Sikkim’s capital is a small hill town with a big heart. Perched on a mountain ridge, it is sprawled out in tiers—each of which provides delightful discoveries. One of Northeast India’s quintessential family holiday destinations, Gangtok also serves as the perfect base for intrepid travellers who wish to scale the surrounding mountains. It woos travellers with its luxurious experiences, natural beauty, spirituality, serene sites, and lively cafes. Above all, Gangtok indulges its visitors with views of the mystical and majestic Mount Kanchenjunga, the third-highest peak in the world. All you have to do is pray for a clear day. By Ananya Bahl
Ubiquitous Buddhist culture meets magnificent views and an abundance of natural beauty in Gangtok.
The best place to start a tour of Gangtok is Tsuklakhang, which is considered to be the ‘royal monastery’. Dragon carvings on the columns in the main hall are the striking feature of this complex situated in the premises of the Chogyal Palace. The Enchey Gompa follows the Nyingma-Buddhist school of thought, and its sanctity is said to be the reason why people started to settle in this region. Located on the northern side of Gangtok, it is known for its glorious three-dimensional murals of stacked creatures depicting the evolution of life. Said to have been built by Trulshik Rinpoche in 1945, the Do-Drul Chorten Stupa’s golden dome can be seen from various points in Gangtok. Its 108 prayer wheels have Tibetan mantras inscribed on them. To learn about Tibetan and Buddhist history, visit the
Namgyal Institute of Tibetology. It houses Buddhist artefacts, iconography, Tantric objects, and a prized 135-volume Encyclopedia Tibetica.
Given its blessed location in the lap of nature, it is natural for Gangtok to be home to several vantage points. Head to Ganesh Tok to see the cityscape along with views of the Chogyal Palace and Enchey Gompa. Tashi View Point boasts mesmerising panoramic vistas of the snowcovered Mount Kanchenjunga. The Hanuman Tok offers gorgeous views of verdant mountains and Gangtok city.
Reserve at least three hours for the Himalayan Zoological Park, which is set on a forested hillside. Look out for Sikkim’s famed red pandas, Himalayan bears, and snow
leopards during the tour. The Flower Exhibition Centre is a large glasshouse with chrysanthemums, orchids, and an artificial pool that is perfect for touristy photo-ops. The
orchids here are worth the visit, as are the diverse potted plants. For a fun picnic amid lush foliage, make your way to the Ban Jhakri Falls and Energy Park, a complex of open green spaces punctuated by cascades of water. Ride the Gangtok Ropeway to enjoy a mesmerising view of the capital city.
A trip to Gangtok is incomplete without a trekking expedition to the nearby mountains.
A big part of Gangtok’s tourist allure is that the city doubles as a base for several exciting treks. Yuksom, a sleepy little town about 125 kilometres away from Gangtok, is where most trekkers stay overnight. The Goecha La trek takes about 11 days to complete and takes you through surreal Himalayan landscapes that showcase not just Mount Kanchenjunga but 14 other summits as well. If you love flora, the Barsey Rhododendron trek is a low-altitude trek in Sikkim that can be taken up between April and mid-May,
to acquaint yourself with the rare species of rhododendrons found in the region. The Kanchenjunga Base Camp trek is best done from March to May, or between September and November for snow-filled views. It covers the Kanchenjunga Biosphere Reserve and takes around 12 days to complete.
The ethereal Lake Tsomgo, located about 38 kilometres from Gangtok, is nearly a kilometre long and 50 metres deep. Popularly called Lake Changu, the waterbody is surrounded by snow for most of the year and its own frozen surface shimmers in the colder months. Instant noodle stalls call out to you, as do yak rides. About 50 kilometres away from Gangtok is Nathu La, a legendary snow-laden mountain pass that falls on the ancient Tea Horse Road. It’s open to Indian visitors during specific days of the week, and a permit is required for the trip. Located 26 kilometres outside Gangtok city, Rumtek Monastery is Sikkim’s largest Buddhist house of worship. Home to a golden stupa along with relics of the 16th Karmapa (head of the Karma Kagyu, the oldest reincarnate lineage of Tibetan Buddhism), it is a site you cannot miss!
Wine & Dine
A hearty bowl of noodles and a delectable muffin is a short walk away, no matter where you stay in Gangtok.
For amazing espresso, and milkshakes made of tsampa (roasted barley flour), head to The Local Cafe in New Market. Baker’s Cafe serves up scrumptious pastries, waffles, pancakes, and a hearty breakfast, along with views of the mountains. Sip coffee and bite into croissants and burgers in a contemporary setting at Kelly’s Cafe in Vishal Gaon.
Along with thukpa (noodle soup) and momos (steamed dumplings stuffed with meat or vegetables), try authentic Tibetan dishes like sha phaley (fried meat pies), bhakthuk (traditional broth with small noodle pieces), and thenthuk (homestyle pasta in soup) at Taste of Tibet, which is located on Mahatma Gandhi Marg. Nimtho is another great place to relish local delicacies in Gangtok. What’s more, it is vegan-friendly too! For a lip-smacking Nepalese thali, though, you should head to Thakali, also found on MG Road.
Gangtok’s pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare, Mahatma Gandhi Marg, and other quaint alleys reveal little details of everyday life and also delicious treats. There’s the endless delight of street-side momos and also the crunchy sel roti (a deep-fried Nepalese doughnut sprinkled with sugar). You can enjoy this at Agarwal Restaurant, with a cup of steaming hot tea. Roll House is a famous eatery for vegetarian rolls and momos.
