A travel guide to Darjeeling and Gangtok

28th Apr 2018
Photo of A travel guide to Darjeeling and Gangtok by Deepesh Dongre

To plan a vacation is always an interesting and a little confusing thing. World is full of beautiful places. India in its own is a very large country and full of lot of beautiful places with different languages and weather conditions. As the summer was on its peak in Pune so we were searching for a cool place to spend our vacation. After searching for few places we decided to travel to North-East part of India. North-East region is also a big region so we narrowed down our plan for Darjeeling which is known as Queen of hills stations and Gangtok the capital of beautiful state of Sikkim.

After deciding the destination we decided to start our travel in the last week of April and then we had to decide on mode of transportation. The nearest Railway station to Darjeeling and Gangtok is Siliguri, also known as New Jalpaiguri. And nearest airport to both these places is Bagdogra near Siliguri.

As Siliguri is around 2300Kms from Pune and travel duration is more than 40hrs by train, so we opted for Air route to cut off travel time. There is no direct flight from Pune to Bagdogra, so we opted for Pune to Delhi and from Delhi to Bagdogra flight.

Day 1:

On the first day of our journey, we started from Pune at 7:30AM in the morning and reached Delhi by 10AM. There was a gap of around 4hrs for the flight from Delhi to Bagdogra. The connecting flight from Delhi had to depart from a different terminal so we spent around 1.5hrs for Terminal change. From Delhi we took the connecting flight at 2PM and reached Bagdogra by 4:30PM.

From Bagdogra distance of Darjeeling is around 67Kms, and that of Gangtok is around 123Km. Though the distance is short but being on hill tops it may take longer than expected to reach to destination. Considering this thing we opted to have a overnight stay at Siliguri which is only 15Kms from Bagdogra and then to continue our journey to Darjeeling on next day.

From Bagdogra we took a Taxi to Hotel Suktara International near Siliguri junction. The hotel was new, with nice spacious and clean room. The food provided on our order was very good. We spent a night there and on second day we continued our journey towards Darjeeling.

Day 2:

Day-2 of our journey we booked an Ola cab from Suktara hotel all the way to Darjeeling. We started at 8AM in the morning and it was a nice journey of around 4.5hrs. We had a good conversation with our driver Bappa on different topics which included cultural aspects of Darjeeling, places to travel and politics. He dropped us to our hotel Mount Royale in Darjeeling and gave his number if needed in future.

Photo of A travel guide to Darjeeling and Gangtok 1/12 by Deepesh Dongre
Hotel Mount Royale Room

We checked in Hotel Mount Royale. It is a nice small hotel with helpful staff and cozy room. The day we reached entered Darjeeling was quiet cool, so the first task we did after entering the room was to turn on the heater. The most beautiful place of the hotel is a small balcony in the restaurant. It offers a great view of Darjeeling. I took this opportunity to click some pics of Darjeeling from the hotel's balcony during the day and night.

After having our lunch we relaxed for around 2hrs and went out for sightseeing. Our first place of visit in Darjeeling was Darjeeling Mall road/Chowrasta Mall which was at a walkable distance from our hotel. Chowk is an open area surrounded with restaurants and shops. This is a good place to walk around and has plenty of benches to spend some times. The vehicles are not allowed in this area so it a safe and good place to roam. This place also offers a beautiful hill view. On a clear day you can observe the peaks of Kanchenjunga( the third highest mountain in the world, 8586 mtrs) from viewing points. Unfortunately we faced overcast weather during our two days in Darjeeling so were not able to have a glimpse of Kanchenjunga.

Nearby the Chowk there is a big beautiful Mahakaal temple on top of the Observatory hill. Its a nice, calm temple to offer prayers and to spend some time. The place is surrounded with lot of colorful flags offered by devotees for their well being.

