Sikkim is a landlocked Indian state nestled in 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 Namgyal monarchy, but following administrative problems and the public's sentiment for union with India, a referendum was held in 1975 in which the people of Sikkim chose union with India. Also in 1975, the referendum brought about an end to the absolute monarchy and ushered in a democratic government within the Constitution of India.
The thumb-shaped state borders Nepal in the west, the Chinese Tibet Autonomous Region to the north and east, and Bhutan in the south-east. The Indian state of West Bengal borders Sikkim to its south. The official languages are English, Bhutia, Nepali, Lepcha, Limbu, and Hindi. The language of almost all written transactions is English. The predominant religions are Hinduism and Vajrayana Buddhism. Gangtok is the capital and largest town. Despite its tiny size, Sikkim is geographically diverse, owing to its location on the Himalaya. The climate ranges from subtropical to high alpine. Kanchenjunga, the world's third highest peak, is located in the north western part of the state on the boundary with Nepal, and can be seen from most parts of the state. Sikkim has become one of India's most visited states, owing to its reputation of cleanliness, scenic beauty and political stability.
Origin of name
The most widely accepted origin of the name Sikkim is that it is a combination of two words in the Limbu Su, which means "new", and Khyim, which means "palace" or house, in reference to the palace built by the state's first ruler, Phuntsok Namgyal. The Tibetan name for Sikkim is 'Denjong, which means the "valley of rice".
The earliest recorded event related to Sikkim is the passage of the Buddhist saint Guru Rinpoche through the land in the 8th century. The Guru is reported to have blessed the land, introduced Buddhism to Sikkim, and foretold the era of monarchy in the state that would arrive centuries later. In the 14th century, according to legend, Khye Bumsa, a prince from the Minyak House in Kham in Eastern Tibet, had a divine revelation one night instructing him to travel south to seek his fortunes. His descendants were later to form the royal family of Sikkim. In 1642, the fifth generation descendant of Khye Bumsa, Phuntsog Namgyal, was consecrated as the first Chogyal (king) of Sikkim by the three venerated Lamas who came from the north, west and south to Yuksom, marking the beginning of the monarchy.Phuntsog Namgyal was succeeded in 1670 by his son, Tensung Namgyal, who moved the capital from Yuksom to Rabdentse. In 1700, Sikkim was invaded by the Bhutanese with the help of the half-sister of the Chogyal, who had been denied the throne. The Bhutanese were driven away by the Tibetans, who restored the throne to the Chogyal ten years later. Between 1717 and 1733, the kingdom faced many raids by the Nepalese in the west and Bhutanese in the east, culminating with the destruction of the capital Rabdentse by the Nepalese.
Flag of the former monarchy of Sikkim.In 1791, China sent troops to support Sikkim and defend Tibet against the Gurkhas. Following Nepal's subsequent defeat, Sikkim became a suzerainty of Qing Dynasty. Following the arrival of the British Raj in neighbouring India, Sikkim allied with them against their common enemy, Nepal. The Nepalese attacked Sikkim, overrunning most of the region including the Terai. This prompted the British East India Company to attack Nepal, resulting in the Gurkha War of 1814. Treaties signed between Sikkim and Nepal — the Sugauli Treaty — and Sikkim and British India — Titalia Treaty — returned the territory annexed by the Nepalese to Sikkim in 1817. Ties between Sikkim and the British administrators of India grew sour, however, with the beginning of British taxation of the Morang region. In 1849 two British doctors, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker and Dr. Archibald Campbell, the latter being in charge of relations between the British and Sikkim Government, ventured into the mountains of Sikkim unannounced and unauthorised. The doctors were detained by the Sikkim government, leading to a punitive British expedition against the Himalayan kingdom, after which the Darjeeling district and Morang were annexed to India in 1835. The invasion led to the chogyal's becoming a puppet king under the directive of the British governor.
