Gangtok, the land of monasteries, is also the largest town of Sikkim. Situated in the Shivalik Hills and lying at an altitude of 1437 m, it’s an important Buddhist Pilgrimage Centre. Gangtok gained religious significance among the Buddhists after the construction of the Enchey Monastery in the latter part of the 19th century. The town has people from different ethnicities.
The presence of Buddhists, Chinese, Tibetans as well as Hindus gives Gangtok a colourful ambience and every festival is celebrated here with the same fervour. Some of the popularly celebrated festivals are Losum and Losar, among others.
Most of the economy of Gangtok depends on tourism. A large part of the population of the town is employed in the tourism sector. Of late, eco-tourism has picked up in the region with tourists being offered the opportunity of trekking, rafting as well as mountaineering. Apart from the tourism industry, cottage industries form the other major portion of Gangtok’s economy which deals in watch making, handicrafts and local alcohol processing.
Gangtok is full of gompas, stupas, parks and gardens. Some of the major attractions in and around Gangtok are the Rumtek Monastery, Pemayangtse Monastery, Tashiding Monastery, Tsomgo Lake, Nathu La Pass, Hanuman Tok etc. Visitors who want to explore Gangtok and its surroundings but do not want to do the planning themselves can opt for the several Gangtok holiday packages available.Food & Shopping in Gangtok
Sikkimese food is a mix of Nepalese, Tibetan and Indian cuisine with rice being the staple. Some of the local delicacies of Gangtok are ningro (fern rings), shisnu (nettle soup), phing (glass noodles) and churpi (yak cheese) cooked with a lot of chillies. Apart from these, momos are available round the corner. There are a lot of restaurants, eateries and fast-food joints in Gangtok.
Gangtok is full of souvenir and curio shops. One of the best areas for shopping is the road near Lal Bazar which not only has many shops but prices are also cheaper by 30-40% than the shops on M.G. Road. The Sikkim Handloom and Handicraft Emporium sells masks, wall hangings, carpets, leather goods and Tibetan, Bhutia and Lepcha dresses. Other items that are popularly bought include thankas, silk paintings, prayer wheels, Tibetan jewellery etc.
Travelling to Gangtok
Gangtok is connected to other parts of the country via an all-weather highway. The easiest way to reach Gangtok is by shared jeep from Siliguri, in West Bengal, which takes around 4½ – 5 hours. Shared jeeps, the best way to move around in Gangtok, can also be availed from New Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling and Kalimpong.
Buses run by the state carrier, Sikkim Nationalised Transport, terminate at the SNT Bus Stand on Paljor Stadium Road. Non-SNT buses stop at the Private Bus Stand, off NH-31A, below Deorali.
The nearest airport to the place is the Bagdogra Airport (124 km away) in the town of Siliguri, West Bengal. Bagdogra Airport is connected to Guwahati, Kolkata and Delhi with Kolkata and Delhi airports having international connections as well. Taxis are available from the airport to reach Gangtok. These cost around INR2000.
There is a helicopter service also which is run by the Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation from Bagdogra to Gangtok, once a day. The cost for this is approximately INR2200 but baggage allowance is limited to 10 kg.
Gangtok does not have a railway station, the closest one being at New Jalpaiguri in West Bengal, nearly 150 km away. The station has train services from all parts of the country with some of the prominent ones being Bangalore, Guwahati, Kolkata, Hyderabad, New Delhi etc.
Travelling within Gangtok
SNT buses and private buses are available for travelling within Gangtok. SNT buses can be boarded from the SNT bus stand located on Paljor Stadium Road. For places such as Pelling, Yuksom and Tashiding, buses depart at 7 am and 12:30 pm from the SNT bus stop. An hourly service is also available for places like Ravangla, Namchi, Jorethang and Geyzing.
Taxis and shared jeeps are also available, usually at MG Marg and Lal Market. Taxis are not metered so it is best to negotiate the fare before boarding.