Travel Bucket List: India – Sikkim Part 12

Gangtok
The capital and the state’s largest city, Gangtok lies in the eastern Himalayan range, at an elevation of 1,650 m and is at the centre of Sikkim’s tourism industry. Gangtok rose to prominence as a popular Buddhist pilgrimage site after the construction of the Enchey Monastery in 1840. In 1894, the ruling Sikkimese Chogyal, Thutob Namgyal, transferred the capital to Gangtok. In the early 20th century, Gangtok became a major stopover on the trade route between Lhasa in Tibet and cities such as Calcutta in British India. After India’s independence from the British Empire in 1947, Sikkim chose to remain an independent monarchy, with Gangtok as its capital and after Sikkim’s merger with India in 1975, Gangtok continued as the state capital. The precise meaning of Gangtok is unclear, though the most popular meaning is hill cut.

Like Sikkim, not much is known about the early history of Gangtok with the earliest records dating from the construction of the hermitic Gangtok monastery in 1716. Gangtok remained a small hamlet until the construction of the Enchey Monastery in 1840 which then made Gangtok an important pilgrimage centre. It then became the capital of what was left of Sikkim after an English conquest in the mid-19th century in response to a hostage crisis. After the defeat of the Tibetans by the British, Gangtok became a major stopover in the trade between Tibet and British India at the end of the 19th century with most of the roads and communication built during this time.

In 1894, Thutob Namgyal, the Sikkimese monarch under British rule, shifted the capital from Tumlong to Gangtok, increasing the city’s importance. A new grand palace along with other state buildings was built in the new capital. Trade between India and Tibet flourished through the Nathula and Jelepla passes, benefiting Gangtok. Trade declined with the Chinese crackdown in Tibet in 1959 and the passes were sealed after the Sino-Indian War in 1962 and the Nathula pass was finally opened for limited trade in 2006, fuelling hopes of an economic boom. In 1975, after years of political uncertainty and struggle, including riots, the monarchy was abrogated and Sikkim became India’s twenty-second state, with Gangtok as its capital after a referendum. Gangtok has witnessed annual landslides, resulting in loss of life and damage to property. The largest disaster occurred in June 1997, when 38 were killed and hundreds of buildings were destroyed.

Gangtok is located in the lower Himalayas at an elevation of 1,650 m and the town lies on one side of a hill, with The Ridge, a promenade housing the Raj Bhawan, the governor’s residence, at one end and the palace, situated at an altitude of about 1,800 m at the other. The city is flanked on east and west by two streams, namely the Roro Chu and Ranikhola, respectively and these two rivers divide the natural drainage into two parts, the eastern and western parts. Both the streams meet the Ranipul and flow south as the main Ranikhola before it joins the Teesta at Singtam. Mount Kanchenjunga, the world’s third-highest peak, is visible to the west of the city. Orchids are common and rare varieties of orchids are featured in flower shows. Bamboos are also abundant and in the lower reaches of the town, the vegetation gradually changes from alpine to temperate deciduous and subtropical. Between March and mid-May, the blooming of wild Rhododendrons transforms the surrounding regions into vast fields of colourful carpets.

One of the largest and most significant monasteries in Sikkim, the Rumtek Monastery is perched on a hill 23 km from Gangtok. Originally called the Dharma Chakra Centre, it belongs to the Kargyu sect of Buddhists who originated in Tibet in the 12th century. Verdant green mountains surround the monastery and the top of the monastery has breathtaking views of the whole town situated opposite the hill. The monastery houses a beautiful shrine temple and a monastery for monks which were established to spread the teaching of the Buddha. The structure has a walkway around it on which monks, pilgrims and visitors perform the Kora, a circuit around the monastery. There is also a golden stupa and various other sculptures which belonged to the 16th Karmapa. The monastery also serves as the storehouse for many uniques objects and religious scriptures. The massive prayer hall inside the monastery is decorated with splendid murals, statues and thangkas.

