Gangtok has moderate climate as it is located at an altitude ranging from 5000 to 6000 ft above and experiences temperature between 15 to 25 degrees Celcius for most part of the year: it is only in winter the temperature touches about 4 degrees. It is only on rare occasions that it snows at Gangtok.
Straddling a ridge, Gangtok has a cosmopolitian flavour with a lively mix of cultures and has undergone rapid modernization in the last two decades or so. Being the capital of a state, Gangtok contains all modern facilities. There are good schools, a railway outagency, Airlines ticket agencies, cinema halls, a well-equipped hospital, fast food centres and restaurants selling North Indian, South Indian, Sikkimese,Chinese and Continental cuisines.
With expansion, Gangtok town is literally spilling downwards with huge buildings precariously clinging to the hillside. It is infact becoming a concrete jungle with trees vying for space in the town area. Where is the wooden shop that was there yesterday or that beautiful tree that adorned the corner of the road?
Big hoardings advertise products, including some exhorting “Practise of Safe Sex and Use of Condoms to prevent Aids” . A banner elsewhere trumpets the opening of an Internet Cafe and another put up by a local environment group Green Circle exhorts the public not to use plastic carry bags and keep Gangtok clean.
Till the late 1950s mules and even yaks carrying goods from Tibet used to descend to present day MG Marg and Sonam Gyatso Road (Tibet Road). Even as late as the mid 1970s, Gangtok had a pastrol ambience. I the author of this website grew up in a cottage in Development area, Gangtok: we had cows which used to graze till the early 1980s where you have the present day Manan Kendra. It is from the mid 1980s that there has been a continuous building boom. Click here to see how old Gangtok and MG Marg looked like. You can download the Bollywood superhit movie made in 1967 from YouTube and see how Gangtok looked like in the mid 1960s,
Sikkim’s once sleepy capital has indeed mushroomed into a glitzy hedonistic destination.
The Main Market which has hotels, restaurants, curio, garment, footwear and grocery shops lines the flat Mahatma Gandhi (M.G.)Marg. The M.G Marg is out of bounds for vehicles.The Government Bus Terminus is located about 10 minutes walk away from the M.G. Marg. Gangtok has a few Taxi and Bus Stands. If you are coming by bus or shared taxi from Siliguri, you will be dropped at the Taxi Stand at Deorali which is two kilometers short of Gangtok town. If you are leaving for South and West District, then you will catch your shared taxi from the Taxi stand near M.G. Marg. If going to North Sikkim, you can catch your taxi from the Stand near Vajra Cinema Hall. Gangtok itself is teeming with taxis and you can hail one on shared basis to get around to anywhere in the town. This is a far cry from the 1960s when there were only a couple of taxis in the town. Gangtok was so silent with widely spaced houses that the town could hear the vehicles moving around.
An imposing manmade landmark of Gangtok is the 60 metres high TV tower which overlooks the town and is situated near the Enchey Monastery below Ganesh Tok.
I have tried to capture the change Gangtok has undergone from the 1950s till now in the poem below
Gangtok – Then and Now
Then Yaks and mules
Now Cars and trucks
Groves of trees soothing green and wooden houses
Now a concrete jungle harsh grey
Chirping of birds, rustle of leaves, howl of jackals
The plaintive blaring of trumpets breaking the stillness of the air
Now the continuous hum of traffic
Punctuated by the sirens ambulances and vip cars
Fragrance of flowers
Now the occasional smell of diesel fumes
Open the windows to let in fresh air
Now close the windows to keep out noise
Acquainted with everyone
Now you know no one and no one knows you
Like everything Gangtok is changing inexorably relentlessly
Where is the wooden shop that was there yesterday
Or the beautiful tree that adorned the corner of the road
What has not changed it seems is the Khanchendzonga range on the horizon
But they say that even the mountains grow a centimeter each year
GETTING AROUND AT GANGTOK ((Country Code-0091, Area Code-3592)
Staying and Eating
(See section on Hotels and Restaurants)
Ticketing Agencies and Travel Agents
(See section on Travel Agents)
Sikkim is fast emerging as a new destinastion for tourists who want to experience the thrills of gambling. Royal Plaza Hotel ((281570) at Syari Gangtok boasts of the first land based Casino in India and offers Roulettes, Blackjack and electronic slot machines. Casino Majong in Hotel Mayfair((250128) and Casino Deltin in Hotel Denzong Regency also offers similar gambling options.
Discos and Night Clubs
As of now Gangtok does not have much of a night life, but there are a few Night Clubs where people can unwind. Live and Sound close to MG Marg can also be tried.Code Oranage near Ranipul about 8 kms from Gangtok is another popular joint.
The language used for communication in Sikkim is Nepali. However everybody knows a smattering of Hindi thanks to the Cable TV. In major towns most people can communicate in English. Written official correspondences in Sikkim take place in English.
