The precise meaning of the name Gangtok is unclear, though the most popular meaning is "hill top". Gangtok is the capital and largest town of the Indian state of Sikkim. Gangtok is a popular hill station located in the Shivalik Hills of the eastern Himalayan range, at an altitude of 1,437 metres (4,715 ft). The town, with a population of thirty thousand belonging to different ethnicities such as Nepalis, Lepchas and Bhutia, is administered by various departments of the Government of Sikkim. Nestled within higher peaks of the Himalaya and enjoying a year-round mild temperate climate, Gangtok is at the centre of Sikkim's tourism industry.
Gangtok meaning 'lofty hill' was said to have been a small village until it gained the status of an important pilgrimage centre. Gangtok rose to prominence as a popular Buddhist pilgrimage site after the construction of the Enchey Monastery in 1840. In 1894, the ruling Sikkimese Chogyal, Thutob Namgyal, transferred the capital to Gangtok. In the early 20th century, Gangtok became a major stopover on the trade route between Lhasa in Tibet and cities such as Kolkata (then Calcutta) in British India. After India won its independence from Britain in 1947, Sikkim chose to remain an independent monarchy, with Gangtok as its capital. In 1975, after the integration with the union of India, Gangtok was made India's twenty-second state capital.
How to reach Gangtok by Air
The nearest airport is Bagdogra in West Bengal and is 124 kms (about 4 hrs drive) from Gangtok, which is connected, with all the major cities in India. You can also avail the helicopter service operated by the Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation daily from Bagdogra to Gangtok, which takes about 20 mins.
How to reach Gangtok by Rail
The nearest railway station is at New Jalpaiguri, which is about 125 kms from Gangtok(about 4 hrs). New Jalpaiguri is well connected with all the cities in India.
How to reach Gangtok by Road
Gangtok is connected by road with Siliguri, Darjeeling and Kalimpong by the National Highway 31 A. There are regular Sikkim state transport buses between Gangtok and Siliguri.Private buses, jeeps and taxis can also be hired from Siliguri and Bagdogra.
It is now known as the Directorate of Handicrafts and Handlooms as well as the Government Institute of Cottage Industries(GICI). Started during the time of the Chogyals of Sikkim, as a venture to preserve, protect and propagate the authentic Sikkimese arts, handicrafts and skills of local and village artisans, it has become one of the major attractions for people visiting Sikkim where beautiful souvenirs like carpets, hand carved tables (choktses), traditional handcrafts, furniture, handlooms carpets and other products are produced & exhibited for sale. Closed on Sundays, all government declared holidays and second Saturdays.
This internationally acclaimed centre of Tibetan Studies & Research houses a vast collection of rare Buddhist books, manuscripts and over 200 Buddhist icons. About a kilometer downhill from the main market of Gangtok, amidst a small forest of oak, magnolia and birch trees stands the Institute of Tibetology. The building accommodating the Institute is an example of Tibetan architecture. It is world renowned and is one of the few of its kind. It has one of the world's largest collection of books and rare manuscripts on the subject of Mahayana Buddhism plus many religious works of art and incredibly finely executed silk embroidered thangkas. There is an entry fee.
If you happen to be in Gangtok during the last week of December, do not miss going to the Palace of the Chogyal (Monarch), as it is open to public only during the week of the Pang Lhabsol festival. The festival is celebrated only in Sikkim and commemorates the consecration of Mount Kanchendzonga as the guardian deity of the region. The Tsuklakhang or the Royal Chapel lies within the palace grounds, and is the place where royal marriages and coronation ceremonies took place. In its beautifully carved and painted wooden interiors, it houses an impressive collection of scriptures and images of the Buddha.
