Gangtok travel post-pandemic and food trail

A family trip to Sikkim was on the cards for a long. Covid postponed the plan by a couple of years. Post double vaccination took a sudden decision to book first-class tickets for Padatik express. An effort to compensate marred Durga Puja days amid social distance restrictions. What followed next was ten days of rollercoaster ride covering Gangtok, Pelling and Ravangla to reinvent the fun of a family trip. We travelled once the Covid restrictions relaxed; however, unfortunately, in and around Gangtok, all monasteries were closed or under maintenance. A two blog series to pen down the experience.

Train Journey

The train number 02377 left Sealdah station at sharp 11.20 pm. We are glad that this time we selected first-class – a long corridor for the kids to play around, and reservations allowed a coupe and cabin for the gang. For Samrth and Shlokh – my twin boys, this is their first experience in train. They found a whole new world post two years of lockdown.

The following day, we reached NJP Station on time at 9.20 am. The chaos of tourists, porters and cab drivers were waiting outside. Huge tourism rush after almost two years gap. Locals are calling it “revenge tourism”. We, fortunately, had our can for the whole tour pre-booked. Mr Pempa Gurung, with his white eight-seater SUV, was waiting for us in front of the model toy train engine at the parking. One may avail of his service by calling him at +918116072011, restricted to only Sikkim territory. Sikkim falls under the landslide zone. Post monsoon, almost all roads were in horrendous condition.

Enroute Pitstop

On the way for breakfast or even lunch, one may stopover at Lohapool. LeelaMani is a decent option available for family dine-in. There are ample parking spaces, clean toilets, and even a kid’s play area. We ordered five plates of fried Chicken Momo and chilled beer. Momo is not impressive but thick-skinned and chewy. I did realise locals are having poori and sabzi. However, chilled beer did compensate to some extent. Pocket pinch is INR 940 for a roadside eatery, which is comparatively very high.  

Accommodation in Gangtok

The Loft

After seven hours of journey, we reached Gangtok. We booked a penthouse, “The Loft” at MG Marg. The two-floor property with three bedrooms is spacious, with a warm, cosy wooden interior. We found this a perfect place for a home-like environment while still within walking distance of MG Marg. The property is very thoughtfully designed and has an open view towards the green valley from living and bedrooms. The huge glass windows offer a cinematic sunrise view of the Kanchenjunga peaks. Kids had a gala of a time. Toilets were neat and clean, and a high-pressure shower was bliss after a tiring day. Things that can be better are the property’s maintenance for furniture, furnishings and upholstery. For booking, one may reach them at +91 9775274789.

Sights & Eateries of Gangtok

Nimtho, Gangtok

The evening was to laze around and have a light meal after a tiring day. Most of the busy and popular restaurants here start taking last orders around 8 pm and close by 9.30 pm. We hit busy and glittering MG Marg, Gangtok for our dinner and found no seats in most outlets. We then found Nimtho. Nimtho claims to serve authentic Nepalese and Sikkimese cuisine. The restaurant’s interiors will transport us to a humble Sikkimese home and the rustic ways of cooking. Dining here is an experience in itself.

We found most of the table ordered soupy momo. Without much contemplating, we ordered Chicken Jhol Momo. The restaurant served the unique preparation in a bronze bowl, dunked steamed chicken momos in runny and flavoursome soup. The freshly steamed momos with rich soup with fresh coriander leaves and spices play a flavour symphony inside your mouth.  

Eastern Sikkim

The triangle of Nathu La Pass, Tsomgo (Changu) Lake and Baba Mandir is one of the popular day trips from Gangtok. Nathu La Pass (alt. 14140 ft) is 56 km away from Gangtok and takes about 2-3 hours by car. The road trip shall start at about 8 am and leave the Gangtok city’s last checkpoint by 10 am. Permits are available through registered and recognized travel agencies only from the Tourism and Civil Aviation Department. The agent will inform you on the morning of the trip if the pass is open for the day based on weather conditions. Also, it is a lottery to get a Nathu La Pass permit from limited slots. The permit cost is INR 200 per head.

Nathula Pass

Nathu La Pass is the passage between India & China. Initially, in 1961 the trade route between India and China was closed down but reopened in 2006. There isn’t much to see here, other than the border immigration office, fencing at the border and a minefield protecting our territory. The Chinese soldiers are visible on the other side of the barbed wire international border. The scenic winding road towards the Nathula Pass is one of the highest motorable roads in the world. At the pass officially, photography is not allowed, and the Indian Army is stringent there and will ensure you delete any unwanted photos jeopardizing the border security.

At high altitudes, the oxygen level is low. Hence climb slowly and frequently pause to avoid gasping for breath. I struggled to climb but managed to reach the top. Surprisingly, my 3½ years old twins did not show any sign of discomfort. But aged parents decided to take a rest at the entry.

