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Gangtok

Gangtok is the capital city of the Himalayan state of Sikkim, known for its flowers, particularly orchids, and its preservation of Tibetan culture because of the many refugees who have settled there. Sandwiched between Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet, Sikkim was once an independent kingdom and it was the last state to give up its monarchy and integrate into India in 1975. Separated from the rest of India by the Rungeet River, foreigners are required to get a permit to visit Sikkim.

Located at an altitude of 1,547 metres, Gangtok has stunning views of the Himalayas, and is home to a number of important Tibetan monasteries and Buddhist sites. The Rumtek Monastery, which sits at an altitude of 1,500m, is Gangtok’s most famous site, celebrated for its superb monastic paintings and intricate woodwork. The Rumtek Monastery was built in 1959 by Rangjung Doje, the 16th Karampa Lama, after he fled Tibet. It is a replica of the monastery in Tibet which Rangjung Doje and other resident 'Black Hat' monks abandoned after the Chinese invasion. Here in Gangtok, the Rumtek Monastery is set in a tranquil place of flowing streams, snow-capped mountain and sweeping valley views.

Also make time to visit the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, which is an important cultural centre due to the large number of Tibetan refugees who have settled in Sikkim over the decades. The centre does fascinating research into the religion, history, language, art and culture of the Tibetan people and its library holds one of the largest collections of Tibetan works in the world outside Tibet and a museum of Tibetan iconography and religious art.

Once a sleepy little town that was considered very remote, it is now fast expanding into a bustling city, with busy markets and thoroughfares. Explore Gangtok's night market and its mostly pedestrianised high street, Mahatma Ghandi (MG) Marg, which is a lively hub full of restaurants, shops and people. Just minutes away from the vibrant centre of Gangtok are serene and beautiful spots overlooking the Kanchenjunga Range.

Rise early to visit the viewpoint at Tashi to witness the sunrise over Mt. Kanchenjunga. Ganesh Tok is another viewpoint; named after its small Hindu temple, it has a tower to survey the whole city and its picturesque surrounds. The landscape is full of scalloped rice terraces and perfumed forests - this region is famous for its orchid forests, which are in full bloom between April and June.

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