The Ultimate Travel Guide to Gangtok and Sikkim | Zostel

An upcoming place of explorations for backpackers, Sikkim comes with a refreshing blend of everything a traveller would desire. In this Northeastern state, trekkers can treat themselves over epic 15-day treks and short day hikes alike. Adventurers take delight over paragliding, offroading, and rafting, and even helicopter rides. For the explorers, Sikkim has three eccentric cultures that come with colourful festivals, remarkable cuisines, and captivating lifestyles. And for hardcore travellers, many little villages off the conventional roads await to be explored. So, in this Sikkim Travel Guide, I’m telling you all about it.

But first.

Permits and important information

  • You’ll be required to get your permits beforehand from Gangtok in order to visit Nathu La and North Sikkim (beyond Singhik). 
    North Sikkim stays closed during the winter months (Dec & Jan) due to excessive snowfall.

    Foreign nationals are required to get the Inner Line Permit (ILP) since the state borders with 3 countries. They are also required to travel in a group of 2 or more. The ILP is free and can be obtained online here.

    Nathu La and Gurudongmar Lake are not open for foreign nationals since they’re located in the international border areas.

    Bikers need a special permit to ride in protected areas, where private vehicles are not allowed there altogether.

    Some treks also require permits, so check beforehand.

    Mobile phone networks: Airtel & JIO do well throughout Sikkim. However, if you’re planning to go to higher altitudes, you can rely on BSNL prepaid.

    There are no OLA/Uber services in Sikkim. A rental taxi shall cost you around INR 2500 per day.

Sikkim Weather

With snowfall a common episode for the 4 months of winters, rains taking over the entire state in monsoons, and utterly pleasant spring and summers, Sikkim temperature averages at 18 °C annually. In summers (March to May), the temperatures rarely go beyond 28 °C, whereas in winters (November to February), they usually touch the negatives, especially at nights. Monsoon (mid-June to mid-September) is generally the season to avoid visiting Sikkim since the rainfall causes landslides around the state.

Sikkim in winters, Zostel Sikkim
Picture by @pixelteek

How to reach Gangtok

Fly down: The Bagdogra Airport near Siliguri (West Bengal): Board a cab for around INR 500-800 per person (3500 for a private taxi). State-run buses from Siliguri bus station to Gangtok city and back are also abundant and are naturally cheaper than any private transport. The journey is 5 hours long, spanning 125 km.
*Note: The Pakyong Airport is not functional at the moment, so we recommend you fly down to the Bagdogra Airport.

Take a helicopter ride: If you wish to begin your trip with a never-had-before adventure, you can take the Sikkim Helicopter Service for INR 3500 per person. You will land in 30 to 35 minutes in Gangtok.

Take a train: The New Jalpaiguri Junction (also in Siliguri) is 160 km from Gangtok. From there, board a bus to Gangtok or go straight for a taxi. The journey will take around 5 to 6 hours.

Hitch the road: Barring a few stretches, the road to Gangtok is well maintained and offers beautiful views throughout. If you’re coming from neighbouring states, a road trip to Sikkim is also an option to consider. To reach Zostel Gangtok, use Dara Hospital & Tamang Gompa as landmarks: the hostel is at just 150 metres from the Gompa.

The Culture of Sikkim

Sikkim is home to the Lepcha (Sikkimese), Bhutia (Tibetan), and Nepali communities. While English, Nepalese, and Sikkimese are the official languages of the state, the tribes here also speak Gurung, Limbu, Magar, Mukhia, Newari, Rai, Sherpa, and Tamang. And as you can expect, the people here also know Hindi, so that makes a whopping total of 13 languages that are in use here. Sikkim is also the world’s second-largest producer of spices, which makes for a prominent occupation in the state.

Little monks at Enchey Monastery, Gangtok
Picture by Ankit Gupta

Festivals of Sikkim

The most important festival of Sikkim is Phanglhapsol, which falls in either August or September. Across the state, there are masked dance performances worshipping the deity Kanchenjunga. A similar practice, the Kagyat Dance is held every month in the monasteries of Gangtok, Pemayangtse, and Phodong. Another festival of importance is the Tibetan New Year, which is celebrated in Feb-March at the Rumtek and Pemayangtse monasteries near Gangtok with utter merriment. In May, the whole of Gangtok city blooms with flowers, especially orchids which are a common spring bloom here. If you happen to be here in May, visit the annual flower show in Gangtok.

