Sikkim is a landlocked state of India situated amidst the Himalayas. It is the least populous state in India, and the second smallest in area after Goa. Sikkim was an independent state ruled by the Chogyal monarchy until 1975, when a referendum to make it India's twenty-second state succeeded. The thumb-shaped state borders Nepal in the west, China to the north and east, and Bhutan in the south-east. The Indian state of West Bengal borders Sikkim to its south. Gangtok is the capital. With 50,000 inhabitants, Gangtok is the state's only significant town. Despite its tiny size, Sikkim is geographically diverse, owing to its location at the Himalayan foothills. Terrain ranges from tropical in the south to tundra in the north. Kanchenjunga, the world's third highest peak, is located in Sikkim, straddling its northern border with Nepal. The state has twenty-eight mountain peaks, twenty-one glaciers, 227 high altitude lakes, including the Tsongmo Lake, Gurudongmar and Khecheopalri Lakes, five hot springs, and over 100 rivers and streams. Eight mountain passes connect the state to Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal. Sikkim has become one of India's most visited states owing to its reputation for untouched scenic beauty and political stability.
Sikkim has four districts, each overseen by a Central Government appointee, the district collector, who is in-charge of the administration of the civilian areas of the districts. The Indian army has control of a large territory, as the state is a sensitive border area. Many areas are restricted and permits are needed to visit them. There are a total of eight towns and nine sub-divisions in Sikkim. The four districts are :
|East District||Gangtok||954 sq. km|
|West District||Gyalshing||1166 sq. km|
|North District||Mangan||4226 sq.km|
Nearest airport is Bagdora in North Bengal which is 124 kms away and approximately 5 hrs. drive from Gangtok. There are regular Indian Airline and other private services operating from Bagdora linking Calcutta, Guwahati and Delhi.
The two closest railway stations are Siliguri about 144 kms. Away and New Jalpaiguri about 125 kms.away connecting Calcutta, Delhi, Guwahati, Lucknow & other important cities.
Capital of Sikkim is Gangtok, which connects Siliguri through National Highway 31A. Siliguri, a major town on the northern fringe of West Bengal being the main gateway of Sikkim. Gangtok is connected by road to Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Siliguri and also to all the district headquarters within Sikkim. The Sikkim Nationalized Transport (SNT) plies regular bus service from Gangtok to all major cities and towns in North Bengal and within state. Booking facilities are available at Siliguri and Gangtok. There is also an Out-Agency railway booking facility in Gangtok located at SNT bus terminal.
The thumb-shaped state of Sikkim is characterised by wholly mountainous terrain. Almost the entire state is hilly, with the elevation ranging from 280 metres (920 feet) to 8,585 metres (28,000 feet). The climate ranges from sub-tropical in the south to tundra in the northern parts. Most of the inhabited regions of Sikkim, however, enjoy a temperate climate, with the temperatures seldom exceeding 28 °C (82 °F) in summer or dropping below 0 °C (32 °F) in winter. The state enjoys five seasons: winter, summer, spring, and autumn, and a monsoon season between June and September. The average annual temperature for most of Sikkim is around 18 °C (64 °F). Sikkim is one of the few states in India to receive regular snowfall. The snow line is around 6,000 metres (19,600 feet). During the monsoon months, the state is lashed by heavy rains that increase the number of landslides. The state record for the longest period of non-stop rain is eleven days. In the northern region, because of high altitude, temperatures drop below -40 °C in winter. Fog also affects many parts of the state during winter and the monsoons, making transportation extremely perilous.
Like all states of India, the head of the state government is a governor appointed by the Central Indian Government. His appointment is largely ceremonial, and his main role is to oversee the swearing in of the Chief Minister. The Chief Minister, who holds the real executive powers, is the head of the party or coalition garnering the largest majority in the state elections. The governor also appoints the cabinet ministers on the advice of the Chief Minister. Sikkim has a unicameral legislature like most other Indian states. Sikkim is allocated one seat in each of both chambers of India's national bicameral legislature, the Lok Sabha, and the Rajya Sabha. There are a total of 32 state assembly seats including one reserved for the Sangha. The Sikkim High Court is the smallest high court in the country. In 1975, after the abrogation of Sikkim's monarchy, the Congress Party got the largest majority in the 1977 elections. In 1979, after a period of instability, a popular ministry headed by Nar Bahadur Bhandari, leader of the Sikkim Sangram Parishad Party was sworn in. Bhandari held on to power in the 1984 and 1989 elections. In the 1994 elections Pawan Kumar Chamling from the Sikkim Democratic Front becoming the Chief Minister of the state. The party has since held on to power by winning the 1999 and 2004 elections.
