SWITZERLAND OF THE EAST
For a while now Gangtok has been a favored destination for vacationers in search of peace and tranquility. Nestled amongst the verdant Shivalik Hill ranges, this quaint little city enjoys mild, temperate climes all year through. Perhaps it's because the world's third tallest peak Kanchenjunga lies to the east of the city.
In 1840, Gangtok, then a hamlet, came into its own with the establishment of the Enchey Monastery. You can catch stunning views of the mighty Kanchenjunga from here. Come January and this ancient monastery comes alive with the famed mask dance called the 'Cham'. In fact, Gangtok is dotted with monasteries and is a center for Buddhism, its teachings and culture. It's one of the cleanest cities in the world, well organized and maintained – the reason why it's called the Switzerland of the East.
If you plan to visit Gangtok in December, remember to visit the Palace of the Chogyal (Monarch) which is open to the public during the Pang Lhabsol festival.
Gangtok is an experience you won't forget soon. You will love the simplicity of life at a leisurely pace. For the curious traveler, the winding side alleys of this hillside city hide some unexpected gems. On the outskirts lie dense forests of poplar, birch, oak, and elm, as well as evergreen, coniferous trees of the wet alpine zone. Orchids are quite common. You could spot several rare varieties at flower shows in the city. Bamboos are also abundant. What's also abundantly visible is the simple charm of a city that is one with nature.
Gangtok's popular tourist seasons are March to late May and October to mid December.
- Area: 25 sq.kms
- Altitude: 1,437 m above sea level
- State: Sikkim
- Distance from nearby towns/ cities: New Jalpaiguri – 148 kms, Bagdogra – 124 kms
- Take away: The cute doll key-chains, pretty wall hangings or a figurine. Sikkim is famous for its fruit processing and tea aside from the local handicraft. Passion fruit Squash, Alpine Cheese, Temi Tea & Maha Gurudev Tea are some of the local products.
- Rainfall: 325 cm per annum.
#1. Changu Lake or Tsomgo Lake, 40 km east of Gangtok, remains frozen through most of the year. The lake's waters are free of ice only during summer. The lake is associated with many myths and legends and is revered by the Sikkimese as sacred. According to a local legend, Buddhist monks could forecast the future by studying the colour of water in the lake.
#2. Thangka is an elaborately hand painted religious scroll usually hung in a monastery or a family altar. Thangkas served as important teaching tools depicting the life of the Buddha, various influential lamas and bodhisattvas. Thangka is a global symbol of Buddhism today and an inspiration to designers across the world.
#3. A 20-minute drive from Gangtok town along the 31A National Highway leading to North Sikkim town will lead you to Bakthang waterfalls. It originates from Ratey Chu, the main water source of Gangtok area. The location is completely free from the pollution of city life and is a great place for travellers who want to savour Nature's freshness! Apart from the clear view of Himalayan peaks and Gangtok town, one also gets a bird's eye view of the entire region.
#4. The Indian muntjac, popularly known as barking deer, is an omnivorous deer species feeding on grass, fruits, shoots, seeds, birds' eggs as well as small animals. It gives calls similar to barking, usually upon sensing a predator and hence the name. This unique deer can be sighted at Khangchendzonga National Park, nearly 50 kilometres from Gangtok town.
#5. Chhurpi or Yak Cheese is one of the main ingredients of all Himalayan recipes. There are many well known stores in Gangtok for buying Chhurpi. Made of Yak milk, it comes in two varieties - soft and hard. While soft Chhurpi is used for cooking, hard Chhurpi is used for chewing and keeping one's mouth moist in dry weather.
#6. The Rumtek Monastery, on the outskirts of the Gangtok town, is one of the most sacred Buddhist monasteries. The monastery is the seat of the Kagyu order and houses some of the world's rarest and most sacred Tibetan Buddhist scriptures. Constructed in the 1960s, the building is modelled after a similar monastery in Lhasa, Tibet.
#7. Kyongnosla Alpine Sanctuary (KAS), 30 km from Gangtok, is rich in varied species of Medicinal plants such as Nilo bikh (Aconitun Ferox), Kutki (Picrorhiza Scrophulariflora) and Jatamasi (Nardostachs Graandiflora). Although small in size, it harbours 14 rare species of the Rhododendron, including Rhododendron niveum, the state tree of Sikkim. KAS is also home to various rare varieties of ground orchids and rare species of birds.
#8. Leopard cat, as the name suggests, is a species of cats which bears striking similarity with leopards. They are solitary in nature and are agile climbers. They rest in trees and, unlike their larger cousins, hunt during night. They can be sighted at the Khangchendzonga National Park, nearly 50 kilometres from Gangtok town.
#9. Red Panda, the state animal of Sikkim, is also known as the Shining Cat or Lesser Panda. In Sikkim it is known by the names Saknam. Its body is reddish orange in colour and has a long bushy tail. This rare variety of panda lives in temperate climates in deciduous and coniferous forests of Sikkim and Arunachal. They usually live in an under-storey of bamboo or hollow trees.
#10. Thukpa is a dish with its origin in Tibetan cuisine. However, it has found its own place in Gangtok with great variations in ingredients and flavour. Originally a non-veg delicacy made with mutton or pork, Thukpa is now available in vegetarian form also. Thukpa is usually accompanied with hot momos and is considered to be a dish best suited for the region's weather.
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BEST TIME TO VISIT
The best time to visit Gangtok is between October and mid-December when clear views of the Himalayan peaks are guaranteed or again between March and May when the flowers are in bloom. January and February means snow in the higher altitudes and visits to many of the tourist spots is not possible, as roads remain closed. June to September brings heavy rains causing landslides that often disrupt communication.
The weather of Gangtok undergoes a rainy season during the months from May to early October. Fog is common in Gangtok during the months starting from the month of May until the month of December. July is the wettest month in Gangtok.
July is the wettest month in Gangtok.
The Tashiding Gompa hosts the annual Buddhist festival of Bumchu in January. During January-February the dancing festival of Chaam is held in Enchey Gompa.
Saga Dawa is held in Gangtok during May, and Drukpa Teshi is celebrated throughout Sikkim during July that mark Buddha's first teaching.