Food of Sikkim

Along with places to visit in Sikkim, the food scene of the state is commendable. A completely different produce of vegetables and three intermingling cultures make the cuisine of Sikkim worth trying. Here’s a list of dishes from their respective cuisines to explore when in Gangtok.

Nepali: Sel Roti, Gorkhali Lamb, and Nepali thali (dal bhat, chicken/mutton/pork, sadheko, gundruk, alo dum, churpi), and tangbo, a local millet beer. 
Where to have: Nimtho & Thakali in Gangtok.

Tibetan (Bhutia): Veg, chicken, buff & pork momos, Chicken & veg Shyapakle, Chicken Thenthuk, and Tingmo. 
Where to have: Taste of Tibet, House of Bamboo, Hotel Tibet in Gangtok.

Sikkimese (Lepcha): Mutton thali, Kinema, Chicken Choila, and Gorkhey achar. 
Where to have: Absolute Demazong, Solpon.

Did you know, you can stay in a super cool backpacking hostel in Gangtok? Check out Zostel Gangtok!

Adventure Activities in Gangtok City

Paragliding in Gangtok

One of the best things to do in Gangtok, paragliding takes place near Ranka village, 20 km from the main town. Adventurers can choose between a long flight (45 mins, 4500 INR) and a short flight (20 mins, 2500-3000 INR). 
*Note: At Zostel Gangtok, we arrange your ride to and back the take-off and landing site @INR 250-300 per person for a round trip. You can contact the desk for more info.

ATV Bike Offroading in Gangtok

The entire area of Bulbule, which includes the Tashi viewpoint, Ganesh Tok, the zoo, and more, can be explored via ATV offroading. They charge around INR 1000-1500 per hour. You can contact the desk for more details.

Rafting in Gangtok

The Teesta river with its rapid flow attracts many adventurers for a thrilling row, making it one of the top things to do in Gangtok. You can indulge in rafting in Gangtok anywhere between the Bagdogra Airport till the river flows parallel to the road. The entire raft can be rented at INR 4000-4500, so that’s around 750 INR per person if 6 people are rafting.

Place to Visit in Gangtok

Tsuklakhang Palace: An ancestral royal chapel of the Chogyal Dynasty, the Tsuklakhang Monastery or Royal Palace is a place of utmost importance to the Chogyal tribe in Gangtok city. Its assembly hall once used to hold wedding ceremonies & gatherings, which are all now turned into a holy place of worship. The palace holds its festivals in the months of September and December.

Tsongmo Lake: One of the most popular Sikkim tourist places, the Tsongmo or Changu Lake is a natural landmark not to miss. Taking the form of an ice sheet in winters and surrounded by lush greenery during the summers, this glacial lake is one of the most extraordinary tourist places in Gangtok. 40 km from the main town, it can be reached by a 1.5-hour pleasant ride. Stop on the way at Kyongnosla Alpine Sanctuary and Kyongnosla Waterfall if you like.

Bakthang Falls: A 20-min ride away from the main town, the Bakthang Falls fall under a place called Swastik. A footbridge walks you closer to the slender lines gushing with natural spring water. Adventurers can also rappel down the cliff near here, a venture explored by the Gangtok tourism department.
*Pro-tip: There’s little to no crowd here at 8 or 9 am in the morning, so if you’re up for a morning adventure, this is where you head for a raw experience.

Tashi Viewpoint: Further North of the Bakthang waterfalls and a 7-km scenic ride from Zostel Gangtok, the Tashi viewpoint draws travellers for its splendid views of India’s tallest and the world’s second-tallest mountain, Kanchenjunga. This naturally makes it one of the top places to visit in Gangtok. Topped with snow generously, the mountain blushes a wild pink when sun rays fall, making for quite a view.

Ganesh Tok: A rustic little temple of Lord Ganesha blesses pilgrims and travellers with views of the hills around the entire Gangtok city on a clear day. There’s a café up there too, for a quick snack with tea. Open between 9 AM & 5 PM.

Enchey Monastery: Again very close to Hanuman and Ganesh Tok, the Enchey Monastery is Sikkim’s oldest, and one of the most popular tourist places in Sikkim. Built in the early 1900s, it holds festivals like Chaam Dance, Singhe Chaam, and Pang Lhabsol till date. Nestled on a ridge of a hill, the colourful and elaborately made monastery blesses travellers with views of Mount Kanchenjunga and surrounding hills.