All Sikkim Government Offices and banks follow a six day week. While the Government offices have 10 am to 4 pm working hours and a six day week, banks are open from 10 am to 2 pm (on Saturdays 10 am to 12 noon). Both the banks and Sikkim Government Offices follow the Government of Sikkim Almanac which has many holidays. The Central Government Offices like the Central Public Works Department have a five day week (10 am to 5 pm). Restaurants open as early as 7 am but also close early: by 8 pm. The markets open by 7 am and close by 7 pm. The Tourism Department Information Counter (( 222064) is open from 8 am to 7 pm during the season (April to June & October to November)
Postal Service and Courier
The Post Offices in Sikkim follow a six day week (10 am to 3 pm) with only four or five public holidays in a year. The Head Post Office (( 205442) at Gangtok is well equipped. There are many reputed courier in Gangtok as well. They areBlue Dart (205790) DTDC (281985), Gati (281401) Overnight Express (203813)
Gangtok and the district headquarters have many telephone booths from where you can make international calls. Some of them are also equipped with fax machines. Most of these booths open by 6 am but close by 9 pm. Gangtok also has good mobile coverage provided by BSNL, Vodafone, Reliance and Airtel.
Banks and ATMs
Gangtok has all the major banks . Most of the banks have their ATM.
Western Union has an officein the General Post Office.Tourists can have their remittances from abroad collected here.
There are many internet cafes on the M.G. Marg and can be used for sending and receiving e-mail messages and browsing the internet.
Branches of State Bank of India are to be found at all the major towns here and they readily convert foreign hard currency to local currency. However these banks follow the local holiday calender and they are sometimes closed for days together with frequent strikes: so carry sufficient local currency before coming here. Notes of Rs 500 denominations should be preferred as they can be carried easily. However when visiting places that are remote, carry a sufficient assortment of Rs 50, Rs 10 and Rs 5 notes as getting change for higher denomination notes can be a problem. Some of the big hotels are authorised to change money and many also accept credit cards.
In Gangtok, Jainco (( 203774) , Citinews ((225660) and Goodbooks on M.G. Marg, Pasupati Nath ((208212) on the Lal Bazar Road are all well stocked with books and magazines. Rachna((204336, www.rachnabooks.com, firstname.lastname@example.org) near Community Hall is a quiet place just 10 minutes walk away from the hustle and bustle of MG Marg and stocks wide range of books especially on Sikkim. M/S D.K. Pandey( (207096) on Tibet road also stocks books.
The daily “Sikim Express” is good newspaper that are packed with information on what is happening locally. The weekly official bulletin of the Government, the Sikkim Herald also has a lot of local news. Both are available on line too.
Gangtok has quite a few pay and use toilets run by Saulab International.
Denzong Cinema ((202692), Near Lal Bazar and Vajra ((202861) with 70 mm screen at Balwakhani show the latest Hindi and English movies. There are three shows: 11.30 am, 2.30 pm and 5.30 pm.
Hidden Forest ((225197), Himalayan Flora ((222223) and Wayside Gardens and Nurseries((250706) in and around Gangtok can be visited for those interested in plants. The Flower Show venue on Ridge Road also stocks plants for sale.
You can get your photographs processed in the various photo labs in town. Panorama Photo studio on Tibet Road and its branch at MG Marg provide prompt service.
Medical facilities and Chemists
Chiranjilal Lalchand ((203762), Life Line Medicos ((222864) and Sree Krishna Medical Store ((224807) all on M.G. Marg are well stocked with all types of medicines. Care Diagnostics ((203870, 204555) Opp. Private Bus Stand, can be contacted for various pathological tests.The Government run STNM Hospital ((222944) and Central Referral Hospital((231137) are well equipped to cater all sorts of emergencies. Besides, there are many private doctors in town as well.
Places of Worship
The Thakurbari complex near the Tourist Information Centre has small temples of the main Gods and goddesses of the Hindus. Sia Baba (Putaparti) Mandir is located at Balwakhani near the Vajra Cinema. There is a Protestant Church (CNI) and a Catholic Church both near the main town. A mosque is located next to the Private Bus Stand.
There are many religious organsiations in Sikkim which organise regular prayer meetings. Tourists affliated to these organisations may like to visit them if time permits. Some of them are Brahma Kumaris, The Art of Living, Vipasana, Chinmaya Mission, Sahaj Marg.
MG Marg – locals and the tourists
It is crowded with locals in the morning
Sitting on the benches
Basking in the sun, watching the world go by
A deluge of tourists descend
Inundating the MG Marg
Soon the locals become outsiders in their own town
And scurry back to their homes
About a kilometre downhill from the main market of Gangtok, amidst a small forest of oak, magnolia and birch trees stands the Institute of Tibetology. This area is perhaps the last green enclave in Gangtok. The building accommodating the Institute is an example of Tibetan architecture. It is world renowned and is one of the few of its kind. Its library is well stocked with rare books and documents on Buddhism. There are about 30 thousand volumes, mostly xylographs,(xylographs are documents that are printed using wooden slabs that have the matter embossed on them in the reverse) translations of the original teachings of the Lord Buddha, and treatises by distinguished Buddhist scholars from different parts of the world. The museum at the Institute consists of rare collection of antiques like statues, coins and Thankas which are scrolls with paintings on them. This institute is a premier institute in the world that conducts research in the language and culture of Tibet. It has on its faculty eminent scholars. The library and museum of the Institute are open to the public 10 am to 4 pm on all days excluding holidays and Sundays. An entry fees of Rs 10 is charged.
