Nestled among the hills you will find nature at its best. You can smell the fresh air from up the hills and smile at the lush greenery the place has to offer. An unexplored place for hikers so far.
Swamped with people makes you wonder is this the holiday you were looking forward to. Slowly as time passes your heart is won by the warmth the locals have to offer. You know it’s the right place to be even with the crowd.
The smell of the local cuisines makes your taste buds curious to try it. I am describing a beautiful place called Gangtok I had the privilege of visiting.
TIME TO VISIT GANGTOK
The best time to visit Gangtok would be from October to December as you can enjoy clear sky. January to March most of the time is covered with snow which means road closure in some parts. If you plan to visit between March and May you will experience the flowers blooming in the region.
Most crowd in India is during school holidays and since Gangtok is mostly popular among locals we wanted to avoid this time. We also wanted to avoid road closures because of the snow. Hence we opted to visit it in December. We did experience crowd but in most tourist spots they were spread out. Overall I was happy with my decision of visiting in December as everything worked out perfectly for us.
TRAVELING IN AND AROUND GANGTOK
During our visit Bagdogra was the nearest airport in Siliguri. But now there is also Pakyong Airport which can make you reach a town near Gangtok.
Should you take Bagdogra as an option then you will have to hire a taxi, or take share taxis to reach Gangtok. The road journey is roughly four and half hours but we chose the Helicopter option. The reason for choosing this option was because we wanted to avoid the road trip and also wanted to experience the helicopter travel for the first time. The ride in the helicopter is restricted to 5 people and you have to book well in advance. The journey is cut down to 35 mins which meant you had almost a whole day to yourself. The first time experience was amazing. Helicopter journey was a highlight for us in this holiday, one we would cherish forever.
There are also train options if you’re coming from major cities like Kolkata and New Delhi. Again this is only till Siliguri, after which you have to choose the taxi option to reach Gangtok.
Since Gangtok is mostly in the hill, the roads are steep. Only choose the self-drive option of you have done it before, or else I wouldn’t recommend it.
There are various shared taxis and private taxis which are available for rent. This is really personal choice which you choose. We had limited time and wanted to see as much as we can hence we choose the private taxi. My suggestion would be to speak to couple of taxi drivers and ask their prices. We noticed mostly all offered same price and hence we went by our gut in choosing a taxi driver. Make sure you have most of the places covered for the ones you want to see, negotiate with them to add a few if need be.
We were lucky to have two very nice drivers who guided us the best time to travel. You do have to take into consideration the road to most hotels are narrow and the most of the time packed with vehicles. The locals know the place really well and tell you the best time to leave and return. We trusted with their suggestion and hence weren’t stuck in traffic.
WHERE WE STAYED IN GANGTOK
We stayed for 3 nights at Summit Ttakshang Residency Hotel and Spa. The hotel has now changed its name to La Ttakshang Residency Hotel & Spa.
This was walking distance from MG Marg which was really a plus point for us as we wanted to spend time out in the evening.
The rooms we got were clean and had the necessary amenities provided. We did find the bathroom to be little run down but were glad to have it clean. The staff were polite and always available for help. We had a problem with the heater on our last day and was immediately attended to by the team. We had chosen the breakfast option and were happy with the food variety.
I would recommend it should you need it for a good night’s sleep. If you are expecting something very lavish and plan to spend a lot of time in the rooms then you might not find it at par.
THINGS TO DO IN GANGTOK
MAHATMA GANDHI MARG (MG MARG)
A very popular square in Gangtok, which is always filled with people. We spent all three evenings here and never were disappointed. It’s a nice place to unwind after a busy day sightseeing.
A small place where you could see people shopping, enjoying a stroll and sipping or munching on some food. There are no cars in the area hence making it totally different to the usual crowd you experience during the day. I found the place very clean and could breathe in the fresh air of the surrounding nature. Should you need to rest there are plenty of benches to sit on under the victorian lamps.
This is also called the Dharmachakra Centre. The symbol on top of the monastery is said to represent this.
