Sikkim is a beautiful landlocked state located in the Himalayan mountains. The state borders Nepal to the west, China’s Tibet Autonomous Region to the north and east, and Bhutan to the southeast, while the state of West Bengal lies to the south.
Sikkim was inhabited in pre-historic times by three tribes namely Naong, Chang and the Mon. The Lepcha who entered Sikkim later absorbed them completely. Lepchas, the ‘original’ Sikkimese, migrated here from Assam or Myanmar (Burma) in the 13th century, followed by Bhutias (Khambas) who fled from religious strife in Tibet during the 15th century. The Nyingmapa form of Mahayana Buddhism arrived with three refugee Tibetan lamas who bumped into each other at the site of modern-day Yuksom. Here in 1641 they crowned Phuntsog Namgyal as first chogyal (king) of Sikkim. The capital later moved to Rabdentse (near Pelling), then to Tumlong (now hidden ruins behind Phodong) before finally settling in Gangtok.
At their most powerful the chogyals’ rule encompassed eastern Nepal, upper Bengal and Darjeeling. However, much territory was later lost during wars with Bhutan and Nepal, and throughout the 19th century large numbers of Hindu Nepali migrants arrived, eventually coming to form a majority of Sikkim’s population.
In 1835 the British bribed Sikkim’s chogyal to cede Darjeeling to the East India Company. Tibet, which regarded Sikkim as a vassal state, raised strong objections. In 1849, amid rising tensions, the British annexed the entire area between the present Sikkim border and the Ganges plains, repulsing a counter invasion by Tibet in 1886. In 1903-04, Britain’s real-life James Bond character Francis Younghusband twice trekked up to the Sikkim–Tibet border. There, armed with little more than derring-do, he deliberately set about inciting a fracas that would ‘justify’ his astonishing single-handed invasion of Tibet.
Sikkim’s last chogyal ruled from 1963 to 1975, when he was deposed by the Indian government after a revolt by Sikkim’s Nepali population. China has never officially recognised India’s claim to Sikkim, so to bolster pro-Delhi sentiment the Indian government has made Sikkim a tax-free zone, pouring crores of rupees into road building, electricity, water supplies and local industry – including liquor production. As a result Sikkim is surprisingly affluent by Himalayan standards – and rates of alcoholism are the highest in the country.
It is the least populous state in India and the second-smallest state after Goa. Sikkim is nonetheless geographically diverse due to its location in the Himalayas; the climate ranges from subtropical to high alpine, and Kangchenjunga, the world’s third-highest peak.
AREA: 7,096 km2 (2,740 sq mi)
POPULATION: 607,688 (2011 census)
DISTRICTS: There are four districts namely East Sikkim, North Sikkim, West Sikkim and West Sikkim
LANGUAGES: Nepali is the predominant language spoken in Sikkim. However, the working language of the government is English. There are several local dialects which include Tibetan, Bhutia, Lepcha, Limbu, Newari, Rai, Gurung, Mangar, Sherpa, Tamang and Sunwar.
RELIGION: Hinduism (60.9%), Buddhism (28.1%), Christians (6.7%) and Muslim (1.4%)
MAJOR TOWN/CITIES: Gangtok, Geyzing, Ravongla, Mangan, Pakyong, Rongli and Namchi
FESTIVALS: Saga Dawa, Drupka Teshi, Phang Lhabsol, Losar, Bhumchu, Lhabab Dhuechen, Losoong, Dasain, Tihaar, Tendong Lho Rum Faat, Kagyed Dance, Kalchakra Puja and Flower Festival.
BEST SEASON TO VISIT:
Late September to mid-November plus April and May.
HOW TO REACH SIKKIM:
This Paradise on Earth is well connected by airways, railways and roadways. In spite of being a hilly state, transportation of Sikkim is comfortable and more frequent to enjoy the ride on the world’s most beautiful valley.
By Air: The nearest airport to Sikkim is Bagdogra Airport of West Bengal, which is only 124 Kms away from Gangtok. India’s national carrier, Indian Airlines including almost all other domestic airlines such as Jet Airlines, Air Deccan run regular flights from the important cities of India such as Kolkata, Delhi etc. Bagdogra is also connected with Gangtok by daily helicopter service operated by Sikkim Tourism development Corporation and it will take only 20 minutes to reach Gangtok from Bagdogra. This helicopter service is subjected to the weather conditions.
