Everything You Need To Know
Gangtok is a hill town located in the state of Sikkim
at an altitude of 5,410 ft. Although Sikkim had been under the Namgyal dynasty since 1642, it was only in 1894 when the king Thutob Namgyal transferred the capital of Sikkim to Gangtok and then it became the center of Royal administration. In 1975 Sikkim joined India as the 22nd state and Gangtok became the Capital of Sikkim.
Gangtok is located in East Sikkim. The name Gangtok means the 'Top of the Ridge'. Over the years Gangtok has experienced booming economy and advancement of lifestyle. However it has remained as a peaceful place with a mix of different cultures and ethnicity. While Lepchas are the original inhabitants, they have been out numbered by immigrant Nepalis and Bhutias. Gangtok presently has an estimated resident population of over 160,000.
Gangtok spreads over a forested mountain that faces the Kanchenjunga snow peaks. There are many vantage points in and around Gangtok from where you get magnificent views of Kanchenjunga and other Himalayan snow peaks. In fact every spur extending from this hill town offers a setting of a great sight.
I took this picture from the cable car (Ropeway)
The heart or the main hub of Gangtok town is M.G. Marg
(i.e. Mahatma Gandhi Road), which has been converted into something like a long stretch of open promenade and a mall area. It's a pedestrian only zone and vehicles are not allowed here. This litter & smoke free zone has many glittering shops, restaurants, bars and hotels lined up on both sides.
M G Marg at night, Gangtok
There are benches laid out along the middle and both sides of the road (MG Marg) where you can relax and see the pedestrians passing by or tourists shopping around. When the natural light fades, the beautiful Victorian lamps on the street are lit up. It's a great place to hang around for a while and experience the bustling carnival like atmosphere.
Another view of Gangtok
Photo: Devraj Bhattacharya
Over the years while mushrooming of concrete buildings in the main Gangtok town has taken toll on trees and greenery that it was once known for, there are still enough natural, historic as well as religious attractions in and around the town to make a great vacation for all.
View of Gangtok town from Rumtek
A big advantage of Gangtok today is that you get all modern amenities along with nice mountain charm. It perfectly suits those coming from cities and looking for great weather, sightseeing, good food, comfortable stays with modern facilities, and nice shopping opportunities. And all these are available here at various price categories which can suit both budget and luxury travelers.
If you are planning to visit Gangtok, the eBook on Darjeeling & Sikkim
can be very handy in knowing all the best places, sightseeing tours & operators, eateries, nightlife, shopping and lot more, and would serve as a guide to effectively make your tour plan.
Gangtok is about 4 hours drive (125kms) from both NJP (the nearest major railway station) and Bagdogra Airport
(the nearest major airport). It takes around 3.5 hours drive from Darjeeling to get to Gangtok (98kms) and 3 hours from Kalimpong (75kms). You can get private taxis from all these places. Shared taxis are also available at NJP, Siliguri, Darjeeling, Kalimpong etc, and buses at Sikkim Nationalised Transport (SNT) Bus Terminal on Hill Cart Road in Siliguri.
There is also a daily helicopter service
between Bagdogra and Gangtok taking only 35-minute flight one way. Recently after opening of Pakyong Airport near Gangtok, there are now domestic flight services to this airport (including from Kolkata). Pakyong is located about 30kms from Gangtok town. Private taxis are available at Pakyong airport to get to the main Gangtok township. It takes around 1 hour 15 minutes between Pakyong and Gangtok by taxi.
Getting Around: Taxi & Bus
Taxi (private or shared) is the main mode of travelling in and around Gangtok. Although you can get tour packages or private cars from many local tour operators, you can also go to a taxi stand and avail one directly (rates from the stands are usually cheaper).
Taxis in Gangtok are not metered. For sightseeing tours you can often negotiate the rates (high season rates are higher and can go up by 50% of the normal rate). In shared taxis, the per person rates are fixed although they too vary seasonally and during festival times depending on demands.
Gangtok has several taxi stands, and each is earmarked for specific purpose. A popular one is the Deorali Taxi Stand (also known as the Mainline Taxi Stand) located at Deorali Bazaar on National Highway NH10 and 2kms below the Gangtok town center. Commercial taxis from West Bengal or other states are usually not allowed to go beyond this point. Deorali or the Mainline Taxi Stand is a congested area and taxis are lined up here.