Roads in Sikkim are in a poor condition because most are exposed to landslides and flooding by nearby streams. The roads are maintained by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), an offshoot of the Indian army. The roads in South Sikkim and NH-31A are in a good condition, landslides being less frequent in these areas. The state government maintains 1857.35 km of roadways that do not fall in the BRO jurisdiction. Sikkim has a number of hydroelectric power stations, providing a steady electricity source. However the voltage is unstable and voltage stabilisers are needed. Per capita consumption of electricity in Sikkim is 182 Kwh. 73.2% of households have access to safe drinking water, and the large number of streams assures redundant water supply, thus the state never witnesses droughts.
Nepali is the lingua franca of Sikkim. English and Hindi are also spoken and understood in most of Sikkim. Other languages spoken in Sikkim include Bhutia, Dzongkha , Groma, Gurung, Lepcha, Limbu, Magar, Majhi, Majhwar, Newari, Rai, Sherpa, Sunuwar, Tamang, Thulung, Tibetan, and Yakha. The southern urban areas have English, Nepali and Hindi dailies. Nepali language newspapers are locally printed, whereas Hindi and English newspapers are printed in Siliguri. English newspapers include The Statesman and The Telegraph which are printed in Siliguri, as well as The Hindu and The Times of India, printed in Calcutta, and are received with a day's delay in the towns of Gangtok, Jorethang, Melli and Geyzing. The Sikkim Herald is an official weekly publication of the government. Internet cafes are well established in the district capitals, but broadband connectivity is not widely available, and many rural areas have yet to be linked to the Internet. Satellite television channels through dish antennae are available in most homes in the state. Channels served are the same available throughout India along with a Nepali language channels. The main service providers are Sikkim Cable, Dish TV, Doordarshan and Nayuma. The area is well serviced by local cellular companies such as BSNL, Reliance Infocomm, and Airtel. BSNL has state wide coverage, whereas Reliance Infocomm and Airtel have coverage only in urban areas. The national All India Radio is the only radio station in the state.
Today the majority of Sikkim's residents are of Nepali ethnic-national origin who came to the province in the 19th century. The native Sikkimese, consist of the Bhutias, who migrated from the Kham district of Tibet in the 14th Century, and the Lepchas who are believed to have migrated from the far east. Tibetans reside mostly in the northern and eastern reaches of the state. Immigrant resident communities not native to the state include the Marwaris, who own most of the shops in South Sikkim and Gangtok, the Biharis, most of whom are employed in blue collar jobs, and the Bengalis. Hinduism and Buddhism are the religions professed by most Sikkimese. The state has never had inter-religious strife. Mosques in downtown Gangtok and Mangan also serve the minuscule Muslim population. Sikkim residents celebrate all major Indian festivals such as Diwali and Dussera, the popular Hindu festivals. Losar, Loosong, Saga Dawa, Lhabab Duechen, Drupka Teshi and Bhumchu are Buddhist festivals that are also celebrated. During the Losar - the Tibetan New Year in mid-December - most government offices and tourist centres are closed for a week. Christmas has also recently been promoted in Gangtok to attract tourists during the off-season. It is common to hear Western rock music being played in homes and in restaurants even in the countryside. Hindi songs have gained wide acceptance among the masses. Indigenous Nepali rock, music suffused with a Western rock beat and Nepali lyrics, is also particularly popular. Football (soccer) and cricket are the two most popular sports. Noodle-based dishes such as the thukpa, chowmein, thanthuk, fakthu, gyathuk and wonton are common in Sikkim. Momos, steamed dumplings filled with vegetable, beef or pork and served with a soup is a popular snack. The mountainous peoples have a diet rich in beef, pork and other meats. Almost all dwellings in Sikkim are rustic, consisting of a bamboo frame, woven with pliable bamboo and coated with cow dung, providing a warm interior. In the higher elevations, houses are made of wood.
