Gangtok is the capital city of the state of Sikkim, located in the north-eastern region of India. The region is considered to be the most convenient base to further explore the beautiful state of Sikkim. Although, Gangtok is not your typical traditional hill station. It’s a hill station with its own quirks, all of which we’ve covered in our Gangtok Travel Guide, which is why travellers find the place special.
The city is most famous for capturing the best views of the mighty Kanchenjunga. When the sky is clear, it’s guaranteed that you will catch a great view of this mountain. On other days, it’s covered by puffy light-weight moving clouds, which causes your view of the peaks to constantly appear and disappear. Gangtok has lots to offer to all kinds of visitors. But standing in admiration of these snow-covered peaks during sunrise and sunset, with prayer flags fluttering somewhere around you, is the most-loved aspect about Gangtok.
For the people who live here, Kanchenjunga is not just the third highest summit in the world, but it is also a sacred landmark. In Tibetan, Kanchenjunga means ‘five treasures of the high snow’, and is truly treasured by the locals and visitors of Gangtok. There are a few interesting mythical stories created about this mountain too. Some locals believe that Nee-gued (a Yeti) wanders on the slopes of the mountain.
To an urban dweller, the city of Gangtok can seem to carry the perfect amount of urbanisation and an upbeat energy that doesn’t damage the aura of the hill station. Gangtok feels neat, tidy and cozy because of how the hill houses and mountain landscapes seem to be well-placed with each other. Because of its close proximity to nature, the city also has strict rules on recycling and tree conservation. Plastic is banned completely and most of the tiny buildings are painted green as a commitment to being environment friendly. This is what keeps the air and water so clean, so much so that the residents drink water directly from the tap, which is not a common practice in most cities in India. Some houses claim to not keep ceiling fans, as the weather always seems just perfect.
The city is small and is the least populous city in India. Though it can seem crowded at times, it’s always minus the hustle and bustle that plagues other hill stations. Gangtok has the essence of a pleasant unhurried way of life and you could spend hours on an open terrace feeling rejuvenated.
History And Culture Of Gangtok
Gangtok is a mountain-town that is also established as a peaceful and spiritual Buddist pilgrimage center. The culture of Buddhism in Gangtok is evident in the local practices and beliefs too. You will come across prayer flags, shrines or small paintings of symbols of Buddhism. These auspicious symbols can be seen on the windows, doors, wall hangings or even on souvenirs like a tea cup you purchase. It is easy to spot some huge Buddhist-themed murals on the street too. Handicrafts of Buddhism are supported by the locals and the Buddhist monks.
Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal was the last monarch of Sikkim, up until the year 1975. That was when India officially added Sikkim as its 22nd state, while the capital of the state was Gangtok. Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal also saw the importance of the Buddhist arts and crafts for the Sikkimese identity. This is why you will find institutes like the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, and museums that act as safe homes to preserve Buddhist text and crafts.
Monasteries in Sikkim are not just to preserve the crafts of the culture, but also hold religious significance for the people because of the energy they themselves feel there. The Enchey monastery is one such monastery that holds a special place in the hearts of the people of Gangtok. It is believed that Khangchendzonga and Yabdean are the protecting deities that reside in the Enchey monastery. This way, you can see how the mountains of the city of Gangtok are also associated with the religious beliefs of the people and considered as sacred deities.
There are several other monasteries which make Gangtok the center for learning Buddhist culture. Thangka painting, wood carving and temples with artifacts built in the style of Tibetan architecture are common sights for the city. The state of Sikkim shares its borders with Tibet, Nepal and China which is why Gangtok has such a diverse culture. The culture followed by the people is a blend of Nepali and Bhutanese culture too.
In today’s time, this town has also developed a contemporary art scene. The people of Gangtok have a growing dedication to art and music. A majority of the urban youth enjoy western music and Hindi rock. Gangtok hosts a number of music festivals as well. One such festival is the Mangan Music Festival, which takes place in the month of December. If you don’t make it for a festival, don’t worry, because you could still enjoy a karaoke night or listen to live music played by Northeastern bands at a local pub. You would surely find yourself nodding to the music with a chilled locally brewed beer, known as Dansberg.
Gangtok is also famous for its street food such as momos, Sha Phaley and beef/chicken thukpa. These are just a few of the dishes that you will keep craving as the weather demands for hot comfort food.
How To Get To Gangtok
Getting To Gangtok By Air – The airport nearest to Gangtok is about 128 kilometres away in Bagdogra, in the state of West Bengal. From the airport, you can hire a shared taxi or a private vehicle that will get you to Gangtok in approximately 4 hours. The drive from Bagdogra to Gangtok is stunning and peaceful with gorgeous mountains and the River Teesta comforting you on the drive.
If you want to try something crazy, you can also take a helicopter to get to Gangtok in less than 30 minutes from the airport. However, just a heads up, this entirely depends on the weather condition. We would recommend trying this on your way out of Gangtok, as it’s a grand way to end the trip. There is a Tourist Information Center that will help you purchase the tickets.
Getting To Gangtok By Train – The nearest railway station to Gangtok is about 148 kilometres away, known as New Jalpaiguri in Siliguri. The station is well-connected to major cities in India. From New Jalpaiguri, you can take a taxi to Gangtok or go to Siliguri Bus Station and catch a state-run bus to Gangtok, which will take you about 5-6 hours.
Getting To Gangtok By Road – If you’re going to be taking the trip from Siliguri, Darjeeling, or Kalimpong, you can consider driving to Gangtok. For those coming from other cities or a different state altogether, you might want to opt for the train or flight, because the distance on the road will be taxing.
