Capital of Sikkim, the overgrown hill-town of GANGTOK (1870m) occupies a rising ridge in the southeast of the state, on what used to be a busy trade route into Tibet. Due to rapid development and new wealth, an ugly assortment of concrete multistorey buildings is growing virtually unchecked, and the town retains only a few traditional Sikkimese elements. However, a short amble soon leads you away from the hectic central market area, while longer walks out into the surrounding countryside provide glimpses of the full grandeur of the Himalayas. On a good day, you can see Kanchenjunga and the fluted pyramid of Siniolchu.
Although modern Gangtok epitomizes the recent changes in Sikkimese culture and politics, its Buddhist past is the root of its appeal for visitors, evident in the collection at the Institute of Tibetology and the charming Enchey Monastery, as well as the impressive Rumtek Monastery, 24km east of town. However, the palace used by the chogyals between 1894 and 1975 is now out of bounds, occupied by the new regime and not acknowledged as part of Sikkimese heritage. Sikkim's pride and joy, the orchid, is nurtured at several sites in and around Gangtok, and celebrated at the Flower Show Complex near White Hall, the governor's residence on the ridge above town.