Gangtok On A Budget: How you can do it too!

gangtok-sikkim

Phew! Finally we had reached Gangtok. It took us 10 hours straight to reach the capital of this beautiful state of Sikkim. Starting from Mumbai and heading to Delhi for a connecting flight and then another flight from Delhi to Bagdogra. The entire time spent inside an airplane was almost 5 hours. The rest of the 5 hours were spent reaching Gangtok from the Bagdogra airport with various in between halts for some rest.

The roads in the mountainous regions of India can at times be completely crazy. With several hair pin bends on the way, even going just 20 km can at times be taxing especially when you’ve traveled for 5 hours in an airplane before the road-trip. But no complaints, because travel challenges you and makes you an even stronger person. We were determined to reach no matter how many challenges the entire journey put us through. After tackling the zigzag roads & traffic we finally reached at our accommodation. It was already late in the night and most of the shops were nearing to put it’s shutters down. But it honestly didn’t matter because the only thing we wanted to do on that day was to go to sleep and rest before exploring Gangtok.

red-panda-sikkim-himalayan-zoological-park

GANGTOK ITINERARY & THINGS TO DO:

Day 1: Tsomgo lake – Nathula Pass – Baba Harbhajan Singh Temple

This three spots will literally take all day. Although they’re just 60 km from the capital towards the eastern side. It almost takes the entire day to go, see and come back. Nathula Pass is an Indo-China border & only Indians are eligible to visit this place with permits. Tsomgo lake is located at an altitude of 12,400 ft above sea level & is considered sacred by the local people. This lake is completely frozen in winter & is definitely a great sight to behold all round the year. Both Indians & Foreign nationals can visit this place with prior permits. (More info on permits below)

The baba temple as the locals call it, has a story behind the same. Baba Harbhajan Singh was a soldier in the Indian Army who is also considered as a saint & hence he was also called as baba. He is said to protect every soldier who serves in the Indian army near the border & grant wishes to those who worship him. There are plenty of legends associated with this temple which makes it worth a visit!

Day 2: Paragliding – Banjhakri Falls & Park – Sikkim Himalayan Zoo – MG Road

Start your day today with some adventure. Paragliding is a great way to get a birds eye view of the nature, especially of the Himalayas. It’s offices are located near the Banjhakri falls and hence one can do both the things together. It’s located on the Ranka road in lower sichey. As you spend half of your day just in these two activities, have lunch and head straight to the Sikkim Himalayan zoological park which is spread across 205 hectares. Although they call it as the zoo but in reality the animals are kept in open spaces which is replicated as their natural habitat & hence they don’t feel trapped. Get ready to walk throughout the zoo as it’s located on a mountainous terrain.

After an amazingly fun-filled day walk around the MG Rd and see the market come alive with several restaurants and people all going around. It’s one of the most popular & busy markets in this city. One can buy souvenirs from this market as well. 

DAY 3: RUMTEK MONASTERY

Don’t get too tired on your last day in Gangtok especially if you’re planning to go around other parts of Sikkim as well. On this day visit the Rumtek monastery which is a 2 hours drive from MG Road. The climb to this monastery is very scenic however it can be too tiring as well. Although Sikkim has plenty of monasteries all around, Rumtek is the most visited one and it gives a very clear insight into the Buddhist culture and the lives of the locals. It’s also one of the largest monasteries in Sikkim and is also a home to communities of monks who practice their rituals and learn about their own culture.

gangtok-paragliding

HOW TO GET PERMITS:

FOR INDIAN NATIONALS:

Indian nationals are allowed to visit almost all the places which a foreign national cannot visit. However, they still require to obtain permits based on their valid Indian documents. Indians are issued permits without any delay once they provide with photocopies of valid Indian documents (passport, aadhar card, license etc) and passport size photos. Hence, it’s very important to make 8-10 copies of the documents & to have 8-10 passport photographs depending upon places you want to visit.

FOR FOREIGN NATIONALS:

Foreign nationals need to obtain Restricted Area Permit (free of cost) on the basis of their valid Indian Visa, to enter Sikkim and even then there are some places in the state where foreign nationals are not allowed to enter. The 30 days duration Permit is issued on the spot without any delay provided photocopies of the passport and visa along with two pass port photos of the applicants are made available. This duration can be extended for 30 more days by the State Government only. The extension of the permit can be obtained from Foreign Registration Offices at Gangtok and office of Superintendent of Police of the North, West and South Districts

Some of the FAQ’s answered by the Sikkim tourism department regarding the permits. Also read this PDF which gives information on where one can obtain permits & places accessible to Indian & foreign tourists.

Pro-tip: It’s always easier & faster to get the permits by paying a nominal fee to the agents who do this work on a daily basis. 

sikkim-registered-taxi

HOW TO REACH GANGTOK:

Reaching Gangtok can be quite a challenging task as the nearest train station & airport is almost 5-6 hours. The only way to reach is through roads which are not that well-maintained. However, that’s the whole beauty of reaching this city.