The monastery is said to be the largest in Sikkim presently. We came across many monks during our visit who were practising Karma Kagyu and rituals. It was nice to see some of them meditating while others playing with the kids. They seemed so happy with their daily life.
We also saw the prayer wheels set beautifully in the monastery. The place felt so peaceful, since we went early morning the crowd was less. The surrounding added on to the beauty of the place.
I loved the colours in the monastery also, felt so bright and inviting. Blended perfectly well with the clouds and its surrounding.
We also went and saw the Karma Shri Nalanda Institute for Higher Buddhism Studies.
BAN JKHARI FALLS
Ban Jhakri is said to be the traditional healer who worshipped spirit living in the cafes around the falls. Hence the name Ban (forest) and Jhakri (healer) was given to the place.
The park is designed to relive the traditional shamanic beliefs of the people of Sikkim. There is a man-made lake with dragon in the centre, various statues of the people of Sikkim, sculptures, paved paths, footbridges and beautiful garden landscapes. The place has a story to tell behind everything displayed but not clear write up are put up hence seemed baseless around the waterfall.
Don’t expect a very big waterfall, it was a small one but one which was maintained well. I wasn’t disappointed with what I saw but yes would love to read more on the history of the place.
We were in two minds before doing this. It is located right in the city so we were confused as to what views are we going to get. After debating finally we decided to do it. It’s a small ride across the houses of the people of Gangtok. There were not many awesome views.
We have done cable car rides in the past and have seen better so this can be skipped. For me the view is the main thing, if you want it for the experience then I would recommend doing it.
DO-DRUL CHORTEN STUPA
The Stupa is built by Trulshik Rinpoche, head of the Nyingma order of the Tibetan Buddhism in 1945. The gold stupa was pretty and very well maintained even till this date.
Throughout the stupa there are 108 Mani Lahkar or prayer wheels. It is said you should turn all the wheels in clockwise direction to help grant your wish. Not sure if wish came true but we did turn the wheels to give respect to the place.
It’s a popular tourist spot along with the locals visiting. When we visited it wasn’t very crowded.
FLOWER SHOW COMPLEX
I am such a person who would visit flower shows in every place I visit. There were many in Gangtok and we choose one amongst them. I personally was not disappointed being surrounded by beautiful plants. Each of them were blooming with pretty flowers. I saw flowers of every colours, some I knew and others I didn’t.
This one is your choice should you want to visit. If you are not a plant or garden person I don’t think you would enjoy it.
This is the famous temple which is mainly maintained by the Indian Army. It is dedicated to Lord Hanuman. It is believed that Lord Hanuman had taken the Sanjeevani herb from these mountains which was given to save Lakshmana’s life. The temple lies in the exact spot where Lord Hanuman was said to be resting.
The temple is surrounded by mountain as its backdrop. The place is peaceful and also very well maintained. I feel its popular because of its history and also at how well it is looked after by the Indian Army.
A temple which is dedicated to Lord Ganesh in the midst of the mountains with beautiful view of the city. The temple itself is small but very pretty and peaceful.
It’s popular for its view of the town and also walking distance from MG Road and Hanuman temple. There are various cafes and restaurants nearby to sit and enjoy the view more.
TASHI VIEW POINT
A beautiful place to see the whole view of the city and its surrounding mountains. When we went we could see the snows covering the mountains and as the evening approached the lights brightened the city.
You can also see the various view points from the telescope which is spotted at various locations. We were in total awe of the beauty of Mount Kanchenjunga and totally loved the peacefulness of the place.
Many have complained how the place is always packed with tourist. We were lucky to have less crowd. There are steps to reach the top and the climb wasn’t hard for us.
Another peaceful and colourful monastery which we loved visiting. This is very close to Tashi viewpoint and also to the city. There are brown prayer wheels at the side of the main entrance and a huge Buddha statues inside which many locals are seen worshipping. Unfortunately you are not allowed to click photos inside.
One can never get enough of waterfalls. I may have seen bigger waterfalls during my travel but this was equally pretty and personally felt should not be compared to others.