  • Always first visit the Nathu La Pass and then other locations on the way back.
  • Permit for Nathu La Pass is not available for Monday and Tuesday, but no such limitations for Tsomgo Lake.
  • For permit, Indian citizens carry voters card/passport copies, two passport-sized photos, and the double dose covid vaccination certificate.
  • Aadhar Card is not accepted.
  • Only Indian citizens are allowed to visit Nathu La pass.
  • If you don’t have passport photos, then MG Marg, Gangtok got shops to print instant photos

On the way back to Tsomgo Lake, stopped by at the bank of lesser-known Jorpokahri (twin lakes) at 13600 feet, to get our breath back and soak the rugged nature.

Tsomgo Lake

The pristine glacial lake is 40 km from Gangtok at an elevation of 12,400ft. The name Tsomgo means ‘source of water. The melting snow of the surrounding mountains is the water source of the lake. Buddhists and Hindus consider the lake sacred.

During peak winter, the lake freezes, and one can even walk on the frozen lake. But do not even think to try that as it is illegal. A broken path on the other side of the lake takes you to there middle of the lake. During March – April, the snow-covered lake looks impressive.

Alongside the lake, several locals parked their yaks, offering a ride around the lake. The yaks look beautiful, adorned in colourful gear. However, I am not much in favour to ride the animal. Firstly I think this is cruelty towards animals, and secondly, the locals charge an exorbitant price of INR 1200 to INR 2000 for a few minutes ride. One also can ride the ropeway, again very steep ticket pricing of INR 360 for anyone above three years.

Shuffle Momos, Gangtok

We skipped momo lunch at the roadside shacks on our way back from Tsomgo Lake. Instead, our car dropped us at the MG Marg, Gangtok entrance. Shuffle Momos, at the entry of MG Marg, was established in 2016 and is one of the cleanest restaurants in the city. Inside the see-through kitchen, the staff wrap momo with precision. Each handmade momo variant has a different number of intricate folds on the dough. The outdoor seating offers a great view of MG Road. The outlet house more than thirty variants of momo – heaven for momo lovers. 

Churpi Ghew Momo is a traditional and local delicacy. ‘Churpi’ is organic cottage cheese, and ‘ghew’ is the local organic butter. The amalgamation of churpi and ghew oozes out with each bite. Chicken Chilli Momo is a simple yet innovative dish. Crispy and deep-fried pork momo stir-fried on high flame with chilli sauce, onion, green chilli, and bell pepper, locally known as C Momo. Chicken Cheese Momo has the burst of cheese and feels the chunky chicken in each bite.

Beef Potstickers are pan-cooked momos from start to finish. The potstickers are not steamed momos and got a paper-thin fine cornflour & potato starch layer on the top. It is innovative and must try. The motto of the brand is to have the momo skin as thin as apple skin. However, I was not too impressed by the quantity of momo stuffing.  

After a gruesome day and a late post-lunch nap, we planned for a simple, home-cooked yet authentic Nepali thali. Kids never lacked energy and felt proud parents after they withstood the harsh high altitude weather—an embedded travel bug in their DNA. I did a quick dinner table book to avoid waiting.

Hamro Bhansha Ghar, Gangtok

Hamro Bhansa Ghar, a quaint restaurant overlooking MG Marg, serves full-fledged veg and non-veg Thakali thali. However, the outlet still has cabin culture in its seating. Do not feel shy to stick your neck out of the window to witness the hustle and bustle of MG Marg, Gangtok. Every nook and cranny of the ambience has Nepali culture touch. 

The Mutton Thali, served in bronze utensils, in a bronze plate typically used by Thakali people and similar bronze bowls to serve curry dishes. Like a true Bong, we ordered for the mutton thali. A typical serving of Thakali plater will revolve around steamed rice, eggplant fritter and kali daal. The batter is thicker and spicier than Bong’s beguni. A generous dollop of ghee with rice and daal makes a perfect start. The daal has a beautiful earthy aroma and mild flavours of spices.

The platter had vegetable preparations like gundruk (fermented mustard greens), ningro (fiddlehead fern), nakima (an edible flower) and aloo karela. The well-cooked mutton curry was the crown jewel of the thali. The gravy looked rich red but not spicy at all. The tender meat curry was finger-licking good. The softness of the meat is noteworthy. The accompaniment of dry fish chutney and mula ko achar (white radish pickle) gives the thali a whole new dimension of taste and flavour. Though the thali is low on desserts, a sweet curd completes the meal.

