Capital of Sikkim, the overgrown and colourful hill-town of GANGTOK (1870m) occupies a rising ridge in the southeast of the state, on what used to be a busy trade route into Tibet. Today, rapid development means an ugly assortment of concrete multistorey buildings is growing virtually unchecked, and the urban sprawl retains only a few traditional Sikkimese architectural elements. However, a short amble soon leads you away from the congested centre to bring you occasional glimpses of the snow-capped Himalayas, and on a good day you can see Kanchenjunga, the horned peak of Narsing (5825m) and the fluted pyramid of Siniolchu (6887m) poking above the surrounding hills.
While modern Gangtok epitomizes the recent changes in Sikkimese culture and politics, its Buddhist past is the root of its appeal for visitors, evident in the collection at the Institute of Tibetology and the charming Enchey Monastery, as well as the impressive Rumtek Monastery, 24km west of town. However, the palace on the tree lined promenade, the Ridge above town, used by the chogyals between 1894 and 1975, is now out of bounds, part-occupied by the government and a closed chapter in Sikkim’s heritage. Sikkim’s pride and joy, the orchid, is nurtured at several sites in and around Gangtok, and celebrated at the Flower Show Complex also on the Ridge.
Most of the town itself looks west; one explanation for the lack of development east of the ridge is that tradition dictates that houses face northwest, towards Kanchenjunga, Sikkim’s guardian.