The foundation stone of the Institute was laid in February 1957 by the Dalai Lama and it was inaugurated by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in October 1958.
Just adjacent to the Research Institute of Tibetology, a few hundred feet away, on a small hillock is located this huge and towering religious monument which is in the form of a stupa. The periphery of the chorten is surrounded by 113 small prayer wheels with the mystic mantra “Om Mane Padme Hum” in Tibetan inscribed on them. The Chorten was built by Late Trul Shik Rimpoche, who was the head of the Nyingma Order, and late Chogyal of Sikkim Tashi Namgyal in the mid forties to invoke the Gods to keep peace and tranquility in the state. Placed inside the Chorten are a complete set of Kanjur holy books, relics, complete mantras and other religious objects. A small chorten known as Jhang Chub Chorten was built besides the Phurba Chorten in the memory of Trul Shik Rimpoche who passed away in 1962.
Inaugurated on 7th Dec 2003, the ropeway operates between the Main Secretariat Deer Park, Sikkim Legislative Assembly and the Tibetology at Deorali. The two cable cars have a capacity of accommodating 25 passengers each. A both way trip taking about 20 minutes costs Rs 60/- :it is worth the money as the ride gives a breathtaking view of the river about 1000 metres below as well as the Deorali Bazar.
The Government Institute of Cottage Industries (GICI) is located at about a kilometre uphill from the main market of Gangtok.
It was established, in 1957 with the purpose of promoting the manufacture and sale of local handicrafts, carpets and furniture. An emporium at the institute sells handicrafts, Thankas which are scrolls with paintings, hand carved foldable wooden tables known as Choksees and exquisitively woven woollen carpets, masks and dolls.
Hand made paper is another unique novelty of the Institute and is made from the bark of a tree Argali. The paper is used extensively for invitation cards and letter-pads. It is open from 10 am to 4 pm and
closed on government holidays.
The Ridge is a small stretch of plain and flat road above the town of Gangtok. It is just about fifteen minutes walk from the main market. The Ridge has the White Hall and the Chief Minister’s official residence, known as the Mintogang, meaning “blossomed crowned hilltop” on one end and the beautifully designed Palace Gate with a pagoda rooftop on the other end. A statue of Nehru, the late Prime Minister of India, adorns the roundabout above White Hall. Situated on the Ridge is also a resting shed using Tibetan architecture. The ridge is lined with plants and trees which when in bloom are a riot of colours. Flower shows which attract tourists from all over the world are held just below the Ridge.
The White Hall only has historical value and is situated on the Ridge. It is a two storeyed structure and has typical British architecture and was built in 1932 in memory of the first Political Officer Claude White. Till the nineteen sixties, all important functions used to be held in this hall.
It you have time visit the Palace Monastery close by.
This monastery is located just adjacent to the Tourist Lodge (Siniolchu Lodge) and the TV Tower about a kilometre uphill from the White Hall. The monastery is located in a dense wood and one can see the Kanchendzonga range over the crown of trees.
Lama Druptob Karpo is supposed to have built a small hermitage at this spot after he flew here from Maenam Hill motore than two hundred years ago. During the reign of Sidkeong Tulku, a monastery was built here in 1901 in the form of a Chinese Pagoda. The monastery follows the Nyingma Order and the main puja and dances are held here on the 18th and 19th of the twelfth month of the Tibetan calendar which normally corresponds to the month of December.
Ganesh Tok is located on the hill adjoining the TV Tower. A small temple of God Ganesh nests on the hilltop at an altitude of 2000 metres (6500 ft). The temple is so small in size that it can hardly accommodate one person and one has to crawl to get inside it. A panoramic view of Gangtok town and the Raj Bhawan Complex can be obtained from here. All the snowy peaks on the western border including the mighty Kanchendzonga are visible from here and present a breathtaking scene. During the tourist season, a small cafeteria is opened for the convenience of the visitors. Just adjoining the Ganesh Tok is a pinetum garden containing pine trees. A walk on the footpath amongst the pine trees is refreshing.
The park is located exactly across the road opposite Ganesh Tok and covers an area of 205 hectares. This area is also known as Bulbuley and extends almost upto Hanuman Tok. Although a 3 kilometres long jeepable road runs right through the park, vehicles are not allowed in. There is a paved cement path that passes by fenced open air enclosures housing the red pandas, barking deer, bears and other animals of Sikkim in a semi natural habitat. As the enclosures encompass a huge area the animals are sometimes not easily visible and one has to be patient to get a sight of them.