Places to Visit in Gangtok
Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, is constructed on a cloudy ridge 5,500 feet above sea level. It’s perhaps the cleanest city in India, making it a pleasing place to spend a few days sightseeing and organizing onwards travel. If you feel like some pampering, one of India’s top Himalayan spa resorts is located in Gangtok. It also has a casino.
Many of the places to visit in Gangtok can be seen on ubiquitous “three point”, “five point”, and “seven point” local tours offered by travel agents, hotels and taxi drivers. The “three point” tours incorporate the city’s three main viewpoints (Ganesh Tok, Hanuman Tok, and Tashi Viewpoint). Variants such as Enchey monastery can be added for “five point” tours. “Seven point” tours include monasteries outside Gangtok, such as Rumtek and Lingdum.
In close proximity of Gangtok, stands the Enchey monastery (3 km away from the town centre) on a hill top. The site on which the monastery stands is believed to be blessed by the famous tantric master Druptob Karpo. It is said that this revered tantric, who had flying prowess, flew to this site from Maenam Hill in south Sikkim and built a small hermitage. Later, during the reign of Sikyong Tulku in the mid nineteenth century, the monastery was constructed in the shape of a Chinese Pagoda.
Enchey Monastery is an important seat of the Nyingmapa order of the Vajrayana school of Buddhism with around 90 monks. The building of the monastery is a small and simple two sotrey structure surrounded by tall pine trees. The highlight of the monastery are the murals depicting the protective deity and wheel of law on the porch. Also to be seen are the conch shells that are regarded propitious Buddhist symbols.
The three Gods revered in this monastery are Buddha, Loki Sharia and Guru Padmasambhava.
Ganesh Tok and Hanuman Tok
From Enchey monastery, take the road northeast up to colorful Ganesh Tok with its fluttering prayer flags, for dramatic views over Gangkok. There’s a temple dedicated to Lord Ganesh there, along with cafe and souvenir shops. Higher up beyond Ganesh Tok, and arguably with a better viewpoint, sits Hanuman Tok. Visitors are greeted by a towering orange statue of Lord Hanuman. The Hanuman temple there is maintained by the Indian Army, so it’s clean and peaceful. It’s surrounded by lovely sprawling gardens, walking trails, and the splendid sight of Mount Khangchendzonga on a clear day.
Himalayan Zoological Park
Opposite Ganesh Tok, the Himalayan Zoological Park is one of India’s better maintained zoos with a natural jungle setting. It’s spread across 230 hectares of hillside and houses rare animals, many of which have been rescued from traders and poachers. They include Himalayan bears, snow leopards, Tibetan wolves, and red pandas.
Tashi Viewpoint, north of town, is said to offer the best views of
Mount Khangchendzonga within Gangtok. However, some people complain that it’s not worth the climb, and similar views can be found elsewhere. The views are very weather-dependent and you’ll most likely be disappointed on a cloudy day. There are telescopes that you can pay to use, and a gift shop by the roadside that’s run by the Indian Army. The money from sales helps support it
Namgyal Institute of Tibetology and Do-Drul Chorten
Those interested in Buddhism and Tibetan culture will find the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology worth exploring. Established in 1958, its traditional Tibetan-style building houses a museum, and a library with one of the largest collections of Tibetan works in the world outside of Tibet. The museum has a rare collection of statues, relics of monks, ritual objects (including a thöpa bowl made from a human skull and kangling human thighbone trumpet), art works, thangkas (painted, woven and embroidered scrolls), and ancient manuscripts in Sanskrit, Tibetan, Chinese and Lepcha. There’s also a souvenir shop and coffee shop on the premises.
The Institute is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Saturday. It’s closed on Sundays, the second Saturday of every month, and official government holidays. The entrance fee is 10 rupees.
The gleaming white Do-Drul Chorten is located not far from the Institute, on the same road. According to its fascinating history, this stupa was built by a powerful Tibetan lama who came to rid the site of evil spirits that were haunting it. It’s surrounded by 108 prayer wheels, and at dusk hundreds of lamps are lit in a glass room beside it to guide the way for departed ancestors.
Close to the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology and Do-Drul Chorten, board one of Damodar Ropeway’s cable cars for a bird’s eye view of Gangtok and the surrounding valley. It will take you high up the ridge to Tashiling Secretariat.
Flower Exhibition Center
If you’re visiting Gangtok during April to June or September until the end of November, after disembarking the cable car at Tashiling Secretariat stroll through Ridge Park and to the Flower Exhibition Center just below it. This greenhouse is bursting with high altitude blooms, especially orchids. Orchid bulbs and seeds are also available for purchase there. It’s open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. and tickets cost 10 rupees each.
Deorali Orchid Sanctuary, near the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, is another place to see exotic varieties.
MG Marg Market
From the Flower Exhibition Center, it’s an easy walk down to MG Marg, Gangkok’s atmospheric main street. The street is refreshingly free of litter, spitting, smoking, and vehicles — as all are banned there. It’s a popular hangout place though, and can get very crowded and carnival-like in the evenings. Go there to shop, and to make travel arrangements with the many tour operators that have outlets there. TheGolden Tips tea showroom (Punam Building, First Floor, MG Marg) is sought after for its boutique teas, including temi tea that’s grown in Sikkim’s only tea garden.