Baker’s Cafe, Gangtok

The following day started with a dose of a caffeine kick at Baker’s Cafe. The Baker’s Cafe is a modern coffee house yet exuberates vintage charm and class with brown wooden texture and green sofas. One will get glued to the display of enormous variants of pastries and doughnuts. We ordered coffee, waffles, and some sweet indulgence. Take your favourite window-side table with a view of sun-bathe MG Marg, Gangtok or the majestic scenery of mountains and valleys on the other side. The day planned to stick around MG Marg and do lots of shopping and restaurant hopping.  

Irish Coffee is a layered beverage of whiskey flavour syrup, black coffee, and whipped cream —an autumn morning indulgence during holidays. Please give it a quick stir before sipping and witness the cream drips down the brink. Irish coffees are not overwhelmingly sweet and rich but not an authentic concoction. The original recipe shall feature a dash of Irish whiskey. The cafe prepared Hazelnut Latte from instant coffee powders and crystals mixed with foamed milk. Too much sweetness spoiled the nutty flavour combined with the coffee flavour. A coffee connoisseur is unlikely to fall in love with this variant.

Without waffles, the holiday indulgence is incomplete. Chocolate and Walnut Waffle is a crisp raised cake baked between a waffle iron with honeycombed griddle, also topped with chocolate syrup and chopped walnut over the evenly baked base. Berry Crumble is a moist and crumbly pastry. A perfectly baked muffin with fresh blueberries and buttery oat crumbles on top. Extremely balanced sweetness and insist on serving warm. The doughnut was a little tough and just okay, maybe not freshly baked.   

MG Marg, Gangtok

MG Marg is the Gangtok’s nerve centre. The cobbled roads are pedestrian-only, and the 1 km stretch is a smoke-free zone. All the city’s best-known cafes, restaurants, and bars are on both sides of the long stretch boulevard. Both locals and tourists take leisure strolls or sit on wooden benches to soak in the atmosphere. Even kids had a blast here while we relaxed on the bench to watch them enjoying.

  • Dussehra is one of the significant festivals in Sikkim.
  • Most hotels and restaurants operate with a lean team.
  • Expect a limited menu and delayed service.
  • On the contrary, this is a peak tourist time for the Durga Puja holidays.

The Dragon Wok, Gangtok

While in MG Marg, the time flies among lots of activities and then the hunger attacks. Our attention moved towards The Dragon Wok, located on top of the Bata store at MG Marg. Two giant dragons outside of the building will ensure you do not miss the location. A long and steep staircase inside the building leads to the place. The place serves authentic Japanese cuisine too. I am smelling sushi!

Nothing better than tucking into a bowl of steaming hot Chicken Gyathuk after a long day! Gyathuk is a bowl of hot noodle soup cooked with lean chicken. The soup is a one-pot meal that is sufficient for a person to consume as a main course. The soup is so comforting with the freshness of ginger, garlic, cilantro, and a dash of lemon juice, while chilli oil gives it a punch of taste. One can adjust the spice level according to their needs.

Cold Pork Salad is a cold sliced pork starter of Sichuan cuisine. Meat slices boiled in bone broth until it is cooked. The crimson red oil mixes sesame oil, red chilli flakes, chopped garlic, and spices – enhanced the flavour. Meat and fat in every slice offered a full spectrum of Sichuan taste flavours and textures. Oh boy! How much we relished the preparation with chilled beer.  

The Dragon Eye is crispy fried sushi. Japanese short-grain sticky rice seasoned with rice vinegar, fresh salmon, vegetables rolled in seaweed nori. The roll is covered with panko and deep-fried till it is crispy and golden. Deep-fried sushi was a hell of a culinary experience. For the maki and nigiri assortments, the Sushi Platter is another good option. We enjoyed the sushi with wasabi and pickled ginger. 

The Local Cafe, Gangtok

On the second last morning in Gangtok, Slokh and their grandparents decided to stay back at the penthouse. In comparison, Sonali and Samrth accompanied me to The Local Cafe for breakfast. A cute little cafe at MG Road recently created waves with Laphing. Laphing is a spicy cold noodle dish made from split green gram flour. The yellow coloured noodles have a slippery and jelly texture. Hot chilli sauce spread inside will tickle your taste buds. But it is not overpowering. Laphing has always been a vegetable dish, but the cafe serves with bacon.

The cafe prepared Tibetan Sandwich with homemade Tibetan buckwheat flour bread. The texture inside is like bread, but the outer crust looks like roti. Stuffed with chicken, cheese, mayonnaise, and roasted vegetables, served with potato wedges and salad. 

Gorkha Spicy Chicken Pizza is bold and spicy pizza. Spread of tomato and hot dalle khursani paste on the base with topping of grilled chicken and premium mozzarella cheese. I would have preferred more cheese. Ask the cafe to adjust spiciness based on our preference—a local favourite.  

