Gangtok Knowledge Guide
Like the rest of Sikkim, not much is known about the early history of Gangtok. The earliest records date from the construction of the hermitic Gangtok monastery in 1716. Gangtok remained a small hamlet until the construction of the Enchey Monastery in 1840 made it a pilgrimage center. It became the capital of what was left of Sikkim after an English conquest in the mid-19th century in response to a hostage crisis. 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 19th century. Most of the roads and the telegraph in the area were built during this time. In 1894, Thutob Namgyal, the Sikkimese monarch under British rule, shifted the capital from Tumlong to Gangtok, increasing the city's importance. A new grand palace along with other state buildings was built in the new capital. Following India's independence in 1947, Sikkim became a nation-state with Gangtok as its capital. Sikkim came under the suzerainty 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. This pact gave the Indians control of external affairs on behalf of Sikkimese. Trade between India and Tibet continued to flourish through the Nathula and Jelepla passes, offshoots of the ancient Silk Road near Gangtok. These border passes were sealed after the Sino-Indian War in 1962, which deprived Gangtok of its trading business. The Nathula pass was finally opened for limited trade in 2006, fuelling hopes of economic boom.In 1975, after years of political uncertainty and struggle, including riots, the monarchy was abrogated and Sikkim became India's twenty-second state, with Gangtok as its capital after a referendum. Gangtok has witnessed annual landslides, resulting in loss of life and damage to property. The largest disaster occurred in June 1997, when 38 were killed and hundreds of buildings were destroyed.
A centre of Buddhist learning and culture, Gangtok's most notable Buddhist institutions are the Enchey monastery, the Do-drul Chorten stupa complex and the Rumtek Monastery. The Enchey monastery is the city's oldest monastery and is the seat of the Nyingma order. The two-hundred-year-old baroque monastery houses images of gods, goddesses, and other religious artifacts. In the month of January, the Chaam, or masked dance, is performed with great fanfare. The Dro-dul Chorten is a stupa which was constructed in 1945 by Trulshik Rimpoché, head of the Nyingma order of Tibetan Buddhism. Inside this stupa are complete set of relics, holy books, and mantras. Surrounding the edifice are 108 Mani Lhakor, or prayer wheels. The complex also houses a religious school. The Rumtek Monastery on the outskirts of the town is one of Buddhism's most sacred monasteries. The monastery is 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, the building is modeled after a similar monastery in Lhasa, Tibet. Rumtek was 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 Institute of Tibetology, better known as the Tibetology Museum, houses a huge collection of masks, Buddhist scriptures, statues, and tapestries. It has over two hundred Buddhist icons, and is a centre of study of Buddhist philosophy. The Thakurbari Temple, located in the heart of the city, established in 1935 on a prime piece of land donated by the then Maharaja of Sikkim, is one of the oldest and best-known Hindu temples in the city. The Ganesh Tok and the Hanuman Tok, dedicated to the Hindu gods Ganpati and Hanuman and housing important Hindu deities, are located in the upper reaches of the city. The Himalayan Zoological Park exhibits the fauna of the Himalayas in their natural habitats. The zoo features the Himalayan black bear, red pandas, the barking deer, the snow leopard, the leopard cat, Tibetan wolf, masked palm civet and the spotted deer, amongst the others. Jawaharlal Nehru Botanical Gardens, near Rumtek, houses many species of orchid and as many as fifty different species of tree, including many oaks.