Rumtek Monastery is a three-storeyed building housing some of the rarest of Buddhist religious artwork in the form of murals and thangkas. The ground floor has a large prayer hall which houses colossal hand-painted and intricate murals, statues, silk paintings and thangkas while the top level has a terrace and a tiny stupa. There is a shrine in the main building which is decorated traditionally with religious texts. The main structure has been made following the traditional designs of the Tibetan monasteries. In front of the main monastery building, there is a large courtyard where monks live. The monastery is enshrined with the statues of Virudaka, Virupaksha, Dhritarashtra and Vaishravana who were considered guardians of the universe. Outside the monastery, one can spot a staircase that will take one to the Nalanda Institute of Higher Buddhist Studies. Opposite the institute, is a building that houses the Golden Stupa of the 16th Karmapa made of pure gold. The shrine contains the holy remains and relics of His Highness The Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje and is thirteen feet high and is ornamented in ancient turquoise and coral and decorated with fine metalwork and filigree. It is also believed that the golden stupa was constructed to remove the obstacles of the reincarnation of His Highness The Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje. A few metres away is the bird aviary with many exotic birds. A 0.5 km walk uphill will find the hermitage point for monks where they meditate for up to 3 years in complete seclusion. The monastery is open from 6 am to 6 pm daily and has an entry fee of INR 10 per person.

Nestled in the valleys of Gangtok, Do Drul Chorten is one of the most important stupas in Sikkim. Built in 1945 under the supervision of the late Truslshi and Rimpoche, the stupa has around 108 Mani Lhakor or prayer wheels engraved with important mantras which can be chanted by rotating them. The Korten Stupa was once believed to be haunted by evil spirits until Lama Trulshig Rinpoche came here and built a stupa in 1946. The diety engraved on top of this stupa is Vajra Kilaya who is considered to be one of the most prominent chortens in Sikkim. Inside the monastery are the complete set of Dorjee Phurba, holy Buddhist texts and other religious paraphernalia. There is a dharma preaching centre on the premises, established by Dodhrubchen Rinpoche. The stupa is surrounded by Chorten Lakhang housing two huge statues of Guru Padmasambhava and is open between 8 am and 6 pm daily.

Situated in the complex of the Tsuklakhang Royal Palace, the Tsuk La Khang Monastery is the palatial monastery of the former royal family of Sikkim. Built in 1898 under the rule of Thutob Namgyal who was the 9th king, Tsuk La Khang is the prime place of worship for the local Buddhists. The beautiful two-storied structure with its mural-covered interiors also comprises an extensive collection of scriptures and is decorated with altars and images of Lord Buddha and tantric deities. This monastery was where marriages and coronations of the Sikkim royalty took place. Wooden sculptures crafted in the form of a Snow Lion’s head are present on every corner. There are beautiful walls decorated with murals and altars carved with images of deities. Several festivals are held throughout the year including the Phang Lhabsol and the Losoong. Chaam, the famous mask dance, is performed by the monks of the monastery during these festivals. The Black Hat dance is performed on the occasion of the new year. It is best to visit the monastery in February as the dance festival takes place then. The monastery is open between 7 am and 5 pm daily.

Also known as the Lingdum Monastery, the Ranka Monastery which follows the Zurmang Kagyud lineage of Buddhism is about 20 km from Gangtok and provides fantastic views of the forests near it. Considered as one of the most significant monasteries in East Sikkim, the beauty of the monastery has been part of several Bollywood movies. There is a two-storey building with classrooms nearby for young lamas as well as a restaurant and a gift shop on the premises. The Banjhakri Falls which is nearby is a favourite with adventure seekers who come here to paraglide. Built in 1998, the monastery is the seat of Zurmang Charwang Rinpoche who, is considered to be the 12th incarnation of this ancestry. Constructed in the typical Tibetan style of architecture, it is spread along a great area offering picturesque views. Inside the sanctum lies a vast gold-plated statue of Lord Buddha in the lotus position. In addition to this, there are low tables present in the sanctum as well where the lamas read their prayer books. There are many exquisite paintings and wall hangings in the inner sanctum. The most famous festival celebrated in the monastery is Bhumchhu for which a large number of pilgrims from Bhutan and other neighbouring areas come to take part. The holy water festival is celebrated here annually and during this festival, on the fourteenth and fifteenth day of the Lunar month every year, a ceremony known as the Bhumchu ceremony takes place in which the followers are sanctified with holy water. The water is taken out of Ranka monastery annually during the festival and then sealed and stored back safely after the festival. The monastery is open daily from 6 am to 6 pm.

