- A huge football stadium on the hill. What happens if you kick the ball too hard?
Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, is always visited as it is generally the base for a lot of side trips and expeditions. What is not advertised, however, is what a beautiful town it is. Built totally on the hillside, as a series of small, many-colored buildings, with narrow, winding roads throughout, it is blessed with wonderful weather and even more wonderful people. Shrouded in fog more often than not, with roads that I would be terrified to drive on, and buildings i would love to live in, this small hill-town has loads to offer. Little wonder then, that my brother-in-law has decided that Gangtok is where he shall retire.
- Look at the crazy roads! And the sign thanking you for visiting!
Tough to disagree. We spent almost 5 days here, in 2 different hotels, and almost every evening roaming about the main market area, the M.G. road or mall road. Now, almost every city and suburb in India has a Mahatma Gandhi road (even if we no longer follow the great man’s ideals), and every hill town has a mall road, though I think this one is very different. First of all, no vehicles are allowed here AT ALL. None. Secondly, no littering is permitted, with a strictly-enforced fine up to Rs. 5000, so it is spick-and-span clean. Thirdly, it has this total European feel to it, with all the multicolored buildings and cafes along the road. God, I sound like I’m answering a Grade-7 science paper!
- Couldn’t this be Ljubljana?
Of course, the crowds are totally unlike any European town. In particular, on weekends, it is packed with visitors and you can barely see the locals, but on weekdays, you will see a lot of young, very smartly dressed Sikkimese men and women roaming about. On the weekend that Bahubali-2 released, Gangtok actually resembled rush-hour Mumbai.
It was so crowded that we almost lost each other. It was very crowded on all days in Lal market too, just at right angles to M.G.road, where there is a huge bazaar down a series of steps. Here, we spent hours trying to buy the hubby a warm jacket, which he finally didn’t buy. And then he calls me fussy! Hmmmpphh!
Mall road also had great food outlets. My favorite was the highly acclaimed Baker’s pride, a charmingly decorated café with great food, located smack in the middle of mall road, with great views over the road itself.
- Amazingly decorated café, with food just as good
You know a place is going to have delicious food when they put up a sign like this.
Always the motto of my daughter; eat dessert first. Though of course, that rule is negated when it comes to pav bhaji or wada pav, her new crazes. She had both in Gangtok. That requires both skill (to notice it) and luck!
- We trudged uphill in a semi-starved state for half an hour to eat Sikkimese pav-bhaji
Apart from the trips that you can take from Gangtok like Changu lake, Yumthang valley, Gurudongmar lake and Zuluk, most tour operators take you on a sightseeing tour of half or full day of Gangtok itself. So basically, they drive you up and down those crazy streets and roads, right to the highest point Hanuman Tok (7200 feet above sea level)and right down to Rumtek (4900 feet). Needless to say, it’s a hop-on hop-off dizzying drive.
We were supposed to go to Changu lake the day we saw Gangtok, but we didn’t and that’s a story for later on. But, it was not a good move to miss Changu this day. We finally saw Gangtok on a very sunny day dressed in layers of warm clothes, and on a Sunday, when half the attractions were closed. Yet, we were not to know either of these 2 things and hence, started with Hanuman Tok.
Perched high above Gangtok city, the temple is more famous for views of the surroundings of Gangtok, and most importantly, of the entire Kanchenjunga range. Sadly, today was not the day for those great views. Today, we only got a sneak peek of the snow-covered mountains, which naturally we went bonkers over.
The picture needs an arrow to point out the mountain! I should have known then how up, close and personal I was going to get with the snow-covered mountains, but on this day, this first view was enough to send me into a tizzy.
The greatest thing about this temple for me was the serenity and solitude it offered. The complete absence of crowds, combined with the scenic location, made for an enjoyable visit, as did the rows of bells that the kid rang all along the path, creating a melody that resounded in my ears long after we left.
We drove down to Ganesh Tok with a temple dedicated to Ganesha (naturally). This crowded place was filled with people trying on the local Sikkimese costume and posing in all sorts of hilarious poses. While I tried to click some of them, my good child stopped me, saying , “Mum, don’t be rude.” So, I don’t have funny poses to put on my blog. Grrrrrr. Anyways, we climbed up to the 360-degree view-point outside the temple, avoided the temple altogether, and took lots of selfies aka Chinese tourists. Then the kid wore the local costume and posed so cutely. After seeing all the couples dress in those clothes (especially the Gujjus), even I was tempted, but the Hubby refused to dress similarly, so there went all our chances of posing silly too.
- The entire town of Gangtok spreads out on all sides of the mountain
Just outside the temple, I saw this beautiful entrance and went to enquire about it. it turned out to be the local zoo, that was actually not on our sightseeing plan. Yaay. I like going off the plan (and seeing zoos).
