My mind was always on the destination, journey being a part of it..a short but very sweet trip to Gangtok in the North East state of Sikkim in India changed it all. I was mesmerized by the beauty of mighty Teesta river on one side, and stunning mountain views on the other. The air heavy with the fragrance of the trees and the rain and the soil..the sound of the river water, the deep valleys..the warm hard working people living in difficult conditions and yet always with a smile and ready to help, roadside maggi and momos, mountains dotted with waterfalls.. A place I fell in love with and hope to explore sometime with lots of time in hand.
Gangtok, a beautiful city and an amalgam of modern and traditional, is the capital of the State of Sikkim in India.
A beautiful destination and one that is very popular with tourists, be it for its modern vibes and picturesque surroundings or for the traditional Sikkimese hospitality, Gangtok had been on our bucket list for a long time. One fine summer, we decided to do a 3 day trip to the place which is good enough for exploring Gangtok but in case you wish to explore this beautiful state, you will need at least 10 days.
The nearest railhead which connects to Gangtok is the station of New Jalpaiguri (NJP) in Siliguri.
Train Tickets can be booked here.
Thereafter, it is a 148 Kilometers drive on the National Highway No. 10 for which buses and taxis are available.
The most convenient airport is the Bagdogra Airport which is around 124 Kilometres. From the airport, one can easily take a taxi which takes around 2-2.50 hours to reach Gangtok. We took the flight from Mumbai to Bagdogra. You can search for convenient fights on kayak or makemytrip.
One can also take a TSA helicopter to get to Gangtok in around 20 minutes. However, the service is not very reliable and often depends on weather conditions which can change drastically.
One can drive down to Gangtok from Kolkata, Siliguri, Kalimpong, Darjeeling.
Scenic drive from airport to Gangtok
The drive from Bagdogra Airport to Gangtok is very pretty. Verdant green tea estates pass us and then we find that the we have a beautiful companion – the river Teesta is running parallel to the road. It is our companion for the major part of our journey and a pleasant one at that.
We stop en route to have hot tea and some steaming momos (dumplings) at a small roadside eatery at a place called Sevoke. The weather is very pleasant and the drive is good with most of the route being well maintained.
The driver switches off the air con telling that the weather is pleasant and there is steep climb. We are totally fine with it, what with the cool and clean air brushing our face and the sound of the gurgling Teesta Nadi (River) totally calming our senses. It is a pleasant drive and it takes us around 4 hours to reach Gangtok.
Things to do in Gangtok
Day trip to Nathula Pass, Baba Harbhajan Mandir and Tsomgo Lake
This is the highlight of our 3 day trip. A trip to Nathula takes a full day of travel from Gangtok and is combined with sightseeing of Baba Mandir and the Tsomgo Lake (or the ‘Changu Lake’ as it is known). We are really excited and are looking forward to see these beautiful places.
However first things first:
- Indians need a valid Protected Area Permit issued by the Sikkim Tourism Department in Gangtok to visit Nathula whereas Foreign tourists are not permitted to visit.
- Apply for a permit through a registered tour operator or agency at least a day before you plan to travel. Your hotel can also get this done.
- You will need photo identification proof (not PAN) and two passport size photos for the permit. The cost of permit is Rs. 200/- per person. Permits are not issued for children below 4 years but you can take your baby at your own risk.
- Nathula is at a high altitude and sometimes problems related to breathlessness may happen. It is best not to take very young kids and elderly people.
- Since it is very cold, it is very important to be appropriately dressed.
- The road till Nathula is not in a very good condition and it is rough ride till there. Only Sikkim Government approved tour operators can ply their Vehicles (SUV or Jeep) till Nathula and it is not uncommon for landslides to occur, sometimes holding up the traffic for hours at end.
- Nathula remains closed on Monday and Tuesday.
Reaching Nathula Pass
The Pass is one of the three open trading border posts between China and India and is offshoot of the ancient Silk route Road. It is around 58 Kms from Gangtok and located at an altitude of 14450ft. The whole trip takes around eight hours to complete and hence it is best to start early from Gangtok.
The road is rough but the views are stunning. The clouds descend on the mountains and the more you go up, the more the view below looks mesmerising and breathtaking. You will pass the Tsogmo Lake and the beautiful blue green water takes our breath away.
We reach the Pass and its thrilling to see the border where both Indian and Chinese Soldiers can be seen, on either side. You can see Chinese soldiers on the other side, from a close distance. Photography is not permitted this being Indo China Border area.
The place looks beautiful and the roads curving up and down, cutting through the mountains are a sight to behold. Amidst all this beauty, it is also motivating to see our Indian soldiers working in such harsh and difficult conditions and keep the flag of India flying high.
The Baba Mandir or Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir has an important back story. It is said that Harbhajan Singh, an Indian Army personnel drowned in one of the streams in Nathula and a few days later, appeared in the dreams another fellow personnel, asking him to build a Shrine in his memory. Thereafter the Mandir was built.
Soldiers posted here believe that Baba’s spirit protects them in this rough territory while they are protecting the India China border.
This temple is located on the road between the Nathula and the Jelepla Pass and is visited by a lot of people every day. The temple is believed to have wish-fulfilling powers and many devotees leave behind bottles of water at the temple which they pick up on their way back as holy water. On Sundays a ‘langar’ is run at the temple which provides free meals to the visitors.