For the most part, the land is unfit for agriculture because of the precipitous and rocky slopes. However, certain hill slopes have been converted into farm lands using terrace farming techniques and is used for cultivation. The rural populace grows crops such as cardamom, oranges, apples, tea and orchids. Rice is grown on terraced hillsides in the southern reaches. Sikkim has the highest production and largest cultivated area of cardamom in India. Numerous snow-fed streams in Sikkim have carved out river valleys in the west and south of the state. These streams combine into the Teesta and its tributary, the Rangeet. The Teesta, described as the "lifeline of Sikkim", flows through the state from north to south. About a third of the land is heavily forested.
Sikkim's economy is largely agrarian, based on traditional farming methods, on terraced slopes. Because of the hilly terrain, and lack of reliable transportation infrastructure, there are no large-scale industries. Breweries, distilleries, tanning and watch-making are the main industries. These are located in the southern reaches of the state, primarily in the towns of Melli and Jorethang. The state has an impressive growth rate of 8.3%, which is the second highest in the country after Delhi. The proposal to open up the Nathula Pass in April 2006 connecting Lhasa, Tibet to India is sheduled to give a boost to the local economy, though many minor issues are still to be resolved. The Pass, closed since the 1962 Sino-Indian War, was an offshoot of the ancient Silk Route, which was essential to the wool, fur and spice trade. In recent years, the government of Sikkim has promoted tourism. Sikkim has a vast tourism potential and by tapping into this the state has grossed an earnings windfall. Among the minerals mined in Sikkim are copper, dolomite, limestone, graphite, mica, iron, and coal.
Literacy is 69.68%, which breaks up into 76.73% for males and 61.46% for females. There are a total of 1545 government-run educational institutions and eighteen private schools mostly located in the towns. There are about twelve colleges and other institutions in Sikkim that offer higher education. The largest institution is the Sikkim Manipal University which has 2 wings Sikkim Manipal Institute of Technology which offers higher education in engineering and SMIMS medicine. There are two state-run polytechnics, Advanced Technical Training Centre(ATTC) and Centre for Computers and Communication Technology(CCCT) in Sikkim which offer diploma courses in various branches of engineering. ATTC is situated at Bardang, Singtam and CCCT at Chisopani, Namchi. Many students however, migrate to Siliguri and Calcutta for their higher education.
Sikkim has a very rugged topography and the flat lands are difficult to come by. The towering mountains that define this paradise of the nature also create a barrier to efficient agriculture. The two mountain ranges are Singalila on the western boarder and Chola on the eastern boarder
This is an enormous spur of the Great Himalayas. The crowning glory of this range is the 8596 m elevated summit, of Mount Khangchendzonga. This peak - the third highest in the world, is a difficult mountain to climb, because of unpredictable weather and winds. The Sikkimese believe that it is not meant to be climbed, but only worshipped, as it is the abode of five treasures of the snows. In deference to local sentiments, no expedition has set foot on the summit- but remained a few meters below. For those of us who cannot attempt the climb, the 5000 m high viewpoint at Goechela (the Lock Pass) offers a superb alternative. A depression, between Mount Pandim, and a spur of the Kabru Peak form the pass. It looks down into the Talung Valley, with the mighty Talung Glacier, winding its way down below. One is surrounded by great white peaks - Khangchendzonga (8596 m), Simvo (6811 m), Siniolchu (6888 m), Pandim (6691 m), Kabru (7338 m) and Rathang (6087 m). The awe inspiring sight, instills a feeling of standing in the very lap of Khangchendzonga, and gazing up at its face.
The Zemu glacier is the largest and the most famous glacier of the eastern Himalayas. It is 26 km in length and is situated in a large U-shaped valley at the base of the Khangchendzonga massif in northwestern Sikkim. The Teesta River rises from the snout of this glacier. Many tributary glaciers feed the trunk glacier. The side valleys in which these glaciers lie open into the main Zemu Valley from different directions. Icefalls and waterfalls have formed at the junction of the tributary glaciers with the Zemu glacier.
