THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS. PLEASE READ THE DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFORMATION
I was planning on visiting Gangtok just for the helicopter ride as part of my North East India trip, and alas I was in for a disappointment. When I reached the office right at the start of MG Marg to inquire about it, I was about it find out that they are fully booked for the whole week! Sigh! Consequences of not doing my share of research! It can be disappointing at times when you have pinned so many hopes for something, and it doesn’t work out. Like all else in life, it is important to let things go.
To overcome the bitter disappointment of not having a bird’s eye view of Gangtok, I decided to explore what Gangtok has to offer. After all, I wanted to make up for the long train ride, and half a day bus journey from NJP to Gangtok. Having done little to no research before reaching Gangtok, I had no clue where to start! I was about to find out that it is a vibrant and liberal town and the Eastern Himalayas are just a few hours away from Gangtok.
I was travelling alone in Gangtok, but I was far from lonely. I made friends with hotel owners, cab drivers and fellow passengers. The initial apprehensions of being alone in a new town faded away after I talked to the friendly locals. Gangtok is a gregarious town that way, and when you are travelling solo, especially as a female traveller everyone wants to know your story.
I was looking forward to seeing some orchids and alpine plants in Gangtok. In fact, International Flower festival is conducted annually in Gangtok in the month of May. Apparently, there are many flower shows happening around in Gangtok from time to time. I happened to stumble upon one of them. Find flower exhibitions around Gangtok town or at the end of the Ridge Park.
Helicopter ride from Gangtok to Bagdogra
This is one of the cool things to do in Gangtok. Make sure you book the helicopter ride a month before when the slots open. It only has a few spots each day and it gets filled soon. You don’t want to miss out on this like I did! Suppose you are planning to take a flight from Bagdogra airport, then you can replace the taxi by the helicopter ride from Gangtok to Bagdogra.
Closest monastery to Gangtok, an hour away. A vibrant and secluded monastery in the laps of the mountains. I spent hours sitting in the monastery, watching monks go about their daily lives all encompassed in the peaceful serenity of this location.
If you are up for a casino, then head to Casino Mahjong at the swanky Mayfair hotel. Or head on to the Golden Gaming centre at MG Marg or Zero Point, the first company to start legal online sports betting in Sikkim. Its betting palette includes cricket, football, and horse racing wagers, roulette, and virtual sports.
It’s hard not to talk about Kanchenjunga while talking about Gangtok. For those of you who are not aware, Kanchenjunga is the third highest mountain in the world, partly in Nepal and partly in Sikkim. Locally known in the Tibetan language as the five treasuries of great snow, Kanchenjunga has many stories etched to its name, a story for another time, maybe. The easiest viewpoint from Gangtok is the Tashi viewpoint, known for its sunrise view.
Throughout Sikkim, there are many places where you can view the Kanchenjunga, it stands tall and serves a beacon attracting and enthralling travellers throughout the year.
Additionally, you can go to the waterfalls(because who doesn’t like waterfalls?!), and the various monasteries in and around Gangtok.
Eastern Himalayan ranges are a day trip away from Gangtok, and you can find daily excursions to Tsomgo lake, Baba Mandir and Nathula Pass.
A half a day trip away from Gangtok, this gorgeous high altitude lake is a sight to remember! Stop by Tsomgo(pronounced as Changu) lake to take in the serenity of the surroundings and watch the colourful yaks strutting around!
Further ahead from Tsomgo lake, there is a Baba Mandir which is dedicated to an Indian Army soldier – Baba Harbhajan Singh. He is revered as the Hero of Nathula and Indian Army has built a shrine in honour.
Another day trip from Gangtok, Nathula pass is where you can witness the Indo-China border(closed during Mondays and Tuesdays). Further ahead from Tsomgo lake, Nathula pass, a mountain pass in the Himalayas was a major corridor of passage between India and Tibet before it was closed in 1962.
It is mindblowing to see the soldiers along the way braving the harsh high altitude climate of the Eastern Himalaya(Not allowed to take photographs while on the way.)
Located at a height of around 10,100 feet on the rugged terrain of the lower Himalayas in East Sikkim, Zuluk (or Dzuluk), was once a transit point to the historic Silk Route from Tibet to India. This small village accommodates a population of around 700 people.
Zuluk itself does not offer views of the snow peaks but only 14 km away the Thambi View Point offers a panoramic view of the entire Mt. Kanchenjungha range. Best viewed during sunrise. This road with a couple of dozens of winding turns and twists to reach the viewpoint makes a lasting memory on the senses. Plan to spend at least a few days in Zuluk – this is not for a day trip.
Hire a full taxi or shared taxi to get around in Gangtok.
Shared taxis are widely run in Gangtok for getting around town and for day tours. This makes the tours pocket-friendly for budget and solo travellers.
Shared taxis to Tsomgo lake costs about Rs 400/- from the taxi stand. And about Rs 4000/- for Sumo/Max. Inclusive of all permit fees. These prices are during season time(April to June, October to November). You are likely to find only shared taxis during offseason and maybe on cheaper fares.
For Tsomgo lake, Baba Mandir and Nathula Pass, it costs about Rs 7000/- for Scorpio or Innova reserved vehicles. Rs 5000/- for Sumo/Max and Rs 700/- per person on shared taxi.
Travel Tip – Book taxis directly from the taxi stand a day prior(for permits) rather than the hotels to save money.
Additional Read: Find my 2017 travel highlights here.
There are many accommodations for different budget ranges in Gangtok.
However, if you feel like staying in the lap of nature, surrounded by forests, you can alternatively travel to Rumtek – an hour away from Gangtok for a rejuvenating stay at Bamboo Retreat. Walk through the stop stones surrounded by terraced organic fields, in order to reach a bamboo-themed retreat with colour-coded rooms.