The Dro-dul Chorten Stupa is a famous stupa in Gangtok.In 1947, a popular vote rejected Sikkim's joining the Indian Union and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru agreed to a special protectorate status for Sikkim. Sikkim was to be a tributary of India, in which India controlled its external defence, diplomacy and communication. A state council was established in 1955 to allow for constitutional government for the Chogyal. Meanwhile trouble was brewing in the state after the Sikkim National Congress demanded fresh elections and greater representation for the Nepalese. In 1973, riots in front of the palace led to a formal request for protection from India. The chogyal was proving to be extremely unpopular with the people. Sikkim was closed and little was known until American climber Caril Ridley happened into Gangtok and was able to smuggle photos and legal documentation out. When confirmed by China, India’s actions were brought into the spotlight of world awareness, However history had already been written and matters came to a head in 1975, when the Kazi (Prime Minister) appealed to the Indian Parliament for representation and change of Sikkim's status to a state of India. In April, the Indian Army moved in Sikkim, seizing the city of Gangtok, disarming the Palace Guards. Within two days the entire nation was in Indian hands. A referendum was held in which 97.5% of the people voted to join the Indian Union. A few weeks later on May 16, 1975, Sikkim officially became the 22nd state of the Indian Union, and monarchy was abolished. In 2000, in a major embarrassment for China, the seventeenth Karmapa Urgyen Trinley Dorje, who had been proclaimed a Lama by China, made a dramatic escape from Tibet to the Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim. Chinese officials were in a quandary on this issue as any protests to India on the issue would mean an explicit endorsement of India's governance of Sikkim, which the Chinese still regarded as an independent state occupied by India. China eventually recognised Sikkim as an Indian state in 2003, which led to a thaw in Sino-Indian relations. In return, India announced its official recognition of Tibet as an integrated part of China. As part of a significant pact between India and China signed by the prime ministers of the two countries, Manmohan Singh and Wen Jiabao, China released an official map clearly showing Sikkim as part of the Republic of India. On July 6, 2006 the Himalayan pass of Nathula was opened to cross-border trade, a further evidence of improving sentiment over the region.
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 summit of the Kanchenjunga is the highest point. 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. 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.
The lofty Himalayan ranges surround the northern, eastern and western borders of Sikkim in a crescent. The populated areas lie in the southern reaches of the state, in the Lower Himalayas. 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.
The hills of Sikkim mainly consist of gneissose and half-schistose rocks, making their soil brown clay, and generally poor and shallow. The soil is coarse, with large amounts of iron oxide concentrations, ranging from neutral to acidic and has poor organic and mineral nutrients. This type of soil tends to support evergreen and deciduous forests.A large portion of the Sikkim territory is covered by the Precambrian rock and is much younger in age than the hills. The rock consists of phyllites and schists and therefore the slopes are highly susceptible to weathering and prone to erosion. This, combined with the intense rain, causes extensive soil erosion and heavy loss of soil nutrients through leaching. As a result, landslides are frequent, isolating the numerous small towns and villages from the major urban centres.
Sikkim has many hot springs known for medicinal and therapeutic values. The most important hot-springs are at Phurchachu(Reshi), Yumthang, Borang, Ralang, Taram-chu and Yumey Samdong. All these hotsprings have high sulphur content and are located near the river banks. The average temperature of the water in these hot springs is 50°C.
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.
Flora and fauna
Sikkim is situated in an ecological hotspot of the lower Himalayas, one of only three among the Ecoregions of India. The forested regions of the state exhibit a diverse range of fauna and flora. Owing to its altitudinal gradiation, the state has a wide variety of plants, from tropical to temperate to alpine and tundra, and is perhaps one of the few regions to exhibit such a diversity within such a small area.The flora of Sikkim includes the rhododendron, the state tree, with a huge range of species occurring from subtropical to alpine regions. Orchids, figs, laurel, bananas, sal trees and bamboo in the lower altitudes of Sikkim, which enjoy a sub-tropical type climate. In the temperate elevations above 1,500 metres, oaks, chestnuts, maples, birchs, alders, and magnolias grow in large numbers. The alpine type vegetation includes juniper, pine, firs, cypresses and rhododendrons, and is typically found between an altitude of 3,500 metres to 5,000 m. Sikkim boasts around 5,000 flowering plants, 515 rare orchids, 60 primulas species, 36 rhododendrons species, 11 oaks varieties, 23 bamboos varieties, 16 conifer species, 362 types of ferns and ferns allies, 8 tree ferns, and over 424 medicinal plants. The orchid Dendrobium nobile is the official flower of Sikkim.
The Himalayan Black BearThe fauna includes the snow leopard, the musk deer, the Bhoral, the Himalayan Tahr, the red panda, the Himalayan marmot, the serow, the goral, the barking deer, the common langur, the Himalayan Black Bear, the clouded leopard, the Marbled Cat, the leopard cat, the wild dog, the Tibetan wolf, the hog badger, the binturong, the jungle cat and the civet cat. Among the animals more commonly found in the alpine zone are yaks, mainly reared for their milk, meat, and as a beast of burden.