While we were completing our breakfast, our driver, with excitement, informed us about the probability of entering inside Enchey Monastery. We wanted to take the risk to visit at least one of the monasteries in Gangtok.

Enchey Monastery

The Enchey Monastery is located on a hilltop on the outskirts of Gangtok. The literal meaning of ‘Enchey Monastery’ is ‘the solitary temple’. The monastery was built in 1840. However, during the 10th Chogyal of Sikkim reign, it was renovated in 1908 to resemble a Chinese pagoda. The monastery allowed tourists to enter the premises; however, it was going through renovation. The long straight line series of prayer wheels is the attraction here.

Bakthang Waterfall

Our driver could feel our frustration and wanted to uplift our spirit while driving us down to the Bakthang Waterfall. The waterfall is located at the roadside of the highway (NH 10). A dwarf yet wide waterfall has its source from the Ratey Chu river at 12,500 feet. The serene waterfall cascades down over the canopy of green creepers.

Taste of Tibet, Gangtok

No Gangtok travel is complete without visiting Taste Of Tibet. The restaurant is on every visitor’s list. Tibetan delicacies are a popular section of the elaborate menu. For lunch, we reached early to occupy the window tables overlooking MG Marg.

After back to back outside food, the intention is to go light on our stomach. Tibetan food is known for its mild taste and are often served as not overly spicy, salty, or even too much flavour. Noodles are used in Chicken Gyathuk, while flat handmade traditional square-shaped pasta in Chicken Thenthuk. Soup is thick, floury and lacks any salt. Table accompaniment of fiery chilli sauce did not help in the taste of the bland soup—a quite a turnoff for us.

If you like fried Tibetan delicacies, then Chicken Shayphaley is the order for the day. The large fried meat pies are crunchy on the outside with a crimped edge and filled with juicy and flavorful meat. It is one of the best shayphaleys I had in my lifetime – it turned out as our lunch saviour. 

Hidden Gems

We reserved the final day at Gangtok to explore a couple of hidden gems. A lesser number of tourists are aware of these outlets, but locals are fond of them.  

Orthodox Restaurant, Gangtok

Orthodox Restaurant is though centrally located, and many overlook the place. Vintage English-inspired interiors like Park street restaurants in Kolkata. Fried Beef Momo was overloaded with minced and shredded beef. We enjoyed the flaky casing with sauce and local beer.  

Buza Scoopa, Gangtok

Buza Scoopa is located inside a narrow bylane of MG Marg, Gangtok. Three young entrepreneurs formed the brand local ice cream brand. Handcrafted ice creams, zero preservatives, and an overload of whole cream milk. No compromise with calories and fats. Believe it or not, they have 106 flavours on the menu but can display only 20 flavours at a time. The owners say their ice cream goes to one’s heart than the stomach. Have these scoops with freshly made waffle cones.

Dalle Khursani is one of the world’s hottest chillies from Sikkim. The concept of fusion cuisine and unique flavours has taken dalle khursani to an ice-cream parlour of Gangtok. The signature ‘Icy Hot Dalle‘ melds the exotic chilli with familiar flavours of ice cream. The chilli is super hot and is not for the faint-hearted. However, the heat gradually fades away without taking water or anything sweet. It is another hidden gem that got uncovered during the trip.  

Must Try

There are so many food options in Gangtok, however below are my picks to try.

  • Jhol Momo at Nimtho
  • Churpi Ghew Momo at Shuffle Momos
  • Mutton Thali at Hamro Bhansha Ghar
  • Cold Pork Salad and Dragon Eye at The Dragon Wok
  • Laphing at The Local Cafe
  • Shayphaley at Taste Of Tibet
  • Fried Beef Momo at Orthodox Restaurant
  • Icy Hot Dalle at Buza Scoopa

How to reach Gangtok

By Air: The airport nearest to Gangtok is about 124 kilometres away in Bagdogra. From the airport, you can hire a shared taxi or a private vehicle to Gangtok.

By Train: The nearest railway station to Gangtok is about 148 kilometres away in New Jalpaiguri in Siliguri. The station is well-connected to major cities like Kolkata and New Delhi. From New Jalpaiguri, one can take a taxi to Gangtok or go to Siliguri Bus Station and catch a state-run bus to Gangtok.

By Road/Self-Drive: Tourists rolling in from nearby places like Siliguri, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kolkata prefer to drive to Gangtok. The roads are well-maintained, except in a few patches.

Five days in, Gangtok passed away like a wink. We have boarded our car for the next stop at Pelling. The weather is improving, and I am keeping my fingers crossed to view Kanchenjunga from Pelling. The following blogs will have our experience in Pelling and Ravangla.

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