|Facts and Figures|
|Area||204.6 sq km|
|Languages||Nepali, Sikkimese, Bhutia, Lepcha, Hindi, English|
|Best time to visit||October to March|
SMALL & BEAUTIFUL
All good things in life come in small packets and Gangtok is a good illustration. Be it the rich flora, the beautiful people, or the serene Buddhist monasteries, this small town, occupies an important position in the itinerary of tourists in search of tranquility from the humdrum of modern life.
The eastern state of Sikkim lies couched between the borders of Nepal and Bhutan. Gangtok became the capital of the state in the 19th century and lies to the south of the district of East Sikkim. It is a hilly town and spreads down the western side of a long ridge flanking the Ranipul River. The entire Kanchenjunga range can be viewed from the town and, in fact, it is worshipped as a local deity. It is at a distance of 721 km from Calcutta, 584 km from Patna, 140 km from Darjeeling and 589 km from Guwahati. The town experiences a lot of rainfall throughout the year and temperatures are mild.
SITES TO VISIT
One of the oft-visited sites of Gangtok is the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology. It was built in 1958 and is a research center for Mahayana Buddhism and Tibetan culture. Besides being a museum of traditional and old artifacts, one can also buy Buddhist religious books and other objects of craft. Nearby is a gompa for young lamas. The Tsuk-La-Khang or Royal Chapel is the main place of worship and assembly for the Buddhists and is huge repertoire of religious relics. It is open during the Losar festival. Another important monastery is the Enchey Gompa and is worth a visit during the festival season of January to February.
Adjacent to the Namgyal Institute is the Orchid Sanctuary, which is the home of some 500 varieties of orchids. There is a larger orchid sanctuary called Orchidarium, off the main road to Rangpo. Near White Hall, there is a Flower Exhibition Center and seasonal flowers, bonsai and orchids are a delight to the eyes. From April to June and September to November, one can come here.
Located at a distance of 24 km from Gangtok is Rumtek Gompa, which is a rich monastery and abode of the head of the Kagyupa order of Tibetan Buddhism. It is a very famous site and devotees often flock to it throughout the year. Located at a distance of 35 km towards the northeast of Gangtok is the Tsongo or Changu Lake. Special permits are required to visit this picturesque locale.
Several festivals are celebrated in Gangtok and its adjoining areas.
- The Buddhist festival of Bumchu is held in the Tashiding Gompa during January.
- The festival of Chaam is held in Enchey Gompa during January-February and is marked by dancing.
- Kagyat Dance is a mask dance held every month at Gangtok, Pemayangtse and Phodong.
- Losar marks the Tibetan New Year and is celebrated during February-March at Pemayangtse and Rumtek.
- Tse Chu is a Buddhist dance held in May at Rumtek.
- Saga Dawa, held in Gangtok during May, and Drukpa Teshi, celebrated statewide during July, mark Buddha's first teaching.
- Phang Lhabsol is a mask dance celebrated statewide during August.
- Dasain, celebrated statewide during September-October, is marked by gift swapping and animal sacrifice.
Trekkers' huts along trek routes are at Pemayangtse, Khechopalri, Yuksam, Tsokha, Dzongri, Thangshing, Zemathang, Chaurigang, Tashiding, Varsey, Yangang, Rabongla, Sang and Sikip. One can also taste the thrill of such adventure sports like white-water rafting, hang gliding, yak safari, and mountain biking in and around Gangtok. The state tourism department can be contacted for more details.
WHERE TO GO SHOPPING
The town's liveliest markets are the New Market on MG Road, with workshops specializing in bronze and silver jewelry, and Lall Market, where dried fish, yak's cheese (churpi), and yeast for making the local beer (tomba) are available. At the huge complex run by the Directorate of Handicrafts and Handloom, on the National Highway north of the center, visitors can watch rural Sikkimese making carpets, handloom fabrics, thangka paintings and wooden objects. Curio shops on MG Road and near the Tibet hotel on Paljor Stadium Road sell turquoise, coral jewelry and beads.
HOW TO REACH
The busiest route in and out of Sikkim is the road between Gangtok and Siliguri, also the nearest airport and railway station. Flights from Bagdogra can be booked at the Indian Airlines office on Tibet Road in Gangtok (Ph: 23099). Sikkim National Tourist Agency (Ph: 22016) has daily bus services to Siliguri (5 hours), Darjeeling (7 hours), Kalimpong (3 hours) and Bagdogra (4½ hours). Share jeeps and taxis are a faster alternative to commute.
FOODING & ACCOMMODATION
One can savor all delicacies in Gangtok-from Tibetan to Chinese, Indian to Japanese. Continental dishes, banana pancakes, chicken-fried rice and the famous momos are the hot favorites. Rice is a staple, and dal is readily available. Gyakho is a traditional soup served on special occasions. Most restaurants serve alcohol. One can also look out for tomba, a traditional drink consisting largely of fermented millet, with a few grains of rice for flavor, served in a wooden or bamboo mug, and sipped through a bamboo straw.
Gangtok also offers a wide variety for accommodation. From budgetary accommodations to five-star hotels, one can get every sort of rooms. Low-season discounts are also common, but each hotel differs in their specifications. One must remember to enquire about hot-water provisions during winters.
Trekking permits for West Sikkim (i.e., north of Yuksom) can be made from the tourist office building. One is allowed to visit Sikkim for a maximum of 15 days and obtain an extension of another fortnight only from the Home Office (Tashling Secretariat). Re-entry into the state is not permitted for three months even if one returns before the completion of the first fifteen days. Permits can be obtained from the Indian embassy or the Resident Commissioner's Office in Delhi (Ph 6115346), Calcutta (Ph 2499935), and Siliguri (Ph 432646) or any of the Foreigners' Regional Registration Offices. In order to visit the Tsongo Lake or North Sikkim, one has to be a part of a group of four.
|Adventure Tours of India|