Many people asked me several questions about sikkim tourism, Gangtok to Gurudongmar lake tour, Gangtok hotels, Sikkim travel, Gangtok sightseeing, the best time to visit Gangtok. In this blog post, I have tried to answer all these queries. After getting down from the train at New Jalpaiguri Station around 3.30 am (approx 1 hour late) we checked in railway retiring room to freshen up ourselves.
In this context I need to share, all of you’ll be able to book Railway retiring room online with valid PNR. Check this site
Around 5 a.m we started our journey in our pre-booked Indigo. After half an hour we witnessed ice-clad Kanchenjunga was in front of us. The Sun was about to rise. We were witnessing the sunrise on the hill.
I could witness the light of dawn
The long-lasting darkness fading
Cold leaving my soul
And the warmth of hope filling them again
Though the stars have lit our way
As we drove down this path
Nothing is greater than seeing the Sun
And when it is rising from the hill
It really makes you stun
We were going to Gangtok, capital of Sikkim, India. We reached Melli around 7 a.m. Our driver Bhusan Chetri, switched on his cab music system. The music started
There’s a boy in my mind and he knows I am thinking of him
all my way to the day and the night the stars shine above me.
He’s been gone for some time but I know I truly love him.
And I’m singing a song, hoping he’ll be back when he hears it.
My heart goes Shalala la la, Shalala in the morning.
Oh oh oh shalala lala, shalala in the sunshine.
Shalala lala, Shalala lala in the evening.
Shalala lala shalala lala just for you.
I was also singing with my wife sha la la. My son fell asleep again. It was his bad luck.
We got down at Rangpo to took our breakfast. Rangpo was a town in East Sikkim. The town borders west Bengal and was situated on the Teesta river. All vehicles entering Sikkim had to stop here. Foreign tourists required documents to enter Sikkim state and had to show them at the border police post. In this context I required to inform Sikkim being a border state had many areas marked as Restricted Areas whereas others as Protected Areas. Indians did not require permits to visit Gangtok. However, all foreign nationals (except Bhutanese) needed an Inner-Line permit to go to Gangtok. It is the Gateway to Sikkim.
For entry related formalities please visit below mentioned site
Rangpo had a large population of Nepalese and Bhutias. Bhusan was telling about Rongpo railway. The foundation stone for construction of a brand new railway line from Rangpo train station to Sevoke train station on the border of Sikkim and West Bengal was arranged in October 2009 by then vice president of India.
New railway stations were going to be made at Melli, Tista Bazar, Geil Khola, Riang, and Rangpo. The track would be constructed through the foothills of the Kanchenjunga mountain range and the Teesta river valley . Rongpo was the manufacturing hub of many Pharmaceutical Companies. Pharmaceutical companies like Cipla , Indchemie ,Alkem , Sun , Torrent , Unichem , Zydus and many others had their manufacturing plants at Rangpo .
We spent there near about 1 hour. Again we started for our destination. After crossing Rongpo it started raining. When fog was touching our cab at more than 3000ft height we really started feeling cold. We unpacked our pool over and muffler from our handbag. After crossing Ranipool gradually we noticed blue colored umbrella top Chinese huts. After crossing military camps, two storied lines of shops having a balcony, ladies wearing red blue yellow green stripped clothes carrying babies on their backpack and men wearing colorful dresses with the cap where “khukri” was embossed. We realized that we have reached our destination Gangtok around 11 am.
1) Gangtok, with magnificent views of Kanchenjunga. Uniqueness and sonority in colors of culture and tradition, infused into the stunning scenaries. It was one of the most popular tourist destinations in Asia. Gangtok was a municipality, the capital and the largest town of Sikkim, India.
2) Gangtok was located in the eastern Himalayan range of mountains, at an elevation of 1,650 m (5,410 ft).
3) The town’s population belongs to different ethnicities such as Nepalese, Lepchas, and Bhutia.