The avifauna of Sikkim is comprised of the Impeyan pheasant, the crimson horned pheasant, the snow partridge, the snow cock, the lammergeyer and griffon vultures, as well as golden eagles, quail, plovers, woodcock, sandpipers, pigeons, Old World flycatchers, babblers and robins. A total of 550 species of birds have been recorded in Sikkim, some of which have been declared endangered.
Sikkim does not have any airports or railheads because of its rough terrain. The closest airport, Bagdogra Airport, is near the town of Siliguri, West Bengal. The airport is about 124 km away from Gangtok. A regular helicopter service run by the Sikkim Helicopter Service connects Gangtok to Bagdogra; the flight is thirty minutes long, operates only once a day, and can carry 4 people. The Gangtok helipad is the only civilian helipad in the state. The closest railway station is New Jalpaiguri which is situated sixteen kilometres from Siliguri.National Highway 31A links Siliguri to Gangtok. The highway is an all-weather metalled road which mostly runs parallel to the river Teesta, entering Sikkim at Rangpo. Numerous public and privately run bus and jeep services connect the airport, railway station, and Siliguri to Gangtok. A branch of the highway from Melli connects western Sikkim. Towns in southern and western Sikkim are connected to the northern West Bengal hill stations of Kalimpong and Darjeeling. Within the state, four wheel drives are the most popular means of transport, as they can navigate rocky slopes. Mini-buses link the smaller towns to the state and district headquarters.
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. Sikkim also has a small Christian population, consisting mostly of people of Lepcha origin, converted to the faith after British missionaries started preaching in the region in the late 19th century. The state has never had inter-religious strife. Mosques in downtown Gangtok and Mangan also serve the minuscule Muslim population.
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, Nepal Bhasa, Rai, Sherpa, Sunuwar, Tamang, Thulung, Tibetan, and Yakha.
As India's least populous state, Sikkim has only 540,493 inhabitants, with 288,217 males and 252,276 females. It is also one of the least densely populated states with only 76 persons per square kilometre. Its growth rate is 32.98% (1991-2001). The sex ratio is 875 females per 1000 males. With 50,000 inhabitants, Gangtok is the state's only significant town. The urban population in Sikkim is 11.06%. The per capita income stands at Rs. 11,356, which is one of the highest in the country
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 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, buff (buffalo's meat) or pork and served with a soup is a popular snack. The mountainous peoples have a diet rich in beef, pork and other meats. Alcohol is cheap owing to the low excise duty in Sikkim and beer, whiskey, rum and brandy are consumed by many Sikkimese.
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.
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.[
Sikkim's near about 200 monasteries or Gompas belonging to the Nyingma and Kagyu order have not only been influencing the cultural heritage and lifestyle of the people, but also demonstrates the ancient rituals in practice. Devoted Lamas robed in red, chant ancient mantras to the rhythm of drums and trumpets while soft lights flicker from decorative lamps placed before statues of the great Guru Padmasambhava. Feel the peace and quiet of being one with nature and close to the almighty as sacred words mingle with the whirring prayer wheels. The Gompas are adorned with life-like frescoes of hoary Buddhist legends, rare silk and brocade Thangkas. Also preserved here, are ancient Tibetan manuscripts, exquisitely carved wood work and icons of silver and gold.
Pemayangtse Monastery is situated in West Sikkim at Gyalshing (140 kms. from Gangtok) and commands an impressive view of Mount khanchendzonga. This monastery belongs to the Nyingma order and all other Nyingma monasteries in Sikkim are subordinate to it.
24 Kms. from Gangtok, a drive through beautiful countryside takes one to Rumtek Dharma Chakra centre built in 1960'S by his holiness the late 16th GYALWA KARMAPA when he took refuge in Sikkim after the Chinese attack. It houses some of the worlds most unique art objects, ancient manuscripts and icons.
This monastery is situated in Gangtok on a hill top. It was built during the reign of Thutob Namgyal .
This monastery was built in 1721 during the time of Jigme Pawo. In 1947 it was completely gutted by a devastating fire. However it was rebuilt in 1948. It is present in North Sikkim.