Encircled by 108 prayer wheels built by late Trulsi Rimpoche in 1945-46. This is one of the most important and biggest stupas found in Sikkim. The Do-Drul Chorten or Stupa was built by Trulshi Rimpoche, head of the Nyingma order of Tibetan Buddhism in 1945. Inside this stupa, there are complete mandala sets of Dorjee Phurba (Bajra Kilaya), a set of Kan-gyur relics (Holy Books), complete 'Zung' (mantras) and other religious objects. Around this Chorten, which is one of the most important stupas in Sikkim, are 10 Mani-Lhakor (prayer wheels). These prayer wheels are turned by the devout Buddhist while chanting "Hail to the jewel in the Lotus", to invoke the Buddhisattva. The Chorten is surrounded by Chorten Lakhang, where there are two huge statues of Guru Rimpoche (Guru Padmasambhava).
This park which commands a good view of the hills surrounding Gangtok is perched on top of a hillside that plunges almost vertically deep into the valley. It was established in the late fifties and is located adjacent to the new Secretariat and is also called the Rustomji park so named after one of the Dewans of the Chogyal of Sikkim and the author of the book "Enchanted Frontiers". The park has a big open enclosure in which different types of deer can be seen. There are also a few cages in which some animals native to Sikkim like the Red Panda and the Himalayan Bear are kept. A big statue of Lord Buddha commemorating his preaching of the noble truths in the deer park at Sarnath adorns the park premises. A butter lamp perpetually burns in front of the statue which is surrounded by flowers of the most exotic variety.
White Hall, close by the White Memorial Hall and just below the Palace Ridge park is the more recent Flower Show Hall. In recent years this show has become quite popular and famous as there are flower exhibitions throughout the year in accordance with the seasons and the flowers in bloom. There is entry fee.
Located on a hilltop above Gangtok this monastery rebuilt in 1910 belongs to the Nyingmapa order and was once the hermitage site of Lama Drupthob Karpo renowned for his power of flying. An important seat of the Nyingma order, the Enchey Monastery meaning the Solitary temple, was originally built with the solace that no other construction would be allowed near it is built on the site blessed by Lama Druptob Karpo, a tantric master known for his flying powers. This 200 year old monastery has in its premises images of god, goddesses and other religious objects. Every year around January 'Chaam' or religious masked dance is performed with great fanfare for two days. It is situated adjoining the Sinolchu Tourist Lodge, 3 km from Gangtok Town.
The White Hall has historical value and is situated on the Ridge. It is a two storied structure and has typical British architecture and was built in 1932. It is so called not because it is painted white but because it was built in memory of the first Political Officer of Sikkim, Claude White. There is an Officers' Club and a badminton court in the White Hall.
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 Mintokgang, 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. From the ridge, the road winding its way up along the Chola range towards Nathula ( border between India and China) can be seen. During 1967 (not 1962, when this border was quiet), a confrontation broke out between India and China at Nathula. Long ago, a small market called the Sudder Bazaar consisting of a few shops lined the Ridge. In the early twenties this market was shifted to the present MG Marg.
It was built by the late King of Sikkim, Tashi Namgyal, and is situated 6 km from Gangtok town on the North Sikkim Highway, from where one can have a clear view of opposite hills, besides Mt. Khangchendzonga. This site offers a breathtaking panorama of the majestic Mt. Khangchendzonga and surrounding hills and Siniolchu. On the opposite hill, the Phodong and the Labrang monasteries can be seen. A resting shed and a small cafeteria situated at Tashi View Point provides shelter and other amenities to the tourists.
Shrouded in heavy mist, the guardian deity Khangchendzonga or Kanchenjunga both protects and terrifies the inhabitants of the magical kingdom of Sikkim. An awe-inspiring mass of rock clothed in dazzling white snow, this Himalayan giant in the world's third highest peak at 8,585 m (28,169 ft). The name itself means 'House of Five Treasures' represented by its five soaring summits. These treasures are the gold lacquered on it. By the rising and setting sun, the silver from its mantle of virgin snow, and the jewels of the scriptures containing the teachings of the Gods and enlightened reincarnates and the last one, invincible armour. Its five summits support the throne of an all-powerful deity.