4) Gangtok rose to prominence as a popular Buddhist pilgrimage site when the development of the Enchey monastery in 1840. In 1894, the ruling Sikkimese Chogyal, Thutob Namgyal, transferred the capital to Gangtok.
5) In the early 20th century Gangtok became a major stopover on the trade route between Lhasa in Tibet and cities such as Kolkata (then Calcutta) in British India.
6) when India won its independence from the United Kingdom in 1947, Sikkim chose to remain an independent monarchy, with Gangtok as its capital. In 1975, when years of political uncertainty and struggle, including riots, the monarchy was abrogated and Sikkim became India’s twenty-second state, with Gangtok as its capital.
7) The precise meaning of the name “Gangtok” is unclear, though the most popular meaning is “hilltop “.
8) Gangtok became the capital of what was left of Sikkim after an English conquest in the mid-19th century.
9) Sikkim came under the suzerainty of India, with the condition that it would retain its independence, by the treaty signed between the Chogyal and the then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. This pact gave the Indians control of external affairs on behalf of Sikkimese.
10) Trade between India and Tibet continued to flourish through the Nathula and Jelepla passes. These border passes were sealed when the Sino-Indian War in 1962, which deprived Gangtok of its trading business. The Nathula pass was finally opened for restricted exchange 2006, fuelling hopes of economic boom.
11) We will find many things in Sikkim originated from Tibet. The king of Sikkim is from Tibet. In monasteries of Sikkim, you would get monks from Tibet. In many villages of Sikkim, you would see Tibetan refugees. Tibetan music, food, dress, musk all you would get in Sikkim.
HOW TO REACH GANGTOK
Gangtok is situated at an altitude of five,410 ft in East-Sikkim. Distance from NJP (the nearest major railway station) is 126kms, from Bagdogra aerodrome 124kms, from Siliguri 114kms, and from Darjeeling 98kms. Gangtok was barely four hours drive from Darjeeling, 4.5 hours from both NJP and Bagdogra (the nearest airport). Private and shared taxi services were available in plenty between Gangtok and these places. There was additionally bus service from Siliguri SNT bus stand and helicopter service between Bagdogra and Gangtok taking only thirty-five minutes one way.
Air connectivity with rest of India was opened for landlocked Himalayan state Sikkim from March’2018. Now only SpiceJet plane from Kolkata started their service (now temporarily closed). This was a 1hr 15 mins journey from Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport at Kolkata to Pakyong Airport, 32 km from Gangtok. The plane took off from the airport for its return journey to Kolkata at around 1.30 pm. From Pakyong airport to Gangtok town share jeep will take 75 Rs./head, AC bus will charge approx. Rs. 100/head and cab will charge from Rs. 1500 to Rs. 2000 ( depending on size and demand).
Bagdogra to Gangtok: Rs. 3000 small taxi, Rs. 3500 large taxi. NJP to Gangtok: Rs. 2800 small taxi, Rs. 3300 large taxi. Darjeeling to Gangtok: Rs. 3000 small taxi, Rs. 3200 large taxi. Kalimpong to Gangtok: Rs. 2700 small taxi, Rs. 3000 large taxi. But the rates fluctuate as per season.(UPDATED SEPT’19)
Day 1– Reaching Gangtok. Evening free to stroll to M.G. Marg or Local Market
Day 2–Gangtok sightseeing will cover 10 points
Day 3-Tsomogo Lake, Baba Mandir and Nathula
Day 4-Way to Lachen.
Day 6-Stay at Gangtok.
Day 7-Coming back to NJP to catch the train.
After reaching Gangtok bus stand we took one cab that took us near to our hotel. Our initial day of the trip was action less and that we just loved it. In the late afternoon, we tend to stroll around M.G.Road in Gangtok which was just like Mall Street in Shimla or Darjeeling. Businessman all over India came here and opened their shop. At least the names of shops were telling this. Nice place to stroll around. The road was lined up with a glitter outlets of every kind, restaurants, and bars on both sides.