Photo of A travel guide to Darjeeling and Gangtok 2/12 by Deepesh Dongre
Mahakaal Temple

After spending around 1hr in Chowk, we captured the sightseeing taxi organized by our hotel to visit other places. The first place we visited was the Japanese temple also called as Peace Pagoda. There are two buildings in the premises. One near the entrance is the temple. The temple was built in 1972. As we enter the temple, we can see the picture of the founder Fujii Guruji. There is also a model of Buddha suggesting that it's a Buddhist religious temple. Fujii Guruji was the founder and preceptor of 'Nipponzan Myohoji', a Buddhist order for world peace. On the first floor there is a prayer hall. You can sit and join the prayers or you can offer prayers on your own and can exit at any time. Ahead of this temple there is a big monument in white color, called as Pagoda. This is a sign of peace and non-violence.

You can observe this beautiful architecture along with the view of Kanchanjunga range. But here also we were unfortunate to have a view of Kanchanjunga due to overcast weather.

The next place of our visit was the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan zoological park. The zoo was opened in 1958. This is the largest high altitude zoo in India at an elevation of 7,000 feet (2,134 m). The zoo is mainly created for breeding of Snow leopard, Himalayan wolf and Red panda. As we entered the zoo, within few minutes we were surrounded by clouds. We were fortunate to see few animals and interestingly the Red Panda.

Later we moved on to see the Himalayan Mountaineering museum. It is in the same premise of the Padmaja Naidu zoo. The museum showcases the beautiful model of Himalayan range from west to east. It also provides information about the history of different Himalayan expeditions and different gadgets, instruments and clothing used by Mountaineers. As soon as we came out of the museum, it started to rain heavily and so our visit got disrupted. We waited for some time for rain to stop, but our attempt went in vain and we had to run to reach the main gate to exit. And looking at the intensity of rain we had to buy Umbrellas from the shop near the gate. The rain didn't allowed to have some more click of the beautiful place. We got into our taxi and headed towards Tenjing rock. Rain had the same story here so we just got the glimpse of this place and left the place. We ended our sightseeing trip of Day2 at Chowk and left the taxi to make our way to hotel on feet.

Day 3:

We were hoping for the beautiful view of Sunrise on the peaks of Kanjunga from Tiger Hills. But again it was the same story because of heavy rain. We woke up at 3AM in the hope that we will be witnessing the beautiful view but as soon as i reached the hotel reception and saw outside of the hotel then it was a big setback, nothing was visible outside due to clouds and haze. We came to know that taxi driver is not coming as the Sunrise view is not possible. We went back to our room to have a sleep till 8AM. After breakfast we started our day with visit to Tiger hills. However nothing was visible, just had a cup of coffee there from the local village women and returned back.

On the way back from Tiger hills, we visited beautiful Senchal devi temple. It is a nice big temple. Spend some time here and then moved for our next destination.

Our next destination was Rock garden. It is a nice place with big and beautiful waterfall. It takes around 2hrs to view it properly. To view the beauty of waterfall one has to climb up the stairs and pathways. It is an easily accessible waterfall for everyone with proper cemented pathways.

After visiting Rock garden we came back to our hotel to have lunch and rest for around 2hrs.

After having rest our most awaited journey had to begin. We grabbed a taxi and headed towards Darjeeling station to have wonderful tour of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. The Darjeeling Himalayan railway offers the 2hrs trip between Darjeeling Station and Ghum station. This is a 2hrs (8KM) return journey in Toy train. We had already booked our tickets through IRCTC website, and were just waiting for our train. In the mean time we got a chance to look at the cute small engine maintenance work going on in the train shed on the side of road.

Photo of A travel guide to Darjeeling and Gangtok 3/12 by Deepesh Dongre
Steam Engine of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Though it was a short journey but it was a wonderful experience. The toy train was making its way on the small tracks laid down through out the city. It was moving very close to the shops. The speed of toy train is so slow that one can get down at one turn and can board again at next turn. With the end of our toy train journey, it was almost end of our Darjeeling journey and we had to pack our bags for the next destination - Gangtok. But the Darjeeling travel can't be complete without having a sip of world famous Darjeeling tea. We reached Chowk again and entered Golden tips tea shop to taste the flavors of Darjeeling tea. After having the taste of tea my soul was satisfied and agreed to move for the next destination.