Meaning the solitary temple, the Enchey Monastery is surrounded by natural beauty. Situated 3 km to the northeast of Gangtok, this 200-year-old monastery has a long history where it is said that Lama Druptob Karpo, a very famous tantric with flying powers, flew down to the Maenam Hill and built a hermitage here which was later renovated under the rule of Sidkeong Tulku in the Chinese Pagoda style. Today, the monastery houses 90 monks and pays respect to Loki Sharia, Lord Buddha, and Guru Padmasambhava. There is a massive metal-roofed prayer hall inside which consists of numerous images and the porch has a wheel of law that ripples in sync with chants. The Chaam Dance, a special prayer offering by monks wearing masks is organised on the 18th and 19th days of the 12th lunar month as per the Tibetan calendar. Pang Lhabsol is another festival celebrated that brings the Bhutias and Lepchas together by swearing on blood-brotherhood with the witness being the Khangchendzonga. The monastery was constructed in 1840 by the eighth Chogyal after which the small hamlet of Gangtok grew into a pilgrim place. The monastery was rebuilt in 1909 like a Chinese Pagoda during the rule of Sikyong Tulku with the foundation laid down at the same point where Lama Druptub Karbo had his hermitage. The monastery also has a shining golden cupola on the top and houses a variety of images of Gods, religious objects and Goddesses. The principal deities worshipped at Enchey Monastery include Loki Sharia, Lord Buddha, and Guru Padmasambhava. The walls of the large prayer hall are entirely covered with paintings, and murals of the four religious kings, the deities of the four cardinal directions and the galaxy of Mahayana Buddhist deities. The monastery constructed under the Nyingma order houses 90 monks and has an extensive collection of masks which is used for the various ritual dances that are held here every year. The monastery is open daily between 6 am and 4 pm.

Located in Phodong near Gangtok, the Phodong Monastery is among the six most important Buddhist monasteries in the state. Boasting a striking architecture with vibrant coloured exteriors and delicate interiors adorned with gorgeous paintings, murals and frescoes, the monastery is also considered one of the most beautiful in all the country. It currently houses a total of around 260 monks. Located at a towering height of 4500 m, the monastery provides a lovely backdrop of the lush green hills in the distance and the calm valley down below. Phodong Monastery was founded by the fourth king of Sikkim, Gyurmed Namgyal in 1740 and belongs to the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism and is one among the three important Kagyu sect monasteries in Sikkim. Over time, the monastery was destroyed by an earthquake and was later built by the Lamas in 1977. The monastery celebrates a grand annual festival on the 28th and 29th days of the 10th month of the Tibetan calendar which mostly falls in December and January. The highlight of the festival is the Chaam Dance that is performed by the monks. The monastery is open from 8 am to 5 pm daily.

A small temple and a much loved local favourite view point, Ganesh Tok is situated on the top of a hill with amazing views of the Kanchenjunga, especially in the morning. Situated at a height of 6500 feet, the temple dedicated to Lord Ganesh is, so small that it can only fit one person at a time. Colourful flags are tied across the stairs and there is also a lounge and a balcony in front of the temple which is the main attraction of the place. Hanuman Tok, dedicated to Lord Hanuman is situated near Ganesh Tok at an altitude of 7200 feet and offers an amazing view of the Kanchenjunga range. Legend has it that Hanuman Tok was where Lord Hanuman stopped to rest while carrying Sanjeevni to Lanka from the Himalayas. In 1968, this area was given to the Indian army, and since then it is maintained as well as preserved by the army. The temple is known for fulfilling the wishes of its devotees and is open from 6 am to 7 pm daily.

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Situated on the road passing between Nathu La and Jelepla Pass, at a distance of 64 km and an elevation of 4000 meters, the Baba Mandir is the shrine built at the Samadhi of Harbhajan Singh. It is the local belief that every person visiting the Nathang Valley and crossing through this terrain has to pay their respects to Baba Harbhajan Singh. As one climbs the stairs to the concrete construction, flanked with bells on both sides, they’ll be rewarded with the most ineffable samadhi ever visited. Legend has it that 35 years ago while leading a pack of mules from his division at Tukla to Deng Dhukla in East Sikkim, Sepoy Harbhajan Singh went missing. After a search was launched, his body was discovered after three days by the army. It is also believed that he led the soldiers to his body. Thereafter, many soldiers in the troop reported that Baba had been coming in their dreams asking them to build a shrine in his memory. A samadhi was thus made in his memory and called the Baba Harbhajan Singh Temple with many believing that Harbhajan Singh comes to the temple every night and does his rounds after putting on his uniform. People worship him as a saint who guards the lives of soldiers along the border. Inside the temple is a large photo of Harbhajan Singh who is worshipped by his devotees. Tourists who come here leave their water bottle for a few days and collect it later for it is believed that by drinking that water all the wishes come true. Harbhajan Singh’s office has been built on one side of the temple with a dining place, and a room for him to stay at with his uniform and shoes. Though the temple is present on the side of a road, it is surrounded by magnificent mountains thereby giving an amazing view. Every year on 11th September, his personal belongings are sent by a jeep to the New Jalpaiguri station, from where it is sent off in a train to his hometown Kuka, a small village in the Kapurthala area of Punjab. Every year, his seat is left empty for the journey and 3 soldiers lead Baba Harbhajan Singh to his home. Even his salary is sent to his home every month to aid his old mother. Since the temple comes under the protected area, one needs to go through a registered tour operator in Sikkim and acquire a Protected Area Permit. The temple is open from 6 am to 8 pm daily.