Many tourists taken a table in a restaurant balcony and was watching their activities on the road below. It was virtually sort of a carnival-like atmosphere out here. The annual Gangtok Food and Culture competition were held here at M G Marg in December. We visited a few curio outlets and compare costs. My wise wife suggested me to got an item later. As the sun sets we tend to were feeling cool and came back to our hotel. We were staying at Hotel Mount Pleasant, Developmental area, Gangtok.
The name of the manager was Indraneel, my friend. His residence in Kolkata was stone throwing distance from my residence. Obviously, we would get one among the best room, thanks to friendship. Though we had got Kanchenjunga view room due to heavy snowfall still we were unable to see the peak. Around nine o’clock night we had taken our dinner and went to bed.
Day 2-Gangtok sightseeing will cover 10 points
I woke up early in the morning when I heard the service boy is calling for bed tea. As we had taken Kanchenjunga view room I opened up the window.
[blockquote align=”none” author=””]
The Great Kanchenjunga.
Only from distance, once I observed your beauty
Sun-gazing silence and so blue worthy,
Aloof with the grandeur of the snow;
A crown of remorseless majesty
Raising distances, unreachable may seem though.
One day I must cross that great distance
Suddenly leaping over all whiteness’s
And affirm your impressive proximity
Where a quiet thought embraces
A miracle of your calm gliding dignity.
Gangtok Full Day sightseeing (10 points )
For the city tour we hired a cab that would show us 10 points around town. The cost was actually Rs 3000 as it is a peak season ,but we fix up it at Rs. 2700 . There’s no point going by the kilometers traveled… fares are all fixed. After a hearty breakfast, the next morning, we commenced our city tour at 10 AM. The first stop was
For details about Gangtok Full Day Sightseeing click below mentioned link
It was around 5 pm we reached hotel.After taking hi tea with veg pokora I told Indraneel that he would be with us in dinner .My wife also added that she would prepare one special non veg dish for us. Indraneel invited us to come in his room around 7.30 pm as the travel agent of Gurudongmer tour ouldl come to collect all relevant documents for permit . After refreshing ourselves we reached Indraneel’s room with a bottle of Antiquity Blue . Indraneel was ready with room heater gossiping with the travel agent . I gave all relevant documents to him .
Permit for Gangtok to gurudongmar lake
In this context I must discuss Since Nathula and Gurudongmar lake were in international border areas, hence, domestic tourist as well as locals, needed a permit to visit these areas. You would need to carry a Photo ID proof like passport, voter’s ID card, driving license etc and two copies of passport size photos. Note that PAN card was not accepted. Don’t worry, travel agent would arrange all these things. For details of travel agent please visit below-mentioned site
After the departure of the travel agent, we started our cocktail party. We meant three friends. Me, Indranil & Antiquity Blue. My wife didn’t support me in drinking but somehow I manage. After taking two pegs our discussion became much interesting. We were discussing popular persons from Sikkim. Few names we discussed
Around 10 pm we finished our party and went to bed.
Day 3-Tsomogo Lake, Baba Mandir and Nathula
Next morning we prepared for our trip to Tsomgo Lake, Nathula Pass & Baba Mandir in a shared vehicle. A popular and probably the best day tour from Gangtok is a trip to Tsomgo Lake – a glacial lake about 35kms from Gangtok and at an altitude of about 12,310 ft. The same day trip also covered the fabled Baba Mandir. You could additionally cover Nathula Pass which was further up and about 52kms from Gangtok and see the Indo Chinese border and the Chumbi valley through which the old Silk Route (i.e. the trade route between India and Tibet) passes. We finished our breakfast around 9 am and took a packed lunch with us. FOR DETAILS CLICK BELOW LINK-
Near 6 pm we reached our Hotel Mount Pleasant. Indraneel was still sitting in his chair discussing with another customer. After the discussion was over he asked us about today’s tour. He also invited us for a cocktail dinner. We sat in front of a room heater as were feeling more chilled today with our glasses. Today we discussed a lot regarding a few surprising facts about Sikkim. Indraneel not only managing hotel. He studied a lot and remembered a lot of information I was pointing few of them which are related to Sikkim
1. Sikkim has the maximum foreign population.
2. When the whole country prefers paying homage to the soldiers on a specific day or two, Sikkim has a temple built to honor a soldier.
