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Sikkim an erstwhile Himalayan Kingdom, has been a state of India since it's merger in 1975. It is wedged in between the Kingdoms of Nepal in the west and Bhutan in the east. With an area of 7,096 sq kms, it has a rectangular shape measuring about 114 km. from the north to South and 64 km. from east to west.
The topography and location of Sikkim manifests in a diverse range of flora, which is tropical in the low-lying areas and alpine in the high reaches of the mountains. The human population throughout history has been very low, which has helped this place to maintain a high percentage of forest cover, evident even now. `A journey to Sikkim necessarily involves awakening the senses and discovering the pristine and mystic beauty of the land. Sikkim is a dreamland that one can realize and enjoy, now that the area is open to all.
The state offers a wide range of adventure sports opportunities as well including mountaineering in the Himalayas. For trekking, one can follow any of the four trek routes: the Monastic Trek, Rhododendron Trek, Kanchenjunga Trek and Coronation Trek. River rafting is possible in the rough waters of the Teesta and the Rangit. Kayaking is arranged on the Teesta only for special groups. Yak safari is arranged from Dzongri onwards. In north and west Sikkim, mountain biking is very popular these days. Jorethang, in west Sikkim, and certain parts of north Sikkim are popular locales for gliding. As per regulations foreigners should be in a group of 4 persons or more for trekking in Sikkim.
Sikkim is bounded by Tibet (China) in the north, West Bengal in the south, Tibet and Bhutan in the east and Nepal in the west. The state is spread below Mount Kanchenjunga (8,534 m), the third highest peak in the world. The locals worship the mountain as a protective deity. The elevation of the state ranges from 300m to over 8,540m above sea level. The nearest airport is Bagdora (120 km. far away from Gangtok, the capital). There are regular flights connected to Calcutta, Delhi and Guwahati. There are also regular train services to other parts of county.
Due to the extreme altitude, there is an immense variation in climate and vegetation. With a rainfall of about 140 inches in Gangtok, the climate is tropical up to 5,000ft, temperate between 5,000ft–13,000ft, alpine at 13,000ft, and snowbound at 16,000ft and above.
The best time to visit Sikkim is between mid-March and June but especially, April and May, when the rhododendrons and orchids are in bloom. However, temperatures can be high, especially in the valleys. During the monsoons, from the end of June until end September, rivers and roads become impenetrable, though plants nurtured by the incessant rain erupt again into bloom towards the end of August. October, when orchids bloom once again and November tend to have the clearest weather of all. As December approaches, it gets bitterly cold at high altitudes, and remains that way until early March, despite long periods of clear weather.
The best time to visit this zone is from mid September to mid December, although it gets pretty cold by December. The high seasons again starts from mid-march & continues till mid June. During monsoon months ie; from June to September, the view of the mountains gets obscured & rainfall is pretty heavy (270 cm annually)
People & Religion
Sikkim is the least populated state in India. There are three principal communities of Nepalese (75%), Lepchas (20%), and smaller proportions of Bhutias and Limbus. The Bhutias are Buddhist and so are most of the Lepchas. The Nepalese are chiefly Hindus. Lepchas or the Rong appear to be the original inhabitants of Sikkim as no legends of their migration are available. In the 13th century, the Bhutias from Kham area of Tibet came to the state. They believed in Buddhism of the Mahayana sect. The Nepalis were the last to enter Sikkim, in the mid 19th century.
All communities live in perfect harmony sharing each other’s cultures, ethos and traditions with the result that there is now a Sikkimese culture, which is composite of all the three prominent communities. Most of the people speak Nepali, which is also the state language. It is the harmony of the place that provides justification to the name of the state derived form Sukhim, meaning “happy home, a place of peace.”
Though Hinduism is equally followed, Buddhism is entrenched in the tradition of the state. The people have faith in the Buddha, the dharma (his teachings), and the sangha (assembly of monks) where religious texts are studied, taught and preserved. Soaked in the religious tradition, the land has a spiritual ambience where prayer flags with inscriptions of Buddhist texts flutter around the boundary of the village to ward off evil spirits, prayer wheels rotate to the currents of water, and chortens and lucky signs are common sights.