Apart from Gangtok’s two famous casinos (located in the WelcomHeritage Denzong Regency and Mayfair Spa Resort & Casino), there are quite a few places to let your hair
down. Live band performances at Cafe Live & Loud and innovative cocktails at Osm Restro & Lounge make them great spots for a taste of the local nightlife. Go on weekdays to avoid huge crowds.
Pick up Tibetan lanterns, carpets, precious stones and more.
For shopping in Gangtok, there’s only one place to be: Mahatma Gandhi Marg (or, as the locals call it, MG Road). It’s a pedestrian-only zone that is also litter-free, at least according to official advisories. Sikkim’s tourist centre and one of Gangtok’s main taxi stands are located here. Buy local tea, woollen clothes, handicrafts like prayer wheels and face masks,
lanterns, and other souvenirs. The famous street also offers a great stroll for flâneurs. For
a more sophisticated shopping experience, head to Directorate of Handicrafts & Handlooms, located at the edge of Tibet Road. Most of the handloom and handicraft items produced in the state are showcased here. Get your hands on stunning thangkas (Tibetan Buddhist paintings), wood carvings, and decorative wall hangings here.
Whether you’re on a romantic getaway or a solo trip, these charming properties will make your holiday memorable.
Sikkim Villa Tosca
A charming boutique aparthotel nestled in a quaint corner of the bustling city, Sikkim Villa Tosca wins hearts with its chic luxury villas fitted with kitchenettes and private dining areas. It is the ideal pick for a long, lazy staycation with the family. The exclusive private house has only three luxury villas—the two-bedroom Kangchenjunga View Suite, the two-bedroom Boutique Villa Suite, and the single-bedroom Terrace Mono Suite—that come with high ceilings, native-wood flooring, and detailed decor that mixes Sikkimese architecture with Italian sensibilities. The boutique property has sprawling views of Mount Kanchenjunga and offers organic Himalayan breakfasts. Join experts on a trek to Goecha La or Sandakphu, visit the nearby monasteries and high-land villages, or go mountain biking and paragliding for some hill-side adventure.
Address: Baluakhani, P/O Raj Bhawan; starts from INR 14,400/USD 192.
WelcomHeritage Denzong Regency
This gorgeous property is Gangtok’s only five-star luxury mountain retreat and casino, making it the perfect place to combine upscale comforts and entertainment. Perched at a height of 1,829 metres above sea level, this family-owned hotel is a century old and sprawled over 10 acres. The property houses six Regency Suites, 12 Suites, six Deluxe Rooms, and one room dedicated to differently-abled guests. When you aren’t meandering through the property’s lawns, sign up for their kayaking, trekking, and white-water rafting activities. You can also opt for excursions to Mount Kanchenjunga, Nathu La, and the nearby monasteries. Unwind at Mayal (fine-dining restaurant), Open Deck Café (bites and nibbles), and Ara (private lounge bar).
Address: Cherry Banks, opposite Raj Bhawan; starts from INR 8,800/ USD115.
The Elgin Nor-Khill, Gangtok
Oozing with Sikkimese royalty and folklore, this heritage property was built in 1932 as a royal guesthouse. The hotel is decorated with bright folk art, dragon motifs, flame symbols, and thangkas. It sports period Burmese teak furniture, oak floorboards and panelling, fireplaces, and a grand piano. Facilities include a well-stocked library and games room; there are also trails nearby for nature walks. Twenty-five elegant deluxe rooms and suites, the Elgin Spa, and a bouquet of well-crafted experiences await you here. Tuck into hearty local and international cuisines at The Shangri-La Dining Room, enjoy snacks at Gazebo at the Garden and sip Sikkimese drinks like tongba (fermented millet beer) at The Dragon Bar. The resort has been host to the likes of His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama, music composer A R Rahman, and Hollywood actors Richard Gere and Michael Douglas.
Address: Paljor Stadium Rd, Upper Sichey, Arithang; starts from INR 8,500/ USD112.
MAYFAIR Spa Resort & Casino
Popular among honeymooners, this MAYFAIR resort offers a selection of opulent villas, cottages, and rooms. With an entertaining casino, a tranquil spa, and undulating valley
views, there is plenty to do here. The jewels in this hotel’s crown are its dining options.
For Chinese, Indian, and Continental fare, visit Orchid, its multicuisine restaurant. The Rumtek Lounge is perfect for a cuppa, while Tongba Bar is counted among the best bars in Gangtok. For some of the most delicious Sikkimese food in the city, the hotel’s Jungle Cafe is worth a visit. If you want to rejuvenate after a hike, head to the MAYFAIR Spa: with eight therapy rooms, a zero-gravity bed, and dry floatation beds, it is the perfect relaxation zone in the city.
Address: Lower Samdur Block, Ranipool; starts from INR 15,000/USD196.
The commercial airport closest to Gangtok is in Bagdogra, about 128 kilometres away. Located in West Bengal, it is connected to many major cities in India with daily flights.
The nearest railway station is New Jalpaiguri Junction in West Bengal, around 122 kilometres away. A mix of private and state-run buses, and taxis, ply between Gangtok and
West Bengal’s Siliguri (about 117 kilometres), Darjeeling (around 101 kilometres), and Kalimpong (about 78 kilometres). The Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation also runs a daily helicopter service between Gangtok and Bagdogra. The journey takes approximately 35 minutes. Gangtok is a walker’s paradise, but you can also hail cabs to get around the city.