In Gangtok, major air ticketing agencies are Josse and Josse Travels and Cox & King.
By Rail: New Jalpaiguri and Siliguri are the two rail stations nearest to Sikkim located in West Bengal. NJP is 125 Kms and Siliguri is 114 Kms from Gangtok and is well connected to all the major cities. Ticket reservation facilities are available from Sikkim Nationalized Transport office in all working days.
By Road: The lifeline of Sikkim, which is National Highway 31 connects gangtok with Siliguri and this picturesque highway runs through the lush green forests along the bank of river Teesta on one side and sky touching mountain ranges of Eastern Himalaya on other side. This unique ride of almost two hours will gives you the opportunity to enjoy the valley carpeted with numerous wild flowers. Sikkim National Transport runs regular bus and truck services. Privately run bus, tourist taxi and jeep services operate throughout Sikkim. Towns in southern and western Sikkim are connected to the hill stations of Kalimpong and Darjeeling in northern West Bengal. The state is furthermore connected to Tibet by the mountain pass of Nathu La. Most of the reputed destinations of siikim are interlinked by motor able all seasons roads.
By Chopper Service: Sikkim Helicopter Service is from Gangtok to Bagdogra Airport and back. The five-seater Helicopter offers an exclusive mode of transport not merely enabling connecting flights, but also to see Sikkim from an entirely new view.
Sikkim Helicopter Service also conducts, besides the regular runs to Bagdogra Airport and back, special mountain flights. Come and see the majesty of the Himalayan peaks from close up like never before, Feast your eyes on the grandeur and the sheer size of the great Mount Khanchendzonga, the third highest peak in the world, or check out the symmetrical beauty of Mount Siniolchu, considered by many as the most beautiful peak in the entire Himalayan range, or fly over Gangtok and get a comprehensive view of the layout of the town with its winding roads and many alleys.
Special flights are also conducted over West Sikkim and North Sikkim for a bird’s eye-view of the monasteries and the exotic Valley of Flowers, Yumthang. All passengers on these sight-seeing flights are awarded official Certificates of Participation by the Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation (STDC) as Souvenirs.
Sikkimese food is a medley of Tibetan, Nepalese and Indian influences. Rice and maize are the staples usually accompanied by dal (lentils). Noodle-based dishes such as thukpa, chowmein, thanthuk, fakthu, gyathuk and wonton are common in Sikkim. Momos – steamed dumplings filled with vegetables, beef or pork and served with a soup – are a popular snack. The people of Sikkim eat fresh vegetable, bamboo shoots, wild flowers, mushrooms, nettle leaves, beef, pork and fish. “Gyakho” is a traditional soup served on special occasions.
Local liquors ‘chaang’ is the fermented rice wine and ‘tomba’ is the hot favourite beer made of fermented millet, with a few grains of rice thrown in for flavour. It is served in a wooden or bamboo mug and sipped through a straw. Occasionally, the mug is topped up with warm water and once the drink settles it tastes like milky beer.
CULTURE AND CRAFTS:
Sikkim is famous for its “mask dances” performed by lamas (monks) in the gompa (temple) courtyard to celebrate religious festivals. Costumed lamas wearing gaily-painted masks, ceremonial swords and sparkling jewels leap and swing to the sound of resounding drums, trumpeting horns and religious chanting.
The Sikkimese craftsmen bring to life the cane and bamboo, available in plenty in this land, through their intricate work. Apart from this, the other indigenous crafts are warm, hand-woven blankets and shawls, “tankha” paintings done on silk, decorative patterned paper and beautifully carved “Choktse” tables.
MONASTERIES OF SIKKIM:
There are about 200 monasteries in Sikkim. The famous monasteries in Sikkim are the Tsuk-La-Khang Monastery, Enchey Monastery, Rumtek Monastery, Phodong Monastery, Pemayangtse Monastery and Tashiding Monastery.
PLACES OF INTEREST:
Enchey Monastery, Flower Festival, Dodrul Chorten, Namgyal Research Institute of Tibetology (NRIT), Rumtek Dharma Chakra Centre, Directorate of Handicraft & Handloom, Tsomgo Lake, Nathula, Tashi View Point, Pemayangtse Monastery, Rabdentse Ruins, Pelling, Sanga-Choling Monastery, Khecheopairi Lake, Yuksam, Dubdi Monastery, Tashiding Monastery, Varsey, Kabi Lungchok, Phodong Monastery, Yumthang, Lachung, Thangu, Lachen, Guru-dongmar Lake, Namchi, Temi Tea Garden, Ravangla, Phur Tsa Chu.