3. Not one or two but as many as 11 languages are spoken in this tiny mountain state. Sikkim has a second highest suspension bridge in Asia.
4. Sikkim’s state animal is the Red Panda—an endangered species.
5. If you like a Rhododendron forest lining the beautiful Himalayan Valleys, Sikkim is your place to be.
6. A Large Number of Natural Spa are in Sikkim.
7. Sikkim forests have 533 Species of Bird, Including Some Rare Species.
8. Sikkim organizes International Flower Festival.
9. 135 Feet Guru Padmasambhava Statue is in Sikkim
10. Don’t miss to collect Sacred Souvenir – Thanka , if you are in Sikkim.
Day 4-Way to Lachen.
Before coming to Sikkim I did some quick Google search to find some tour operators to travel Lachung and Gurudongmer but most of them were highly overpriced. Luckily I found Endeavor Tours & Travels and Mr. Bhaumik. Their office is at 1, Indra Roy Road, Bhowanipur, Kolkata-25 near Indira Cinema. I met Mr. S. K. Bhaumik, he was the retired O.S.D. for Sikkim Tourism knew the entire state in the back of his fingers. After quick phone calls, he gave me the best quote during the peak tourist season. Gave him the advance money and the package was finalized. We opted for the exclusive package since I was traveling with my family and decided to make it as comfortable as possible.
The package was for two nights and three days from Gangtok to Gangtok. I also booked a hotel for Gangtok personally after discussions since we did not want to go for a hotel hunt with my family along. I had couriered our travel documents through Indraneel to Gangtok Travel agent so that the permits could be made as early as possible without the last minute hassle.
We were supposed to depart at 9 AM and at around 8.15 AM we got a call from our driver, we were instructed to come to Lachen Taxi Stand and he would not be able to pick us up from the hotel was it was not allowed in Gangtok and only local taxis were allowed during the daytime to ply around the town.
Indraneel called one taxi over phone which would take Rs.100 to reach Lachen taxi stand .On arriving at the Lachen taxi stand we could see other passengers for similar packages that we had. Our driver short fair shy and his name was Passang a Tibetan. After loading our luggage our Mahindra Maxx was all ready to take us to our voyage. I settled for the front seat since it would give me the best view for photography. Sujata and Tintin were in the back seat.
The journey towards Lachen was uneventful except some places where the roads were completely washed off and BRO could be seen constructing temporary passages. The drive was slow. The roads were bad. There were remnants of landslides. Sikkim was a earthquake pron area. Here mountains are fragile, leading to frequent mudslides , sliding rocks and boulders breaking loose . The earthquake in September 2011 was devastating and the National Highway 31 was badly affected .
The entire route was extremely scenic and green. A lot of waterfalls came down from loose and we stopped at one of the famous waterfall the Seven Sister Waterfalls . It was located 32 kilometers away from Gangtok on the National Highway leading to North Sikkim. To facilitate the tourists to relish the untouched beauty and to be with nature, the Tourism Department had set up a waiting shed and cafeteria where they could take a break and shoot pictures. A must see picturesque beauty of nature.
Then we came to Phodong Monastery. Phodong Monastery is one among the six most important Buddhist monasteries in Sikkim, India. Perched on an altitude of 4500 the ft, Phodong Monastery belongs to the Kargyupa sect (Karmapa). Perhaps, this was regarded as the first monastery related to the Kagyupa sect to be established in Sikkim. The Monastery was to be found a kilometer ahead of Phodong Monastery was said to have been built in the early 18th century, by Chogyal Gyurmed Namgyal. However, the present structure was rebuilt in the 20th century. Today, Phodong Monastery was much-admired to be the most beautiful monasteries in Sikkim. This beautiful monastery made the abode of not less than 250 monks. Decorated by the old mural paintings, Phodong Monastery was the major monastery of Karmapa sub-sect of Kagyupa sect.