Mainline Deorali Taxi Stand
Photo: Shankar S / Flickr
There are smaller taxis like Alto, WagonR etc and larger vehicles like Sumo, Tavera, Scorpio and even Innovas. You can take a taxi from here for local sightseeing in and around Gangtok town. Both reserved and shared taxis are available at this stand. You can also take a taxi from here to go back to places like Siliguri, NJP, Bagdogra, Kalimpong etc.
North Sikkim Taxi Stand also popularly known as Vajra Taxi Stand is located near Vajra Cinema Hall. It's a large Ground + 2-storey building with parking facility for taxi as well as private cars. If you are driving down to Gangtok and looking for a public parking facility, then this is the place to go.
Vajra Taxi Stand, Gangtok
Photo: Genobz / Flickr
Here you will get taxis (like Sumos, Mahinda Max, Innova, Xylo, Bolero etc) for visits to North Sikkim (places like Penlong, Kabi, Phodong, Mangan, etc and even Lachung / Yumthang, Lachen / Gurudongmar Lake, Tsomgo lake / Nathula etc). You can also get shared taxis here and pay a per person rate to visit these places. However all taxis are not in good condition.
Note: You need special permits
to visit protected areas of North Sikkim such as Lachung / Yumthang, Lachen / Gurudongmar, Tsomgo, Nathula etc.
Although the Vajra Taxi Stand looks chaotic during peak hours, the drivers are friendly and you can negotiate rates. They will also help you get the permits. The taxi stand building has a few shops in it and a local eatery (more like a canteen) but they are little over-priced and not very clean. There is also a paid public toilet in the building... not quite clean either.
If you visit the Vajra taxi stand, go to the backside of the building... you can get excellent view of the mountains and Gangtok township. Taxis and cars are parked on the top floor (very dimly lit at nights). Althoug Vajra Stand is for visits to north Sikkim, from outside the stand you can get taxis to Gangtok town as well.
There is another Taxi stand below MG Marg (at the turning towards Tibet road). You can get taxis here for tours and trips to South and West Sikkim (like Pelling, Geyzing, Singtam, Namchi, Ravangla etc), as well as for local sightseeing tours.
Taxi Stand below MG Marg (Gangtok)
There is a Taxi Stand at the Children's Park (near MG Marg) that go for short distances to places like Tashi view point (i.e. Phatak), Vajra Cinema Hall, Phengla, Penlong etc. You can take Jeeps from Ranka Taxi Stand (at Paljor Stadium Road, Arithang) for visiting Ranka (where Banjhakri Waterfall and Ranka Monastery are located).
There is no city bus service within Gangtok township. So, for city sightseeing, you will need to depend on taxis. However, if you want to travel to nearby settlements in Sikkim or townships in West Bengal, there are few Sikkim Nationalised Transport (SNT) bus services that you can avail. The main SNT bus station of Gangtok is located near MG Marg at Paljor Stadium Road (6-7 minute walking distance). Another bus stand is at Deorali Bazaar area which is 2kms below Gangtok town center.
You can get daily SNT buses from Gangtok to Siliguri (starting at 6am then every one hour until 1:30pm) and Gangtok to Kalimpong at 7:15am. There are few privately operated buses as well that connect Gangtok with Siliguri (leaving between 6:30am to 2pm), Kalimpong (7:30am), Panitanki (1pm). While most are ordinary buses, there are few that are air conditioned.
Attractions & Local Tours
You can easily be absorbed for days in Gangtok with its so many attractions & entertainment activities. There are great view points to watch Kanchenjunga snow peaks, lovely sunset points, Buddhist monasteries with marvelous architecture, great museums preserving rich Tibetan exhibits, wonderful parks & gardens, waterfalls, lakes, art & craft centers, cable car ride offering a sweeping view of the town & the mountains, paragliding and lot more.
Read Gangtok Tourist Attractions
to know about all tourist places & attractions in and around Gangtok which you can visit by availing a local sightseeing tour using a cab or a tour operator.
There are numerous tour operators in Gangtok (along M G Marg, Tibet Road and several other places) who offer local sightseeing tours of Gangtok and surrounding areas. However for local sightseeing, taxis are also available in plenty at the stands.
Sunset view from Gangtok
While taxis are usually more economical, during high season they often try to cut short the tours and their vehicles may not be in good condition. Depending on what you like to see, there are 3, 7 and 10-point tours for half day and some for full day.