Situated about 5 km uphill from White Hall on a bifurcation road of the Gangtok-Nathula Highway, is a temple devoted to Hanuman, a God worshipped by the Hindus. On selected points on the road to the temple, breathtaking views of Gangtok and the adjoining rolling hills can be seen. From the temple itself, the snowy peaks of Khangchendzonga present a panoramic picture. One also gets a bird's eyeview of the Selep waterworks, which supplies drinking water to the Gangtok town, a few hundred feet in altitude below Hanuman Tok. The temple at Hanuman Tok is maintained by a unit of the Indian Army and can be found to be spick and span.
It is a very small temple dedicated to Lord Ganesh, a diety worshipped by Hindus. The temple is so small in size that it can hardly accommodate one person and one has to crawl to get inside it. It is located on the hill adjoining the TV Tower. It is on a hillock on Gangtok-Nathula Road. From here one can get a panoramic view of Gangtok town and the Raj Bhawan Complex and on a clear day you get a breathe-taking view of Mt. Khangchendzonga. 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 km long jeepable road runs right through the park. 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.
To capture the most stupendous scenes of the city, an easy way out here in Gangtok is to take a cable car ride that brings to your view Gangtok market, valley and assembly hall of state of Sikkim on its 15 to 20 minutes journey. There are 3 stop points on the journey. The lowest point is at Deorali market and the highest point is at Tashiling. There is a mid point stop at Nam-Nang. One can enter from any point and return to same point after touching other two points.
Cradled by pristine alpine forests, the Changu Lake is bordered with primula, poppies and other wildflowers and grasses, and a little temple of Shiva (Destroyer of the Universe according to Hindu mythology) dots one side of the placid waterbody. The lake formed by the melting snow of mountains, stands at an altitude of 12,400ft, and has an average depth of 50ft. There is a footpath that runs from the lake to a peaceful resting shed. It's a great place to just lie down for a lazy while and take in the smells and sounds of Mother Nature. The lake freezes during the winter months, and it is believed that in ancient times monks could predict the future by looking at the hues of the lake water! The Changu Lake is at a distance of 35km from Gangtok.
It is best to visit the lake from March to May, and from September to December. This might mean though that during the peak season, the lake tends to get a trifle overcrowded with tourists.
Perched between the mountains below the Jelepla Pass, the Menmecho Lake lies 20km ahead of the Changu Lake. The lake is formed by the melting snow of mountains and is the source of the Rangpochu River. Menmecho Lake as it is known for its trout and also has a fish-farm close by.
Facility of Scenic flights
The most exciting experience is viewing the town and the mountains around from the helicopters hovering over the region. Sikkim Tourism Development corporation arranges for the flights that can carry up to 5 passengers at a time. The flight over Gangtok Valley is of 15 minutes duration and that for Khangchendzonga is of 75 minutes. There are other flights for North, West and South Sikkim also besides the Gangtok-Bagdogra flight.
Located on a beautiful hill top it is a Tibetan refugee monastic institution established in 1961 by Luding Khen Rimpoche, Head of Ngorpa, sub-sect of the Sakya Order, with the blessings of HH Sakya Trizin and HH the Dalai Lama. This is the only monastery of the Sakya Order of Tibetan Buddhism in Sikkim.
A reflection of a wild untouched garden. Very slowly a leaf glides and settles on the tarn's still waters, sending a few corrugated shivers into the reflection, and the forest gets into a little topsy-turvy.
Just then, a little bright bird hovers over the pool and in one manoeuvered swoop, the pretty creature scoops up the leaf off the surface of the loch, as if it has done so a thousand times before.
The lake is again a perfect undisturbed mirror. 27km from Pelling, the Khecheopari Lake seems just straight out of this dream. The Lepchas attach a great deal of religious significance to the waterbody and believe that each leaf that drops in this wishing pool, is swept up by a bird. The Khecheopari Lake is popular with trekkers, and if you happen to be here at dusk, you might be lucky enough to see some locals offering prayers and floating leaf-lamps on the lake waters. Out of sheer respect for the sentiments of the locals, it is advisable neither to swim in the water nor litter the lake area.