Enchey Monastery, Gangtok Sikkim

Hanuman Tok: The Hanuman Temple doubles as a classic viewpoint and is a 20-min drive from Upper Sichey, Gangtok. You can cover it while on your way to the Ganesh Tok of Gangtok.

Namgyal Institute of Tibetology: A museum, library, research institute, and monastery in one, this institute’s NIT Library proudly holds the world’s second-largest collection of Tibetan works. If you’re a history fanatic, this is easily one of the top places to visit in Gangtok for you. It is open between 10 AM and 4 PM and stays closed on Sundays.

Himalayan Zoological Park: Not your traditional pity worthy zoo, the Himalayan Zoological Park is a vast forested park atop a hill. Mimicking the natural lush habitats of the wild animals that call it their home, it would take around 2 to 3 hours for you to traverse through this zoo. But when you spot the popular and very adorable Red Panda of Sikkim over there, the hustle will be worth it. This fact makes the zoo one of the most exciting places to see in Sikkim for those who have a special love for wildlife.

Rumtek Monastery: A 1.5 hr drive to the Rumtek village of the Gangtok region is how you reach the Rumtek Monastery, which is also called the Dharmachakra Centre. Adorning sacred relics and grand murals, this is Sikkim’s largest monastery so far, making it one of the best places to visit in Gangtok.

Do-drul Chorten Stupa: Just a little further South of the Namgyal Institute is this stupa, which was built in 1945 by the Namgyal head at the time. It is a 2km walk from the MG Marg.

MG Marg: The heartbeat of Sikkim, MG Marg is a shopping street with the city's popular cafes, pubs, stores, and shops. Here, you can sit in a cafe and read a book or try local street food and shop for souvenirs.

A view of Gangtok, Sikkim. Zostel Gangtok- backpacking hostel in Sikkim
Picture by @pixelteek

*Sikkim Tourist Places You Can Skip: On the contrary, you can give the Flower Garden and the Gondola ride in Gangtok a miss. They’re very touristy experiences and generally don’t live up to a backpacker’s expectations. In the end, I keep it for you to choose.

Popular Places to Eat in Gangtok

The food and nightlife scene of Gangtok city is on the rise with each passing full moon. With most of the bustle blooming in the main MG Marg of Gangtok, here are the top places to visit in Gangtok for food and drinks.

Thuendel: Just some minutes’ walking from the hostel, this place is ideal for a couple of beers over live music. 
Local Café and Bakers Café are the most popular cafes of Gangtok city with a menu revolving around the continental cuisine.
Gangtok Groove, DJ’S Downtown, & Cafe Live And Loud: Enjoying the nightlife has lately become one of the most inviting things to do in Gangtok for backpackers. These are three more places for live music by local artists as you dine!
K2 & After Dark: To drink up and dance till you drop, we trust these nightclubs in and around MG Marg.
Coffee Shop: Anyone who fancies a coffee date with a book or a new crush, the Coffee Shop is the place to be. They also serve delectable continental breakfasts.
Café 33: The only place in town with Karaoke, this café is a good choice for a bunch of friends who just want to have some fun, making it a unique pick for places to visit in Gangtok.
Selvi’s Bristro for their popular burgers and Kelly’s Café for Korean food.

Loving Gangtok's vibe? Come, stay at the best backpacker hostel in Gangtok, Zostel Gangtok!

Day trips Around Gangtok

1. Tsongmo Lake, Baba Mandir, & Nathu La extend night stay at Zuluk

Located on the Old Silk Road, Nathu La is a high mountain pass and one of the most popular tourist places in Sikkim. It sits on the border between India and Tibet, and unfortunately, due to international borders, foreign nationals are not permitted to visit this pass (Indian nationals will require an authorised permit). Nathu La is a 3-hr ride from Gangtok city, 63 km. 

Baba Mandir is a temple honouring the revered martyr, Baba Harbhajan Singh. It falls on the way back from NathuLa if you're going further to Zuluk. Zuluk is an offbeat town in the west of Sikkim, offering a pure hamlet-vibe and beautiful landscape. Stay here for a night and make your way back to Gangtok the next day if you wish to explore offbeat Sikkim.

