Travel Viewpoint

Marvel at Sikkim

Native Lepchas called Sikkim “Nye-mae-el lang” (the “abode of the Gods”), while Nepalese called it “Sukhim” (meaning “The New Place”) and Bhutias called it “Demazong” (meaning “The Valley of Rice”). Call it what you will, the enchanted charm of Sikkim has been drawing visitors from far and wide since the beginning of time.

With an area of 7,096 kms and an assortment of altitudes from 270 mts in the south to more than 8,589 mts in the north and northwest region, Sikkim is one of the smallest states in India. The upper Teesta River valley, a major tributary of the enormous Brahmaputra River, is embraced by Sikkim. The southern region is bordered by West Bengal and the rivers Rangpo and Rangit. In the west, the Singhalila Range forms a natural boundary with Nepal, and in the north and northeast, the Dongkhya Range runs along the borders.

The majority of Sikkimese adhere to Buddhism, although a sizeable minority follows Hinduism as well. Nepalese adhere to Hinduism, while Tibetans and Sikkimese Bhutias practise Buddhism. In addition to these, there are also Christians, Sikhs, and Muslims among the Sikkimese.

Sikkim is a multi-faceted tourist destination thanks to its abundance of majestic snow-capped mountains, sacred lakes, old monasteries, orchid nurseries, diverse wildlife, and exciting hiking routes.

Background on Sikkim

The three main periods in Sikkim’s history are the Ancient and Mediaeval periods, the period of British rule (1757–1947), and the period of independent India.

During the ancient and mediaeval periods, three major tribes—the Naong, the Chang, and the Mon—inhabited what is now known as Sikkim. The Lephca eventually made it to Sikkim and ate them up. The Lepchas claim that they travelled to Sikkim from the east with the Jindaxs before the latter headed to Nepal. It was in the fourteenth century that the Bhutias first started making their way here from Tibet. Following the establishment of the Sikkim Kingdom in 1642, Phuntsog Namgyal, the first Chogyal, was elevated to the positions of both secular and spiritual ruler from the Bhutia community. Approximately 332 years were governed by the Namgyal dynasty as hereditary kings over Sikkim.

From 1757 until 1947, Britain ruled: A succession of territorial conflicts between Sikkim and Bhutan and Nepal began in the middle of the 18th century. The Treaty of Sugauli, which ended the Nepalese Civil War that had begun in 1814, was signed in 1816 after the Nepalese were defeated. Sikkim regained control of territories that had been taken by the Nepalis in the Treaty of Titalia, which was signed by British India and Sikkim in 1817. British India annexed Darjeeling and sent an expedition to Sikkim in February 1850, ending the yearly grant to the Maharaja of Sikkim. Following Sikkim’s military defeat in 1861, the Anglo-Sikkimese Treaty was signed, establishing Sikkim as a princely state subservient to a British paramount. Free trade and the construction of roads through Sikkim to Tibet were also granted to British India. A boundary between the two regions was established in 1890 when Sikkim and Tibet inked an agreement.

Once India gained its independence in 1947, political parties in Sikkim began to emerge for the first time. With the signing of a treaty in 1950, Chogyal Tashi Namgyal and India established Sikkim as a protectorate of India, with the Chogyal serving as monarch. There were five general elections in the period between 1952 and 1974; the Sikkim Congress, formed by the merger of two opposing parties, emerged victorious in the last of these elections. Because things were spiralling out of control, the Chogyal requested that the Indian government assume control. In 1974, the Indian national assembly approved the constitution that the government had drafted. On May 15, 1975, Sikkim became the 22nd state of the India Union, following a special referendum in which over 97% of voters approved of the merger with India.

Tourist Spots in Sikkim

The Indian state of Sikkim is partitioned into the four primary districts of East, West, North, and South. Tourists flock to Gangtok, the capital of East Sikkim, to experience the state’s rich culture. The capital of West Sikkim is Gyalshing, whereas the capitals of North and South Sikkim are Mangan and Namchi, respectively. Amazing monasteries and several other tourist attractions await you at these locations.

The Monasteries of Sikkim

Sikkim is well-known as a place of many monasteries; in fact, the state is home to 194 such structures, the majority of which are Nyingmapa and Kagyu monasteries. Throughout Sikkim, ancient rituals are still practiced in the state’s many monasteries, which have a profound impact on the locals’ way of life and cultural traditions. In the Sikkim monasteries, you can see the devoted lamas who wear red robes and who, accompanied by drums and trumpets, chant mantras. There are ornamental lamps placed in front of pictures of the great Guru Padmasabhava, and their gentle flickering lights make the room shimmer and appear beautiful. Thus, go to a Sikkim monastery, immerse yourself in nature, and enchant the sacred words uttered by the Lamas with the ritual of spinning prayer wheels. If you find yourself in Sikkim, make sure to stop by some of the most famous monasteries, such as Rumtek, Zurmang Kagyud, Pemayangtse, Tashiding, Enchey, Phodong, and Ralang.

Culture & People of Sikkim

The Bhutias, Lepchas, and Limbus make up small minority groups in Sikkim, which is mainly inhabited by Nepalese. There is a striking cultural difference in how they live and what they wear. A long, double-breasted shirt and a pair of trousers known as Daura Saruwal make up a man’s traditional attire in Nepal. The women adorn themselves with a Majetro shawl and a string-bound double-breasted garment. As a representation of their culture, the Nepalese also wield a heavy weapon known as the Khukri. In central Sikkim, you’ll find the Lepchas, who lead a very austere lifestyle. The men wear a traditional stripped-cotton garment called a Pagi, and the women wear a two-piece dress. Lepchas are known for their exceptional archery skills and their tolerance of polyandry in marriage. The Bhutias moved to Sikkim from Tibet sometime after the 15th century. The Lachenpas and Lachungpas are the names given to the Bhutia people who live in the inner dry valleys of Northern Sikkim, although the majority of Bhutias call Gangtok home. The men of the Bhutia people wear traditional garments called the Bakhu, while the women wear the silken Honju, a type of loose gown worn over a full-sleeved blouse. Heavy jewellery crafted of pure gold is a favourite among women.

