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Gangtok is a municipality, the capital and the largest town of the Indian state of Sikkim. It also is the headquarters of the East Sikkim district. Gangtok is located in the eastern Himalayan range, at an altitude of 1,650 m (5,410 ft). The town's 100 thousand population belongs to different ethnicities such as Nepali, Lepchas and Bhutia. Nestled within higher peaks of the Himalaya and enjoying a year-round mild temperate climate, Gangtok is at the centre of Sikkim's tourism industry.
Gangtok rose to prominence as a popular Buddhist pilgrimage site after the construction of the Enchey Monastery in 1840. In 1894, the ruling Sikkimese Chogyal, Thutob Namgyal, transferred the capital to Gangtok. In the early 20th century, Gangtok became a major stopover on the trade route between Lhasa in Tibet and cities such as Kolkata (then Calcutta) in British India. After India won its independence from Britain in 1947, Sikkim chose to remain an independent monarchy, with Gangtok as its capital. In 1975, after the integration with the union of India, Gangtok was made India's twenty-second state capital.
The precise meaning of the name Gangtok is unclear, though the most popular meaning is "hill top".Today, Gangtok is a centre of Tibetan Buddhist culture and learning, with the presence of several monasteries, religious educational institutions, and centres for Tibetology.
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 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.
It is situated in the lower Himalayas at an elevation of 1,650 m (5,410 ft).The town lies on one side of a hill, with "The Ridge", a promenade housing the Raj Bhawan, the governor's residence, at one end and the palace, situated at an altitude of about 1,800 m (5,900 ft), at the other. The city is flanked on east and west by two streams, namely Roro Chu and Ranikhola, respectively.These two rivers divide the natural drainage into two parts, the eastern and western parts. Both the streams meet the Ranipul and flow south as the main Ranikhola before it joins the Teesta at Singtam. Most of the roads are steep, with the buildings built on compacted ground alongside them.
Most of Sikkim, including Gangtok, is underlain by Precambrian rocks which contains foliated phyllites and schists; slopes are therefore prone to frequent landslides.Surface runoff of water by natural streams (jhora) and man-made drains has contributed to the risk of landslides. According to the Bureau of Indian Standards, the town falls under seismic zone-IV (on a scale of I to V, in order of increasing seismic activity), near the convergent boundary of the Indian and the Eurasian tectonic plates and is subject to frequent earthquakes. The hills are nestled within higher peaks and the snow-clad Himalayan ranges tower over the town from the distance. Mount Kanchenjunga (8,598 m or 28,208 ft)â€”the world's third-highest peak is visible to the west of the city. The existence of steep slopes, vulnerability to landslides, large forest cover and inadequate access to most areas have been a major impediment to the natural and balanced growth of the city.
There are densely forested regions around Gangtok, consisting of temperate, deciduous forests of poplar, birch, oak, and elm, as well as evergreen, coniferous trees of the wet alpine zone. Orchids are common, and rare varieties of orchids are featured in flower shows in the city. Bamboos are also abundant. In the lower reaches of the town, the vegetation gradually changes from alpine to temperate deciduous and subtropical.Flowers such as sunflower, marigold, poinsettia, and others bloom, especially in November and December.
Gangtok features a monsoon-influenced subtropical highland climate. Because of its elevation and sheltered environment, Gangtok enjoys a mild, temperate climate all year round. Like most Himalayan towns, Gangtok has five seasons: summer, monsoons, autumn, winter and spring. Temperatures range from an average maximum of 22 °C (72 °F) in summer to an average minimum of 4 °C (39 °F) in winter.Summers (lasting from late April to June) are mild, with maximum temperatures rarely crossing 25 °C (77 °F). The monsoon season from June to September is characterised by intense torrential rains often causing landslides that block Gangtok's land access to the rest of the country. Rainfall starts to rise from pre-monsoon in May, and peaks during the monsoon, with July recording the highest monthly average of 649.6 mm (25.6 in).In winter temperature averages between 4 °C (39 °F) and 7 °C (45 °F).Snowfall is rare, and in recent times Gangtok has received snow only in 1990, 2004, 2005 and January 2011.Temperatures below freezing are also rare. During this season the weather can be unstable, and change abruptly from bright sunshine and clear skies to heavy rain within a couple of hours. During spring and autumn the weather is generally sunny and mild. Owing to its elevation, Gangtok is often enveloped in fog during the monsoon and winter months.
The hospitality industry is the largest industry in Gangtok as the city is the main base for Sikkim tourism. Summer and spring seasons are the most popular tourist seasons. Many of Gangtok's residents are employed directly and indirectly in the tourism industry, with many residents owning and working in hotels and restaurants.
Ecotourism has emerged as an important economic activity in the region which includes trekking, mountaineering, river rafting and other nature oriented activities.An estimated 351,000 tourists visited Sikkim in 2007, generating revenue of about Rs 50 crores (Rs 500 millions).
The Nathula Pass, located about 50 km (31 mi) from Gangtok, used to be the primary route of the wool, fur and spice trade with Tibet and spurred economic growth for Gangtok till the mid-20th century. In 1962, after the border was closed during the Sino-Indian War, Gangtok fell into recession. The pass was reopened in 2006 and trade through the pass is expected to boost the economy of Gangtok.The Sikkim government is keen to open a Lhasa–Gangtok bus service via Nathula pass.Sikkim's mountainous terrain results in the lack of train or air links, limiting the area's potential for rapid industrial development.The government is the largest employer in the city, both directly and as contractors. Gangtok's economy does not have a large manufacturing base, but has a thriving Cottage industry in watch-making, country-made alcohol and handicrafts. Among the handicrafts are the handmade paper industry made from various vegetable fibres or cotton rags. The main market in Gangtok provides many of the state's rural residents a place to offer their produce during the harvest seasons. The majority of the private business community is made up of Marwaris and Biharis. As part of Sikkim, Gangtok enjoys the status of being an income-tax free region as per the state's 1948 Income tax law. As Sikkim is a frontier state, the Indian army maintains a large presence in the vicinity of Gangtok. This leads to a population of semi-permanent residents who bring money into the local economy. The Sikkim government started India's first online lottery Playwin to boost government income, but this was later closed by a ruling from the Sikkim High Court.