A few days in Gangtok


The next morning at Yoksum we farewelled George, heading back for Darjeeling and eventually Oz after two treks. Pam, Nello and I were pushing on further into Sikkim, to Gangtok and eventually the Green Lake Trek.

It is about 120 km by road from Yoksum to Gangtok, but it takes about 5 hours to make the journey, as you follow the narrow winding roads down into steep valleys and up across the sharp ridges. This is the sort of terrain where, if you drive in a straight line for more than 50 metres, you will mostly likely have run off the road and plunged several hundred metres down to the valley floor.


The colourful rooves of Gangtok

The spectacular hills, alternating between narrow terraces of vegetables or corn and patches of rich forest, the fascinating villages and small towns and never ending parade of people all helped to pass the time on this trip. That said, we were still very please to finally see the buildings of Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, sprawling along a long steep ridge. We were looking forward to a few days of R & R before heading up to Green Lake.

View over Gangtok
Gangtok is similar in some ways to Darjeeling, though somewhat smaller, with a population of 60,000, and somewhat less chaotic. A curfew on vehicles in the main shopping area from 5pm to 8am gave us a unique Indian experience - a peaceful night's sleep in the centre of town. As the cars gave way to pedestrians we wandered out to enjoy this fascinating Himalayan city. The best part of our break in Gangtok was the chance to catch up with the essentials of life - i.e. washing our clothes at last - and catching up with people back home. That evening, we were joined for dinner by our fellow Green Lake trekkers, who had just arrived; Ian, Bill, David and Margaret. By the end of an evening of good food and strong Sikkimese beer, it was clear that the next trek would be an interesting one.

The hills of Gangtok

Snow-lions of Sikkim

Buddhist monk in contemplation

The following day was one for sight-seeing and the renewal of permits. An hour in a Sikkimese government office, lined with wall-to-ceiling manilla folders and hand-notated files reminded me of life before the computer. Bureaucracy here may be tedious, but it does create jobs.

The upper buildings of Rumtek Monastery

In the courtyard of Rumtek

Sikkim is an important centre of Mahayana buddhism and this is strongly reflected in its culture. To get a feel for this, any visit to Gangtok should not miss the nearby Rumtek monastery or the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology. Both have impressive displays of the richly-coloured and ornate Sikkimese / Tibetan art and sculpture.

Wall of the Rumtek monastery

The Wheel of Life

Namgyal Institute of Tibetology

To our disappointment, we learned that Pam would not be able to continue with us on the Green Lake Walk. Her face and hands were quite badly swollen after the Goeche-La trek and she had this checked by a doctor in Gangtok. His diagnosis was altitude-induced oedema, readily treated by diuretics, but a return to high altitudes could have had serious consequences. By the time we would reach Green Lake, Pam would be back home in Oz with her family. This trek description is for you, Pam.

Gangtok street musician