For Nepalese it was Sukhim – ‘The New Place’, for the Bhutias it was Demazong, ‘The Valley of Rice’ and for Lepchas, its original inhabitants, Sikkim was simply ‘Nye-mae-el lang’ – abode of the Gods. Call it by any of the above mentioned name, since time immemorial the magical lure of Sikkim has always attracted people from all over the world.
One of the smallest Indian states, Sikkim spread over an area of 7,096 kms, with variable altitudes ranging from 270 mts above sea level in the south to over 8,589 mts in the north and north-western region. Sikkim enfolds the upper valley of the Teesta River, the major tributary of the massive Brahmaputra River. Its southern part has West Bengal along with Rangpo and Rangit Rivers. The Singhalila Range acts as a natural barrier with Nepal in the west while the Dongkhya Range runs along the borders from the north to the north-east.
Usually, people think that Buddhism is the predominant religion in Sikkim, but Hinduism is also followed by a large number of people. The Tibetans and Sikkimese Bhutias follow Buddhism, while the Nepalese follow Hinduism. Apart from these, some Sikkimese follow Christianity, Sikhism and Islam as well.
With its wonderful profusion of mighty snow-capped peaks, holy lakes, ancient monasteries, orchid nurseries, a range of flora and fauna and thrilling trekking routes, Sikkim offers a multidimensional holiday destination to tourists.
Sikkim – History
Broadly Sikkim’s history can be divided into three parts namely – Ancient and Medieval period, British Rule (1757 – 1947 ) and Independent India.
Ancient and Medieval Period : Sikkim has a history dating back to pre-historic times when it was inhabited by three main tribes such as the Naong, Chang and the Mon. Later, the Lephca entered Sikkim and absorbed them completely. According to Lepchas, they came to Sikkim from the east alongwith the Jindaxs, who went to Nepal. During the 14th century, the Bhutias began entering this region from Tibet. In 1642, the Kingdom of Sikkim was established and Phuntsog Namgyal, the first Chogyal became temporal and spiritual king from Bhutia community. The Namgyal dynasty ruled over Sikkim as hereditary kings for about 332 years.
British Rule – 1757 to 1947 : Beginning from mid-18th century, Sikkim fought a series of territorial wars with both Bhutan and Nepal. In 1814, war broke out between Nepalese and British that came to an end in 1816 with the defeat of the Nepalis and signing of the Treaty of Sugauli. In 1817, British India signed another treaty with Sikkim, known as the Treaty of Titalia in which former territories captured by Nepalis were restored to Sikkim. In February 1850, British India sent an expedition to Sikkim that resulted in the stoppage of the annual grant to Maharaja of Sikkim and also the annexation of Darjeeling. The military defeat of Sikkim brought the Anglo-Sikkimese Treaty of 1861, which established Sikkim as a princely state under a British paramount. British India was also given the rights of free trades and were allowed to make roads through Sikkim to Tibet. In the year 1890, an agreement was signed between Sikkim and Tibet which defined the border between two territories.
Independent India : After India’s independence in 1947, political parties started to form in Sikkim for the first time. In 1950, a treaty was signed between Chogyal Tashi Namgyal and India which made Sikkim an Indian protectorate with the Chogyal as the monarch. In between 1952 and 1974, five general elections were held, in the last of these elections two rival parties combined together to form the Sikkim Congress, which won the polls. As the situation was getting out of control, so the Chogyal asked Indian government to take over the administration. A constitution was prepared by the Indian government which was approved by its national assembly in 1974. In 1975, after a special referendum with more than 97 per cent of the electorate voted for the merger of Sikkim with India, Sikkim became the 22nd state of the India Union on May 15, 1975.
Sikkim – Tourist Destinations
Sikkim is divided into four main districts namely – East Sikkim, West Sikkim, North Sikkim and South Sikkim. Gangtok, the headquarters of East Sikkim is the major tourist destination of the state. Gyalshing is the headquarters of West Sikkim, while Mangan and Namchi are headquarters of North and South Sikkim respectively. Visit these tourist destinations to see magnificent monasteries and several other tourist attractions.
Sikkim – Monasteries
Renowned as a land of monasteries, Sikkim abounds with 194 monasteries or gompas mainly belonging to the Nyingmapa and Kagyu order. In Sikkim, the monasteries do not only influence the cultural heritage and lifestyle of the people but they also demonstrate the ancient rituals flourishing across the state. When you explore Sikkim monasteries, you come across devoted lamas robed in red and chanting mantras with the rhythm of drums and trumpets. Alongside, the soft lights flicker coming from decorative lamps kept before the images of the great Guru Padmasabhava make the surroundings glittering and attractive. So, visit monasteries of Sikkim, feel the peace and quiet of being close to nature and enchant the sacred words spoken by the Lamas with the whirring prayer wheels. Most popular monasteries that deserve a visit during your Sikkim trip include Rumtek Monastery, Zurmang Kagyud Monastery, Pemayangtse Monastery, Tashiding Monastery, Enchey Monastery, Phodong Monastery and Ralang Monastery.
