Gangtok May 4. - May 22. 1999

 

The share jeep from Pelling to Gangtok is a six or seven hours drive, with one stop in Singtam. When I arrived close to sunset the clouds were thickening, so I had to head for the nearest hotel mentioned in my somewhat old Rough Guide - the Travel Lodge. It was dirty and noisy, so the next morning I got a room at Hotel Tibet. Hotel Tibet is nice and "expensive" - for India, that is. There is this huge Tibetan doorman, dressed in traditional Tibetan clothes, looking very angry and dangerous. (When I met him some days later in the Lal Market he was in civilian clothes, smiling, and just a very big, nice guy.)

The next day Ringu Tulku invited me to accompany him to Rumtek.

Then I moved to the Ringu Tulku family hotel - Pomra, just below the Palace and Tsukhlakhang - the royal chapel of Sikkim. Hotel Pomra is a very clean, quiet, nice and reasonable place to stay. Buddhists will also find the Shrine at the second floor a nice place for meditation.

 

What is wort seeing? The Institute of Tibetology is a nice museum. If you read Tibetan, there is probably a good library. Nearby is "The Large Chorten", where you can circambulate the chorten while turning 108 prayer wheels. When circamulating, try to keep monasterys, chortens and all such things on your right side.

Below the Large Chorten is the Nyima Institute, a learning place for young monks. If they greet you by "showing the fingers" it might not be the insult we consider it in the west - they might be "offering you the world". I strongly suspect some of them find it funny to do both in a way, though!

The Enchey Gompa just below the TV tower is nice, and the young boys attending school there are lively and seems happy.

The deer park should be on the other side of the Tashiding or Secretariat - I did not bother as it was said to be just "one small park and one deer".

If you like orchids - or would like to have some nice pictures of orchids without having to go searching, there is the Flower show a little north of the Palace - or the Orchid garden below The Institue or Tibetology. It was said to be in a sorry state when I was in Gangtok, because Indian tourists pick the flowers, and probably because of the very dry weather before I came.

The Kanchenjunga view is magnificent. The safest bet is the morning at dawn after a rainy night.

Sunrise

Sunset

The Tashi Viewpoint is a pretty tough walk if you are up to it, and a great view if the Kanchenjunga is visible. It might be better to hire a taxi, and then walk to the Hanuman Tok high above the TV tower where you will find the best view of Gangtok.

Along the road to Tashi viewpoint, there are watermills for prayerwheels.

Changu Lake - or Tsomgo Chu as the Tibetans say - is nice, though spoilt by an ugly village and a very strong military presence. Do not go beyond the end of the lake, even if allowed, as you might be detained by the military for some hours. I did. Click on the picture to see a short video.

The Tourist Information Office booklet also recommends a trip down to the Sikkim Watch Company. The only reason to do this, is to buy watches - SWC-branded Timex or the like. If you want to have a look at how a Sikkimese factory works, you will have to get a permission from the Tashiding Secretariat, as this is a state run factory.

Some other Gangtok pictures.(This will open new window(s). When the red bar at the top disappear, you are in a separate window. When done, just close the window and you will find the bar-and-button top frame.)

Practical things.

Hotel Pomra is also a nice place to eat, because the chef does not "kill" the vegetables by overcooking like the standard Indian restaurant does. If you are downtown and have little money and like to meet other travellers, have some meals at the Modern Central Lodge in Tibet Road. If you want to spend some more, go upstairs to the Blue Sheep restaurant at the MG Marg where the Tourist Information office is. If you get fed up with Indian tea, you can get the proper English version here. If you want to eat where Indian tourists may come, or where local Tibetans often take their Momo, try the restaurants in or around Green Hotel, also in the MG Marg.

For a quick snack, go higher up in Tibet Road, just below the Sonam Delek Hotel, where there is a flight of stairs leading up to the next road. On the left hand there is a small "snackbar" and shop with no name. My "Kiwi" friend Dave, who was a little fuzzy about these things for a very good reason, checked the kitchen, and it is clean, very clean. The food is cheap and very Indian Indian, and the young waiters are friendly and service minded.

There are taxis everywhere, so if you are lazy, walk down to the town, and get a taxi back. But walking at these hights (Hotel Pomra is at some 1800 m above sea level) is very good training.

Extending the Sikkim Permit. The Foreign Registration Office is a little hard to find. The Tourist Information Office will give you a map. At the office they may tell you that you need a document from the Tashiding Secretariat. This is not true, but it might be necessary. The Tashiding Secretariat is the only place I know where you have to fill in a form in order to be allowed to go upstairs to fill in another form. The first form you will get by a man just below the stairs. He is really stubborn, and might require you to fill in the form wrongly. Do as he say, he will not give in. Then he will correct your "mistake". The lady at the first floor, who will tell you that you really should not have to come here, is very nice. Her office is probably the least bureaucrazy I met in my six weeks in India. Back at the Foreign Registration Office they seem to have a policy of everyone having to wait for at least 20 minutes. This is one of the very many places where practising the Buddhist virtue of Patience is helpful.

Money Exchange. The safest way is Bank of India, at MG Marg, top floor. If you are lucky, try the Tibetan woman and if you can, avoid the man. He loves to show his power, and can use five full minutes just to sharpen his pencil. DO NOT SHOW ANY SIGN OF IRRITATION, or he will excel in doing nothing in a way he seems to imagine elegant. If you are not the victim, watching this may be great fun. One of the most comical experiences was when an Italian Lady, started conveying her irritation with her very vivid Italian body language. At the end we were five sitting watching this. I doubt even John Cleese could have created a more irritating, self-centered, pompous guy.