The Sikkim government has established various national parks and sanctuaries in order to preserve the rich flora and fauna of Sikkim. Some of the famous national parks and wildlife sanctuaries are the Kanchendzonga National Park, Fambong Lho Wildlife Sanctuary, Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary, Singba Rhododendron Sanctuary and Kyongnosla Alpine Sanctuary.
Amongst the mammals of Sikkim are the rare Snow Leopard, Himalayan Black Bear, Red panda, Musk Deer and Blue Sheep.
ADVENTURE & OUTDOOR SPORTS:
The state of Sikkim is like a trekkers paradise. Sikkim is the ultimate holiday destination for the trekkers that offers easy and short trekking routes to the trekking enthusiasts. While trekking one covers the beautiful views of the snowy peaks, the spectacular Himalayas, beautiful gompas, colourful hamlets, meadows, forests and orchards. The trekking in Sikkim can be a wonderful experience and its memories are cherished lifelong.
Tekking routes: Yoksum – Dzongri Trek, Tashi View Point – Tinjure trek, Base Camp – Garakhet Trek, Phalut – Singelila – Chiwabhanjang trek, Hilley – Varsey Trek and Damthang – Tendong Trek.
River rafting: Teesta and Rangit offer an experience not to be missed by the adventure enthusiast. The water rafting on the Teesta river is an amateur level ride. It starts from Markha and roll down till Rangpo via Sirwani and Mamring. The river rafting on the Rangeet river starts at Sikip and continues till Melli via Jorethang and Majitar.
Cycling: Sikkim’s vast countryside also offers cyclists to explore the mountain trails and landscapes at a leisurely pace. Varsey can be visited on cycles. On the way, the riots of rhododendrons brings the mountain slopes alive in Spring time. The panoramic views of the majestic Eastern Himalayan range can be had from Soreng and Kaluk Rinchenpong.
Mountaineering: Frey Peak (5830 mtrs) at Chauringang, Mt. Tenchenkhang (6010 mtrs) and Mt. Joponu (5603 mtrs) at West Sikkim. Lama Wangden (5868 mtrs) at Lachen, Brumkhngse (5635 mtrs) at Yumthang.
The permits for the above mentioned peaks will be issued by the Home Department. The amount mentioned below has to be paid in Gangtok, Sikkim, after the permit is granted by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, New Delhi. Click here for details.
In addition to an Indian visa, foreigners must obtain Protected Area Permit (PAP) to visit Sikkim, the permits can be obtained from all Indian missions, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), New Delhi, Sikkim Tourism office, New Delhi, Sikkim Tourism Office, Calcutta and Sikkim Tourism Office, Siliguri on the strength of an Indian Visa. Foreigners are issued a permit for initial period of 15 days duration on the spot without any delay provided photocopies of Passport and Visa details along with two passport photos of applicants are made available then and there. It can be extended for further 30 days from the Home Dept., Govt. of Sikkim, depending on the merits of the case. If you are visiting the interior regions, you also require a Protected Area Permit which is obtainable in Gangtok from the Department of Tourism. Click here to read more or apply.
WHERE TO STAY:
Gangtok: Hotel Central, Hotel Denzong Inn, Hotel Golden Pagoda, Hotel Himalayan Heights, Hotel Nor Khill, Hotel Oriental, Hotel Rendezvous, Hotel Rinchenpong Resort, Hotel Royal Plaza, Hotel Sidlon Residency, Hotel Tashi Delek, Hotel Tibet
Pelling: Hotel Newa Regency, Norbu Ghang Resort
Yukson: Hotel Tashi Gang
Martam: Martam Village Resort
SIKKIM TOURISM OFFICES:
Gangtok: Mahatma Gandhi Marg, Gangtok. Phone: 03592-22064, 23425, 25277 FAX: 25647
Siliguri: SNT colony, Hill Cart Road, Siliguri. Phone: 0353-43646
Bagdogra: Bagdogra Airport, Bagdogra, West Bengal
Calcutta: 4C, Poonam Building, 5/2 Russell Street, Calcutta – 700017. Phone: 033.-297516, 298983
New Delhi: New Sikkim House, 14, Panchsheel Marg, Channkyapuri, New Delhi – 110021. Phone: 011-3015346