Read Gantok Local Tours & Operators
to know about the standard package tours that are offered by the tour agencies and cab drivers, indicative cost and get a list of well known tour operators in Gangtok.
Popular Trips From Gangtok
Gangtok serves as the main base to visit several exotic places in both east and north Sikkim. Following are the most popular day trips as well as overnight trips from Gangtok.
Day trip to Tsomgo lake, Baba Mandir and Nathula Pass
Tsomgo is a high altitude and a beautiful glacial lake located around 40kms from Gangtok and takes nearly 2 hours to reach. The lake is surrounded by mountains in all sides. During winter the lake freezes. This is a protected area and requires a special permit
Tsomgo Lake, Sikkim
Another 16kms away along the route is Baba Harbhajan Singh Temple (known as Baba Mandir). The temple has been built as a tribute to the Indian soldier Harbhajan Singh who once guarded the Indo-China border nearby. He died while on duty. The army men still believe that his spirit continues to live and guards not only the border but also the stationed army guards against all adversaries.
While returning from Baba Mandir and at a place known as Sarathang, a sharp right uphill route leads to one of the famous high altitude passes - Nathula Pass located at 14,140ft. This pass was once used as a trade route between India and Tibet. But after China captured Tibet, it now serves as the international border with China and a highly protected area. While Indians can visit Nathula, foreign nationals are prohibited from visiting Nathula Pass.
Nathula Pass in October
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Lachung, Yumthang & Zero Point
From Gangtok, you can make an excellent trip to north Sikkim with an overnight stay (1night-2 days) which includes the mountain village Lachung offering lovely views of mountains, Yumthang - the spectacular valley of flowers featuring vast bed of rhododendrons and other flowers in different colors, and the snow covered Zero Point where the civilian road ends.
Yumthang - River Teesta with backdrop of the mountains
Lachen & Gurudongmar Lake
Lachen is a small mountain village in north Sikkim and has developed into a base to visit Gurudongmar Lake which is one of the highest lakes in the world close to the Indo-China border. Another wonderful place here is Chopta Valley which lies between Lachen and Gurudongmar, and gets covered with flowers during spring and with snow during winter.
This trip too requires 1-night 2-days. You can also combine this trip with Lachung/ Yumthang and that would require a night more.
Explore East Sikkim
Gangtok is located in East Sikkim and there are many other places in this part of Sikkim that you can explore from Gangtok... picturesque quaint villages nestled in nature offering home stays, valleys, lakes and even the old historic silk route.
Gangtok offers a wide range of accommodations from modern luxury hotels to budget stays of all kind. You can stay at the town center (i.e. on or near MG Marg) or a bit away from the crowd in a location that commands spectacular views of the mountains.
Visit Where to stay in Gangtok
for my reviews of some of the select and great hotels in Gangtok of different categories - budget, mid-range and luxury.
The search box below will list all the good hotels in and around Gangtok. You can also change the destination to any other place of your interest. You can then sort the list by price, property type, facility you need etc, go through the amenities, user reviews, scores and book a hotel online at an attractive low rate. This service is provided by World's no.1 online hotel booking site.
Most of the restaurants and eateries in Gangtok are located at MG Marg area (the town center) although there are few at the fringes like in Deorali. Food choices are plenty... while Tibetan dishes including momos are very popular, you get plenty of restaurants that serve Chinese cuisine and there are few that specialize in local dishes such as Sikkimese, Nepali, Tibetan etc.
Among the Cafes, one name that stands out is Bakers Cafe on MG Marg. This westernized cafe has been running since long and offers a range of coffee and baked items, the ambience is modern and it remains full with diners. There are several popular vegetarian restaurants as well such as Parivar and Rosoi - both on MG Marg serving north and south Indian food.
The budget eatery Cafe Culture located near Royal Palace is run by a family and serves excellent local food and momos, and Taste of Tibet is a very popular eatery serving great Chinese and Tibetan dishes including momos of several types such as pork, chicken and even beef momos.
Bars, Pubs, Nightclubs, Casinos
Large number of restaurants in Gangtok have bars, so when you walk into such a restaurant for lunch or dinner, you can enjoy a drink as well. The local brew Dansberg beer is quite popular here. There are also a few popular pubs, music clubs, night clubs in Gangtok. Gangtok is also the first town in India to have a casino.
