7 tips for budget tour to Gangtok: Cheapest ways to travel

Want to visit Gangtok but worried about the expense? It is possible to travel Gangtok in low cost without seriously compromising your finances. Let's see how to travel Gangtok and the whole of Sikkim in a small budget!

Ever since the annexation of Sikkim by India in 1975, this quaint north-eastern state has remained a popular tourist destination, particularly in the summer. Sikkim offers a plethora to the travellers, including buzzing cities, serene alpine meadows and valleys vivaciously coloured with wildflowers, tranquil Buddhist monasteries (gompa), snowy glaciers and much more. There are four districts in Sikkim – namely North, East, South and West – with all of them offering several beautiful tourist places. Gangtok, the capital city of Sikkim, usually serves as the starting and/or ending point of all Sikkim tours. While some people typically stay at Gangtok and take daily excursions to various tourist attractions nearby, other people use this city as a halting place for a couple of days for acclimatization before they proceed to higher-altitude places like Lachen, Lachung, Lake Gurudongmar, Gnathang Valley and so on.

Being a popular tourist place throughout the year, Gangtok offers a wide range of hotels and tourist facilities. The web world is crowded with lots of information that will help you plan a tour to Gangtok. However, few understand the plight of a budget traveller. While there are thousands of tourism articles on Gangtok on the internet, very few provide genuine and handy tips to travel Gangtok in a low budget. Of course, my tips for budget trips to the Himalayas equally apply for Gangtok or for Sikkim in general, like avoiding the tourist season or trying to adapt to the local culture. However, in this article, I shall try to provide some specific, tailor-made cheap Sikkim / Gangtok tour ideas. Keep reading!

1. Take a shared taxi or bus from Siliguri, not NJP

If you are coming by train, you will most probably get down at New Jalpaiguri (station code: NJP) and you will find an array of taxis, both reserved and shared, are waiting to take you to various destinations in the eastern Himalayas. The touts and agents will sometimes start pulling your hands too. Discourage them at all costs. Take an auto-rickshaw instead (fare Rs. 20 to 30 per person), and head to the twin town Siliguri, only 7 kilometres apart. Shared taxis from Siliguri (near Siliguri Junction railway station and Tenzing Norgay Bus Terminus) to Gangtok will usually cost Rs. 250 per person, which may go up to Rs. 300 in the peak season. From NJP, shared taxis will try to cash out as much as possible because only tourists board from there and you may end up paying even twice the fare from Siliguri. All the locals usually come to Siliguri, and the shared taxi owners/drivers there are much more agreeable and less haggling. If you can take a bus from Tenzing Norgay bus terminus nearby, it will be even cheaper. There are Sikkim Nationalized Transport (SNT) buses plying almost every hour. Of late, AC buses have been introduced as well.

As a budget traveller, you won't probably be coming by aeroplane. Even if you do, you can take an auto outside Bagdogra airport to Siliguri, and then follow suit.

2. Stay at Tadong or Deorali

Do you know where to look for cheap accommodation in a tourist place? The city outskirts. While MG Marg is arguably the centre of activities and attraction in Gangtok, hotels in that area can be really costly. It is better to look for an accommodation in Tadong (Some of the neighbourhoods include 5th Mile, 6th Mile, Tadong Metro, Tadong Bazaar etc.) or Deorali. The places are at the fringes of the main city, along the national highway, a few kilometres far from the city centre. From Tadong for example, you can always take a shared cab and reach MG Marg in 15-20 minutes, and the fare would be around Rs. 25 per person. If you can save two to three hundred rupees in hotel charges per night, you won't probably mind paying for a shared taxi. Deorali, which is closer to Gangtok than Tadong, is another neighbourhood you can explore.

Also, if you are taking a shared taxi (usually a Tata Sumo) from Siliguri with West Bengal registration, it will take you no further than the mainline taxi stand at Deorali. From there you either have to walk to your hotel with your entire luggage or take a reserved taxi with Sikkim registration, which will cost a sizeable amount of money. Staying at Deorali or Tadong (which is before Deorali while travelling from Siliguri) will solve that problem as you can disembark pretty close to your hotel from the shared taxi.

3. Explore cheap eateries near Tadong

The locality of Tadong has several prominent institutions like the Central University of Sikkim, Sikkim Manipal University, Nar Bahadur Bhandari Degree College (Formerly Sikkim Government College) and so on. To cater to a large number of students that study in these institutions and also sometimes stay in hostels or rented apartments around this area, Tadong has several cheap eateries, particularly in the Bazaar area. An average plate of Vegetable Momo in this area is Rs. 30, compared to Rs. 50-100 in the city centre. A plate of Chicken Noodles would cost around Rs. 60, and a delicious sha phaley (also called phaley or sha balep) is just Rs. 10. Thus you can enjoy the delicacies of authentic Nepalese and Tibetan cuisines without compromising your finances.

4. Choose your sightseeing plans wisely

Do some research beforehand and be very sure about the sightseeing places you want to visit. There are lots of Buddhist monasteries in and around Gangtok. Unless you are particularly enthusiastic about Tibetan Buddhism, it does not make sense to visit all the monasteries. After a certain point, it will become boring and repetitive. The Rumtek Dharma Chakra Centre, Enchey Monastery, and the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology are worth visiting though. Similarly, there are some viewpoints in and around the town where you can catch a glimpse of the majestic Kanchenjunga range. However, if you are heading towards places in North Sikkim like Lachen, Lachung or Yumthang, you will eventually get a closer and better view of the snowy peaks. Therefore it makes little sense to spend money on visiting a viewpoint in the city itself.

5. Gather fellow travellers and share the transportation

For sightseeing, particularly in the more secluded areas, transport cost may burn a hole in your pocket. A good idea is to catch up with other groups or families heading towards the same place and share the transportation cost. For example, a lot of people who visit Gangtok also go to Tsongmo lake. Ask other people staying in your hotel. Reach the booking offices near MG Marg super early in the morning and try to strike a deal with other tourist parties. It is going to be a win-win negotiation for both!

6. Acquire some bargaining skills

Bargaining is common in Gangtok, particularly in the shopping districts (around Denzong Cinema for example). So don't be shy to bargain and strike a good deal when it comes to shopping. Always check the quality of things you are purchasing, particularly for garments. The malpractice of selling substandard goods at exorbitant prices to unsuspecting tourists is not uncommon, so beware! And while shopping, a little knowledge of the local language (predominantly Nepali) will certainly help you a lot. There are lots of websites that will teach you the basic phrases required to do some elementary shopping and bargaining in the Nepali language.

7. Research everything beforehand

You have lesser chances of being cheated and treated like a cash-machine if you are knowledgeable about the places you would be visiting, the food you would be eating, and the merchandise you would be purchasing. It never hurts to do some research beforehand, and it is super-easy to do that in this era of the internet! So go ahead, do some research and planning beforehand, and enjoy your budget tour to Gangtok and Sikkim!

Do you know any other tips to travel Gangtok in a low budget? I would love to hear your suggestions in the comments section below!


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