The Jewel of Sikkim

Pradeep Chamaria
Saturday, 12 January 2019

A visit to Gangtok in winters offers some of the best gifts that nature has to offer — and they go beyond the fluffy snow and frozen waterfalls

Gangtok, which translates to ‘a lofty hill’, is an extremely enchanting destination in the north eastern part of India. During my frequent visits to this popular place, it has always opened up new horizons to me. While the hill station has a hypnotic pull, the unhindered view of Mt Kanchenjunga — the third highest peak in the world — from this place is simply breathtaking.

Though the best time to visit Gangtok is from March to May, 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. Needless to say I returned fully amazed and captivated. It is interestingly to see that even during the winters, the town is not covered in snow and is a pleasant holiday destination. 

From the moment I left Bagdogra airport in Siliguri, it seemed as if the Tista River was following me. 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 not so lucky this time as clouds and mist kept playing hide and seek during my stay. In winters and owing to the elevation, the weather is quite unstable in Gangtok and mist and fog envelope the mountain ranges almost throughout the day. 

Although the whole of North East India is fascinating, for me, Gangtok, situated at an elevation of 1,650 m, is the jewel in the crown. It is one of the most fascinating places for people like me who love to escape the urban humdrum. All we want is some good weather, delicious and authentic food, awesome shopping places and great scenic views. 

TOURIST SPOTS
To fully soak myself into this experience, I planned a three-day stay at Gangtok, and decided to cover quite a few tourist spots. I explored the clean and maintained streets of MG Road lined with Tibetan shops on either sides. MG Road in fact is one of the main shopping and cultural activity streets in Gangtok and I had a gala time on the beautifully lit streets in the evenings.  

I visited Rumtek monastery, one of the oldest and richest monasteries in Sikkim, which has an unmatched serenity. Located at a distance of 24 km from Gangtok, it is the abode of the head of the Kagyupa order of Tibetan Buddhism. 

Hanuman Tok, Ganesh Tok and Tashi Viewpoints gave 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. 

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. The sanctuary is supposed to have a vast number 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 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 Yak ride around the lake. I was happy to spot a few Brahminy ducks. 

My love for orchids brought me to the Orchid Sanctuary and the Flower Exhibition Center adjacent to the hotel where I was staying. The center is home to some 500 varieties of orchids, seasonal flowers and bonsai. I was delighted to see so many varieties of orchids at 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.

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