Gangtok is the main shopping hub to buy the best that Sikkim has to offer. There are many souvenirs, utility products and art & craft produce of Sikkim that are unique to the state which you can purchase at Gangtok. Some of the very popular such items include Thangkas (Buddhist religious scroll paintings), wood carvings, Lepcha weaves, wall hangings, woolen carpets, Buddha figurines, Sikkimese cups, tea packets from Temi Tea Gardens etc.
Gangtok Weather & Best Time To Visit
Like all other places in north Bengal and north east India, Gangtok too faces the extremes of winter and monsoon. However, summer (April - May) and autumn (October - November) are quite pleasant and best for the views with clear sky.
Manoj Lakhanpal (March 2020)
Raj, We travelled to Tsomgo lake and Gangtok from 21/02/20 to 26/02/20. The details posted on the website were very helpful and we could precisely plan our trip. Since Nathula was closed, visit to Tsomgo lake was really very pretty. We could play with snow. Best wishes to Raj for all the support. Thanks.
Kishor (March 2019)
Dear Raj I am planning to come in may to visit Gangtok. Please suggest how many days are required to visit all places within Gangtok including outskirts of Gangtok. And shall we have to stay in Gangtok and move from there to everywhere or we have to change our stay also with the locales.
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) March 2019
Hello, for sightseeing in and around Gangtok (including day trip to Tsomgo lake, Baba Mandir and Nathula Pass) you can be based in Gangtok and take the tours. This would require two full days in Gangtok, another additional day would be even better. There are numerous and famous tourist places in Sikkim such as Pelling in west, Lachung/Yumthang and Lachen/Gurudongmar lake in north, Namchi, Ravangla in west Sikkim which would require transfer from Gangtok and overnight stays (1 or 2 nights each depending on the place).
Harshal Ghanekar (May 2018)
Hi, Thanks for the tons of information shared through your site. Can you share recommended Pit Stops / Restaurants for Lunch en-route on Darjeeling - Gangtok Route and Gangtok - Bagdogra Route? Thanks!
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) May 2018
There are no proper restaurants other than small eateries along any of these two routes. It's better to start early and have your lunch at the destination (i.e. Gangtok or Bagdogra airport in your case).
Subramanian Rajendran (April 2018)
Sir, I plan to visit Gangtok with my family during 4th week of May, 2018. We don't know Hindi, though my kids should be able to understand. Is this really a problem? Regards.
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) April 2018
Hello, people here in the hills are usually very friendly and cordial. Many can also manage to converse in English although not always fluently. And hundreds of tourists from South India visit Sikkim and Darjeeling every year... So you should be fine.
Amar (January 2018)
Hi, I have my flight from Bagdogra back to Delhi in evening around 4:30pm. I need to check if there is anything on the way to airport which can be visited if we leave early morning from Gangtok so that we can utilise that day as well. Thanks.
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) January 2018
Nothing much in terms of tourist attractions between Gangtok and Bagdogra. You can however try white water rafting at Melli (depending on season and timing... check with your hotel), or if you take a detour, then you can visit a few attractions in Kalimpong, but start early. If you are interested in shopping, then you can visit the Hong Kong Market in Siliguri.
Prasad (February 2017)
Mr Raj, can you suggest a good travel agent in Gangtok, as need a Scorpio for travel to Lachen and Lachung and also for Nathula pass. Thanks
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) February 2017
Shravan Kumar (January 2017)
Dear Sir, I have a 7 seater Maruti Suzuki Ertiga car with Bihar Registration number. This is my private car then can I drive my car in Darjeeling and in Gangtok as well for sightseeing and tourism. Please suggest me as soon as possible. Thanks
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) January 2017
Yes, you can take your private car to Darjeeling and Sikkim. However note that to travel to protected areas in Sikkim such as Tsomgo lake, Nathula, Yumthang etc, you need to get special permit for your vehicle from Sikkim Govt and army. Normally only vehicles from registered tour operators are permitted in such areas.
Kamal Kohli (November 2015)
Hello Sir, At the outset I must pay my respect and thanks for the amount of hard work you have done in providing this useful information for many tourists. I am planning to visit Gangtok and Darjeeling from January 1-9. I would like to ask you what all places will be accessible in Gangtok in January with a 6-year-old child. As I am from New Delhi, I have no information regarding Gangtok apart from you site. Your input will be useful.
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) November 2015
It's peak winter time. Most attractions and sites within Gangtok town will be open, but roads to high altitude places like Tsomgo lake/Nathula etc and north Sikkim like Yumthang will likely be closed due to snow.