This monastery is in North Sikkim 28 kms. from Gangtok. The original monastery is rebuilt and is today one of the most beautiful monasteries in Sikkim.
This is another important monastery belonging to the Nyingmapa order and is about 40 Kms. from Gyalshing by road via Legship (West Sikkim). It lies nestled on the top of a hill that looms up between the Rathong river and the Rangit river and is surrounded by a profusion of Prayer flags that flutter in the air.
SANGA CHELLING MONASTERY
Sanga chelling means ' the island of esoteric teaching'. This monastery was built in 1697 and is situated about 7 kms. from Pemayangste. It is said to be the oldest monastery in Sikkim.
Dubdi means 'the retreat' and this monastery was built in 1700. It is located near Yuksum on a hill top. One has to travel by foot to reach it.
This monastery is located just above the famous near Yukusm.
Melli basically means 'a lepcha village'. This monastery is also located near Yuksum.
Sinon means 'the suppressor of intense fear'. The monastery was built in 1716 and is located about 10 kms. from Tashiding on a hill top.
Dalling means 'the thunderbolt'. This monastery was built in 1840 and is situated near kwezing in .
Yangyang means 'the ridge of fortune'. This monastery was built in 1840 and is situated at a place called Yangyang 10 kms. downhill from Rabongla.
This monastery is located in Namchi, the district headquarters of south district and was constructed during the reign of Chogyal Gurmed Namgyal.
This monastery is located near Kwezing in South Sikkim. It was built during the reign of Chogyal Thutob Namgyal.
This monastery is situated in near Singtam town. It was built during the reign of Chogyal Tsudphud Namgyal.
HEE GYATHANG MONASTERY
This monastery is located in and follows the Nyingma sect of Buddhism.
This monastery is located in the Zongu area of North Sikkim.
CHAWANG ANI MONASTERY
This monastery is located near Phensang which is on the highway between Gangtok amd Mangan. It was built during the reign of Chogyal Tshudphud Namgyal .
This monastery is located in bout 63 kms. from Gangtok.
This monastery is located in East Sikkim near Pakyong. The present structure of the monastery was built during the reign of Chogyal Thutob Namgyal.
This monastery was constructed in 1952 and follows the Nyingma sect of Buddhism. It is situated in South Sikkim above Singtam.
This monastery in North Sikkim was built in 1806 and follows the Nyingma sec of Buddhism.
This monastery in North Sikkim was built in Sikkim 1880 and also follows the Nyingma sect of Buddhism.
This monastery is situated near Rumtek and was built in 1912.
This monastery is situated near Rabongla in South Sikkim.
Flora and Fauna
Because of the altitude that vary right from sea level to summits that touch the skies ,the flora and fauna naturally covers a wide spectrum. Nowhere in the world in such a small area can one find flora and fauna of all varieties - Tropical to the Alpines. Sikkim's botanical and zoological richness is awe- inspiring, boasting of more than 4000 species of plants and 30% of all the birds found in the Indian sub-continent . No wonder Sikkim has been a dream of naturalists. Dr. J. Hooker during the middle of the last century surveyed in the detail the botanical wealth in Sikkim and his findings were embodied in the publication 'Himalayan Journal' that is still considered as an authoritative document. Dr. Salim Ali an ornithologist has given a detailed account on birds in his book 'The birds of Sikkim'. Besides these there are many books available on the flora & fauna of sikkim.
The lowlands in the south, 800'to 5000', experience a tropical climate; lush vegetation such as figs, laurel, Sal trees and bamboos have been cleared in some areas for farming. The temperate forest of oak, chestnut, maple, birch, alder, magnolia and silver fir dominates between 5000; and 13000. Above 13000, is the alpine zone where juniper, cypresses and rhododendrons grow. The perpetual snowline lies at 16000'. Luxuriant forests cover 36% of the land, more than 4000 species of plant have been recorded in Sikkim. Over 600 species of orchids grow in Sikkim, Epiphytal and terresterial types, in the tropical and temperate zones. 35 species of rhododendrons grow in temperate and alpine regions, their flowering from May to August colours hillsides.
Amongst the mammals of Sikkim are the rare Snow Leopard, Himalayan Black Bear, Red panda, Musk Deer and Blue Sheep.
Birdlife is abundant with Giant Lammergeier, Vultures, Eagles, Whistling Thursh, Minivets, Bulbuls and Pheasants among the 550 species to be seen in Sikkim.