INDIA. Gangtok, Sikkim: Gangtok meaning Lofty hill is a popular hill station in the northeastern part of India. This extremely enchanting destination has always opened up new horizons and views during my frequent visits. The mesmerising beauty of the hill station has a hypnotic pull and this is the place where I have always enjoyed the unhindered view of Mt Kanchenjunga, the third-highest peak in the world.
Though this was not the right time to step out because of the pandemic, and also not the best time to visit Gangtok, but still for my recent trip, I chose the winter months as I wanted to experience the fluffy snow and frozen waterfalls in the Changu Lake and Baba Mandir area. It is needless to say that I returned fully amazed and captivated. Though I want to mention here that even during the winters the town itself is not snowbound and is a pleasant holiday destination.
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The moment I left Bagdogra Airport in Siliguri, Tista River followed me throughout the way. The curvy and steep hilly roads turned my ride into an adventurous journey. Fluffy white clouds embraced my vehicle at every turn and I finally covered a distance of 114 km on National Highway 10, which links Gangtok to Siliguri.
Gangtok lies to the south of the district of East Sikkim and spreads down the western side of a long ridge flanking the Ranipul River. The entire Kanchenjunga range worshipped as a deity here can be viewed from the town. But I was unlucky this time as clouds and mist played hide and seek all during my stay. During winters and owing to the elevation, the weather is quite unstable in Gangtok, and mist and fog envelopes the mountain ranges almost throughout the day.
Although the whole of North East India is fascinating, for me Gangtok, located at an elevation of 1,650 m is the jewel in the crown. It is one of the most fascinating places to visit for people like me who love to escape reality and just want some good weather, delicious and authentic food, awesome shopping places, and great scenic views.
And to fully soak me into this vacation I planned a 3 day stay at Gangtok, and decided to cover quite a few tourist spots, which were:
- I explored the clean and maintained streets of MG Road where Tibetan shops are lined on both sides of the street. MG Road in fact is one of the main shopping and cultural activity streets in Gangtok and I had gala times on the beautifully lit streets in the evenings.
- Of monasteries, I visited Rumtek monastery which is one of the oldest and richest monasteries in Sikkim and has an unmatched serenity. Rumtek monastery, located at a distance of 24 km from Gangtok is the abode of the head of the Kagyupa order of Tibetan Buddhism.
- Hanuman Tok, Ganesh Tok, and Tashi Viewpoints provided me the most breathtaking and awe-inspiring views of the town. The Cable Car ride over Gangtok also provided me with a bird’s eye view of the town and the surrounding peaks.
- Excursion to Tsomgo (Changu Lake) and Baba Mandir – I skipped the popular touristy spot Nathu La to see the Indo China border camp, and instead drove to Baba Mandir which is also very close to the Chinese border (5 km).
On the way, I crossed the Kyongnosla Alpine Sanctuary, a wonderful place for wanderers like me. The sanctuary is supposed to have a vast no of rare and endangered species of flora and fauna. But I couldn’t spot any because of the extreme weather condition in December and promised myself to come back in the summers and do some exploration in the area.
Baba Mandir area has a temple dedicated to a soldier of the Indian Army and has breathtaking views of the valley. Frozen waterfalls, which I wanted to see and enjoy, were all around me in the area and I had a lovely time photographing myself and other tourists on frozen water ponds and at the waterfalls.
It was now time to visit the glacial Tsomgo Lake or locally called the Changu lake. I visited the small temple dedicated to Lord Shiva on the banks and then enjoyed a ride on the Yak around the lake and was happy to have spotted a few Brahminy ducks.
- Orchid sanctuary – My love for orchids brought me to the Orchid Sanctuary and the Flower Exhibition Center adjacent to the hotel I was staying at. The center is home to some 500 varieties of orchids, seasonal flowers, bonsai and I was delighted to see so many varieties of orchids in one place.
How To Reach Gangtok: The only way is through the road along the Tista river between Gangtok and Siliguri. You can start the road journey by reaching Siliguri from any part of India either by Rail, Air, or Road.