Sikkim’s capital isn’t brimming with attractions, but it does offer excellent Kanchenjunga views and a chilled-out vibe, making it an introduction to the state. It is also the most convenient hub to plan treks and tours to other parts of Sikkim. Linger for a while to soak in local culture and Gangtok’s laid-back style and top it up with day trips to the nearby Rumtek monastery and the high pass of Nathu La.
Top 10 Sights to visit in and around Gangtok.
Rambling Rumtek Monastery, 22km frim Gangtok, is a different world, with maroonrobed lamas bustling around the many religious buildings and schools in the complex. One of Tibetan Buddhism’s most venerable institutions, it is the home-in-exile of Buddhism’s Kagyu (Black Hat) sect. The main building contains a giant throne that awaits the crowning of the sect’s spiritual leader, the (disputed) 17th Karmapa. The Golden Stupa behind the main monastery is a treasure trove of religious paraphernalia.
Changu Lake & Nathu La Pass
A Gangtok trip is incomplete without a day trip to high-altitude Changu Lake (3780m; 39km away) and Nathu La Pass (4130m, 56km from Gangtok). At the lakeside, food stalls sell hot chai, chowmein and momos, while yaks (rides available) amble along the shore. A further 18km of road with scenic views will take you to Nathu La. A traditional corridor through the Himalayas between India and Tibet, the pass was closed in 1962, during the war with China. It was conditionally reopened for regional traders for daytime thoroughfare in 2006. Tourists are allowed to go close to the international border from where Chinese soldiers and tourists can be spotted on the other side of the barbed wire. Nathu La is open for Indian nationals on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. A permit, though a mere formality, is required.
On the northern outskirts of Gangtok, this monastery is approached through gently rustling conifers. It’s easily Gangtok’s most attractive gompa, and houses some decent murals and statues of Tantric deities. The monastery founder was apparently famous for his levitation skills. It comes alive for the colourful Detor Chaam masked dances in December/January.
Gangtok Zoo, formally known as the Himalayan Zoological Park is among the better maintained zoos in the country. It occupies an entire hill opposite Ganesh Tok viewpoint. Red pandas, civet cats, Himalayan bears, clouded leopards and snow leopards roam around in extensive forested enclosures. There’s a cafe on the premises.
With gorgeous views both to the east and west, the Ridge is a shaded promenade cresting Gangtok’s upper reaches. It’s a pleasant place to stroll away your time in manicured parks and gardens. The imposing structure of Chogyal Palace (a former residence of Sikkim’s monarchs, the Chogyals) is closed to visitors, but is a fine sight from a distance nonetheless. The impressive Tsuglhakhang Temple near the palace is often open early in the morning (and during major festivals) to pilgrims and curious tourists. Flower exhibition center
During the spring bloom (March and April) it’s worth peeping inside the Flower Exhibition Centre, a modestly sized greenhouse full of exotic orchids, lilies and anthuriums.
Do-Drul Chorten (pagoda)
The gorgeous white Do-Drul ChortenImage courtesy: Lonely Planet/Shweta Andrews
Along the same road as the Namgyal Institute is Do-Drul Chorten, a large white Tibetan pagoda surrounded by dormitories for novice monks and glass-walled galleries with countless flaming butter lamps burning within.
The Damodar Ropeway is a cable car that shuttles from just below the Namgyal Institute to Secretariat Ridge. It provides a bird’s-eye view of Gangtok, along with stupendous vistas of the surrounding mountain ranges and valleys.
Namgyal Institute of Tibetology
This fantastic museum, housed in a traditional Tibetan-style mansion, boasts a jaw-dropping collection of artefacts related to Vajrayana Buddhism and Tibetan culture. Established in 1958, to promote scholastic and cultural research, its ground-floor hall displays Buddhist manuscripts, icons, thangkas (Tibetan cloth paintings) and Tantric ritual objects, such as a thöpa (bowl made from a human skull) and kangling (human thighbone trumpet). There are plenty of useful explanatory captions.
This rope way of about less than 1 km long has three entry points or stops. The lowest point is at Deorali market and the highest point is at Tashiling (below the state secretariat). There is a midpoint stop at Nam-Nang. One can enter from any point and return to same point after touching other two points. Cable car journey provides spectacular view of Gangtok market, valley and State Assembly hall of the state of Sikkim on its 15 to 20 minutes journey. The ticket fee for adult is Rs 50 and Rs 30 for kids below 6 years. One can carry a video camera by paying a fee of Rs 50. No extra charge for normal still camera.