Although, if you’re the adventurous kind, the road trip will definitely be thrilling. Depending on where you’re coming from, you’ll be getting into the state through Bihar, Jharkhand or West Bengal. In any case, you will be taking multiple State Highways and National Highways. The journey, however, will be a fun one for sure.
Best Time To Travel To Gangtok
It’s vital that you visit Gangtok when the weather is clear, so you at least get a good enough view of the Kanchenjunga mountain range. The best months are from October to mid-December, because you could catch some of the traditional festivals such as Losoong festival, where Buddhist monks perform Cham dances.
The Gangtok Food and Cultural festival is also held in December every year by the Sikkim tourism department to promote tourism. There will be several food stalls, and singing and dance performances making Gangtok livelier in December.
Between March and May, flowers are in bloom and skies are clear. March is when Gangtok has an international flower festival that is an absolute treat to the eye.
January and February can be an option if you’re a fan of cold weather. June to September is when it rains, causing landslides and foggy weather that blocks your view of the mountains. We’d recommend avoiding a visit during the rains if possible.
Getting Around Gangtok
Taxis would be your main mode of transport in Gangtok and will fall cheaper if you decide to share the ride. There’s no other means of public transport and depending on the day you will be exploring, you could also rent a private car for multiple days. It will be much cheaper that way too, particularly beneficial for the low-budget travelers. You can approach a local tour operator or speak to someone at the hotel help desk. There are taxi stands available where you can agree on the number of days and time you’d need a private vehicle. Make sure there’s absolute clarity on trips that are included and whether it would be private or shared.
Breaking Stereotypes About Gangtok
Gangtok is located in the second smallest state so there’s hardly anything to explore here – Gangtok is a great destination to refresh yourself and your mind of this thought, as it has some of the most spectacular views and places to explore. You can see a glacial lake, the mountain peaks of the largest mountain peak in India, spot a yak, listen to a new genre of music and clear your mind with the energies felt at a monastery.
Go Check Out
MG road is a clean stretch of shops, restaurants and cafes in a no-traffic area. It would feel as though you are placed at an open-air mall. This area can get crowded but doesn’t feel that way as there is no hustle and bustle. You will also find plenty of local bookstores, pubs and tea stalls. The entry to MG road has an entrance sign that states spit and litter free zones.
Since you’ll most probably be hoping to get a good view of the Kanchenjunga mountain range, the city of Gangtok has set up some viewpoints for you. The peaks are visible from Hanuman Tok, Ganesh Tok and Tashi viewpoint. You can take a call on which viewpoint to visit, depending on how fast you can get there and not miss the sunrise or sunset. Many of the monasteries also offer some spectacular views of the mountain range.
This is a gorgeous glacial lake, situated around 40 kms away from Gangtok city. You can hire a government approved taxi service to get here and it would take you an hour or so to reach. At the lake, you will surely spot a yak and if you visit in December, the lake is covered in ice. You would need a permit to enter this area, issued at the checkpoint when you reach there. However, the documents for the permit need to be submitted by your travel agency the previous day. On the drive here, you will see Nathula Pass. This pass is visited as it connects the Indian state of Sikkim with China’s Tibet Autonomous Region.
How Many Days Are Enough For Gangtok?
5 days in Gangtok should be enough for you to get your fill of this wonderful hilltown. This gives you enough time to get in some sightseeing, wake up early to see the sun’s rays on Mt. Kanchenjunga, and laze away to your heart’s content.
Which Is The Best Time To Visit Gangtok?
The best time to visit Gangtok is between October to mid-December – this is when the weather is wonderfully cold, and you can catch several traditional festivals that take place. March to May are also great; the weather is warmer but pleasant and spring is in the air.
Is Gangtok Worth Visiting?
With unbeatable weather, breathtaking views of mountains, Mt. Kanchenjunga towering overhead, great food and stunning monasteries, Gangtok truly is an experience to be had. But if you go expecting a thriving nightlife and urban, contemporary places to visit, you may find it disappointing.
What Is Famous In Gangtok To Buy?
Tibetan and Buddhist handicrafts are to be found in plenty in Gangtok’s markets, as are semi-precious stones and Sikkim tea. Make sure you get a thangka, a Tibetan Buddhist painting on cotton, silk appliqué, that normally depicts a mandala or a Buddhist deity.
When Can We See Snow In Gangtok?
It never actually snows in Gangtok. However, you can see snow in the higher altitudes around Gangtok in the months of January and February.
How Far Is Gangtok From Darjeeling?
Gangtok is around 95 kms away from Darjeeling, and it takes a drive of around 4 hours to get there.
Is There Snowfall In Gangtok?
No, Gangtok never receives any snowfall, but you can see the snow-clad peaks of mountains from Gangtok. Traveling to higher altitudes from Gangtok in the months of January and February can help you see some fresh snow.
Which Month Is Best For Gangtok?
Gangtok can be visited all throughout the year, and the best month for you to visit depends entirely on what you want to visit for and when you are free.
What Is The Famous Food Of Gangtok?
There’s loads to eat in Gangtok from the more popular momos and thukpa to regional specialties like Sel roti (traditional Nepalese hand bread), Phagshapa (traditional pork dish), and Thenthuk soup.
Can We Smoke In Gangtok?
Gangtok is very particular about pollution and littering, which is why there are certain rules to be followed. The entire state of Sikkim has banned smoking in public.
What Is Gangtok Known For?
Views of Mt. Kanchenjunga and other snow-clad Himalayan ranges, great food, Buddhist culture and a thriving arts and music scene are what Gangtok is known for.