Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Travel From Bagdogra To Gangtok

Gangtok or even the Sikkim State do not have their own airport yet. There is one under construction at Pakyong, East Sikkim which, when completed, will connect Sikkim directly to other airports in India. But until then, Bagdogra Airport (Airport Code: IXB) near Siliguri in West Bengal is the airport nearest to Sikkim. Siliguri is 124 km from Gangtok and Bagdogra Airport is about 16 km from Siliguri. There are many ways to travel to Gangtok from Bagdogra airport. The fastest one is the 5-seater helicopter service operated by Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation that gets one to Gangtok in 20 minutes. The service operation is subject to weather conditions. Booking information for this service may be obtained from Sikkim Tourism's Bagdogra Office: 0353-2698030 or Gangtok Office: 03592-203960. Other than the chosen few who will be fortunate enough to affford and obtain the luxury of this heli ride, all Gangtok bound tourists arriving at Bagdogra will need to travel by road. One can chose between a bus from Siliguri, a shared cab from Siliguri or a private cab from Bagdogra airport. (Read more and see pictures below...)

Also Read: North Sikkim Trip Report Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3(Links open in new window)

Siliguri Share-Taxi Stand for Gangtok

Private Taxi From Bagdogra Airport

A private taxi for Gangtok can be hired outside the airport itself. Cost of a one-way ride on a private taxi varies from Rs. 1500/- for a small non-AC car to Rs. 2500/- for a luxury car like Toyota Innova. There is no booking counter outside the airport. Instead, incoming passengers are mobbed by local goons offering taxi rides to Gangtok or Darjeeling. Tourists never get to speak to a driver or see which car will take them to their destination. A car is offered at a particular price and its a "Take It or Leave It deal". The goons get a commission of about Rs. 400-500 from the driver who waits in the taxi stand which is just a few steps away and quite easy to reach for a passenger directly. But that is not the way things work in Bagdogra. The goons stand like a wall between the taxi and the passenger. After a deal is reached with the goons, the passengers are escorted to their taxi parked in the taxi stand. The drivers are mostly Nepali boys from Sikkim and are usually nice, way more civilised than the goons in Bagdogra. The ride normally takes about 5 hours but actual time can be longer due to traffic jams, land slides, breakdowns, etc. First 88 km of this journey will be in West Bengal after which one enters Sikkim through Rangpo Check Post.

Rangpo Check Post, East Sikkim


Rangpo Tourist Lodge East Sikkim

Registration Post for Foreign Tourists Entering Sikkim at Rangpo

Foreign nationals are required to alight at Rangpo and register for their journey into Sikkim. Road condition and the scenery improve after crossing Rangpo. A private tai will generally take the tourists directly to their hotel in Gangtok which is not the case with shared taxis which drop passengers at a designated point in Gangtok after which a local cab needs to be hired to reach the hotel.  

Shared Taxi From Siliguri


Shared Taxi From Siliguri To Gangtok

Shared taxi is not available from Bagdogra. One needs to get to Siliguri first which costs about Rs. 350 by a local taxi if hired outside the airport. There is a prepaid taxi counter inside the airport from where a taxi can be hired for Siliguri, may be at a little higher cost but without the hassle of bargaining. Paying Rs. 350/- and getting to Siliguri is the easiest part of the journey. Shared taxi is a Tata Sumo type of non-AC vehicle in to which 11 passengers are stuffed. Luggage is tied with ropes on the carrier on top of the vehicle. The shared taxxi will not move untill all 11 passengers are in. The wait may last for hours on a day when there are not many passengers headed to Gangtok. Cost of this ride is not fixed. There is a counter at the taxi stand where their normal strategy is to first scare the passengers by telling them that there is no taxi available. But when they see a good number of anxious passengers waiting around, a guy appears from somewhere and discreetly starts offering seats on his taxi if he would be paid extra. He promises to take only 8 passengers in return for extra cash. Ofcourse, its a false promise and no taxi will leave without 11 humans on board. Including extras, the cost per head is not more than Rs. 250/-. Its a very uncomfortable ride and during summer months, the ride up to Rangpo is really tortuous.

Shared Taxi's Tea Break at Kirney


Stop For Tea / Snacks At Kirney On The Way To Gangtok

On the way to Gangtok, shared taxis stop at Kirney for tea / snacks, etc. There are hardly any tourist facilities here, though water bottles can be purchased. This is a 15-30 minute stop depending on the mood of the driver. Rangpo is another 8 km from Kirney. After crossing Rangpo, the weather becomes cooler, some local passengers alight making space in the vehicle and the tourists for the first time in the day begin to enjoy their road trip to Sikkim.

After the shared taxi drop off in Sikkim, one needs to hire a local cab which would cost around Rs. 100 max to one's hotel. Local cabs operate usually on a point to point basis with a per head fare of Rs.10 - Rs.20 depending on the distance. If a local cab is hired for a particular place not on the normal route, its called a "Reserve" booking for which the price is negotiable. These cabs are Maruti Omni, Wagon-R type of vehicles and are very clean and comfortable.  

Bus from Siliguri

Bus to Gangtok from Siliguri can be taken from the bus stop which is right behind the share-taxi stand. One needs to be really lucky to find a bus at the time one arrives there that too with empty seats. Buses are non-AC but still much more comfortable than shared cabs. Cost of bus ticket should be around Rs. 100/-. So if there is a bus available, never choose shared taxi.




Posted by Narinder Singh

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Blog by: Narinder Singh