A holiday in the North-East for the quintessential Indian tourist means going to the charm of Sikkim (actually just Gangtok and around) and Darjeeling. Even though things are slowly changing for good and people have started to look beyond, no north-east destination comes closer to the Gangtok-Darjeeling duo as yet. Nestled in the laps of lush green mountains and snow-capped peaks of the Eastern Himalayas, Gangtok is one of the most beautiful state-capitals of India. Darjeeling, the queen of hills too, is equally mesmerizing if not more. Not to mention the quaint little towns spread all around and the to die for views from them. And then there’s the mighty Kanchedzonga which overlooks the entire region. Who would not want to go there, no?
If you too have fancied a trip to this part of the country, let me suggest you some things to see in Gangtok and Darjeeling. Places that would help you get a feel of the place. But before that, let’s find out about the most important part.
How to Reach Gangtok or Darjeeling?
The nearest you can get to Gangtok & Darjeeling by train is New Jalpaiguri (NJP) in West Bengal. If you plan to fly-in, Bagdogra in West Bengal is where you should book your flight for. From there on, it’s all by roads irrespective of whether you are headed to Gangtok or Darjeeling. It’s roughly a 4-hour drive give or take to both the towns. According to me, heading to Darjeeling first and then to Gangtok is a better idea than doing it the other way round and so my this itinerary for Gangtok and Darjeeling trip would be based on the same.
There are two roads that connect Darjeeling with the plains. The first one is the one the Tata Sumos (shared taxis) take. This route takes around 3.5 hours. The other and more scenic route is through the town of Mirik, also famous for its namesake lake. The shared cabs don’t take this route but you can always pay a little extra and travel through Mirik. Take this route only if you reach NJP by the first half of the day. Both shared and to be hired cabs are easily available outside the NJP railway station.
The Itinerary for Darjeeling and Gangtok
Day 1: Spend some time at the charming Mirik lake on your way to Darjeeling and reach by late afternoon after a wonderful drive through lush green tea-gardens and jagged roads. The beauty of the green-carpet of tea – plantations are sure to cast a spell on you as you criss-cross them on your way up. Take a walk in the local markets and the mall road once you have freshened – up and the go food-hunting. Whether you eat non-veg or no, the momos in Darjeeling are something you should not miss.
Day 2: Now in the dooars there’s something called the n-point tours. These are nothing fancy but packages that cover n number of points of interests. Start your first morning in Darjeeling a bit early and go for the 3-point tour which covers Tiger Hill, the Ghoom Monastary and the Batasia loop. You will need to start the day really early but if the skies are clear, you will see the most magnificent sunrise you would have ever seen. Take it from me, the view of the sun’s golden rays kissing the snow-capped peaks of Kanchenjunga would take your breath away. Totally worth getting-up at 3 AM in the morning. In the second half of the day, go for the toy-train ride. Just make sure to book the tickets in advance. Your hotel should be able to help you for both; vehicle to Tiger hill & Toy-train tickets.
Day 3: Take a stroll around the town. Walk up-to the watch-tower if it is not far from where you are staying, go for local sight-seeing, you have a lot of options. The rock-garden, Tenzing Rock, Happy Valley Tea-estate. You might also want to pay a visit to St. Paul’s School. It is arguably the highest public school in the world. It is also the same school from the roof-top of which our very own Shahrukh Khan jumped on the helicopter (Main Hun Na fame) 😉 . Indulge in some shopping in the Bhutia markets in the evening.
Day 4: Leave for Gangtok which would take around 4 hours through some good, some bad and some terrible roads. The first thing you should do once you are at your hotel is to give your photo ID to your hotel and ask them to get your permits done (if you have not already emailed it to them) for visiting Tsomgo lake and Nathu-la the next day. Once freshened – up, walk to the MG Marg and spend some time there. Chances are, you will find this road the most beautiful of all the roads you would have ever walked on. There are some great places to eat here, enough to keep you busy until the lights come-up. And when they do, you will see the place become even more lively. Shop, eat, relax.
Day 5: Start early today and head to the famous Tsomgo lake, New Baba Mandir and to India-China border at the Nathula Pass. This will take the entire day.
Day 6: Go for a full-day 10 – point tour which covers almost all the places you must visit when in Gangtok. Of the points that this tour covers, the Rumtek monastery and the Tashi view-point are my favorite.
Day 7: Start for NJP/Bagdogra. But wait!! Did you buy enough souvenirs for everyone back home? No? Then get that sorted before you start.
**PS: If you are a foreigner, the permit procedures would be slightly different for you. Read this article (The Sikkim Entry Permit: A Guide For Foreign Nationals) by dear friend and fellow travel-blogger Kathleen for more on the subject.
Got questions about the itinerary? Want to know something else as well? Leave your questions in the comments below and I will get back.