From there we straight headed for Dzongu where we stopped for lunch. As we were traveling in a package tour thus lunch was included. We had rice, dal, mixed vegetables ,chicken curry , papad and pickle , which was not that in taste but was all right considering the remote location. From there we traveled to Chungthang. In Chungthang we stopped for evening tea, from here the road splits. On the left the road takes you to Lachen and to the right the road takes you to Lachung. We took the left road and headed straight to Lachen.
By the time we reached Lachen town, it was around 5 PM and the whole village was already packing up for the night. The temperature had dropped dramatically and we could definitely felt the chill. We had to show our permits at the Lachen check post and after a quick formality we went straight to our hotel. We stayed at Hotel Holiday Inn which was quite a good and comfortable hotel. We were given the rooms on the ground floor which was good considering we did not have to climb up and down the stairs.
People stay at Lachen the first night to acclimatize into the new altitude. We were staying nestled amidst the stunning Himalayan Mountains, the small town of Sikkim, Lachen offers a perfect retreat to relax and escape from the daily trap of city life. Walk hand-in-hand with your loved ones on the roads of Lachen, and admire the spectacular beauty of Lachen was the best activity here. Famous for its valleys around India, Lachen was the base camp for the two main trekking camps of Sikkim- Chopta Valley and Muguthang. Here you could stare at the mountains or opt for some adventure sports like trekking and rafting which were not meant for the faint-hearten people. Every year during the summers annual yak race is organized in Thangu. Must visit places in Lachen are Chopta Valley, which was a photographer’s paradise and the Gurudongmar Lake which was open only to Hindus and Buddhists. Located at an altitude of approximately 8838 feet, there was so much to explore in Lachen. Here was a guide for every tourist to on their tour to Lachen.
The town was a small one and nothing much to see except the hairy dogs. We went for a short walk and we were already feeling the effect of the difference in the altitude by the huffs and puffs with our every step.
Dinner was served early at around 7.30 PM at the hotel itself. Most of the hotels have their dining were located at the roof so it was quite a climb four floors. We were served rice, fried potato, dal and egg curry. The taste was below average and most of us only ate with the fried potato. The gravy provided with egg was almost tasteless.We called it a night early and went to bed by 8.30 PM since we had to leave early the next morning for Gurudongmar. By now the temperature was nearly 1 – 2 Celsius and it was real bone chilling. Just next to our hotel there was a water stream and I could hear the cold water flowing in the silence of the night. Sleep did not come that easy since I was anticipating the journey to Gurudongmar the next morning. By the time I slept it was nearly 10 pm, I got up at 3 am as my mobile alarm rang.
Day 5- Excursion to Gurudongmar Lake and Transfer to Lachung for lunch then back to Gangtok
We brushed our teeth and quickly freshened up. Tintin somehow reluctantly woke up. With extra layers of cloth we were ready to face the morning chill. No sooner we stepped out we could feel the real cold. The cold wind was piercing our face like a thousand needle. In the cold dark morning we set out for Gurudongmar. We drove for hours in the dark keeping our fingers crossed that our driver Passang knew the entire valley. As the sun was slowly rising we could see the snow clad mountains in their golden avatar. It was a real amazing view.
We stopped at Thangu which is a military check post, here usually a representative from the army would come to check on all the passengers. If they saw anyone in physical distress due to the altitude then they usually prevent the passenger from proceeding further.
After the formalities, we proceeded towards Gurudongmar Lake. By now the surrounding scenery had changed dramatically, we could feel we were on a cold desert much like Ladakh. There was no vegetation and only could see miles and miles of dust and sand. The mountain tops looked almost ghostly dead and had various colors and patterns. After driving for around 30 minutes we finally reached Gurudongmar Lake. While approaching we could see that it had snowed recently and it was a complete whiteout. Gurudongmar Lake is almost a magical land with blue water and snow clad mountains all around. Unfortunately, we could not stay for much longer as shortness of breath.