- Compare this to our lousy Rani-baug
This zoo was much nicer than most Indian zoos we’ve been to, as most animals were in large open spaces, where it was quite difficult to spot them. The zoo was perched on the mountainside with great views all around.
Mr. Black Bear sure had a home with a great view. He probably has better ones in the wild, but still, this is better than bars of a cage. We were lucky to even spot him in this gigantic space, when he suddenly stood up on his hind legs, posed for us, and ambled down the slope, slowly, backwards. Like in reverse gear! I didn’t know that bears climbed down backwards!
- I just managed to change the lens, when Mr. Bear ambled away backwards down the steep slope behind. Maybe he has height fright too!
From there, we moved on to see the red panda, classic of this region, hiding high up in a tree, fast asleep. Till, the kid made some weird sort of cooing noise, and it looked up.
Next were the Himalayan blue sheep, that we initially struggled to notice, partly because we were looking for bright blue, and partly, because they camouflage so well with the rocks.
From here on, we had a more rushed walk through the zoo. But all along, most animals were asleep. And at most of the places, the kid made funny sounds at the sleeping animal and they actually got up and came to investigate the source of the sound. The sleeping leopard walked right till the edge of his enclosure and charged up and down, trying to find the source of the noise. She must have sounded like a delicious prey.
On to a botanical garden, with little more than a landscape akin to the whole of Sikkim, and very few flowers on display.
- This is Sikkim-winding roads, lots of green, mountains and blue skies
Buddhism being big in Sikkim, there are lots of monasteries. Rumtek is the largest and best, but we missed it. Though we did go this pretty one, whose name I don’t know.
Flowers, open spaces, well decorated buildings, cute little monks running about, all add to the beauty, but in addition, this one had a large terrace that overlooked most of the hill-side of Gangtok, with a great view of the multi colored, small houses, that characterize hill towns. The cool breeze ruffling our hair and that great view made my day for sure. The main prayer hall itself was beautiful too, though photographs were not allowed. I regretted not taking one illicit picture at least (unlike so many other people who did) of the stunning golden Buddha and the loads of bright colors.
- Gangtok from the monastery terrace. See the roads all alongthe mountain
From here, the driver took us to some piddu, famous, Ban-Jakhri waterfalls that were so minute that we burst out laughing when we saw them.
- My pathetic attempt at silky waterfalls (still!)
Kid and I happily dressed up in local costumes and posed stupidly with fans for pictures (finally, we could do silly pictures too!) . That’s when our new-found Bombaiya junkie spotted wadapav. And ate it happily at the base of the tiny waterfalls of Sikkim. Hilarious.
On this day, we could see no more sights of Gangtok, as it was a Sunday, but had a great evening at mall road instead. We used the other days in Gangtok seeing the remaining places like the pretty flower exhibition, with its mind-boggling arrays of Himalayan flowers. This place is so totally for my sister.
The kid went bonkers too, taking pictures. In fact, she refused to pose with us for any pictures, and took some really amazing ones herself. Looks like I have serious competition!
I’m truly sorry about the flower overload. But I can’t help it, I love flowers. And in Sikkim, there were just way too many, even all over the second hotel we stayed at, a tiny place very near the market, with charming knick-knacks and a great view from the terrace.
- Gangtok half-covered with fog from our hotel’s terrace
- The sign in the loo
The dining room in the basement, was as old world, as old world gets. The walls were filled with posters of old movies and music legends, and all sorts of quotes.
- Mr. Beanavatar? The kid loved this
Even though the food wasn’t great, the location surely was. So, if you ever stay at the Nettle and Fern, then don’t take meals. Eat at the mall road instead, with all those delicious food options.
We also went, in the nick of time one day, just before the timings closed to the highly overrated Gangtok ropeway. Hanging from a narrow rope in an unstable, shaky, tiny contraption has never been my thing. Add to it my extreme height-fright, and you land up with shaky photographs. Needless to say, no more ropeways for me.
- What a fairy-tale house!
Apart from pretty buildings and the main market of Gangtok, we also had sweeping views of the hillside. The sun was setting, lending its golden lights to the entire hill.
Like all places, Gangtok looked different in the twilight. And when the clouds shrouded the setting sun, and a ray burst through, things were even prettier.
Good night beautiful city.
See you again, someday.
P.S. A huge thanks to Yogesh for editing a lot of my bright sunlight and evening pictures and stopping them from looking washed-out. Thanks to Ritu Sheth for recommending Sikkim, and the Nettle and Fern, which was the main reason that we could see so much of this charming city.