Planning a trip to Sikkim? Whether you go trekking in the West, roughing the roads to see Gurudongmar Lake and Yumthang Valley in the North, visiting the ancient monasteries and gompas or going bird watching and for the wildlife in the East, a trip to Sikkim can not be complete if you do not stop in the capital – Gangtok. Gangtok at an altitude of 1,600 meters is a bustling hill town with excellent places to stay, walk, eat, drink and pamper yourself after you have roughed it out for a few days in the Sikkim.
Scaly breasted Cupwing
The first thing we observed about Gangtok was it’s clean and pedestrian friendly streets. Compared to other state capitals in the country, we rate Gangtok as numero uno on these two aspects. Here are our top recommendations on what to do when in Gangtok.
Organic Produce Market: The Kanchenjunga Shopping Complex and the Organic Market in Gangtok are two of the most unique local markets that we have been to in the region. They are in the Lal Bazaar area and both these markets are indoors with several vendors selling local produce. Interact with locals and ask them unique vegetables such as the stinging nettle, a variety of edible ferns, fermented soy beans, different kinds of yams, bar shaped or bite sized chunks of chhurpi (a very hard form of cheese made of Yak milk) supper spicy dalle chilli (whole or pickled), bamboo shoots, a wide selection of organically made pickles, cheeses and more. If you explore further there are items made of bamboo such as straws, beer bugs etc. and there is local Sikkimese tea as well.
Organic produce market in Gangtok
Chhurpi – a local cheese made in Sikkim
The locally made edam and gouda cheese we picked up from this market was outstanding- sharp strong flavor. If you like your pickles and cheeses, we highly recommend you make some space for these in that suitcase of yours.
Fambong Lha Wildlife Sanctuary: Less than an hour drive from Gangtok is this snactuary. Many don’t know about this hidden gem as this is not a touristy attraction. So much so that even Lonely Planet doesn’t have it as one of their recommended activities in Gangtok! The sanctuary is open every day and even has a place to stay (very basic) run by the Forest Department. Getting there is easy and you can spend an entire day hiking, watching birds (some rarely seen ones like Monal, Satyr Tragopan) or picnicking in the park. This sanctuary also has leopards, bears and smaller mammals like barking deer, squirrels, civet cats etc.
Hiking in Famong Lha Wildlife Sanctuary
For a nominal fee you can get a forest guard to take you on a trek through the dense forests of Fambong Lha. We can also organize a more experienced bird guide to take you birding in the sanctuary. On a clear day, the view of Gangtok from the upper reaches of Fambong Lha are outstanding.
MG Marg / Road: Mahatma Gandi (MG) Marg or Road is a stone-paved boulevard, pedestrian friendly with a shopping center. Both sides of the boulevard have several restaurants, provision stores, the Sikkim Tourism Center etc. You can easily spend a few hours walking around this clean and well organized area, get some locally brewed tea or coffee, grab a bite (at the Coffee Shop or Cafe Royale near the Palace grounds) and then walk over to Lal Bazaar to the organic vegetable market.
Pedestrian friendly MG Road, Gangtok
Orange-bellied Himalayan Squirrel
Sikkim Himalayan Zoological Park: is a well kept zoo where the forest inhabitants actually look happy. The Park’s natural environment is kept in tact to make the zoo look like a naturally extended part of a forest. The zoo requires a decent amount of up hill walking so you must be wearing comfortable shoes, carry drinking water and be reasonably fit. The entire walk through the Park is about 2km long and you can even drive through it. If you are traveling with kids, we recommend visiting this Park as you get to see several endemic species such as the clouded leopard, red panda and some exotic birds which you otherwise won’t get to see in your travels.
Besides the above there are other activities and places you can visit in and around Gangtok. There is Tashi View Point, Namgyal Institute of Technology which boasts a beautiful one of a kind collection of artifacts and documentaries related to Buddhism & Tibetan culture and more. Day trips include visit to Tsomgo or Changu Lake and Rumtek Monastery. Longer trips include going to Lachen, Lachung, Gurudongmar Lake (closed in the winter) and Yumthang – the Valley of Flowers in the North, Pelling and Yuksom in the West and Zuluk in the East.
Locally grown herbs and medicines
Transportation: There is no Uber or Ola in Gangtok. You can hail local taxis on the road or from designated taxi stops. We can also reserve taxis for longer duration and out of town trips and costs vary from season to low / off season. If you like to walk, your two legs will be the best form of transportation around town. Like we said, Gangtok is a very pedestrian friendly hill city. To get to Gangtok you can fly to Bagdogra Airport and from there it is a four hour drive. You can also fly in to the newly opened airport in Pakyong although the last we heard was that it is still going through some teething issues and for the moment maybe best to fly in to and out of Bagdogra.
Weather: changes frequently. Please check online and with your local hosts / hotel before you make your way to Sikkim.
Permits: Certain places in Sikkim are off limits to foreigners (including diplomats working in India) as they border with China. Please check whether you can visit these places beyond Gangtok with your diplomatic mission in India before you make any bookings. In some places you can but you need to first apply for restricted area permits and must be accompanied by a local guide approved by the state government.
Chestnut Crowned Laughingthrush