Sikkim has many hot springs known for their medicinal value. The most important are the ones located at Reshi, Yumthang and Ralang. These springs are considered holy as one of the four holy caves is located here. This holy cave is called the Kadosangphu or 'cave of the occult fairies' and lies on the south of the four cardinal points.
At an altitude of 12,000 ft, 135 km from Gangtok in North Sikkim, a few hundred metres off the road, after crossing river Lachung over a wooden bridge lies a small hut which houses a pool where sulphur water of hot spring is collected for taking a dip.
Around 25 km from Gyalshing, near Reshi, after crossing the Rangit river by a pedestrian bridge, hardly ten minutes from the highway is Phurchachu springs with medicinal properties, ideal from skin disease.
On the face of it, one would not expect to find lakes on such a rugged terrain. But surprisingly, Sikkim does have lakes though not very large in size. These lakes are both spring fed as well as river fed. On the highway between Gangtok and Nathu La, 34 kms. from Gangtok lies the serene Tsomgo(Changu) Lake at an altitude of about 11,000 feet. Khecheopalri lake is another well known lake that lies on a bifurcation of the route between Gyalshing and Yuksom . Menmecho lake, Green lake and Samiti lake are some other beautiful lakes.
Tsomgo literally means "source of the lake " in Bhutia language. ' TSO' means lake and ' MGO' means head. At about 40 kms. away from Gangtok, this serene and holy lake is situated at an altitude of 12,000 ft on the Gangtok - Nathu La highway. It is about 1 km. long, oval in shape, 15 meters deep. It is also a home of brahmini ducks besides being a stopover for various migratory birds. The lake remains frozen during the winter months up to mid-May. Between May and August it is possible to see a variety of flowers in blooms, including the rhododendrons, various species of primulas, blue and yellow poppies, irises etc. It is also an ideal habitat for the red panda and various species of birds.
20 Kms. further away from Tsomgo(Changu) Lake is this beautiful lake which lies cradled between the mountains below the Jelep La Pass and is the source of river Rangpo-chu. It derives its water from melting snows around. The lake is famous for its Trout and a farm to cultivate these fish also exist nearby.
Khecheopalri lake is considered as one of the sacred lakes of this state both by the Buddhist and the Hindus. The lake remains hidden in the rich forest cover. It is believed that the birds do not permit even a single leaf to float on the lake surface. There is a motorable road from Pemayangtse right up to the lake area. For those interested in spending a night or two in the peaceful environment a trekkers hut has been provided by the tourism office. The hut is presently managed by a local person and provides comfortable stay providing a taste of local cuisine which may include 'chang' brew made of fermented millet. There is also a pilgrim's hut, managed by the tourism department, which is meant to provide accommodation to the people who come on pilgrim tours.
Kathok and Khecheopalri are two important lakes of this area. Khecheopalri, known as the "Wishing Lake", is one of Sikkim's most sacred lakes. A festival held every year at Khecheopalri Lake during February-March draws people from all over Sikkim. Another is held at Yuksam during Decembe-January in connection with Kathok Lake.
The Green Lake is fast developing into a take-off point for mountaineering expeditions to the peaks of this area. The Green Lake may in the minds of many conjure up an image of beautiful, exotic waterbody, but sadly it is not true. Infact in 1899 the lake had disappeared according to D. W. Freshfield who writes, the hollow enclosed between the covering moraines of Zemu and Green Lake Glaciers has been lately a lake, and was now a lake basin.
As you climb towards Gochala Pass and pause to take a deep breadth, you can enjoy the colour of transparent torquise of Lake Samiti- A glacial lake in the Onglathang valley.
Tso Lhamu is a lake which lies on the plateau that juts into Sikkim into Tibet. From this moderately sized lake, the Teesta River takes birth as a trickle hardly a foot wide. The water in the lake flirts with ice before getting frozen in winter. The reflection of the surrounding mountains doubles the beauty. Everything looks so prehistoric that you almost expect to see a Dinosaur amble by. A flock of birds, the cranes swims on the placid ice water of Chola Mu. These birds are migratory from Russia, China and other parts of India.