BY AIR: The nearest airport is the Bagdogra airport. One can find several private taxis from outside the airport which goes till Gangtok. This airport is almost 120 km from Gangtok and it can easily take 5-6 hours considering you make 1-2 halts in the way. Another way to reach this city is through opting for helicopter services from the airport which will take you in just 35 mins to Gangtok. This service is expensive & completely depends upon the weather conditions. Also, one can only carry a luggage of 10 kg and less & no handbags are allowed.

BY TRAIN: New Jalpaiguri is the nearest railway station which is 120 km from Gangtok. One can find plenty of shares & private taxis from the train station. One can find state run buses which goes all the way till Gangtok from Siliguri. This bus stop is located 10-15 mins away from the train station in a town named Siliguri which can easily be reached by an auto-rickshaw.

on-the-way

SHARED JEEPS & TAXIS TO GANGTOK

If you plan to take a shared jeep or taxi, it will be a whole lot cheaper to reach Gangtok. These shared services are available only from the train station on a per person charge for a maximum of 10 persons in the vehicle. The taxi will be taking several halts in different towns for pick up & drop off. The charges for the same is anywhere between Rs 200/–500/- from the train station.

PRIVATE TAXIS TO GANGTOK:

Private taxis usually has a fixed rate & can be found either from the train station or from the airport. Make sure to take a private taxi which has a Sikkim registration number plate because vehicles registered in other states cannot go beyond a certain point i.e Deorali taxi stand, due to the rule of the Govt. Hence, it’ll be a task to carry your luggage, look for another vehicle and at the same time pay extra to reach your hotel.

You can find taxis waiting to get customers as they have already dropped off people coming back from Gangtok. The prepaid counters will usually give you a West Bengal state registered taxi because both airport and the train station are in West Bengal, so West Bengal taxis get the preference. However you can go out and find a Sikkim taxi directly. Taxis can be a small one for 4 people or a bigger one for 7 people and it’s the best way to go travel if you’re in a group as the per person cost will be a bit cheaper. Small taxi fare starts from Rs. 2500/- and bigger one starts from Rs. 3500/-

bamboo-grove-retreat-gangtok-sikkim

WHERE TO STAY?

There are varied range of options available for staying in this city. During my time in Gangtok we stayed in 2 different budget hotels. Bamboo Grove Retreat and Hotel Oakridge

Out of the them I would definitely recommend bamboo grove retreat for both the location as well as the service.

You can also compare on your own & choose from other options here: Accommodation options in this city

HOW MUCH DOES EVERYTHING COST & HOW TO ALLOCATE THE BUDGET?

ACCOMMODATION:

One great thing about this city is that it caters to all types of travelers depending upon your budget. There are cheap places and great places to stay & at the same time there are hotels which are completely draped in the lap of luxury. It all depends upon how much you are willing to spend. The cost to stay here for two starts from $15 and upwards (Rs. 700/- & above). And if you’re lucky you might find places which are even cheaper. Gangtok completely thrives on tourism as their source of income & hence competition in the hotel industry is quite fierce. 

TRANSPORT:

Transport is comparatively expensive out of all the things mentioned mainly because one cannot bring their own vehicles in this state. One requires special permission for bringing their vehicles even after which they aren’t allowed to go with it to all the places. Hence, people don’t usually prefer to bring private vehicles. People who are here to travel have to use the transport services provided by the state. There are government registered private & shared taxis which are the common mode of transportation throughout the state. If travelling in a group, it’s always better to go in a private taxi & if travelling solo or as a couple, then shared taxi is preferred to minimize the overall cost.

The cost starts anywhere from $50 & above (Rs. 3500/- and above) depending upon the places you want to visit. There’s no scope of bargaining with the taxi drivers as the cost is fixed by the Government itself. One can find these taxis on the taxi stand in Gangtok. It’s always better to know the price of the taxi beforehand which you can confirm from your hotel.

FOOD:

The food scene in Gangtok is quite different from that of rest of the country. I will definitely recommend eating out than trying to cook by yourself especially when you’re in this city. Although cooking is definitely cheaper, I’m sure missing out on the Sikkimese cuisine will definitely make you regret your decisions to cook. If you think food is expensive then well that’s not the case unless you plan on eating in a super fancy restaurant.

The cost can start anywhere from $1 – $3 (Rs 70- Rs. 200). Sikkimese people eat plenty of pork & beef with rice as their staple food. Don’t even think about missing out on Thupka & momos. I can literally live on just these two things. Yumm!

ACTIVITIES:

There are plenty of things to do in Gangtok some of which I have already mentioned above. The entire state of Sikkim is more about nature and mountains which is mostly free of cost. At some places like the zoo & paragliding requires some money to be paid. However, overall it’s not very expensive to engage in various activities in and around this city.

hills

CONCLUSION:

Gangtok on a budget is absolutely possible. But one needs to allot plenty of time to go through the mountains especially because of the roads. You’ll find yourself taking longer than usual to reach any place as the roads on the mountains are quite narrow, not well maintained and are zigzag with several hairpin bends. One needs at least 3 full days to explore the highlights of the capital city of Sikkim. 

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