*Shared taxis till NathuLa & back cost around INR 600 per person. Nathu La is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

The Tsongmo Lake (Changu Lake) of Gangtok in winters
Picture by Ankit Gupta

2. Ban Jhakri Falls, Ranka Monastery & village tour

Ban Jakhari Falls is one of the most popular tourist places in Sikkim. Tagging with an interesting story best narrated by the locals, the place offers a gushing waterfall and a bunch of caves around it. They’re open between 8 AM & 6 PM and are usually non-crowded during the first hour. 

Further, Ranka Monastery, 20 km from Gangtok, offers scenic views of the Himalayas and is loved by travellers for the same reason. With that, you can also take a walk through the Ranka village, glimpsing at the rural lifestyle and the traditional ways of the local tribes that live there in harmony.

*Travellers often stop at Ban Jakhri falls during their trip to North Sikkim.

3. Namchi

A primarily pilgrimage-oriented town in South Sikkim, Namchi has its share of adventures for backpackers too. Walk on the ridge to Tarey Bhir for views of Mount Kanchenjunga and the confluence of Teesta and Rangit, the only 2 rivers of Sikkim. Another popular hike is to Tendong Hill. You can also visit Samdruptse and Ngadak Monastery, Serdup Choling Monastery, the Handicrafts and Handloom Centre, and Rock Garden near Namchi village, some of which are popular Sikkim tourist places.

*A shared taxi for people would cost INR 3500 for a day trip.

Places to Visit in Sikkim

Keeping Gangtok as your base, you can take these 2 to 3-day trips. 
Divided into 4 regions, namely East, West, North, and South Sikkim, the state is travelled through by keeping Gangtok as the base point and then taking 2 or 3-day trips to different districts.

North Sikkim

The most popular in the places to see in Sikkim, travelling to North Sikkim requires a permit that can be taken beforehand from Gangtok. If you’re going by a private taxi, keep in mind that Thangu village can be crossed only after 7.30 am; the permit office remains closed before that.

Places we recommend: Dzongu, Lachen, Gurudogmar Lake, Lachung, Yumthang Valley, and Zero Point.
Time to spend: 2-3 nights.
Important: Facilities of camping by the Gurdogmar Lake are not in order and you’ll have to come back to Lachen/Lachung before sundown.
Commute: There are no buses that I know of that take you to North Sikkim. There are, however, shared jeeps with 2 or 3-day packages that include travel, stay, food altogether, costing INR 2-4K.

North Sikkim by Zostel Gangtok, a backpacking hostelin Sikkim

West & South Sikkim

These two regions can be covered in a single trip and mostly hold Sikkim tourist places popular amongst pilgrims. So, if you’re here to backpack, you can skip those parts.

Places we recommend: Darap, Borong-Ravangla, Pelling (for sunrise & sunset views), Khechuperi Lake, Yuksom, and Namchi
Time to spend: 1-2 nights
Commute: State-run buses as well as shared jeeps with packages run here.

East Sikkim

Gangtok to East Sikkim is a pleasant 1-day trip, making the district the easiest to reach of all.

Places we recommend: Tsogmo Lake, Jalepla, Aritar, Zuluk
Time to spend: 1 day, 2 at max.
Commute: Private hire taxis for a day are the cheapest if shared between 4 people.

Planning a trip to Sikkim? Socialise and stay in comfort at Zostel Gangtok, a lively backpacker's hostel.

For the Backpacker in you

The backpacking culture is just coming up in Sikkim, and it’s all for the best. The landscape of this state has many adventurous treks, short hikes, and offbeat villages to offer.

Offbeat Villages of Sikkim

If you’re coming to Sikkim with some time on your hands, consider staying at some of these villages along with Gangtok. I’m confident you’ll be able to explore many such, the further you go in any direction.