There are also the traditional Sikkim dresses available for rent should you want to take photos with the waterfall. I personally never did it but enjoyed seeing tourist do it.
Nathu means “listening ears” and La means Pass in Tibetan.
We were lucky to explore the place without any restrictions. The weather was perfect, the roads were fully operational and crowd were less. I loved the scenic drive which had both mountains and lakes. It truly was a memorable visit.
BABA HARBHAJAN SINGH MANDIR
A shrine which was built by the Indian army in honour of Baba Harbhajan Singh. It was said he was the “Hero of Nathula” whose spirits are still protecting the guards in Nathula and giving warnings to soldiers of various events. There are various stories we heard of during our visit and the Indian army belief in it.
Some small sum of money is still collected by those posted in Nathula. This is then sent to his mother in his honour. It is said every person who visits Nathula should visit the shrine as a mark of respect.
There is a mountain pass which you has to be taken to visit the Indo-China borders. It’s at a height of 4,310 m above sea level. It is there for following various bilateral trade agreements for specific goods during specific time of the day.
Since we haven’t visited China so far this is the closet we have got to the place. There is a climb up to the border which is a restricted area so you have to careful.
Also known as Changu Lake, at a height of 12,313 ft. The lake is truly pretty and is said to change colour as per the changing seasons.
During Raksha Bandhan festival season the people of Sikkim are said to gather around the lake as it has healing powers.
For tourist there are also Yak and mule rides to enjoy. I personally found the Yaks to be scary hence never really enjoyed the ride. There are also various places to stop buy and enjoy the local cuisine.
OUR ITINERARY IN GANGTOK
We had taken the early morning flight to Bagdogra airport. Then took the helicopter ride to Gangtok. Hired a taxi to our hotel. Evening spent time in MG Road and also did our private car booking for next day.
Our private car had taken us to Rumtek Monastery, Ban Jhakri Waterfall, Gangtok Ropeway, Do-Drul Chorten Stupa, Flower show complex, Hanuman Tok, Ganesh Temple, Tashi viewpoint, Gonjang Monastery and Bakthang Waterwall. In the evening we spent time in MG Road and also booked our next day taxi along with our permit for Nathula Pass.
Traveling tip: I would recommend going with your driver’s advice in the order in which to see the places. They are locals and hence know which place is less busy during which time. Our driver helped us plan everything very nicely.
We planned our day to see Nathula along with places to visit in its surrounding. We visited Indo-China Border, Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir and Tsomgo Lake. In the evening we again spent time in MG Road.
Traveling tip: I would recommend leaving early, speak to your driver on the time. The journey is long and also prettier with less crowd.
THINGS TO NOTE IN GANGTOK
- For Nathula you have to get permit pass. Advise taking the pass from a recognised travel agency. We choose the government run travel agency in MG Marg
- At the Nathula check post the drivers usually receive permits for couple of vehicles together. We had a small issue where the count was incorrectly mentioned. Should this happen then speak politely to the officer to sort it out. If you speak rudely they will send you back. The area is a secure area hence they have to take precautions.
- Nathula is closed on Monday and Tuesday. Plan ahead.
- At the borders photography is prohibited for security reasons.
- ID proof is needed at various points of the tourist attraction. Always carry them with you.
- Due to snow there are chances of road closures near Nathula, plan everything ahead before visiting.
- Some places there are steep climbs, be prepared for some walking. Cars are not permitted till the end hence you will have to walk.
- Most of the roads are narrow so there is usually traffics. Speak to your driver, he would suggest the best options.
- Most of the roads have turns since the place is in hills. If you get road sick like me then do take necessary precautions.
- In Nathula the altitude is high, you might suffer with headache and breathlessness. Take necessary precautions with you.
- When you hire private vehicles in India, it is usually expected to give the driver meal money for lunch. This is a gesture Indians usually follow. It is however personal preference should you want to do it.
- Should you decide to visit any place on foot then make sure you know your route. The place can be very deserted at times, if you are lost it will be very hard to get directions.
- Do try the local Sikkim cuisine. I loved momos, Sha Phaley, Gya Kho and Thupka