Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim is small hill station located in the lap of the mighty Himalayas. Its favourable weather and pristine natural beauty makes it a top tourist destination in the country. There are some features of Gangtok like its stepped buildings, excellent footpath network, market place, delicious Nepali and Tibetan food and the enchanting views of Mt. Kunchenjunga which are exclusive to this city.
After investing our first day in visiting Nathula pass, Tsongmo lake and the Baba Mandir, we spent our second day exploring the city and its excellent Buddhist culture. In the evening of the first day when we went to the MG Marg. It is the main market place having an open pavement with souvenir shops and eateries on both side. During the evening, the place comes to life with fancy lights and aroma of food items. Adding to the aura is a young crowd wearing fashionable attires; some sporting vibrant hairstyles. There is certainly no dearth in the fashion quotient when you visit North East.
The next day, we checked out of the hotel at 8 AM and headed for our first destination, the Rumtek Monastery.
We started with the Rumtek Monastery. It is about 24 kilometers from Gangtok and Rumtek Monastery is the largest monastery of Sikkim which served as the seat of Karma Kagyu Buddhism. It took us around 30 mins to reach Rumtek monastery from our hotel near the MG Marg. Vehicles are not allowed beyond a particular point, so we got down and had to walk uphill around half kilometer to reach the monastery. While walking on our left side there were beautiful metallic prayer wheels with Buddhist mantras embossed on them. Rumtek Monastery is guarded by Indo Tibetan Border Police force after the political instability caused by the conflict regarding succession of the 17th Karmapa. Don’t forget to carry a valid photo ID proof when you are visiting Rumtek monastery.
The entry charges is Rs. 10 per person. Rumtek monastery is a colourful monastery set against a beautiful landscape. There is a large open courtyard in front of the monastery which opens to a beautiful prayer hall. There a golden stupa which has the relics of the 16th Karmapa. The monastery compound has other buildings with beautiful facades. I have written a separate post on Rumtek monastery which you can read here:
We explored this beautiful monastery for about 45 mins after which we went to the Banjhakri Falls. The travel agents usually club Banjharki falls with the Rumtek monastery trip. If you opt not to visit the Rumtek monastery, they take you to the Bakthang Falls.
Banjhakri falls is a beautiful natural waterfall around which a park has been constructed based on a shamanic theme. Banjhakri is a mythical tribal shaman. The condition of the road to this place is terrible and we wobbled on the seat as our Wagnor car ascended the hills. On reaching, we took entry tickets which costs Rs. 100 for a couple. The parking charges are extra and varies depending on the type of vehicle. The parking charges are less for Sikkim registered vehicles.
The waterfall is a small one but the view of water cascading on the rocky steps is beautiful to watch. Banjharki falls is an energy park as well and is lit up using solar panels. The park has been meticulously designed to provide visitors spots to have a good view of the waterfall and click pictures. There are few stalls and kiosks selling souvenirs and food items like maggi, thupka, momo, soup, etc. There are options to take photographs wearing traditional Sikkim attire which is available on rent near the waterfall. For adventure lovers, there is paragliding as well.
We clicked lots of photographs here. Then we had our lunch (tasty veg thupkas).
Next we went to the Gangtok Ropeway. The prices are Rs.110 per person for a two way trip. Its a short trip of about 10 minutes in a crowded cabin. It gives a bird`s eye view of the entire Gangtok city along with expansive views of Mt. Kunchenjunga on one side. However, the duration is too less and the views are only descent. Anyway, it can be fun for first timers and kids. So decide accordingly if you are planning to visit the ropeway.
Namgyal Institute of Tibetology and Do Drul Chorten Stupa
Near the ropeway is the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology. It is a Tibetan museum.
Behind Namgyal Institute of Tibetology is the Do Drul Chorten Stupa. Most people miss out on this in spite of visiting the Namgyal Institute. It has a beautiful gold plated spire and is surrounded by 108 Buddhist prayer wheels. There are religious books, complete mantras, relics, etc inside Do Drul Chorten. There are two other smaller stupas as well. However, reaching this stupa requires some steep climbing which can be difficult for aged visitors or those carrying kids with them. Anyway there is nothing much to see there and can be avoided if there is a paucity of time.
After visiting the Do Drul Stupa, we headed for the Enchey Monastery. En route, we stopped at the Flower Exhibition Center and the Tashi view point. Again there is nothing much to see there and can be excluded. Tashi view point offers an excellent view of the majestic Mt. Kunchenjunga.
Enchey Monastery is a small monastery located near the main city of Gangtok. It is a very old monastery not is not very crowded. The monastery is perched atop a small hill and the visitors have to walk uphill from the monastery gate. It has a typical Tibetan architecture and has beautiful paintings and murals on the walls and the ceilings. There is a large brass statue of lord Buddha in his customary meditation posture. You can also find other traditional features of a monastery like the rotating prayer wheels, colourful Buddhist flags and absolute serenity.
I wanted to visit this monastery ever since I planned for the Gangtok trip. However, you can exclude this monastery if you are visiting the Rumtek Monastery which is better and larger than the Enchey Monastery. However, if Rumtek is not in your itinerary, do visit Enchey monastery as a trip to Sikkim would be incomplete without visiting its excellent monasteries.
After visiting the Enchey monastery, our driver dropped us at the Deoralli bus stop. We boarded our bus to Siliguri and started the return journey of what had been an amazing trip. Adieu Gangtok..!!!
Apart from these places, there are few other popular sites as well. Unfortunately we couldn’t cover all. Hanuman Tok in particular was a miss. Since I went to Nathula which is on the same route and much higher, it somewhat compensated it. Overall the day was satisfactory, with the highlight being the Rumtek monastery.