Justifying its name, the Seven Sisters Waterfalls comprises seven different waterfalls arranged side by side on a wide rugged cliff about 32 km Gangtok on the Gangtok-Lachung Highway. The waterfalls are gorgeous after rains when it comes to life with the water passing through the green vegetation onto the rugged cliffs and falling on limestones making a roaring sound. Though there are seven different falls, only four from the bottom can be seen by visitors. The rest are hidden between rocks so gets prevented from being seen. There is a small footbridge crossing over the stream which gives a better view of the falls and allows for better photographs. The falls are open from 8 am to 5 pm daily.

Located about 12 km from Gangtok and spread over two acres, the Banjhakri Falls is located on the way to the Ranka monastery. The waterfall which falls from a rocky height of about 40 feet and cascades down with force is the main attraction of the Energy Park. Beautifully landscaped gardens abound the waterfall along with beautiful statues of Lyam Lymay, Mangpas, Lepcha, and Ban Jhakri ancestors. The entrance of the park also comprises several recreational activities and refreshment stalls as well as a swimming pool. Banjhakri is composed of two words, Ban meaning forest or jungle and Jhakri meaning a traditional healer. According to mythology, a Ban Jhakri is a man who possesses some powers and exists in folktales of the Nepali community and it is believed that the local people according to which a Banjhakri resides in the forest and lives in the rock caves where he worships the spirits. There are numerous ethnic sculptures along with figurines showcasing the Jhakri culture throughout the Banjhakri Energy Park which depict the various rituals, healing ceremonies, and the induction process followed in the life of a Shaman. The park and falls are open from 8 am to 6 pm daily and have an entry fee of INR 50.

One of the world’s highest motorable roads, Nathula is a mountain pass situated on the Indo-Tibetan border 14450 ft above sea level and the pass is one of the most important Himalayan passes in the country. With Nathu meaning listening ears, and La meaning pass, Nathula is one of the three open trading border posts between India and China and is famous for its picturesque beauty. Nathula Pass experiences heavy snowfall during winter with the temperature dropping down to -25 degrees celcius. The pass was sealed for almost four decades after the People’s Republic of China suppressed a Tibetan uprising in 1959. However, when the former Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited China in 2003, talks to open the strategic route were resumed. The Nathu La Pass was reopened in 2006 and since then, it has served as an official Border Personnel Meeting(BPM) Point. May to mid-November is the summer season when the temperature ranges around 10 degrees Celcius. It is the local belief that every person visiting the Nathang Valley and crossing through the pass has to pay their respects to Baba Harbhajan Singh. A valid permit to visit Nathu La Pass is given to only Indian nationals and the permit can be obtained by applying to the Tourism and Civil Aviation Department with the help of a registered travel agency. A valid identity proof and two photographs are necessary for the same. The pass is home to various animals and birds which include the pashmina-type goats, Tibetan herd Yak and Sheep and endangered species like Tibetan Gazelle, Snow Leopard, Tibetan Wolf, Tibetan Snowcock, Golden Eagle and Raven.

The third highest peak in the world, the majestic Kanchenjunga, also spelt Kangchenjunga, is one of the most stunning mountains. Surrounded by Nepal, Sikkim and Tibet, Mt Kanchenjunga was first scaled in 1955 but since then has been declared sacred. Kanchenjunga’ is a Tibetan name which means ‘The Five Treasures of the High Snow’. The treasures represent the five repositories of God, namely gold, silver, gems, grain and holy books. There are a lot of trekking routes in and around Kanchenjunga which will take you through woody forests and serene countryside.

The Kangchenjunga Mountain is the third highest peak in the world, with a peak elevation of 8,586 m. In the Kirat religion of Sikkim, the mountain is regarded very sacred and in the local Limbu language, it is also called Sewa Lungma. Out of the five peaks of Kanchenjunga, four can be viewed from many points in Darjeeling and Gangtok. Out of the many points in Darjeeling from where you can have a spectacular view of the peak, Tiger Hill is one of the best. If you’re in Gangtok, the Goecha La trek in Sikkim is the standard base camp for trekking up the range.