Sikkim – People and Culture
Sikkim’s population is predominated by Nepalese, while the Bhutias, Lepchas and Limbus are minorities. You can observe a remarkable cultural variation in their way of living as well as in their dressing style. The Nepalese traditional male dress comprises a long double-breasted garment and a trouser called as Daura Saruwal. The women wear a double-breasted garment with strings and a shawl known as Majetro. The Nepalese also carry a heavy weapon called as Khukri, which is the symbol of the Nepali culture. The Lepchas are concentrated in the central part of Sikkim and they spend a very simple life. Men wear a local dress called a Pagi made of stripped cotton, while women wear a two-piece dress. Lepchas are very good at archery and polyandry marriages are permitted amongst them. Originally belonging to Tibet, the Bhutias migrated to Sikkim somewhere after the 15th century. Majority of Bhutias live in Gangtok and they are also concentrated in the inner dry valleys of Northern Sikkim, where they are known as the Lachenpas and Lachungpas. Bhutia men wear traditional dress known as the Bakhu and ladies wear a silken Honju which is a full-sleeve blouse with a loose gown type garment worn over it. Women are very fond of heavy jewellery made of pure gold.
Sikkim – Fairs and Festivals
Fairs and Festivals are an integral part of Sikkimese people and the state abounds with several colourful festivals all through the year. Sikkimese fairs and festivals are held according to the Buddhist calendar, so the months of the English calendar are approximate. Some of the popular fairs and festivals are 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).
Sikkim – Cuisine
When talking about cuisine, Sikkim has its own distinct dietary culture including some specific cuisine and delectable food recipes. In truth, the food habits in Sikkim have evolved as a result of traditional wisdom and their dishes are influenced from the people of different ethnic origin like Nepalese, Bhutias and Lepchas. Rice is the staple food of Sikkim, besides, meat and dairy products are also consumed in large amount. In addition to these, traditional fermented foods and beverages, constitute about 20 per cent of the basic diet that have been prepared and consumed in Sikkim for centuries. Some of the famous cuisine which you should taste during your Sikkim trip include 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 etc.
Sikkim – Adventure
Sikkim, a veritable paradise for adventure lovers attracts large number of people from India as well as abroad all through the year. With its amazingly varied topography including endless intriguing trails, lofty mountains, rich floral and faunal species, Sikkim offers a dazzling array of adventure options. Most popular adventure sports which you can try in Sikkim include Trekking, Mountain Biking, Mountaineering, River Rafting, Kayaking, Yak Safari, Gliding, Fishing, Angling etc.
Sikkim – Wildlife
If you are a die-hard wildlife lover and really looking for unspoiled natural terrain, an unbelievable range of flora and some rare fauna, then Sikkim is the right place for you. Apart from exotic plant and animal life, the shimmering waterfalls, untouched forests and spectacular surroundings will surely mesmerize you. Amongst the variety of animals, the Red Panda, an endangered animal and the symbol of Sikkim is a major wildlife attraction. In addition to Red Panda, you can spot several other animal species like Himalayan Black Bear, Brown Bear, Snow Leopard, Rare Clouded Leopard, Wild Goats, Yaks, numerous species of Deer like Musk Deer and Sheep including Bharal or Blue Sheep, Goral, Tibetan antelope etc. Sikkim is also home to a rich and varied avian life, some of the famous birds species that you can see here are Patridges, Pheasant, Quail, Eagles, Barbets, Himalayan Cuckoos, Tibetan Black Crows and Minivets. In addition to these, Sikkim is also renowned for its butterfly population, in fact, of the 1,400 butterfly species that exist in the Indian subcontinent, around 50 % is found in the small state.
Sikkim – Shopping
A shopper’s delight, Sikkim offers plethora of handicrafts like hand-woven carpets with traditional and modern designs, Lepcha-weave bags, purses, thankas, woodwork, local Sikkimese dresses, Sikkimese spirits and liquors, large cardamoms, scarves, caps, jewellery etc. While you visit Sikkim, don’t forget to take home the popular silver ‘Dragon Rings’ available in most jewellery and souvenir shops. Another must buy include the famous ‘Choktse’, a collapsible wooden tables with hand-carved designs. Popular shopping areas include Lal Bazaar, Super Market and New Market.
Sikkim – Climate
The climate of Sikkim is sub-tropical in the lower valleys, but it changes fast to temperate and alpine with the increasing altitude. For most of the year, the climate remains cold and humid due to rain all through the year. Pre-monsoon rain occurs in April- May while the South-west monsoon arrives in Sikkim in May and continues up to early October. The mean temperature in the lower altitude regions varies between 1.5°C to 9.5°C . The maximum temperature is recorded usually during the months of July and August and minimum temperature is during December and January. During summers, temperature ranges between 13.1°C – 20.7°C, while winter temp varies between 7.7°C and 14.9°C.
Best Time to Visit
March to June and September to December.
Sikkim – Transportation
Airlines : Nearest airport is located at Bagdogra, at a distance of 124 kms from Gangtok. Bagdogra airport is just 11 kms west of Siliguri. Flights of Indian Airlines, Jet Airways, Air Deccan etc. are available to Delhi and other major cities of India. From the airport, you can hire a taxi to Siliguri, which will cost around Rs. 140. Bagdogra Airport is also connected to Gangtok by a daily helicopter service which takes around 30 minutes to reach Gangtok.
Railways : New Jalpaiguri is the nearest railhead, which is around 148 kms away from Gangtok. Several express and super-fast trains run to New Jalpaiguri from Kolkata, New Delhi, Guwahati and other important places of country. From New Jalpaiguri railway station, you may hire a taxi to reach Gangtok. It will cost you around Rs. 1500. You may also reach Gangtok in a jeep on sharing basis, that will cost your about Rs. 120 per person.
Roadways : Gangtok is 110 kms away from Siliguri and it will take around 4 hrs from Siliguri to reach Gangtok. From Darjeeling, you can reach Gangtok in 4 hrs, the journey from Bhutan, Phuntsholing to Gangtok takes around 6 hrs.