On our way back we stopped briefly at Chopta Valley viewpoint. This place during the month of April – May bloom to riots of color with Rhododendron. We also stopped at a Tibetan Family home where we had breakfast. We opted for Noodle Soup and it was really heavenly. We returned to our hotel in Lachen by 11.30 AM and were told that lunch would be served in an hour and we would then depart for Gangtok by 2.30 PM. We rested till 2 PM and started for Gangtok around 2.30 pm.
On the way back our driver was telling us the myth and facts of Gurudongmer Lake. A legend related to the frozen condition of the lake was linked to the visit of Guru Padmasambhava to the lake, on his way back from Tibet. When he saw the lake he felt that the lake was worthy of adoration as it represented the divine location of Dorje Nyima or Chhoedten Nyima. As the lake remained frozen most of the year with no possibility of providing for drinking water needs, the people of the area appealed to Padmasambhva to help them. Then the guru agreed to help them and placed his hands on a small part of the lake area which stopped freezing during winter thus facilitating the source of drinking water to the people. Since then the lake had been considered sacred and devotees carry this sacred water in containers.
According to another legend when Padmasambhava visited the lake he saw an auspicious phenomenon in the lake and then he considered it a good sign to enter the mainland of Sikkim, then known as Demojong. That was now said that the lake granted a boon to any pregnant woman offering prayers at the lake.
In another fable traced to the 15th century, the Sikh saint Guru Nanak was believed to have passed through the lake while on his return from Tibet. According to this story, he was requested by the local people of Gurudongmar village to help make the frozen lake a source of drinking water during the winter period. Nanak was said to have touched a part of the lake with his stick, making the lake has free of snow throughout the year since. Nanak was also said to have blessed the lake, announcing to the villagers that “whoever takes the water of this lake will gain virility and strength”. According to this story, deemed false by the Buddhist community, the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, as well as the Sikkim Government, the lake and the surrounding hills derive their name from Nanak’s visit.
Around 7.30 pm we reached our hotel the Mount Pleasant, Gangtok. We finished our dinner early as we were very tired.
Oh.. Sheet we missed our train
Next day morning we woke up on time. We finished our heavy breakfast early also around 9 am. We calculated that if we start at 10 am from Gangtok we would reach NJP around 2 pm. It would take maximum 4 hours to reach Gangtok. Then we would finish our lunch around 2.30 pm and board on down Teesta Torsha Exp which departs from NJP at 4 pm.
Everything was going right as per plan but we thought let us had a visit around mall. Indraneel told us he would send our luggage and we would catch the cab on road. The driver was well known to him and he had given his phone number also. Getting up the mall we had seen all the shops were closed. When we were in mall few shops opened their shutter. My wife started visiting a few. In the meantime ,we got a phone call from the driver. We told him to wait down the side of the mall road ends.
When we were coming downwards all the shops opened and shopkeepers were displaying their goods. Seeing less crowded mall road, warm welcoming shopkeepers and alluring display we could not able to resist our self. We started shopping goods which were not required. When we finished and all boarded our cab it was around 11.30 am. The driver warned that we have done a great mistake. The first half of coming down was OK. Next half we found huge traffic congestion due to a landslide.
Our cab remained standstill for 2 hours. I was sure we were about to miss the train. I constantly checked on my mobile the train was on time. When I reached Siliguri Tenzing Norgey bus terminus it was around 6 pm. I called my friend in Kolkata who canceled our ticket on behalf of me. By God’s grace, I managed to book 3 tickets of Silverline AC bus though back rows. The bus would start around 8.30 pm. We had our early dinner around 7 pm and boarded our bus. Next day morning around 10 am we reached home.
UPDATED ON 18.09.19