At a distance of 14 km from Gangtok, the Saramsa Garden, also known as Ipecac Garden has an exquisite range of different coloured flowers with surrounding lush greenery. There is a large greenhouse that preserves a range of orchids. Set up in 1922 by the Forest Department, the main agenda for this garden was to look after the needs of the British officers in addition to the Namgyal royal family. The garden got the name Ipecac after the Forest Department introduced a medicinal plant known as Cephaelis Ipecacuanha in 1940. The garden is divided into several blocks with a small footbridge constructed over a small-sized pool with different-shaped plants. The garden is open from 7 am to 6:30 pm and has an entry fee of INR 10.

Amongst Sikkim’s numerous hot springs, the Reshi Hot Springs is the most famous due to its strategic location and religious significance. These hot water springs or Cha-chu present in Reshi are winter spas from an ancient time when pilgrims along with visitors spend a week or more soaking themselves in the springs which are believed to contain medicinal properties. For the comfort of the tourists, there are temporary huts available for an overnight stay at affordable prices with no bedding or cooking utensils. Also known as the cave of occult fairies, Lho Khandro Sang Phug is a small monastery and a holy cave situated adjacent to the river. Due to the presence of this cave, the water present in the Reshi Hot Springs is considered to be holy, and a warm soak in the springs is said to be very good to cure all skin diseases. The abundant presence of sulphur makes the temperature of the water perfect for carrying out a treatment to beat the cold air.

Perched between the mountains at a height of 12,400 ft above sea level, Tsomgo Lake is one of the few high-altitude lakes in India situated on the Gangtok – Nathu La highway. Also popularly known as the Changu Lake, the scenic beauty of the lake, enveloped by steep snow-capped mountains and resting between a bright green carpet of alpine forests leaves all visitors awestruck. Tsomgo Lake is a glacial lake that derives its water from the melting snows of the mountains around it and is famous for its colour changing waters. Monsoons see a bright aquamarine lake whereas, in the winters, it freezes into a translucent cover of ice. As the summer approaches in mid-May, the periphery of this lake is dotted with a thousand blossoming flowers that lend the waters a riot of vibrant colours. In the Bhutia language, Tso means lake and Mgo means head and the name of the lake means the source of the water. Considered as a sacred lake by the Sikkimese, Changu Lake is associated with many myths and legends. Since the lake is located in a restricted area, it requires all visitors to obtain permits that allow them to enter the otherwise restricted area. Foreign nationals are required to obtain special permits which cannot be obtained online, and one will need to go through officially certified travel agents and tour operators to get the permit which takes a day or two to arrive. The Baba Mandir on the lake’s periphery is a popular temple and there is also a small temple dedicated to Lord Shiva constructed along the banks. About 10 km from the lake lies the Kyongnosia Alpine Sanctuary. It is said that in ancient times, the Buddhist monks were able to predict the future just by observing the lake’s colour – a darker tinge of the water indicated a darker or more troublesome future. Faith healers, popularly known as Jhakhris, visit this lake during Guru Purnima and Raksha Bandhan to offer prayers and derive benefits from the healing qualities of the waters of the lake. During winters, the lake freezes into a giant tray of ice and the lake against the majestic snow-covered mountains are breathtaking. The lake becomes home to hundreds of Brahimini ducks who flock here when the west gets cold.

Situated 8 km away from central Gangtok, Tashi Viewpoint is from visitors can get a view of the magnificent Mounts Sinilochu and Kanchenjunga. Built by Tashi Namgyal, the king of Sikkim between 1914 and 1963, the viewpoint is named after the erstwhile king. The viewpoint also serves as a picnic place because of the views of the Phodong and Labrang Monasteries from here. It is advised that a morning visit to the viewpoint is best as the mountains juxtaposed against the golden hues of the rising sun needs to be seen to be believed. The viewpoint is open between 5 am and 6 pm and though there is no entry fee, one needs to pay INR 10 to get a closer view of the peaks via a binocular or telescope present there

The Gangtok Ropeway’s breathtaking bird’s eye view of the valley below makes it a must-visit spot while in Gangtok. Inaugurated in 2003, the double cable zig back ropeway can carry up to 24 passengers and covers a distance of 2 km to and fro. The aerial ropeway is 935 m long, from the start to the endpoint and the complete journey takes a total of 15 – 20 minutes. It has three terminal stations – Tashiling, Namnang and Deorali and one can get on or get down at either of the three stations. The Deorali station is the lowest base point and is situated near the Institute of Tibetology and offers beautiful views of the Gangtok market and the township below. Namnang is the central station, and the highest one is at Tashiling near the Secretariat. From the road, there is a staircase that leads to the ticket counter upwards with a waiting room on the same level. The cable car station is open from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm and adults need to pay INR 110, children between three and six pay INR 70 and those younger don’t pay any fees. Video camera fees are INR 100.

