When in Gangtok

Planning a trip to Sikkim? Whether you're out 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 flagged as 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 been there and done the above. 

The first thing I observed about Gangtok was it's clean and pedestrian friendly streets. Compared to other state capitals in the country, I would rate Gangtok as numero uno on these two aspects. Here are my recommendations on what to do when in Gangtok. 

Gangtok's Organic Market
Gangtok's Organic Market

Organic Produce Market: The Kanchenjunga Shopping Complex and the Organic Market in Gangtok are two of the most unique local markets that I have been to. They are in the Lal Bazaar area and both these markets are indoors with several vendors displaying their local produce. Interact with locals and ask them about their produce such as stinging nettle, edible ferns, fermented soy beans, varieties of yams, bar shaped or bite sized chunks of chhurpi (a very hard form of cheese traditionally 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.

Chhurpi - the hardest cheese out there!
Chhurpi - the hardest cheese out there!

The cheese I picked up from this market is outstanding - (sharp and strong flavor) and comes in edam and gouda. If you like your pickles and cheeses, I highly recommend you make some space in that suitcase of yours!

Fambong Lha Wildlife Sanctuary
Hiking in Fambong Lha

Fambong Lha Wildlife Sanctuary: Less than an hour drive from Gangtok is this natural landscape. Many don't know about this hidden gem as this is not a typical 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. 

Blue-winged Laughing Thrush
Blue-winged Laughing Thrush

For a nominal fee you can get a forest guard to take you on a trek through the dense forests of Fambong Lha. A birding guide can also be arranged if birds are on your mind. On a clear day, the view of Gangtok from the upper reaches of Fambong Lha are outstanding. 

MG Marg Gangtok
MG Marg Gangtok

MG Marg / Road: MG Marg is a stone-paved boulevard, pedestrian friendly and a shopping center where no cars are allowed. 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 and produce market. 

Red Panda
Red Panda

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. If you are traveling with kids, I highly recommend visiting this Park as you get to see several endemic species such as the clouded leopard, red panda and some exotic birds. 

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 a visit to Gurudongmar Lake and Yumthang - the Valley of Flowers in the North, Pelling and Yuksom in the West and Zuluk in the East. 

Luxury stay in Gangtok
Sikkim Villa Tosca / Photo Credit: Jumki

Where to Stay: Sikkim Villa Tosca (http://sikkimvillatosca.com). Sikkim Villa Tosca is a true boutique, handcrafted property, dedicated to details and finesse. Located close to town, yet away from it. Everything you need to do and see is within walking and reasonable driving distance from the location. 

Breakfast with a View in Gangtok
Breakfast with a View at Sikkim Villa Tosca / Photo Credit: Jumki

It blends elegant Italian style with a rich tradition of Sikkimese hospitality. Jumki and Andre are great hosts and you are in great hands when you stay at their exquisitely done, family friendly and a cosy property.

gangtok pedestrian friendly
When in Gangtok....walk it

Transportation: There is no Uber or Ola in Gangtok. You can hail local taxis on the road or from designated taxi stops. You 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 I 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 4 hour drive. You can also fly in to the newly opened airport in Pakyong although the last I 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 hosts before you make your way to Sikkim. 

Permits: Certain places in Sikkim are off limits to foreigners as they border with China. Please check your accessibility to places beyond Gangtok before you make any bookings.