Dzongu: With two rivers flowing across its land and a marvellous forested mountainscape all around, the Dzongu village is one of the purest places to see in Sikkim. Resided majorly by the Lepcha community, the village ends making way for the Kanchenjunga Biosphere Reserve. With rice fields, lush forests, and simple homestays, this village is for those who want to spend some time soaking in nature.
Gangtok to Dzongu: 80 km, 4 hours, towards North Sikkim

Darap: Falling between Pelling and Yuksom villages of North Sikkim, Darap is a laid-back town featuring a subtly sloped landscape garnished with greenery. Giving a peek into the culture of the Limboo community, the village leads a real bucolic life with its simple chores. Visit the 200-year-old Limbu house made of tar and mud for an exotic experience. Rest, you can spend your time walking around the village, chatting up with the locals and clicking pictures for keepsake. So, if you’re looking for offbeat places to see in Sikkim, Darap won’t disappoint.
Gangtok to Daap: 140 km, 5 hours, towards North Sikkim

Borong: Sitting by the banks of river Rangit, the village of Borong holds soothing hot water springs throughout December and February, making it an exciting mark for the places to visit in Sikkim. Travellers can chill in the waters for the afternoon and spend the rest of the day walking around, exploring the tiny hamlet on a one-day halt here.
Gangtok to Borong: 85 km, 4.5 hours, towards West Sikkim

Hikes of Sikkim

Hike to the Tinjurey top: One of the easiest things to do in Gangtok for backpackers, this hike summarizes the landscape of Gangtok city for everyone. Starting at Tashi viewpoint, the walk is slightly steep and lets you cover its 5 km in around 2.5 hours. A forest of magnolia, maple, and pine, home to many wild animals including the leopard greets you on the way. The hike culminates in the top of the peak with a standalone watchtower that gives you a view of the entire Gangtok city along with the Kanchenjunga and other mountains.

Tendong Hill hike: This hike is situated in South Sikkim, and begins from a village called Damthang, 13 km from Namchi. The 3.5 km trail takes nearly 1.5 hours to get there, and one hour to come down. So in all, it is a 4-hour hike. You begin with some steps and then suddenly there’s a jungle trail full of bamboos and wild berries. The end point is the Tendong Monastery, a heritage site revered by the Lepchas, one of the most historically significant places to visit in Sikkim. To reach Damthang, you can take a shared jeep from Namchi.

Bhaley Dunga hike: A day outing near the Pelling Village of Sikkim, this moderate hike is one of the finer things to do in Sikkim and requires you to climb uphill for 3 hours. You’ll cover two points on it, one being the Rani Dunga peak and then as you walk downhill, you’ll spot the Sangacholing Monastery. From there, Pelling is a 1-hour walk.

Backpacking around Sikkim? Come, live the most of that backpacker life in Sikkim wth Zostel Gangtok!

Zostel Gangtok, top-rated backpacking hostel in Gangtok, Sikkim
Picture by Ankit Gupta

Treks of Sikkim for an extended adventure

If you’re looking for a hardcore adventure in the mountains, one of the best things to do in Sikkim is go for a multiple-day trek. Here are some that we vouch for:

The Kanchenjunga Base Camp: 8 to 11 days, the best time being May, June, and mid-September to October, one of the best places to see in Sikkim. 

Dzongri & Goecha La Trek: 8 days, best time being March to May and September to December.

Singalila National Park Trek: 5 days, best time being March to early June and mid-Sep to November.

The Green Lake trek: 12 to 16 days, the best time being April and October.

Zostel Gangtok

So glad to announce that with Zostel Gangtok, we’re finally present in Northeast India! This is something Zostel had been working on for a long time, and now we’re just too excited to come up at more places in this scarcely travelled part of the country.

The common room of Zostel Gangtok
Picture by Ankit Gupta

With bright and colourful common areas, a charming rooftop for gigs and gatherings, cute little dorms and luxe rooms, Zostel Gangtok is located in Upper Sichey, a 20-min walk from Gangtok city’s MG Marg. We entertain backpackers with an in-house café, a small bar that serves wine and beers, and the warmest of vibes. Should you ask for recommendations over things to do in Gangtok & places to visit in Sikkim, we’d be glad to help you at the desk too, with all your bookings & itineraries. Check out the hostel here.

Dorm room in Zostel Gangtok, Sikkim a backpacker's hostel
Picture by Ankit Gupta

About Zostel

Zostel is Asia’s largest chain of backpacking hostels, with 50+ hostels and homestays across India & Nepal. Along with comfortable dorm & private stays, we provide experiences, indulge in everyday activities at the hostel, host events across major cities of India, and provide homely stays in offbeat places through ZostelX Homes. And hey, we’re pretty cool with Instagram too, reach out there for any queries or just for a chat!

Hotel room in Zostel Gangtok, Sikkim
Picture by Ankit Gupta

Know more about us at

Writer, Pranavi Chhikniwala.