, Bar & Restaurant.
- Hotel Delamare, Church Road. Conveniently located, warm, elegant decor and excellent service. ₹1,200+ per night.
- Hotel Golden nest & Hotel Hill View Near mall 600 to 1500.
- Hotel Rigwa International Libing Complex, M.G.Marg & Nam Nam Crossing, above Star Cinema Hall.
- Hotel Tibet, Paljor Stadium Road. Clean and comfortable rooms with an excellent restaurant. ₹1500-₹2500.
- Sonam Delek, Tibet Road. An awesome hotel for the money. The facilities are best of Gangtok. The standard room (₹1100) is spartan; the super-deluxe (₹2200) is well-furnished and has an excellent view of the hillside. All facilities are very neatly maintained. The staff's knowledge of English is poor, but you can get by. No south-Indian food, though.
- Hotel GreenDave, MG Road. Check-in: 12.00, check-out: 12.00. Colour TV, carpeted rooms.Staff was very kind and helpful.And Worth Money. ₹4200-5000.
- Mayfair Gangtok Spa Resort & Casino, ☎ +91 3592 250 888-999, e-mail: Gangtok@mayfairhotels.com. Five star deluxe resort, spread over 15 acres of lush forest, some of the villas with temperature controlled dip pools.
- The Nor-Khill, Gangtok. Unit of Elgin Hotels and Resorts. Colonial decor and luxury at its best. ₹6000+.
- Teen Taley Eco Resort, Rumtek, Gangtok, ☎ +91 9832052995. Situated near the Rumtek Monastery about 20 km from the town. Spread over 6 acres with its own garden and organic farming. 12 rooms spread over 5 cottages. 4 Suite Rooms and 8 Deluxe Cottages, with Ethnic Nepali style.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Gangtok is really one of the safest places for women. However, the standard rules of safety like being alert with strangers and not hanging out in deserted places are applicable to everyone.
If you are traveling alone then it is advisable to take a hotel in Gangtok itself and not in a remote area.
The roads in Gangtok are not properly intact, and sometimes the main highway remains closed due to frequent landslides, so a word of caution is given for inexperienced drivers.
No plastic bags can be sold or used in Gangtok.
Spitting, littering or smoking in public areas of Sikkim is a punishable offence and can incur a large fine. Streets in Sikkim have bins for garbage and spitting.
There are no internet cafes along the main thoroughfares and the rate is compatible with other centers of commerce in India. However, the infrastructure is weak, and the mantra of most internet cafes is 'server down.' Travelers who need to work extensively on the internet are advised to do so in Siliguri, where the server connection is much more reliable.
- Softect Enterprises, tucked away just after the first pedestrian bridge up from the old taxi station, this internet cafe offers two rooms filled with computers with fast connections.
Private and Sikkim Nationalized Transport (SNT) buses are available for intercity travelling. For places like Tashiding, Yuksom and Pelling, buses depart from 7 AM and 12:30 PM from SNT bus stop. Hourly services are also available for some places like Jorethang, Namchi, Ravangla and Geyzing.