I think when I went to Sikkim for the first time, I was about 5 or 6 years old. I remember staying in a hotel on the main road, and it was rather cold. Back then, the tourist infrastructure in Sikkim wasn’t that developed so places like Ravangla had not even come up. We did a short trip to Gangtok, and that was it.
But there was a lot I had heard about Sikkim since. People talked about how wonderful it was, and with just a few days in hand, I got myself a ticket to Bagdogra to really see what all the fuss is about.
The flight takes you to Bagdogra (or the train drops you at NJP), and from there, you take a shared or private vehicle to enter Sikkim. Okay, before anything else, here’s two little things you need to know. One, take a Sikkim-registered taxi when you arrive at NJP or Bagdogra. If the vehicle you take has a Bengal registration, it will drop you at Deorali because they are not permitted to go any further. From there, you will need a spend a good couple of hundreds to get to your hotel. But with a Sikkim vehicle, you can go all the way to your hotel. Two, have an ID card present, because the army officials posted at the border will ask your for one. This applies to every member in your group.
So anyway, I got off at Bagdogra and found a Sikkim cab at the airport itself. The journey was to take about five hours with a small lunch break. We stopped at a tiny restaurant for a pork thali and a Dansberg beer (the beer brand owned by actor Danny Denzongpa), and on the way to the Sikkim checkpost, passed by the gorgeous Teesta river.
It was still early when I arrived in Gangtok, so I checked in and went out to see MG Road. It was nothing like I remembered it. Now a pedestrians-only zone, MG Road is a bustling town centre now with rows of shops spread across two levels. It is also the country’s first spit and litter free zone. I walked the entire length of the street and it was lined with shops selling everything from Chinese geisha dolls to lucky cats and other feng shui items as well as woollens for quite cheap.
The general mood at MG Marg was quite relaxed. There were as many locals as there were tourists and it was nearly impossible to find one empty bench along the sidewalk. I did some shopping too, because I wouldn’t be in Gangtok the next evening so this was my last chance to buy souvenirs. Also bought some tittora – a dried and cured dry fruit snack.
I had been advised to try the food at Bakers’ Cafe, and so I went. And I got a window-side table too, thankfully, overlooking MG Road. The coffee and croissants were quite nice, and the pastries were filling enough for me to skip dinner later.
Spent way too long people watching at Bakers Cafe, and got back to the hotel via a network of stairs cut into the hills. That’s how locals travel because taking the sloping roads on foot is a lot more effort. Oh, and nearly all of Gangtok is a no-smoking zone, with hefty fines for those caught smoking. I did see a number of people sneaking a smoke though, near a hospital no less!