| Gangtok (गान्तोक)|
Sikkim • India
|Time zone||IST (UTC+5:30)|
|25 km² (10 sq mi)|
• 1,437 m (4,715 ft)
• 2,000 /km² (5,180 /sq mi)
• SK-01, SK-02, SK-03, SK-04
Gangtok pronunciation ▶ (Nepali/Hindi: गंगटोक), the capital and largest town of the Indian state of Sikkim, situates in the lower Himalayas, located at . Known for its clean surroundings and temperate climate, this hill station of about fifty thousand people serves as the center of Sikkim's tourist industry.
Gangtok, a small hamlet until the construction of the Enchey Monastery in 1840 made it a pilgrimage center, became a major stopover between Tibet and British India at the end of the nineteenth century. Following India's independence in 1947, Sikkim became a nation-state with Gangtok as its capital. In 1975 the monarchy abrogated, Sikkim becoming India's twenty-second state with Gangtok remaining as its capital.
Although the precise meaning of the name Gangtok remains unclear, generally "lofty hill" represents the accepted meaning. Gangtok constitutes a center of Tibetan Buddhist culture and learning with numerous monasteries and religious educational institutions.
Few records exist dealing with the early history of Gangtok. The earliest records date from the construction of the hermitic Gangtok monastery in 1716 C.E.. Gangtok remained a small hamlet until the construction of the Enchey Monastery in 1840 made it a pilgrimage center. After the defeat of the Tibetans by the British, Gangtok became a major stopover in the trade between Tibet and British India at the end of the nineteenth century. The government built most of the roads and the telegraph in the area during that time.
In 1894, Thutob Namgyal, the Sikkimese monarch under British rule, shifted the capital from Tumlong to Gangtok, increasing its importance. He built a new grand palace along with other state buildings in the new capital. Following India's independence in 1947, Sikkim became a nation-state with Gangtok as its capital. Sikkim became a suzerain of India, with the condition that it would retain its independence, by the treaty signed between the Chogyal and the then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Trade between India and Tibet continued to flourish through the Nathula and Jelepla passes, offshoots of the ancient Silk Road near Gangtok. The warring nations sealed those border passes after the Sino-Indian War in 1962, depriving Gangtok of its trading business. In 1975, the monarchy abrogated, Sikkim becoming India's twenty-second state, with Gangtok as its capital.
Gangtok, located at , has an average elevation of 1437 metres (4714 feet). Situated in the lower Himalayas at an altitude of 1,780 metres (5,480 feet), in southeast Sikkim, Gangtok serves as the state capital and the headquarters of the East Sikkim district. The town lies on one side of a hill, with "The Ridge," a promenade housing the governor's residence at one end and the palace, situated at an altitude of about 6,000 feet (1,828 m), at the other. The city overlooks the Ranikhola in the valley below. Most of the roads rise steeply, with the buildings built on compacted ground alongside them. The peaks of the snow-clad Himalayan range, including the world's third tallest peak, the Kanchenjunga, stand to the east of the city..
Because of its elevation and sheltered environment, Gangtok enjoys a mild, temperate climate all year round. Like most Himalayan towns, Gangtok has five seasons: summer, monsoons, autumn, winter and spring. Temperatures range from a high of 25 °C (77° F) in summer to a low of about 3 °C (37 °F) in winter. Snow falls rarely, and in recent times Gangtok has received snow only in 1990, 2004 and 2005. Temperatures seldom fall below freezing. During that season the weather may behave unpredictably, changing abruptly from bright sunshine and clear skies to heavy rain within a couple of hours.
During spring and autumn the weather turns generally sunny and mild. Owing to its elevation, fog often envelopes Gangtok during the monsoon and winter months. Between June and September (the monsoon months), the rain often causes landslides in the area. Labile rock formations general compose the lower Himalayas, making them prone to landslides even in dry seasons. Those landslides occasionally result in the town being cut off from other parts of Sikkim.
Flora around Gangtok includes temperate deciduous forests of poplar, birch, oak, and elm, as well as evergreen, coniferous trees of the wet alpine. Densely forested regions of those evergreens lie just around the town. Flower shows around the city often feature a wide variety of rare orchids. Sunflower, marigold, poinsettia, and other flowers bloom in November and December.
Bamboo grows in abundance along the slopes of Gangtok that provide a perennial source of spring water, which originates from the roots of the trees. In the lower reaches of the town, the vegetation graduates from alpine to subtropical and temperate deciduous.
The following areas comprise Gangtok:
- Palzor Stadium Road
Also called P.S. Road, it joins the low lying localities and suburbs with the main town. Palzor Stadium represents one of its major stops. As it nears its end, many hotels flank it, as well as the stop of the SNT or the Sikkim National Transport Buses. Some major hotels include Hotel Tibet, Hotel Mayur, Hotel Mt. Jopuno among others. The top floor of Hotel Tibet serves as the residence of the Dalai Lama when he visits Gangtok. There is also a Taxi stand.
- Mahtama Gandhi Road
Also called M.G. Road, runs through the main commercial district of Gangtok. Many shops run by members of the Marwari community or migrant Biharis thrive there.