Photo of A travel guide to Darjeeling and Gangtok 4/12 by Deepesh Dongre

Day 4:

We left from Darjeeling for Gangtok. It took around 4 hrs to reach Gangtok by taxi. I had booked our accommodation in hotel Zero to One stay in Chandmari. Though we were initially unhappy with the hotel room considering the price but later we had a good deal with the hotel owner for upgraded room with addition of nominal price. The room was big, neat and clean. And we were impressed with the behavior of hotel owner Mr. Manik, he is very helpful and decent person. The view of Gangtok from hotel room was nice, though it was little bit blocked by other buildings opposite to our hotel.

Photo of A travel guide to Darjeeling and Gangtok 5/12 by Deepesh Dongre

We had our lunch and then requested hotel owner to arrange a taxi for local sight seeing. In Gangtok also it was a very heavily overcast weather, however there was not much fog. Our first place of visit was Hanuman tok. It is the highest point within Gangtok city. The view of surrounding hills was awesome. The Hanuman tok temple is maintained by Indian army and is a nice place to visit.

After visiting Hanuman tok the next place we visited was Ganesh tok, it is a temple for lord Ganesh on another hill top. The temple is nice and clean with picturesque view of Gangtok and surrounding hills. The Sun was going down, there were chances of rain so we left this place also in little hurry. Now we moved to Tashi view point for a short stop and then moved for the MG Road.

Photo of A travel guide to Darjeeling and Gangtok 6/12 by Deepesh Dongre

The MG road is lined with lot of shops, restaurants and large number of benches to sit and relax. Its a very lively place to visit. The road is very clean and free from vehicles. You can buy here souvenirs, Darjeeling/Sikkim tea and lot of other things. After roaming for around 30mins again it was time for heavy rain shower and now we had no other option but to grab the Taxi and return back to hotel. We made a call to our taxi driver and he was waiting in the parking to take us back. In the midst of heavy rain we returned back to our hotel and this was the end of our Day4.

Day 5:

The Day-5 started quiet early for me due to the melodious chirping of birds. I woke up around 5:30 AM and looked out of the room window. The sky was little bit clear with the beautiful view of Gangtok city. I came down from my room at reception where hotel owner Mr. Manik was already available. Had morning greetings with him and he told me to go around 50mtrs left on the road in front of the hotel to have a beautiful view of the hills. I went in my room to collect my camera and headed towards the point. It was a very beautiful view of the hills with a small village with some houses in between. On my way one street dog came following me. At first i got a bit scared but later looking at its tail movement i recognized that it is not going to harm but it just need some rubbing on its head and back. I rubbed its back for some time and that was enough to be friend with the dog, then it went away few meters and kept an eye on me without disturbing me.

After spending about 25-30mins at this point i returned back to my room to have breakfast and start our sightseeing.

Our Taxi driver Sanghe(named after the name of lord Buddha), was waiting for us. We started our sightseeing around 9AM. Our first stop was Gangtok Flower exhibition center. It is a small place with some varieties of flowers.

We spent about 30mins here and moved ahead for the Chorten Gonpa Monastery. We had a look of this place, the beautiful Chorten stupa. It a small nice Budhhist Monastery.

After Chorten stupa we visited nearby Namgyal Institue of Tibetology. Its a small museum with information about the people of Tibet, Budhha and Buddhist rituals.

Our next destination was Rumtek monastery. Rumtek monastery is around 25Kms from Gangtok. The road is under construction and hilly roads always takes more time to travel. It took us around 2hrs to reach Rumtek monastery. It a very nice big place to travel. Sorrounded by the beautiful view of Gangtok city on top of hills. It takes around 2hrs to visit this place. There are benches on top which offers a great view of valley and hills. The monastery was built in 17th centuary under the direction of Changchub Dorje, 12th Karmpa Lama.

On the way back we stopped into a local restaurant outside the monastery to have lunch. There we saw this beautiful dog running here and there and then posed for us to have a photo.

Photo of A travel guide to Darjeeling and Gangtok 7/12 by Deepesh Dongre

Through out the whole journey the rain was always following us. As soon as we finished our lunch it started raining, however this time it stopped just after 15 mins. Now our next destination was Banjakhri waterfalls. It is around 25Kms from Rumtek monastery and it took us around 1.5 hrs to reach there. On the way we got an opportunity to click the beautiful hills and farms near Gangtok. It was now a pleasing weather with little bit clouds and sunshine.

