Straddling the majestic Eastern Himalayas, a mystical wonderland of spectacular natural beauty, Sikkim is truly a picture perfect travel destination. The panoramic perfection of the snow-capped Himalayas, the heady scent of flower-bedecked meadows, the vibrant culture and joyous festivals, the infinite variety of its flora and fauna makes it a perfect holiday destination.
The crowning glory of Sikkim is Mt. Khangchendzonga, the third highest mountain in the world. Sikkim shares its border with Nepal in the west and Bhutan in the east, with the Tibetan plateau rising from its northern border. It was once a Himalayan monarchy and part of the fabled Silk Route to China. Its merger with India in 1975 has offered a window to the world to discover the treasures of this hidden land. It has four districts – East Sikkim, West Sikkim, North Sikkim and South Sikkim. The district capitals are Gangtok, Gyalshing, Mangan and Namchi respectively.
Sikkim is characterised by mountainous terrain. Almost the entire state is hilly, with an elevation ranging from 280 metres (920 ft.) to 8,586 metres (28,169 ft). The state has 28 mountain peaks, more than 80 glaciers, 227 high-altitude lakes (including the Tsomgo, Gurudongmar and Khecheopalri Lakes), five major hot springs, and more than 100 rivers and streams. Eight mountain passes connect the state to Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal.Teesta and Rangeet are two major rivers, which flow through the state from north to south. About one third of the state is heavily forested. Sikkim's hot springs are renowned for their medicinal and therapeutic values.
Sikkim is the least populous state in India, with 607,688 inhabitants according to the 2011 census and the second-smallest state after Goa in total area, covering approximately 7,096 Sq.Kms. Sikkim is also one of the least densely populated Indian states, with only 86 persons per square kilometre. The state has 11 official languages - Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Limbu, Newari, Rai, Gurung, Magar, Sherpa, Tamang and Sunwar. The People of Sikkim consist of three ethnic groups, that is, Lepcha, Bhutia and Nepali. Communities of different hues intermingle freely in Sikkim to constitute a homogenous blend. Hindu Temples coexist with Buddhist Monasteries, Churches, Mosque and Gurudwara. The predominant Communities are Lepchas, Bhutias and Nepalese.
Sikkim's Nepalese majority celebrate all major Hindu festivals, including Diwali and Dussera. Traditional local festivals, such as Maghe Sankranti and Bhimsen Puja, are also popular. Losar, Loosong, Saga Dawa, Lhabab Duechen, Drupka Teshi and Bhumchu are among the Buddhist festivals celebrated in Sikkim. During the Losar (Tibetan New Year), most offices and educational institutions are closed for a week.
Hinduism has been the state's major religion since the arrival of the Nepalis; an estimated 60.93 per cent of the total population are now adherents of the religion. Sikkim's second-largest religion is Buddhism, which accounts for 28.1 per cent of the population. Sikkim has 75 Buddhist monasteries, the oldest dating back to the 1700s.
Noodle-based dishes such as thukpa, chowmein, thanthuk, fakthu, gyathuk and wonton are common in Sikkim. Momos – steamed dumplings filled with vegetables, buffalo meat or pork and served with a soup – are a popular snack. Beer, whiskey, rum and brandy are widely consumed. Sikkim has the third-highest per capita alcoholism rate amongst all Indian states, behind Punjab and Haryana.
Flora & Fauna
Sikkim is situated in an ecological hot-spot of the lower Himalayas, one of only three among the eco-regions of India. The forested regions of the state exhibit a diverse range of flora and fauna from tropical species to temperate, alpine and tundra ones. Nearly 81 per cent of the area of Sikkim comes under the administration of its forest department.
The glory of Sikkim is its breath-taking array of flowers. The state is home to around 5,000 species of flowering plants, 515 rare orchids, 60 primula species, 36 rhododendron species, 11 oak varieties, 23 bamboo varieties, 16 conifer species, 362 types of ferns and ferns allies, 8 tree ferns, and over 424 medicinal plants. A variant of the Poinsettia, locally known as "Christmas Flower", can be found in abundance in the mountainous state. The Noble Dendrobium, an orchid, is the official flower of Sikkim, while the rhododendron is the state tree.
The dense forests of Sikkim are home to a variety of animals. The fauna includes the snow leopard, musk deer, Himalayan Tahr, red panda, Himalayan marmot, Himalayan serow, Himalayan goral, muntjac, common langur, Asian black bear, clouded leopard, marbled cat, leopard cat, dhole, Tibetan wolf, hog badger, binturong, and Himalayan jungle 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 include the Impeyan pheasant, crimson horned pheasant, snow partridge, Tibetan snowcock, bearded vulture and griffon vulture, as well as golden eagles, quails, plovers, woodcocks, sandpipers, pigeons, Old World flycatchers, babblers and robins. Sikkim has more than 550 species of birds, some of which have been declared endangered.
Sikkim also has a rich diversity of arthropods, many of which remain unstudied; the most studied Sikkimese arthropods are butterflies. Of the approximately 1,438 butterfly species found in the Indian subcontinent, 695 have been recorded in Sikkim. These include the endangered Kaiser-i-hind, the Yellow Gorgon and the Bhutan Glory.