On your way to Baba Mandir, you will find a hill which has the words “Mera Bharat Mahan” words carved on it. Guess I love reading the words, they give me a patriotic high!
The pristine Tsomgo Lake is also known as Changu Lake by the locals and is situated at an elevation of around 12,400 ft above sea level. The lake is revered by the Sikkimese people. The blue green waters of the lake are very inviting and it offers a very picturesque backdrop for a picture.
There are some eating stalls which serve snacks and beverages. Its actually quite nice to have steaming hot Maggi and tea. Beats any restaurant food any day, hands down :-).
Views of Kanchenjunga
This gorgeous mountain is the third highest in the world and there are many points in and around Gangtok from where you can get incredible views of the Kanchenjunga. Tashi View Point is one such point from where you can get a clear view of the Kanchenjunga. We are lucky that the weather is clear and we get a beautiful view of the snow-capped mountains. There is a steep climb till the view point so please venture only if the sky is clear. Otherwise all you can see are clusters of dense white clouds and fog.
Rumtek Monastery also known as the Dharmachakra Centre is the one of the top tourist’s attractions to be see in Gangtok. It is located at a height of 5,500 ft. above sea level and commands a beautiful view of the mountains and the city of Gangtok.
Rumtek is famous for its Golden Stupa comprising of the relics of the 16th Karmapa and for being the historical seat of the third highest monk in Tibetan Buddhism named Karmapa Lama. The Monastery in involved in spreading the teachings of Buddha and here you can understand how the Buddhist religion is practiced.
The Monastery is very peaceful and it is fascinating to watch the Buddhist Monks going about their daily chores, whether praying or having some fun.
The motifs on the walls are all bright and colourful and the golden statute of Buddha is very impressive.
The place has a serenity about it and its worth spending some time here. The views around are also stunning.
Banjhakri Falls and Energy Centre
Banjhakri Falls is around 8 kilometres from Gangtok and also has a small recreation centre. It is spread over an area of almost 2 acres and makes for pretty viewing. Ban means “forest” and “jhākri” means healer and refers to the traditional Shamanic healer who worships spirits living in caves around the falls.
The falls are lovely with the water gushing down with full strength from a height of 30 metres. The place has landscaped gardens, statues of Ban Jhakri ancestors, gazebos etc. and makes for pleasant viewing.
Flower Garden Exhibition Centre
Okay. May be could have given this a miss place but its still worth spending 15-20 minutes here considering the low admission fee (Rs. 10/- per person) and some exotic Himalayan flowers which you can see. It is a small centre and doesn’t take much time to explore.
There is park by the name of Ridge Park which right next to the Centre (no admission fee) and has a lot of plants. It is nice and peaceful for a stroll and has a lovely Gazebo where you can sit and rest a bit.
Hanuman Tok is the Hindu temple of Lord Hanuman or the Monkey God which is located on top of a hill at an altitude of 7,200 ft. The temple is maintained by the Indian army.
A little bit of climb to the temple and we are greeted with stunning views of the Kanchenjunga Range. The climb is easily doable and there are resting places on the way to the temple.
The temple has a very serene environment. We just don’t feel like leaving the place. It feels like we are tiny dot in the Universe. We feel the positive energy around us. The views around us are breathtaking.
Take – A stroll in MG Road
MG Road is the most vibrant and happening place of Gangtok. It has a lot of hep restaurants and shops lined up on both sides of the Road, and is name after Mahatma Gandhi. A good place to just walk and take in the sights of the city. You will get a wide variety of food but most popular are Tibetan food liked momos. One can spend a lot of time here.
MG Marg is the centre of the city and is a place bustling with lot of hip restaurants, small shopping arcades, shop etc. and it is best if one stays near MG Marg. We chose to stay in Hotel Chumbi Residency which is just a five minutes walk from MG Road and is very conveniently located.
For a more luxurious stay, please have a look at MAYFAIR Spa Resort and Casino at which is one of the most luxurious resorts in India.
Practically all good restaurants are at MG Road. Some of the must haves are:
- Have authentic Tibetan dishes like momos and thukpa at Taste of Tibet.
- Have fresh and soft pastries, cakes and mini cupcakes at Loafing around (the name of the Bakeshop!).
- Vegetarians can head to the pure veg Masala Restaurant which offers yummy Indian and Chinese fare at reasonable prices. The dum aloo here is pretty famous if you are someone who loves having potato dishes.
- Have Crispy chicken and chilli paneer at the Dragon Wok.
- Visit Thakali for having Thakali food, the traditional cuisine of the people from the Thak-Khola Valley in Nepal.
- Have Maggi momos at the Roll House which also serves delicious chicken and vegetarian rolls.
Visit Rachna Bookstore
This is a must visit for people who love to read. It is a ten minute walk from MG Road and is located in the Development Area. The store won the Publishing Next’s Bookstore of the Year award in 2015-16 in the South East Asia category, and has an excellent collection of books and magazines on North East among other topics.
For the Coffee aficionados , there is the Cafe Fiction. The coffee is locally sourced and you can have some delicious snacks with it.
Our three days are over and we are moving to another hill station, Darjeeling, carrying with us the warm memories of people, the food, and of course the stunning views all around. It just feels like a trailer of a movie, and having seen Gangtok, we now really want to explore this beautiful state of Sikkim at leisure! You must too.
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