The state of Sikkim is very close to Karmi Farm so it didn’t take long drive over to the state crossing point. Sikkim is another state that requires a permit to enter. However, if you enter at Rangpo the process is very efficient. Beware, if you try to enter from any other point without arranging for a visa in advance, you’ll get turned back.
Two photos of the drive from the Sikkim border to Gangtok:
Gangtok, the capital of the state, is perched on a mountain ridge. Due to its elevation (1,700 metres) it is as cold as Darjeeling in the winter months. The comparisons to Darjeeling are natural, but the two cities could not be more different. Where Darjeeling is quaint and picturesque with a sleepy night life, Gangtok has a surprisingly lively commercial scene and night life for a town of 29 k. Well, the latter part is relative, Gangtok still shuts down by 11:00 pm.
You’ll notice that I took far fewer pictures of Gangtok than usual, and certainly less than in Darjeeling. I just didn’t find the city as aestheticaly appealing as Darjeeling. However, there were things about the city that I loved. For one, I ended up having the best Sikkimese/Nepalese/North East Indian food in Gangtok, and their cafes were some of the most relaxing in India.
A photo of the main shopping and restaurant strip in Gangtok:
The following morning we traveled 26 kilometres on a scenic winding road to the town of Rumtek, home of the Rumtek Gompa complex. The complex is the current home of the Kagyu (Black Hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism and is therefore one of the most important institutions for Tibetan Buddhism. The complex has a Buddhist temple, but more importantly it serves as both a monastery and school for the Kagyu sect. The complex was only built in 1961-1966, and was meant to replace the Tsurphu Monastery in Tibet that was partially destroyed during China’s cultural revolution. Given the interference of Chinese politics into Tibetan religious affairs, there have been disputes as to the rightful spiritual leader and the complex was subject to a violent confrontation several years ago as part of that dispute. As a result, the complex is guarded by soldiers and you’ll have to show your passport and Sikkim permit to enter into the complex.
Our guide in the complex was really cute, I’ve never seen a guide get so excited about showing a place to tourists. At times, it seemed like he was on a massive dose of amphetamines.
Some shots of the complex:
On to a brief discussion of the food in Gangtok. Darjeeling and Gangtok are known for two main dishes, momos and thukpas. As I’ve noted previously, momos are large dumplings stuffed typically with cabbage or pork, and served with a homemade hot sauce. I tried momos in a bunch of places before Gangtok, but I was never too impressed–mostly because I’ve eaten a ton of excellent Chinese food in Canada and Chinese dumplings are generally more delicate and intricate. However, the pork momos at Cafe Live & Loud were amazing.
Thukpas are a type of soup made with flat rice noodles. I tried my first thukpa in Gangtok and I did enjoy the dish tremendously from the start. There are some variations on thukpas, but they are essentially the same dish. Thenthuk appears to be the exact same thing, but with the rice noodle cut into big squares. I also tried gyathuk, and I can’t for the life of me distinguish that from a regular thukpa. The best dishes in the thukpa family were again at Cafe Live & Loud, and at a restaurant called Chopsticks. As a bonus, thukpas and momos shouldn’t cost you more than $3CDN.
A photo of Cafe Live & Loud at night:
I’ll leave you with a photo of a cute dog. This adorable little fellow followed us a good eight blocks back to our hotel on our first night in Gangtok. We had to close the door on the pool fellow, he was that committed to following us inside: