Escape to Gangtok—land of mystic monks, majestic mountains and marvellous experiences.
You hear the Buddhist prayer flags flutter in the wind and smell the lush greenery around you; the birds are chirping and there is newly formed dew on the orchids around. Welcome to the natural paradise that is Gangtok, capital of Sikkim. Land of mystic monks and majestic mountains, Gangtok is an ideal getaway
for the weary urbanite.
Situated some 721 kilometres from Calcutta, the largest town of Sikkim is situated on the lower Himalayas. Gangtok literally means on the top of a hill. Surrounded by mountains, with the imposing Kanchenjunga to the east of the city, Gangtok is an ideal place to get a breath of cool mountain air. There is a lot to see in this city and the small-town atmosphere has been aptly moulded to suit the needs of the tourist, while retaining the mountain country charm.
During autumn season, between October and mid-December, there are clear views of the Himalayan peaks. This makes it an ideal time to visit Gangtok. Between March and May, the flowers bloom in Gangtok, making it another good time to visit the city. Gangtok is best avoided in January-February, as snowfall in the higher altitudes cuts off different tourist spots. Another time you may want to stay away is from June to September, when Gangtok experiences heavy rains that cause landslides and can disrupt communications.
The Buddhist Touch Buddhism
has a strong influence in Gangtok. This is evident as one drives up the winding and scenic route to Gangtok taking in the local populace. Most of the important sites to visit include the Enchey Monastery, Do-Drul Chorten Stupa complex, and the Rumtek Monastery.
The Enchey Monastery boasts a spectacular view of the third largest peak in the Himalayan range - Kanchendzonga (which is not to be confused with Kanchenjunga the second largest peak). Situated just above the township of Gangtok, it is an important seat of the Nyingma order. This monastery is over 200 years old and showcases a number of religious objects. In January, a religious masked dance called Chaam
is performed here by the lamas in the monastery's courtyard.
Another major tourist attraction is the Do-Drul Chorten Stupa, one of the largest stupas in Sikkim. It was built in 1945, by the venerable Trulshi Rimpoche, head of the Nyingma order of Tibetan Buddhism. It has 108 giant prayer wheels around it.
The largest monastery in Sikkim is the Rumtek Monastery, built by the ninth Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje in the 16th century. For some time, it served as the main seat of the Karma Kagyu lineage. You have to walk up to the monastery on an incline. When you step into the main monastery complex, you are transported back into time. Your eyes adjust from coming in from the bright sunlight outside to take in the mystical view of candle light glows and row after row of monks praying. The monastery showcases a number of important relics such as a Golden Stupa, which contains the precious relics of His Holiness, the Sixteenth Karmapa. As one travels from one monastery to the other, one cannot help but admire the wild flowers that grow in Gangtok. To see these flowers at their best, visit the Flower Exhibition Centre.
Flower Exhibition Centre
The climate here is very conducive to growing flowers
, especially the delicate orchids. Naturally, flower shows in Gangtok are a big draw. The most popular of which is the annual flower show held at the Flower Exhibition Centre. Open to the public between April to June and September to November, this flower show is located near the White Hall Complex. A variety of multi-coloured orchids, seasonal flowers as well as bonsai are on display. The entire exhibition is in a well-planned, enclosed greenhouse and is an excellent place to observe the flora or take photos. The flower shows in different seasons focus on the specific flowers that flourish at that time.
There are a number of mountain viewpoints where you can take in the scenic lush valleys and peaks that surround Gangtok. One of the more notable viewpoints is the Tashi viewpoint. Built by the late king of Sikkim, Tashi Namgyal, it offers a view of Mt. Siniolchu and Mt. Kanchenjunga. The point is situated 8 kilometres away from the town and is easily accessible by local taxi.
Another famous viewpoint is Ganesh Tok, which has a small temple and offers a bird's eye view of the city. Situated a little above Ganesh Tok is Hanuman Tok. From here, you get a different perspective of the town and the mountain ranges beyond. You will also see locals in colourful traditional garments from here. If buying some authentic Sikkim traditional garments or handicrafts is on your mind, pay a visit to the Government Institute of Cottage Industry for their wide variety and reasonable prices.
Government Institute of Cottage Industry
Leave Gangtok with some colourful handicrafts. Located at Zero Point, the Government institute of Cottage Industry is a good place to buy authentic local handicrafts. Beautiful souvenirs like carpets, furniture such as hand-carved tables (choktses
) and other traditional handicrafts
are popular buys.
Transportation within Gangtok is restricted to local taxis only. The other alternative is walking, not a bad idea in these lush, beautiful locales. Gangtok is a must-see for nature lovers and people who spend most of their time in urban jungles and need a breath of fresh air.