Gangtok, India

Capital of Sikkim, the 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 multi-storey buildings grow virtually unchecked, and the urban sprawl retains only a few traditional Sikkimese architectural elements. However, a short amble soon leads you away and brings 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.

The best travel tips for visiting Gangtok

While modern Gangtok epitomises the recent changes in Sikkimese culture, politics and society, its Buddhist past is the root of its appeal for visitors. This is evident in the collection at the Institute of Tibetology and the charming Enchey Monastery, as well as the impressive Rumtek Monastery 24 km 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, orchids, are 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.

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Gangtok © Shutterstock

Best things to do in Gangtok

From spotting red pandas at the Himalayan Zoological Park to the spectacular viewpoint at Ganesh Tok, here are the best things to do in Gangtok.

#1 See masked chaam at Enchey Monastery

Right at the top of town, just below a colossal telecom tower, sits Enchey Monastery, a small two-storey Nyingmapa gompa. Visitors are welcome, but go between 7am and 8am when the monastery is busy and the light is good.

The monastery was built in the mid-nineteenth century on a site blessed by the Tantric master Druptob Karpo, who was fabled for his ability to fly. Surrounded by tall pines, and housing more than a hundred monks, the building suffered some damage in the 2011 earthquake, but remains a gem of a place. Built by the chogyal on traditional Tibetan lines, the prayer hall’s beautifully painted porch is filled with murals of protective deities and the wheel of law, while the conch shells that grace the doors are auspicious Buddhist symbols.

Enchey holds an annual masked chaam, during the Losung festival (December).

#2 Hike up to Ganesh Tok, a spectacular viewpoint festooned with prayer flags

A spectacular viewpoint festooned with prayer flags, Ganesh Tok provides a sweeping view of the city sprawling below. A further 5km up the road to Tsomgo Lake, Hanuman Tok (2300m) is another viewpoint with vistas of eastern Sikkim.

It is also the cremation ground of the Royal Family, with chortens containing relics of the deceased; the Hanuman temple after which the spot is named is more recent.

Ganesh Tok viewpoint in Gangtok, Sikkim state of India © Shutterstock

Ganesh Tok viewpoint in Gangtok, Sikkim state of India © Shutterstock

#3 Go red panda spotting at the Himalayan Zoological Park

Visitors come to the 506-acre Himalayan Zoological Park in the hope of catching a glimpse of the red pandas (which are especially easy to spot). Snow leopards, bears and Tibetan wolves also roam the extensive open-air enclosures.

#4 Find some solitude at The Ridge

The quiet leafy promenade of the Ridge is a popular spot, with the Flower Show Complex and a small park at the northern end, and at the southern end, the Royal Palace. The Secretariat, south of the compound, was devastated by the 2011 earthquake and, at the time of writing, was still being rebuilt.

#5 Head to Tsuklakhang to watch a lama dance

Despite Tsuklakhang, the chapel in the Royal Palace, currently being out of bounds, a lama dance, known as kagyat, usually takes place here at the end of December. During this time the main gates are open to the public (though some years it’s in Pemayangtse).

Across the lawns lies the Royal Palace, used by the chogyals (Sikkim’s former rulers) until 1975. Following the state’s annexation by India, the palace lies mostly abandoned, a prisoner of circumstance.

#6 Flick through the Institute of Tibetology’s collection rare manuscripts

South of Gangtok at Deorali, the lower part of town, set in wooded grounds, is the museum-cum-library of the Institute of Tibetology. Inside is an impressive and invaluable collection of books and rare manuscripts, as well as religious artefacts such as exquisite thangkas (scrolls) and a photography archive. You can also get here from the upper town via the ropeway cable car.

#7 Climb the thirteen steps to nirvana at Do-Drul Chorten

Within the same complex as the Institute of Tibetology, an imposing whitewashed chorten, known as the Do-Drul Chorten – one of the most important in Sikkim – dominates a large, lively monastic seminary on the brow of a hill.

The chorten is capped by a gilded tower, whose rising steps signify the thirteen steps to nirvana. The sun and moon symbol at the top stands for the union of opposites and the elements of ether and air, surrounded by 108 prayer wheels.

Behind the monastic complex, a prayer hall houses a large image of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) who brought Buddhism to Tibet at the request of King Trisong Detsen in the eighth century AD. He later travelled through Sikkim hiding precious manuscripts (termas) in caves, for discovery at a future date by tertons. Curiously, part of the head of the image projects into the ceiling; belief has it that the image is slowly growing.