Photo of A travel guide to Darjeeling and Gangtok 8/12 by Deepesh Dongre

Soon we reached Banjakhri water falls. It is a quiet big water fall with lot of fun and adventure activities for children. It is a good place to spend some time. We roamed around the place, had some pictures of the surrounding and ours.

Photo of A travel guide to Darjeeling and Gangtok 9/12 by Deepesh Dongre

After spending around an hour at this place we again moved back towards Gangtok city and requested our driver to drop us at MG road. As my wife was keen to go to Baker's cafe which she had heard and read a lot in blogs, so we visited it. It is a nice descent cafe in the center of MG road with MG road view from one side and hill side view from other. We ordered some pan cakes and coffee which was quiet good. Then we visited some shops to buy some souvenirs and bags and returned back to hotel.

Photo of A travel guide to Darjeeling and Gangtok 10/12 by Deepesh Dongre

After reaching the hotel, i thought as weather is clear today so why not to have some clicks of the Gangtok city. The view of city was not clear from the hotel room it is little bit obstructed because of buildings opposite to it. Then i asked hotel owner Mr. Manik if there is any possibility to go inside any of the buildings on the opposite side and have some photos. He told me that he will check and inform. I went to my room and waited for his call and within 20mins he came to my room and told me to take the camera and follow him. I followed him to the house opposite to hotel for which he had taken the permission from the house owner and also provided me a young boy as assistant whose name was Nithesh to assist me for the duration till i will be clicking the photos. So the above photo is the result. I thanked Mr. Manik for making it possible to click the photo and now it was the end of a long day and now it was the time to go back to room and have sleep.

Day 6:

The Day-6 was going to be a very special day for us. Since morning we were waiting for our permit to travel to Nathu la pass, Baba Harbhajan sing mandir and Tsomogo lake. To visit these places permit is needed from the local administration by providing your id cards in one day advance. The permits can be arranged by hotels in which you are staying through the travel agents. Please note the Nathu la permit is provided only to Indian nationals, foreign nationals are provided permits upto Tsomogo lake only. The permits are issued early morning around 5AM on the day of travel and only 100 vehicles are permitted to travel. So we had our fingers crossed till the reception of positive news from Mr. Manik.

We had booked a shared jeep to travel. The Nathu la pass is around 52KM from Gangtok with beautiful view of mountains and valleys throughout the way. Unfortunately the traffic was very slow moving and in between we had to face around 1hr of halt due to traffic jam. To utilize the time i got down from the jeep and tried to capture some flora and fauna on the road side as the hill view was hidden due to heavy blanket of clouds.

After about one hour the traffic got clear and we moved towards our destination. Now the road onward was under the fog cover with visibility of only around 2mtrs. Everyone was surprised to see that driver was driving the vehicle at a high speed even in such condition. When a person asked whether he can see the road he said yes and he knows all the turns by heart. Throughout the road everyone was praying to god to keep them safe. Close to Tsomogo lake driver stopped our vehicle near a shop. It was a small shop to provide Winter wears on rent and to have some food. We ordered Veg Momos and Tea, which were very delicious. We got Jackets and snow shoes on rent and got back in the jeep to move ahead for Nathu la. As we moved ahead we got surprised and happy to see that there was a heavy Snowfall, which is not expected in the month of May. The hills surround Tsomogo lake were surrounded by the snow cover. As we were getting late for Nathu la so instead of stopping at Tsomog lake we moved to Nathu la pass.

After reaching near Nathu la pass driver parked the vehicle in the parking from where we had to move around 300 mtrs towards India-China border. The last 50 mtrs of which was a steep ascent. The stairs were completely under the heavy snow cover, the density of Oxygen becomes low at such a height (14,400 ft). But this was a memorable moment for us and we didn't wanted to return without seeing the border. I and my wife decided to move up slowly which took around 15 mins to reach near the border. It was a very happy and memorable moment for use, on one side we had Indian soldiers securing the Indian border and on the other side there were Chinese soldiers. It was a really emotionally overwhelming moment for me, my wife and all other Indians present there. The density of snow, fog and the chilly wind made us to realize and understand that in how much harsh conditions soldiers stay there to protect our nation. It increased our respect towards our soldiers who stand there throughout the year to ensure that every Indian is safe inside. Everyone present there was emotionally overwhelmed because of the efforts of Indian army and was greeting and saying thanks to soldiers.