It is a big natural lake cupped in deep crater. The rim of the crater is so hard above the lake level that it is easy to photograph the complete lake without using a wide angle lens. As you invoke the blessing on the bank of this Pristine Lake, you cannot help thinking that it is here that God really resides.
The mountain ranges are interspersed with the passes which can be used to cross from one side to another. On the Eastern Chola range the most important passes are the Nathu La and Jelep La both at an altitude of about 15,0000 ft. and Bhutah La at an altitude of about 13,000 ft. The first two lead to Tibet and the third to Bhutan. On the west boarder of Sikkim and Nepal, the most important pass is Chiwabhangjang, which has an altitude of 10,300 ft. The other passes on the west is Kang La. In the north one of the important passes is the Kongra La.
Five kilometers to the north of Jelap la pass, on the same altitude on a range that runs into Tibet, is the rarely used Nathula pass on the Sikkim-Tibet frontier. The zig zag track becomes steeper as it leaves Gangtok, but makes up in the changing landscape which becomes more sublime with ever inch of ascent till it reaches the calm waters of the lake. Nuk Tahyi in a region, bleak and dismal. from the submit two roads from both Jelap and Nathula passes unit in a track leading to the Chumbi Valley of Tibet. On the one side stands a change of imposing peaks dividing from Tibet, on the other yawning abyss of ravines and gorges. At Nathula the Chinese and the Indian troops face each other almost at breathing distance. It was in the news quiet a lot when skirmishes between the two countries occurred on this pass. Jelap la was used by Younghusband to attack Tibet in 1903 and to commemorate this the path through Jelap la is called the Young husband track. Nathula and Jelap la passes for a part of the trade route between India and Tibet till 1962.
Flowing almost right across the length of Sikkim is the River Teesta. Teesta originates from the Cholamu lake where it is hardly a stream. No one can imagine that this innocuous looking stream would transform into a thundering mighty river less than a hundred kilometers downstream. Meeting Teesta at the border between Sikkim and West Bengal is its major tributary the river Rangeet which originates from the Rathong Glacier. During monsoons the otherwise innocuous looking rivers of Sikkim become swollen, swift, muddy and dangerous. The rivers are narrow, serpentine and full of rocks and hence are not navigable. Because of swift currents hitting rocks, the rivers are very noisy and can be heard for miles together. The Teesta finally joins the Bhramaputra in Bangladesh. The rivers are fed by snow melting on the mountains as well as rain that accumulates in the catchment areas during the monsoons. Human settlements usually must exist above the level of rivers and hence even if flooding takes place life and property remain safe.
The verdant green landscape of Sikkim is broken here and there by waterfalls that leap out of the hillside to the valley floors in plumes of white. Waterfalls are found almost all over Sikkim but there is a profusion of them in North Sikkim specially on the road between Mangan and Lachung as well as in the Dzongu area. Most of the waterfalls are perennial and are spring water fed but there are many that derive their water from melting snow. Except for a few most of the waterfalls are unnamed.
The Sikkim Himalayas, the epitome of the world's mountains, encompass a wonderland, which for sheer beauty and magnificence remains unbeaten elsewhere in the globe. In the southwestern part of Sikkim, in the main Himalayan range, lies the majestic Khangchendzonga or Kanchenjunga, rising to a staggering height of 8,585 m (28,169 ft) above sea level. The first European to explore the Kanchendzonga area was Douglas W. Fresfield who reached its abse in 1899 from the Green Lake Basin area. A German expedition led by Paul Bauer made the first attempt to reach the summit in 1929 followed by another attempt in 1931 and reached an altitude of 26,000 ft. In 1955 Charles Evans conquered Kanchendzonga a few feet below the summit from the Nepal side. In 1977 an expedition led by Major Prem Chand reached a few feet below the summit. In 1987 an Assam Rifles expedition attempted the peak. In 1991 an Indo Japanese expedition led by Hukam Singh and Yoshio Ogata conquered the peak. The Kabru was first climbed in 1935 by a British C. R. Cooke. The Pyramid Peak was first conquered in 1949 by a Swiss R. Dittert. A British A. M. Kallas, climbed the Paunhri in 1911. The summit of Siniolchu was first reached by a German in 1936. It was later again climbed by the famous Sikkimese Everester Sonam Gyatso. Pandim was climbed in 1993 by a team from the Sonam Gyatso Mountaineering Institute. Rathong was conquered by an Indian expedition in 1964.