Do Drul Chorten is a buddhist stupa in Gangtok in the Indian state of Sikkim © Shutterstock

Do Drul Chorten is a buddhist stupa in Gangtok in the Indian state of Sikkim © Shutterstock

Best areas to stay in Gangtok

Gangtok’s hotels are expensive in high season (broadly speaking April–June and Sept–Nov), but offer discounted rates at other times. Here’s where to stay.

As the town has spread, so has the choice of accommodation, with some excellent hotels and guesthouses springing up along the highway at Deorali. A growing number of alternatives within striking distance of town.

Browse the best hotels in Gangtok.

Best restaurants and bars

Though Gangtok has mushroomed into a modern town with hip eateries and bars, most places still wrap up by 9pm. Here are the best places to eat.

Gangtok’s main promenade, MG Marg, is lined with Indian restaurants and half-decent cafes

This bustling market has a small number of street food stalls and local restuarant. The bazaar is famous for its momos, a popular Tibetan dumpling dish.

The Enchey Monastery is a Vajrayana Buddhism monastery near Gangtok in Sikkim, India © Shutterstock

The Enchey Monastery is a Vajrayana Buddhism monastery near Gangtok in Sikkim, India © Shutterstock

How to get around

From shared local taxis to the Ropeway, it is easy to get around Gangtok. Here’s how to do it.

By taxi

Shared local taxis are the most common way of travelling the main highway. After 8pm, taxis become scarce but reserved taxis are available from stands near the SNT Bus Standt; he Private Bus Stand at Deorali; the Lal Bazar supermarket; Children’s Park between MG Marg and Tibet Rd; and the Main Line jeep stand. All taxis carry a rate chart, and drivers are generally honest.

By the ropeway

With terminals at the old Secretariat, Nam Nang and Deorali, the ropeway (daily 8am–4.30pm) provides a spectacular view of the southern city. However, it’s an expensive way to get around by local standards and is not particularly useful for most accommodation. While it’s scheduled to run every 12 min, in practice it waits to fill up before moving on.

What is the best time to visit Gangtok?

Summer, from April to mid-June, is characterised by warm weather and clear skies. The monsoon lasts from June to September, when road conditions deteriorate and landslides are common.

From late September to November, temperatures are moderate, cherry blossoms are in bloom and the skies intermittently clear for views of Kanchenjunga. An influx of tourists during these two high spells means higher hotel rates, especially in Gangtok and Pelling.

Discounts are possible during low season, from February to March, when it’s freezing and the fog plays spoilsport. Winter can be bitterly cold in the northern reaches, but still a good time to travel. Remember to check for road closures when it snows.

Find out more about the best time to visit India.

Tsuklakhang Buddhist Monastery, Sikkim, India © Shutterstock

Tsuklakhang Buddhist Monastery, Sikkim, India © Shutterstock

How many days do you need in Gangtok?

To fully experience Gangtok, you will need 2 to 3 days. On day one, visit attractions like Enchey and Rumtek monasteries, and explore the bustling MG Marg. Then, take day trips to nearby places such as Tsomgo Lake and Nathula Pass.

Consider extending your stay to immerse in the city's vibrant culture, try diverse cuisines, and discover hidden gems, or just acclimatise to the high altitude.

How to get here

By taxi

Taxis are far more popular and efficient than buses for accessing Gangtok. Due to occasional agitation in neighbouring Darjeeling, the busy route to and from Siliguri in West Bengal sometimes sees closures, though the authorities endeavour to keep it open.

By jeep

Most travellers arrive by jeep from Siliguri (4hr 30min), the current transport centre for the railhead at New Jalpaiguri (NJP; 117 km). Jeeps to North Sikkim depart from the Vajra stand until 1pm. Destinations from Mainline taxi stand.

By bus

If you’re determined to suffer the buses, you can choose between the state carrier, SNT (Sikkim Nationalised Transport), or a number of private operators.

All buses run by SNT use the SNT Bus Stand on Paljor Stadium Rd, but passengers may prefer to be dropped off earlier at Metro Point, MG Marg, which is more convenient for the tourist office and most hotels.

Non-SNT buses stop at the Mainline Stand.

By train

The nearest railway station, New Jalpaiguri (NJP), is 117 km away from Gangtok.

By plane

SpiceJet flies to Pakyong airport, 32 km southeast of Gangtok, from Guwahati and Kolkata. Coming from elsewhere you must fly to Bagdogra (124 km) in West Bengal and reach Sikkim by shared taxi.

Find out the best ways to get to India.

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Andy Turner

written by
Andy Turner

updated 02.07.2023

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