- Lal Bazar
The main market of the town occurs at the end of M.G. Road. Farmers from all over the state and adjoining areas including Nepal and Bhutan come to the market to sell their produce every weekend.
- Development Area
This fairly remote area, situated at a higher altitude, has been identified by the Government for future expansion. It is also called Zero Point. The State Library is in this area.
The Siniolchu Lodge, located near the Enchey Monastery, represents Gangtok's highest lodge. The lodge stands close to the state's main TV transmission tower.
Sikkim's mountainous terrain results in the lack of train or air links, limiting the area's potential for rapid industrial development. The government constitutes the largest employer in the city, both directly and as contractors. The Sikkim Police also employs a large number of people to patrol the streets. The tourism industry provides employment to many people, with jobs ranging from drivers, shopkeepers to hoteliers. Gangtok receives around 200,000 tourists and earns Rs. 42 crores (9.7 million US $ annually. Its economy lacks a manufacturing base, but cottage industries including watch-making, country-made alcohol and handicrafts exists. The handmade paper industry made from various vegetable fibers or cotton rags number among the handicrafts. The main market in Gangtok provides many of the state's rural residents a place to offer their produce during the harvest seasons. Marwaris and Biharis make up the majority of the private business community.
As Sikkim sits on the frontier, the Indian army maintains a presence in the vicinity of Gangtok. That leads to a population of semi-permanent residents who bring money into the local economy. The government of Sikkim also earns revenue from the numerous Playwin lottery centers (through online gambling) in the city. With the reopening of the Nathula Pass (Nathu means "whistling") in May 2006, Gangtok reaped some benefit as a result of trade between India and Tibet. The Nathula Pass, located about 50 kilometres from Gangtok, served as the primary route of the wool, fur and spice trade with Tibet until 1962, when the border closed due to heavy fighting during the Indo-Chinese war.
The local municipal corporation, directly elected by the people, oversees The civic infrastructure of Gangtok. The Border Roads Organization, a part of the Indian army, maintains the rural roads around Gangtok. As the headquarters of East Sikkim district, Gangtok also houses the offices of the district collector, an administrator appointed by the Union Government of India. Gangtok serves as home to the Sikkim High Court, India's smallest High Court in terms of area and population of jurisdiction.
Gangtok lacks its own police commissionerate, unlike other cities in India. Instead, the state police headed by a Director General of Police, although an Inspector General of Police oversees the town, provides jurisdiction. Sikkim has earned renown for its very low crime rate; Gangtok has one of the lowest crime statistics in India.
Due to the abundance of natural springs in the vicinity, Gangtok enjoys a water abundance. An almost uninterrupted electricity supply, coming from Sikkim's numerous hydroelectric power stations, benefits the area. The state's only cardiac hospital operates in Gangtok. Only 30 percent of Gangtok has a sewerage network; an estimated Rs. 28 crore (6.4 million US$) will be needed to upgrade the system. Though city ordinances restrict all buildings to a height of 15 metres (50 feet), builders openly flout the law. The city has enforced a ban on the use of plastic bags, in an effort to maintain its harmony with nature. Most shops and businesses pack their goods in paper bags.
Though Gangtok has many good schools, including the Paljor Namgyal Girls School and Tashi Namgyal Academy, only one college offers a degree in arts and commerce. Although Gangtok lacks a university, the headquarters of the Sikkim Manipal University operates just eight km outside the city limits. Other institutions offer diplomas in Buddhist literature, catering and other non-mainstream fields. As a result, many of its residents migrate to nearby Siliguri or Kolkata in pursuit of higher education. That problem has been compounded with the growing unemployment in the state, due to the lack of large-scale industries.
Daily newspapers in English, Nepali, and Hindi are available in Gangtok. The Nepali newspapers print locally, whereas the Hindi and English newspapers are brought in by truck. The English newspapers include The Statesman and The Telegraph, printed in Siliguri, as well as The Hindu and The Times of India, printed in Kolkata. In the recent past, the papers arrived a day late. That has changed recently with newspapers arriving daily.
Gangtok has three cinema halls featuring Nepali, Hindi and English language films. The town also has a public library. Internet cafés operate in and around the city, although elsewhere broadband has limited access. Satellite dishes exist in most homes in the region with the channels available throughout India, along with a few Nepali language channels, received in Gangtok. Sikkim Cable, Dish TV, Doordarshan and Nayuma constitute the main service providers . The national All India Radio constitutes the only radio station in the city. BSNL, Reliance and Airtel have the three largest cellular networks in the town.
Taxis represent the most widely available public transport within Gangtok. Most of Gangtok's residents stay within a few kilometres of the town center and many have their own vehicles. Those residing some distance away generally make use of share-jeeps, a kind of public taxis. A cable car, initially constructed for the elected MLA's to reach the state Assembly, serves the city, the only cable car system operating in an Indian capital city. The cable car now serves the public, although covering only a distance of less than a kilometre (0.6 miles).