Sikkim is the ultimate destination for a trekking holiday, offering everything from short and easy excursions to the long challenges of the snowy peaks, invoking visions of the spectacular Himalayas, the lush meadows, green woodland and fragrant orchards. The following iteneraries have been drawn up with Yuksum as base. One can also draw up one's own detailed trek itenerary with the help of Sikkim Tourism, adventure division, Gangtok or any recognized travel agent in Sikkim . Trekkers hut along trek routes are at Pemayangtse, Khechopalri, Yuksum, Tsokha, Dzongri, Thangshing, Zemathang, Chaurigang, Tashiding, Varsey, Yangang, Rabongla, Sang & Sikip.
Mountain Biking is another adventure sport that has been recently introduced in Sikkim. Most of the roads in Sikkim are negotiable by mountain bikes. This sport is definitely poised to become popular in Sikkim in the near future and it is being promoted in most parts of North Sikkim & West Sikkim.
Rafting is a later entrant of adventure sport in Sikkim. Rivers Teesta and Rangit offer long stretches which are ideal for safe rafting. Teesta has been graded on the International scale at Grade 4. The icy cold waters of the rugged Teesta have a series of rapids with varying intensity and character. It offers one of the finest rafting stretches in the world. Rangit, a tributary of the Teesta, has more turbulent waters and offers a challenge to more experienced rafters.
Kayaking is undertaken on the Teesta and is arranged for special groups. Some experience in kayaking is required. Kayaks are available with Sikkim Tourism.
Yak Safari is an unforgettable experience organized from Dzongri in West Sikkim onwards by Sikkim Tourism or by travel agencies on prior booking
The department is shortly introducing hang gliding in North Sikkim and Jorethang in West Sikkim.
|Sikkim at a glance|
|Location||Approx 27 deg. North 88 deg. East|
|Area||7,096 sq.kms (22% of area of India)|
|State Population (As per 2001 Census)|
|Total||(.05% of the total population of India) 540,493|
|Sex ratio (2001 Census)||875 females/1000 males|
|Per Capita Income||Rs. 9472/- (1995-96, at current prices)|
|Per capita growth rate||6.80%|
|% below poverty line||34.67 ( in 1987-88)|
|Birth rate||19.8 ( in 1997, per 1000)|
|Death Rate:||6.5 (in 1997, per 1000)|
|Infant Morality rate||51 (1996-98, per 1000)|
|Administrative Set Up|
|No. of Sub-Divisions (9)||Gangtok|
|Zilla Panchayat wards||92|
|Gram Panchyats||159 units|
|Other Important towns||Jorethang, Singtam, Rangpo, Pakyong Rhenock, Meli, Chungthang and Soreng|
|Lok Sabha seats||1|
|No. of All India Radio Stations||1, MV & SW at Gangtok|
|Climate||Tropical, Temperate and Alpine|
|Main occupations||Farmers, Cardamom Growers, Government Contractors and Government Employees|
|Languages Spoken||Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Limboo, Magar, Rai, Gurung, Sherpa, Tamang, Newari.|
|Middle (Junior) Schools||118|
|Senior Sec. Schools||43|
|Teachers Training Inst.||1|
|Industrial Training Inst.||1|
|Hospitals||6, including Sir Thutob Namgyal|
|No. of Primary Health Cente||24|
|Domestic product||Rs. 446 crores (1995-96, at current prices)|
|Domestic product Growth rate||10.39% (1995-96, at current prices)|
|State Day ( the day Sikkim Became a part of India)||16th May|
|State Animal||Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens)|
|State Bird||Blood Pheasant (Ithaginis cruentus)|
|State Flower||Nobile Orchid (Dendrobium nobile)|
|State Tree||Rhododendron (Rhododendron niveum)|