Sikkim, one of the smallest states of India, yet it is a mystical wonderland with its scenic beauty and remote charm. Nestled in the heart of the eastern Himalayas, the state is an eclectic medley of lofty Himalayan peaks, holy lakes, ancient monasteries and amazing biodiversity. The thirds highest peak of the world, Kanchenjunga is considered to be the guardian deity to the Sikkimese and the Kanchenjunga ranges dominate the skyline of Sikkim as if looking after her wards.
The people of Sikkim had remained for long cocooned untouched by external influence. Their culture, cuisines and folklore have been influenced by their ancient faith. The beauty of the place along with the simplicity of the people, Sikkim remains a highly sought after place for travellers and tourists alike.
What is so special about Sikkim?
Sikkim is truly a wonderland. Almost entire Sikkim is a hilly terrain surrounded by the Himalayan mountain range. The altitude across Sikkim varies widely and ranges from the lowest elevation of 280m (920ft) to the highest point of Kanchenjunga peak that lies at the border of Sikkim and Nepal and at an altitude of 8,586m (28,169ft). Fascinating Himalayan views with snow-clad peaks, numerous serpentine mountain streams, quaint hilly villages, beautiful and verdant valleys and meadows are some of the delights that Sikkim offers.
You can visit the quaint Himalayan hamlets where the pace of life is so slow that you can be at peace with nature there. Many offbeat trails, adventurous trekking routes, forest trails are some of the attractions of Sikkim.
The state is an adventure enthusiasts’ delight. The Goechela trek is one of the most beautiful Himalayan treks where you get to see as many as 14 summits. There are other exotic trek routes like the Green Lakes Trek that are yet to be explored. Paragliding and zip lining are some of the adventure sports that you can experience in Sikkim. And the patchy waters of Teesta and Rangeet provide a great opportunity for water rafting also.
Entire Sikkim is divided into four zones – east, west, north and south. Each of the zones has their own speciality in terms of tourism and attractions. Sikkim is a paradise for botanists, bird watchers and butterfly lovers, as well as mystics, folklorist and those who seek the serenity of nature.
Call of the Wild:
Due to the difference in altitude of the state that ranges from sea level to that touching the sky, Sikkim has a gamut of wildlife. Nowhere in the world that such a small region has such a wide spectrum of flora and fauna. From tropical to Alpines, Sikkim’s botanical and wildlife richness is simply awe-inspiring. Sikkim has an enormous wealth of 4000 species of plants that includes varieties of orchids, rhododendrons, rare trees and shrubs. There are as many as 700 species of rare orchids and rhododendrons blooming in Sikkim. The Varsey rhododendron sanctuary and the Shingba rhododendron sanctuary are the places to be if you want to witness the variety and diversity of the rhododendrons.
Sikkim is a bird watcher’s paradise. 30% of all the birds found in the Indian sub-continent are found in Sikkim. Giant Lammergeier Vultures, Bearded Vulture, Eagle, Whistling Thursh, Minivet, Bulbul and Pheasant are some from among the 550 species of birds recorded in Sikkim, some of which have been declared endangered.
The animal kingdom also has such diversity. Sikkim has some of the rarest mammal species which includes Snow Leopard, Himalayan Black Bear, Red panda, Musk Deer, Blue Sheep, Common Langur, Leopard Cat, and the Flying Squirrel. Almost 400 species of butterflies and moths are found in Sikkim.
Sikkim has a rich cultural heritage. The residents of Sikkim are mainly comprised of Nepalese, Lepchas and Bhutias, although the Lepchas are actually the original residents of the place, the rest are immigrants.
Sikkim is the home to a number of ancient Buddhist monasteries. These monasteries have ancient Tibetan architecture with beautiful artwork. The influence of the monasteries is also seen in the art and craft of Sikkim. Hand-woven carpets, thangkas, wall hangings, scroll paintings and silver jewelleries are some of the important Sikkimese art and crafts.
Festivals of Sikkim:
Phang Lhabsol :
Phang Lhabsol is a unique festival of Sikkim which became famous during the reign of the third ruler of Sikkim, Chakdor Namgyal. During this festival, the Mount Kanchendzonga is worshipped and shown respect and devotion for its uniting powers. The day also marks the age-old blood brotherhood treaty signed between the Lepchas and Bhutias by Khye Bumsa and Tetong Tek and the local gods/ deities were additionally welcomed to witness the event.
Rumtek Monastery is acclaimed for its ‘Chaams’ – the traditional lama dance and additionally the adapted ‘opera’ performed by the local people who live in the vicinity of the monastery. The vital ‘Chaams’ of Rumtek are performed two days before the Tibetan New Year.
Saga Dawa :
Saga Dawa is an amazing triple favoured festival. This is a very sacred Buddhist festival, especially for the Mahayana Buddhists. On this particular day, the Buddhists visit the monasteries, offer prayers and light butter lamps. The three significant events associated with Lord Buddha – His birth, enlightenment and attainment of Nirvana are celebrated at this festival. So Saga Dawa is triply blessed. The festival takes place on the full moon day in the 4th month of the Buddhist Calendar at the end of May and the beginning of June. This festival takes place in Gangtok.
Climate of Sikkim:
The climate of the state varies with elevation. The high altitude areas remain cold and dry throughout the year. At mid-elevation the climate remains temperate with mild weather almost all through the year. The foothills and the plains have a sub-tropical climate with hot and humid summers and mild winters.
Monsoon: June – August
Best Season: October to May
Sikkim and Inner Line Permit
Usually, Indians do not require any permit to visit Sikkim. But certain areas like Tsomgo Lake, Nathula, North Sikkim are known as protected areas where all including Indians require a special permit known as Protected Area Permit.
All foreign nationals (except Bhutan) require an Inner line permit to visit Sikkim including Gangtok.
Discover more about Sikkim:
- Pakyong – a serene alternative to Gangtok
- Mangan – the cardamom capital of Sikkim
- Lachung – the Land of Small Pass
- Lachen – the land of Big Pass
- Dzongu – where the Lepchas reside
- Paragliding in Gangtok, Sikkim – fly like a bird
- Darap – an offbeat destination in Sikkim