One of the very few of its kind, the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology is a repository of Tibetan-Buddhist culture and history. The collection at the NIT and the library on the premises are the main attractions, but photography is not allowed inside. Built in the Tibetan architectural style amidst lush green nature, the building rises majestically with its tall golden towers, attractive and significant murals and colourful frescos. The museum is situated on the ground floor in the core building amidst ornate towers and facades covered with murals and houses a rare collection of Tibetan and Buddhist artefacts, ranging from statues and figurines, ritualistic objects, traditional art pieces, thangkas which are Buddhist paintings on pieces of clothes to many ancient manuscripts written in Sanskrit, Chinese, Tibetan and Lepcha. Some of the major attraction pieces at the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology museum include a casket with relics of two Ashokan missionaries and sandalwood images depicting the five great men from Buddhist history, Guru Rinpoche or the bringer of Vajrayana Buddhism to Tibet, the three founding lamas of Sikkim and King Phuntsok Namgyal, the first monarch of Sikkim. The showstopper is the spectacular silver image of Majushri or the bodhisattva aka the enlightened Buddha depicted in authentic Sikkimese artistry. The library is stocked with some of the greatest and rarest literary creations of Tibetan and Buddhist history, philosophy, theology, culture and also houses journals and periodicals about the same. It has over 60,000 volumes including several translated versions of Buddhist teachings, research papers and articles written over the years by academics and scholars on Buddhist studies. The library also has xylographs, typical to Chinese and Tibetan culture, which are wooden plates with transcripts written and embossed in reverse. The library also houses the 135 volume Encyclopaedia Tibetica and is open to all, but because it is a reference library, visitors can only read the books within the premises. The NIT is closed on Sundays, second Saturdays and government holidays and is open between 10 am and 4 pm, Mondays to Saturdays and has an entry fee of INR 10 per person.

The Gangtok Flower Exhibition Centre showcases flowers from different parts of Sikkim under a single roof and is located right across the White Memorial Hall and below the Ridge Park. Though flowers are displayed here all through the year, the annual flower show held from April to May is the showstopper of the centre. A medium-sized tropical greenhouse, the centre is filled with unusual species of plants including numerous species of fresh orchids. In addition, there is an artificial water pond along with a bridge constructed. The best time is to visit is during the annual flower show in March and April. Open daily between 8:30 am to 5 pm, there is an entry fee of INR 10.

The Kyongnosla Alpine Sanctuary is a nature reserve located around the area adjoining Tsomgo Lake along the Nathula Road. Located about 31 km east of Gangtok, this sanctuary covers an area of about 31 sq km and extends from the 15th Mile police checkpoint up to and along the ridges bordering the Rong Chu Valley and Lake Tsomgo. Rich in both flora and fauna, rare, endangered ground orchids and rhododendrons interspersed among tall junipers and taller silver firs are among the important plants present. Rhododendron niveum which is Sikkim’s state tree and Cypripedium tibeticum or the ground slipper orchid, which is on the verge of extinction, have also been introduced here. Part of the Sacred Himalayan Landscape, the best time to visit the sanctuary is in May, June, October and November, when the climate is pleasant, dry and warm.

The Himalayan Zoological Park is located in Bulbuley, 3 km from Gangtok at an altitude of 1780 meters with amazing views of Mount Kanchenjunga. Established in 1991, this was the first of its kind in the North-Eastern part of India. Spread over 205 hectares of land in the mountainous terrain, the park is home to a variety of fauna. A 2.5 km road runs through the park where one can either drive or walk. A watchtower within the zoo provides gorgeous views of the entire area. The zoo is closed on Thursdays and is open from 9 am to 4 pm daily. Entry fees for Indians are INR 25 for adults and INR 10 for children while foreign visitors need to pay INR 50. For small vehicles, the fee is INR 40 while big vehicles pay INR 100

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