As photography was not allowed near the border and weather was getting harsh so we came down at the parking to have some clicks and then left for Baba Harbhajan singh mandir.

Baba Harbhajan sing temple is a tribute to captain "Baba" Harbhajan Singh. There is a interesting and must read history about Baba and this temple.

As the time was running out and weather was getting worst so military personnel were not allowing anyone to stay for long time, so after spending 5mins we moved for Tsomogo lake. Weather was not with us here too. The lake which was clear during the morning was now under the curtain of clouds and now no one was allowed to stop here for long time. Somehow we got few quick clicks of Yaks standing there.

Photo of A travel guide to Darjeeling and Gangtok 11/12 by Deepesh Dongre

This was the last destination of our day's travel. Went back to the rental shop to handover the winter wears we borrowed, again had some hot yummy Momos with a hot cup of Tea. There was an open window in the basement of this rental shop from where i got some beautiful clicks of the valley and a small river flowing through it.

Day 7:

After having a beautiful Day-6, for Day-7 we planned for Temi tea garden, Ravangla and Namichi. The total return journey was around 170Kms. The Temi tea garden was a feast to eyes with beautiful hill view and movement of clouds.

Next we moved on to Ravangla-Buddha park. It is a very huge peaceful place with beautiful picture story about Bhagwan Gautam Budhha's life and teachings of life. It is a good place to spend around 2-3 hours if you don't have any other plans. It feels very calm inside the temple and it offers a great view of Kanchanjunga on a clear day.

Next we visited Samdruptse hill. This hill hosts a giant statue of the Guru Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche). This hill is just 7Km from Namichi and a beautiful, nice place. It hosts a small garden with beautiful flowers and some berries.

Next we visited Char dham in Namichi. It is a beautiful place with replica of important Hindu temples. This place also needs atleast 2hrs to see it properly. This was the last place of our visit of our whole journey. As the Chardham travel is considered as an important ritual before end of life, so we also fortunately followed the same and ended our journey with the visit to replica of Chardham with a hope that we will be able to travel all the places presented here with a replica.

All the places in Sikkim are very beautiful and good to spend plenty of time. However as a traveler we are always short of time, and dependent on weather. Trying to add up as much of photos as possible so that you can get an idea about the places and can make your travel plans. Not only beautiful destinations, all roads from Bagdogra to Gangtok are very beautiful, surrounded with hills, valleys, clouds on top of hills, lush green Tea gardens, narrow roads going through the hills and small bridges and Teesta river.

Photo of A travel guide to Darjeeling and Gangtok 12/12 by Deepesh Dongre

You might be having some questions in your mind, so i tried to answer it below -

Q1 : Which is the best season to travel Darjeeling and Gangtok ?

As per my discussion with our Taxi driver, i came to know that best time to visit is March to June or from October to December. The possibility of viewing Kanchanjunga is more from October to December. January to March are quiet risky and vehicles are not allowed towards Nathu la pass, you may travel to Darjeeling and Gangtok city.

Q2 : Do i need any special permit to visit Darjeeling or Gangtok ?

For Indian nationals no permit is required for Darjeeling, but to enter Sikkim you need a valid ID. To visit Baba mandir, Tsomogo lake and Nathu la permit is needed.

Foreign nationals also need to show ID while entering to Sikkim and they can get permits only up to Tsomogo lake. Also please check the Indian embassy site to have information about permitted nationalities.

Q3 : Which is the nearest railway station to Darjeeling and Gangtok?

The nearest railway station is New Jalpaigudi (NJP).

Q4 : Which is the nearest Airport ?

The nearest airport is Bagdogra in West Bengal, there is an upcoming airport in Gangtok also.

The information whatever is provided by me is based on a short journey as a traveler, If your plan is for a long stay then your priorities may differ. However please do write to me at deepeshdongre@gmail.com for any queries.