Also known as Denzong, "The Hidden Valley of Rice", Sikkim is a magical land that remained an untouched kingdom, with a feudalistic system, until 1975 when India annexed it and made it its 22nd state. The strategic location of this state, flanked by Bhutan, Tibet, and the Indian state of West Bengal, explains the need India felt to annex it. An incredible effort has been made to develop Sikkim, and most of the villages there today have tap water and electricity. Roads have been built across and around the hills and mountains, allowing travelers to reach the slopes covered with eternal snow with a few hours of leaving the tropical areas.
Sikkim is rich in both cultural and natural wonders, influenced by its neighbours, Buddhism has got a strong hold on this former kingdom, and there are many old as well as recently built monasteries to be visited. The forests here hold the most amazing concentration of flowers in the world, from multi-coloured rhododendrons to a wide variety of wild orchids. Reigning high over the state, and revered by its people, the third highest mountain in the world, Kanchenjunga (8,586 m), never lets one forget that Sikkim is indeed a Himalayan realm.
Foreign visitors are still rare in Sikkim, which mostly benfits from Indian tourists. However, we have organized treks into areas of Sikkim where Westerners had never been seen. Sikkim offers a wonderful experience amid pristine and unspoilt natural settings. It is indeed an ideal destination for those in search of some of the last Himalayan kingdoms.
Located in the eastern Himalayas, Sikkim is bound 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 Kanchanjunga (8,534 m), the third highest peak in the world. The locals worship the mountain as a protecting deity. The elevation of the state ranges between 300 m and over 8,500 m above sea level.
A part of the lesser, central, and Tethys Himalaya; Sikkim is a mountainous state without any significant flat land. The larger part of the state is made up of Precambrian rock and is comparatively younger than the Northern, Eastern and Western portion of the state. The rise of the mountains is northward. The state is cut into steep escarpments in the north and except in the Lachung and Lachen valleys, is thinly populated. In contrast to Northern Sikkim is Southern Sikkim, which is lower, more open, and fairly well cultivated. The drainage of the rivers in the state is towards south. The Rangeet and the Teesta are the major river systems of state. These rivers cut through the valleys and in addition there are 180 perennial lakes at different altitudes. The state has many hot water springs like Phur-Cha, Ralang Sachu, Yumthang, and Momay. The snowline starts at around 5,248 m in Sikkim.
Buddhism, the major religion in the state, arrived from Tibet in the 13th century. It took its distinctive Sikkimese form four centuries later, when three Tibetan monks of the old Nyingamapa order, dissatisfied with the rise of the reformist Gelukpas, migrated to Yoksum in western Sikkim. Having consulted an oracle, they went to Gangtok looking for a certain Phuntsong Namgyal, whom they crowned as the first Chogyal or ''Righteous King'' of Denzong in 1642. Being the secular and religious head, he was soon recognized by Tibet, and brought sweeping reforms. His kingdom was far larger than today''s Sikkim and included Kalimpong and parts of western Bhutan. Over the centuries, the territory was lost to the Bhutanese, the Nepalese and the British. The British policy to diminish the strong Tibetan influence resulted in the import of workers from Nepal to work in the tea plantations of Sikkim, Darjeeling and Kalimpong and these soon outnumbered the indigenous population.
After India''s Independence, the eleventh Chogyal, Tashi Namgyal, strove hard to prevent the dissolution of his kingdom. Officially, Sikkim was a protectorate of India, and the role of India became increasingly crucial with the Chinese military build-up along the northern borders that culminated in an actual invasion early in the 1960s. The next king Palden Thondup was a weak ruler and in 1975, succumbed to the demands of the Nepalese majority of becoming a part of India.
FAIRS & FESTIVALS
The people of Sikkim celebrate the anniversaries relating to birth, enlightenment, and nirvana of the Buddha, besides the Buddhist New Year and the harvest festivals. Several festivals are celebrated in Gangtok and its adjoining areas.
The Buddhist festival of Bumchu is held in the Tashiding Gompa during January. The festival of Chaam is held in the Enchey Gompa during January-February and is marked by dancing. This dance is a mask dance held every month at Gangtok, Pemayangtse and Phodong. Losar marks the Tibetan New Year and is celebrated during February-March at Pemayangtse and Rumtek. Tse Chu is a Buddhist dance held in May at Rumtek. Saga Dawa (held in Gangtok during May) and Drukpa Teshi (celebrated statewide during July) mark the anniversary of the Buddha''s first teaching. Phang Lhabsol is a mask dance celebrated statewide during August. Dasain, celebrated during September-October, is marked by exchange of gifts and animal sacrifice.
AREA: 7096 sq km
CAPITAL TOWN: Gangtok
NUMBER OF DISTRICTS: 4
DISTRICT HEADQUARTERS: North - Mangan, South - Namchi, East - Gangtok , West - Gyalshing.
POPULATION - 5, 40,493 (Census -2001)
LANGUAGE SPOKEN: Nepali, English, Hindi, Bhutia (Sikkimese), Bhutia (Tibetan), Lepcha, Limboo.
LITERACY RATES: 69.68%
URBANISATION RATIO - 9.10% (Census -1991)
CLIMATE - Cold Winters in the month of November to February with minimum temperatures dipping to 4 centigrade during January - February. It is between the month of March and early May when sunshine is quite abundant. Though summer is officially from May to October, Sikkim is almost always wet due to the heavy monsoons, with rains at times continuing for days on ends. Longest recorded nonstop rain is 11 days. September to October is autumn. A peculiar feature of Sikkim weather is that though there is a classification of sorts of the various seasons, actually experiences a cold winter from end of November to February and monsoons throughout the year with a little respite during May - June and October - November. Even the winter months can be irritatingly wet and damp with the unpredictable showers.
BEST SEASON TO VISIT: March to June and September to December
MAXIMUM SUMMER TEMPERATURE: 28 Degree C
MINIMUM WINTER TEMPERATURE: 0 Degree C
AVERAGE RAINFALL: 325 cm. RF / Year
CURRENCY: Indian Rupee
STATE ANIMAL: Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens)
STATE BIRD: Blood Pheasant (Ithaginis cruentus)
STATE FLOWER: Noble Orchid (Dendrobium nobile)
STATE TREE: Rhododendron (Rhododendron niveum)
CASH CROP: Cardamom (Amomum Sublatum), tea, ginger, potatoes, oranges, medicinal plants, flowers and flower bulbs.