Friday, September 12, 2008

Gangtok: Gateway to Heaven

Some places defy description. The capital of Sikkim is one such place. Nestled in the lap of the mighty Kanchenjunga with the meandering Teesta flowing below, a breathtakingly beautiful landscape dotted with exotic flowers and orchids and colourful monasteries with little lamas in their red robes running around, Gangtok is perfect for a quiet idyllic vacation or great for mountaineering and trekking opportunities.

Imbued with a strong Buddhist culture, Gangtok blends the old with the new and it is commonplace to see urban settlements rubbing shoulder against old monasteries.

Getting there
Gangtok is well connected by air, Bagdogra being the nearest airport approximately 124 km from Gangtok. If you are traveling by train, the closest railheads are Siliguri and New Jalpaiguri, from where buses and taxis are available to Gangtok. Gangtok is connected by road with Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Siliguri.

What to See
Besides offering myriad opportunities for trekking, mountaineering, white water rafting and jeep safari, Gangtok has a number of attractions for tourists.

Do-Drul Chorten or Stupa
The Do-Drul Chorten or Stupa was built in 1945 and houses relics and other religious exhibits. There are 108 prayer wheels around the Stupa. Chorten Lakhang and Guru Lakhang are around the Stupa. There are also two huge statues of Guru Rimpoche (Guru Padmasambhava). Situated near the orchid sanctuary, one can see the young lamas here working, learning and worshipping.

Deer Park
Near the Secretariat, the Deer Park provides a panoramic view of the expansive valleys surrounding the city of Gangtok. If you are lucky, you may spot the Himalayan spotted and musk deer.

Enchey Monastery
Believe it or not this 200-year-old monastery, is built on the site blessed by the famous flying tantrik master Lama Druptop Karpo. Just about 3 km from downtown Gangtok, this is an important seat of the Nyingma order. Every year in January, 'Chaam' or the masked dance is performed with great fanfare for two days. Its location atop a hill affords one of the best views of the Kanchenjunga mountain range.

Government Cottage Industries Institute
Situated near the Tourist Office, the institute specializes in weaving, woodcarving and paintings of typical Sikkimese designs. The most popular items are hand woven carpets, blankets, shawls and exquisite tables.

Rumtek Monastery
This houses some of the world's most unique religious scriptures and religious art objects since the late 1960s after the arrival of His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa. A replica of the original Kagyu Order headquarters in Tibet, Rumtek is situated about 24 km from Gangtok and well worth a visit.
Besides these, there are many other monasteries that offer a rare collection of statues and thankas, and some beautiful gardens that are home to Sikkim's exotic and rare flora and fauna and exquisite orchids.

When to go
The best time to visit this Buddhist town is between March to late May or October to mid December. In fact, May is festival time in Gangtok when Saga Dawa is celebrated to commemorate the full moon. So if you are looking for a fun-filled, pump-up-the-adrenaline vacation or a heavenly holiday where you can let your creative juices flow watching the sunrise against the mountains, head for Gangtok.

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