Celebrations in Sikkim

Countless vibrant festivals take place all year round in Sikkim, showcasing the rich cultural heritage of the people who live there. Since Sikkimese celebrations follow the Buddhist calendar, the months on the English calendar are only roughly corresponding to those events. Losoong (Sikkimese New Year – January/February), Tashiding Bhumchu (February/March), Saga Dawa (June), Tse-chhu Chham (June), Drupka Tsehi (August), Pang Lhabsol (August/September), and Kagyed Dance (December) are a few of the favourite fairs and festivals.

Food from Sikkim

When it comes to food, Sikkim has its own unique diet culture, complete with delicious recipes and regional specialties. Traditional knowledge has allowed Sikkimese cuisine to develop through the years, drawing inspiration from a wide range of cultures, including those of the Nepalese, Bhutia, and Lepcha peoples. Sikkimis eat a lot of meat and dairy products in addition to rice, which is their main staple food. Not only that, but about 20% of the typical Sikkimese diet consists of fermented foods and drinks that have been around for ages. Momo, Thupka/Gya-thuk, Kinema, Gundruk and Sinki, Chhurpi, Chhurpi – Ningro Curry, Mesu, Tama, Masaurya, Khalo Dal, Sidra Ko Achar, Saelroti, Shimi Ko Achar, Pakku, Kodo Ko Roti, Phapar Ko Roti, Silam Ko Achar, Phulaurah, and many more famous Sikkimese dishes are highly recommended during your visit.

Adventure in Sikkim

Sikkim is a popular tourist destination in India and around the world for adventure seekers at any time of year. Countless exciting trails wind through Sikkim’s breathtaking landscape, which is home to abundant flora and fauna and a dizzying array of adventure possibilities. Trekking, mountain biking, climbing, river rafting, kayaking, yak safaris, glider rides, fishing, angling, and more are among the most popular adventure sports in Sikkim.

Wildlife in Sikkim

A visit to Sikkim is in order if you are a true nature enthusiast seeking pristine landscapes, an incredible variety of plant life, and the chance to see rare animals. The dazzling waterfalls, unspoiled forests, and breathtaking scenery will enchant you just as much as the unusual flora and fauna. One of the most popular animals to see in Sikkim is the red panda, a state emblem and an endangered species. Aside from the red panda, you can also see brown bears, snow leopards, rare clouded leopards, wild goats, yaks, deer (including musk deer), sheep (including blue sheep and gural), Tibetan antelope, and many more species of animals. A wide variety of birds can be found in Sikkim. Notable bird species include minivets, himalayan cuckoos, pheasant, quail, eagles, barbets, and patridges. Along with these, the tiny state of Sikkim is famous for its abundance of butterflies; in fact, out of 1,400 species of butterflies found in the Indian subcontinent, about half are located in Sikkim.

Shopaholic Sikkim

Sikkim is a treasure trove of locally made goods, including traditional and contemporary hand-woven carpets, Lepcha-weave bags, purses, thankas, woodwork, traditional Sikkimese clothing, liquors and spirits, big cardamoms, scarves, hats, jewellery, and much more. Silver “Dragon Rings,” sold at most jewellery and souvenir stores in Sikkim, are a must-have souvenir. Famous “Choktse” folding tables with hand-carved patterns are another must-have item. Among the most frequented places to shop in Lal Bazar, Super Market, and New Market are listed.

Ecology of Sikkim

As one ascends higher into Sikkim, one experiences a rapid transition from a subtropical climate in the lower valleys to a temperate or alpine climate. Since it rains continuously throughout the year, the weather stays cold and muggy for the most part. In April and May, Sikkim experiences pre-monsoon rains, and in May, the South-West monsoon makes its way to the state, lasting until early October. In lower altitude regions, the average temperature ranges from 1.5°C to 9.5°C. In most years, July and August see the warmest temperatures, while December and January see the coldest. The summer temperature ranges from 13.1 to 20.7 degrees Celsius, while the winter temperature ranges from 7.7 to 14.9 degrees Celsius.

The Ideal Time to Go

March–June and September–December onwards.

Getting Around Sikkim

When it comes to airlines, the closest airport to Gangtok is Bagdogra, which is 124 km away. Just eleven kilometres west of Siliguri is Bagdogra airport. Delhi is accessible from other major Indian cities via flights operated by Indian Airlines, Jet Airways, Air Deccan, and others. Taking a cab to Siliguri from the airport will cost about Rs. 140. There is a daily helicopter service that departs from Bagdogra Airport and lands in Gangtok, taking about half an hour.

The closest railway station to Gangtok is New Jalpaiguri, which is located about 148 km away. New Jalpaiguri is served by multiple express and super-fast trains departing from major cities across the nation, including Kolkata, New Delhi, Guwahati, and others. You can take a cab to Gangtok from the New Jalpaiguri railway station. You can expect to pay about Rs. 1500 for it. Another option is to share a jeep ride to Gangtok; the fare is around Rs. 120 per person.

The distance between Siliguri and Gangtok is 110 km, and the travel time from Siliguri to Gangtok is approximately 4 hours. You can reach Gangtok in four hours from Darjeeling, and it takes about six hours from Bhutan, Phuntsholing.

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