Gangtok city is a typical hill town in the Kanchenjunga range of Himalayas. It is a fairly popular tourist destination. A gateway for Nathula Pass in the east and Yumthang valley in the North. Today it is the capital of the state of Sikkim. But it first became a capital city when Chogyals shifted their capital here way back in the 1890s. Since then it has been on a trade route connecting Nepal, Bhutan and Indian cities like Kolkata. When you visit Rumtek Monastery on the other hill, especially in the evenings, you can see the whole of Gangtok city on a hill slope and its twinkling lights.
Gangtok was originally called Gang-to.
If you walk up and down a few times, you know the whole of Gangtok city. Though you would need a lot of power in your feet to go up and down its hilly terrain. Whenever we took a taxi in Gangtok, which was invariably a small car and more often not a Maruti, we were pushed to take a tour of the 10 tourists points of Gangtok. We did a few things off that list. But what we enjoyed most was walking around this hill town.
Gangtok City Visit
Gangtok has many aspects that make it a perfect city to live in. Or even visit once in a while. Sharing some of my observations.
Flowers everywhere in Gangtok city
Wherever we were in Gangtok, we were never away from flowers. I do not mean the wildflowers that occur in the hills. I mean the flowers that people have put everywhere. Each house had a neat lines pots of colorful flowers. The roadsides had hangers to hold flower pots and the colorful flowers smile at you.
The flower show is a place in the heart of Gangtok where flowers are showcased around the year.
It is a small glass house kind of place filled with flowers – mostly orchids. We really enjoyed clicking the orchids. I was pleasantly surprised to see a green orchid.
However, the cherry on the cake is the fragile bags hanging on the walls of the city – holding the soil so that flowers can bloom. They could be found in bunches of 3-8 all over the city. Such a simple, economic, easy to do way to make the city beautiful in most natural of ways. Why has no other city thought of it so far?
Little colorful flowers sprouted from wherever they, showing off their survival skills – just give them a bit of soil.
Gangtok city walkways
Each road in Gangtok city has well-defined walkways where pedestrians can freely walk without worrying about the traffic on the road. I first saw them on the valley side – sometimes on a platform jutting out in a cliff like a manner. However, I also discovered the walkways on the other sides. Sometimes going up and down, but providing a dedicated space to those who wanted to walk.
As we walked into the city after visiting Namgyal Research Institute of Tibetology, we saw an efficient sky-walk where the sidewalks were not possible.
I love walking. And strongly believe that our cities should be walking friendly before being anything else. I was so happy to see that Gangtok has developed the infrastructure in such a way that you can easily walk across the city. What makes it even more special is the Himalayan views that you get when you are walking across. Punctuated by some colorful buildings here and there.
Traffic free MG Marg
Every city in India has its most premium road named after Mahatma Gandhi, so has Gangtok. The downtown street in Gangtok is called M G Marg. You see a smiling statue of Gandhi welcoming you on the street in his trademark pose. Now, what makes this street in Gangtok special is the way this street is kept traffic free.
Lined with shops, including local eateries and cafes on either side, you can see the locals as well as tourists enjoying the carefree walk. Families with young ones were the happiest as they could let children be children. In the middle of the road were benches to sit. When you are tired a bit or want to have a small conversation or want to be alone in the middle of a crowd.
Wait, these benches were not alone, they had the lamps and the lamp posts had the flower pots hanging on there. Look out for tea shops cum cafes, old style chaat shops like Narayan Das Sweet Bhandar and of course colorful Souvenir shops. This was the place that inspired me to write the post on Sikkim Souvenirs.
Street Art at Gangtok city
Quite a few walls in Gangtok city were full of street art. I think it is a trend across India to paint the city walls. I just hope that the cities capture their own essence on the walls and not just one another. Or let a few artists dominate across India. Thankfully here these were primarily around Buddha and Buddhist iconography like lotus flowers.
Look at this giant wall mural depicting Buddha at the end of MG Marg.
I learned that Gangtok hosts an annual winter carnival in December when various artists come together to paint the wall murals.
Rachna Book Cafe
This was a discovery and a pleasant surprise. A friend had mentioned looking for a Book cafe in Gangtok, but she did not remember the name or the location. As luck would have it, I met another friend in Gangtok and he walked us to Rachna Book Cafe. It is a small cafe that houses a lovely bookstore on the first store with elegant furniture where you can sit with a coffee in one hand and book in another.
We had a long chat with the owner Raman. He told us that the bookshop is almost ancestral. And he is trying to morph it into a cultural space and invites all kinds of creative people to the Rachna Book cafe. He is becoming a medium where Sikkimese writers and artists are getting to interact with the creative people from around the world. They are also giving space to performing artists.
A small homestay attached to the book cafe means you can stay and have a reading holiday in this hill town. If you love books, as I do, you must check out the Rachna Book cafe whenever you are in Gangtok next.
View of Kanchenjunga
To get a good view of Kanchenjunga you must go to Sikkim when the weather is clear, otherwise be prepared to completely miss the views.
However, when you miss a big peak, you end up looking at the lesser known peaks and valleys. And notice things that you would not if the Kanchenjunga was towering and had the monopoly on your eyes.
It is such a pleasure to discover the cities by walking around.
Do you want me to write about Gangtok’s 10 tourist points?
Recommend you to read following Places to visit in Sikkim.