Gangtok connects to the rest of India by an all-weather metalled highway, NH-31A, linking Gangtok to Siliguri, located 114 km (71 miles) away in the neighboring state of West Bengal. The highway also provides a link to the neighboring hill station towns of Darjeeling and Kalimpong, representing the nearest urban areas. A regular jeep, van, and bus service links the towns to Gangtok, the only route to the city from the rest of India. The station of New Jalpaiguri, a suburb of Siliguri, situated 124 km (77 miles) away from Gangtok provides the nearest railhead connection to the rest of India. Bagdogra Airport, 16 km (10 miles) from Siliguri offers the nearest airport service. Although Gangtok lacks an airport, a regular helicopter service, the Sikkim Helicopter Service links the city to Bagdogra airport, near Siliguri. A new airport, the state's first, began service mid-2005.
Ethnic Nepalis, who settled in the region during British rule, comprise the majority of Gangtok's fifty thousand residents. Lepchas, native to the land, and Bhutias also constitute a sizable portion of the populace. Additionally, a large number of Tibetans have immigrated to the town in recent years. Immigrant resident communities include the Marwaris, who own most of the shops; the Biharis, employed in mostly blue collar jobs, and the Bengalis.
Hinduism and Buddhism constitute the two largest religions in Gangtok. Gangtok also has a sizable Christian population, mostly of Lepcha origin, who converted after British missionaries started preaching here in the late 19th century. The town has remained secular, having never witnessed any sort of inter-religious strife in its history. A mosque in downtown Gangtok also serves the small Muslim minority.
Nepali represents the most widely spoken language in Gangtok. Much of the population speak English and Hindi in most of Sikkim, particularly in Gangtok. Other languages spoken in Gangtok include Bhutia (Sikkimese), Tibetan and Lepcha.
As of the 2001 census of India, Gangtok had a population of 29,162. Males constitute 54 percent of the population and females 46 percent. Gangtok has an average literacy rate of 79 percent, higher than the national average of 59.5 percent: male literacy stands at 82 percent, and female literacy 75 percent. In Gangtok, the six years and under age group represents eight percent of the population.
The Gangtok population celebrates major Indian festivals, such as Diwali and Makar Sankranti (the popular Hindu festivals) along with the Buddhist festivals like Losar, Loosong, Bhumchu, Saga Dawa, Lhabab Duechen and Drupka Teshi. During the Losar, the Tibetan New Year in mid-December, most government offices and tourist centers close for a week. In recent times, Christmas has also been celebrated in Gangtok.
Residents of Sikkim love music, Western rock music normally plays in homes and restaurants. Indigenous Nepali rock, music suffused with a western rock beat and Nepali lyrics, has a popular following as well as Hindi pop songs.
Football (soccer) and cricket represent the two most popular sports. The Paljor Stadium, which hosts football matches, provides the sole sporting ground in the city.
People enjoy noodle-based foods such as thukpa, chowmein, thanthuk, fakthu, gyathuk and wonton, in Gangtok. The momo represents a popular snack made from vegetable, beef, or pork filling, steamed and served with a soup. A low excise duty in Sikkim opens a flow of inexpensive alcohol; both locals and non-locals frequently consume Beer, whiskey, rum and brandy.
A 200 foot (90 m) TV tower that can be viewed from afar stands as the city's main landmark.
A center of Buddhist learning and culture, Enchey monastery, the Do-drul Chorten stupa complex and the Rumtek Monastery embody Gangtok's most famous Buddhist institutions. The Enchey monastery, the city's oldest monastery, serves as the headquarters of the Nyingma order. The 200-year-old baroque monastery houses images of gods, goddesses, and other religious artifacts. In the month of January, dancers perform the Chaam, or masked dance, with great fanfare. Trulshi Rimpoché, head of the Nyingma order of Tibetan Buddhism constructed a stupa, the Dro-dul Chorten, in 1945. The stupa houses a complete set of relics, holy books, and mantras. One hundred and eight Mani Lhakor, or prayer wheels surround the edifice. The complex houses a religious school.
The Rumtek Monastery on the outskirts of the town constitutes one of Buddhism's most sacred monasteries. The monastery serves as the seat of the Kagyu order, one of the major Tibetan sects, and houses some of the world's most sacred and rare Tibetan Buddhist scriptures and religious objects in its reliquary. Constructed in the 1960s, a similar monastery in Lhasa, Tibet served as a model for the building. Rumtek became the focus of international media attention in 2000 after the seventeenth Karmapa, one of the four holiest lamas, fled Lhasa and sought refuge in the monastery.
The Namgyal Research Institute of Tibetology, better known as the Tibetology Museum, houses a huge collection of masks, Buddhist scriptures, statues, and tapestries. Housing over two hundred Buddhist icons, the institute serves as a center for the study of Buddhist philosophy. The Ganesh Tok and the Hanuman Tok, dedicated to the Hindu gods Ganpati and Hanuman and housing important Hindu temples, stand in the upper reaches of the town.
The Himalayan Zoological Park exhibits the fauna of the Himalayas in their natural habitats. The zoo features the Himalayan Black Bear, the barking deer, the snow leopard, the civet cat, red pandas and the spotted deer. The Jawaharlal Nehru Botanical Gardens, near Rumtek, houses many species of bamboo and as many as 50 different species of tree, including many oaks.
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