Gangtok, Sikkim

On October 18 we arrived at Bagdogra airport from Delhi and continued on our way to Gangtok by helicopter. The scenery from high up in the mountains was breath-taking. Green mountains as far as the eye could see, steep mountain sides, slopes with a multitude of houses built all the way up the hillside, the endless winding road along the mountain sides and the river. This isolated region really is inhabited.  How do people get around?

Views from helicopter on our approaching Gangtok. The road to Bagdogra from Gangtok looks fine from up here but it was really the worst road we had ever been traveling on. When we went back to Bagdogra three days later we found out what the road was really like. Parts of it had simply slid down over the side of the steep mountain in a few places, leaving just enough room for one car to get by. In addition, our driver was also a hot-rodder who did the distance (124 km) in 3 1/4 hours that normally takes four hours.

Another view of the winding road and the river  that looked anything but
clean, possibly just silt.

After landing at the heliport outside of Gangtok, another adventure was waiting for us. The road into Gangtok was more like a bombed-out disaster zone than a regular road. However, the cab driver managed to maneuver the small lakes, ditches and disaster areas with great patience and we arrived safely at the Hotel Tibet in the center of town where all roads go up or downhill - no level areas here.

Sikkim is far more like Tibet than like India. The religion is Buddhism and the language is Nepali. People don't generally understand Hindi. A large number of the people had very visibly Mongolian features.
The town of Gangtok is a lot more affluent-looking than anything we have seen in India so far. There were practically no beggars. On traveling outside of Gangtok by car to Tsomgo Lake and to Bagdogra airport we did see some slums, but not many. There were also very few western tourists in Sikkim and few people understood any English at all. It's definitely like a different country and it was actually only incorporated into India in May 1975. Before that it was a protectorate of India and had its own king.

Far-off snow peaked mountains seen around 6 a.m. from our hotel window. Khangchendzonga on the right. This was the only morning we could see them clearly. (zoom) Khangchendzonga, the third highest mountain in the world, 8595m, and the highest in India. After the early morning the clouds settle in and they completely cover over the view.  (zoom)

Gangtok is spread out over a hillside, every street on an incline.

View from our hotel on our first morning in
Street leading up towards our hotel from the
lower part of town

Heavy loads are seen on all sorts of carriers,
 people, camels, mules, rickshaws, heavy carts pulled by small kids, bicycles. There were no rickshaws in Gangtok though.
View from the top of the town, over towards the other side of the valley - where we were going on our first day to the Rumtek monastery.

Hotel Tibet, very comfortable and a good
The Tibetan-look doorman at our hotel

A view of the clean and almost affluent-looking town of Gangtok

The Lal market is a street that consists of a long row of steps down a hillside through the displays on both sides of the street. Pictures here go from the top of the market to the bottom where a parallel street takes over. Notice the Mongolian features of the woman at the back of her shop.

John needed another book to read in Gangtok and so purchased one by His Holiness the Dalai Lama called The universe in a single atom, how science and spirituality can serve our world.  In the introduction, he says

I wish to emphasise to the millions of my fellow Buddhists worldwide the need to take science seriously and to accept its fundamental discoveries within their world view.

Later in the book, he exlains

Just as a seasoned goldsmith would test the purity of his gold through a meticulous process of examination, the Buddha advises that people should test the truth of what he has said through reasoned examination and personal experiment. Therefore, when it comes to validating the truth of a claim, Buddhism accords greatest authority to experience, with reason second and scripture last.

Ah, would that some fundamentalists within other faiths would listen to that suggestion!

Go on to Rumtek Monastery

Back to India 2007