Situated in the Eastern Himalayas, this beautiful state of Sikkim is sandwiched between the kingdom of Nepal in the West and Bhutan in the East, Tibet in the North and the state of West Bengal in the South. With an area of 7,300 sq. kms, measuring 115 kms from north to south and 65 kms. From East to West, the elevation ranging from 244 mts to over 8550 mts., above sea level, approximately latitude of 27 degree North and longitude of 88 degree East.
This small state belies its richness of culture, customs, heritage, flora and fauna. Sikkim, once a protectorate of India with a monarchy government but metamorphosed as the 22nd state of the Indian Union in the year 1975. The population of the state is only 4,20,000 as per the last census. Amidst the grandeur of the mountain peaks, lush green valleys cascading waterfalls and fast flowing rivers, beautiful monasteries and terraced hills, Sikkim offers her visitor a rare and exotic experience
The original inhabitants were the Lepchas or the “raven folks ” who came to the area from Assam and Burma. From the 1200’s the Bhutias or the Tibetan people moved into Sikkim. They included the Namgyal clan who arrived in the 1400’s and gradually won political control over Sikkim.
In 1642,Phintsok Namgyal (1604-1670) became the first Chogyal (King). He presided over a social system based on Tibetan Lamaistic Buddhism. His descendents ruled Sikkim for more than 330 years. During the 1700’s Sikkim suffered massive invasion from Nepal and Bhutan and lost much territory as a result. The Nepalese also migrated to Sikkim and settled as farmers. By the 1800’s Sikkim’s population was very mixed, and internal conflict resulted.Sikkim assisted the British in a successful war against Nepal in the year1814-1815 and won back some of its land. The British India Company purchased the health resort of Darjeeling from Sikkim. During the mid 1800 ’s, Sikkim violently resisted attempts to bring it under British Rule, but in 1861 it finally became a protectorate. The British had assess to Tibet through Sikkim, and Sikkim’s independent status was recognized. The Indian government took responsibility of Sikkim’s external affairs, defense and communication of Skim in the year 1950. In 1973, India took Sikkim into the union as an associate member. In 1975, Sikkim became the 22nd state of India
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 -4 °C in winter. Fog also affects many parts of the state during winter and the monsoons, making transportation extremely perilous.
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 15 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. Minibuses link the smaller towns to the state and district headquarters
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 - 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.
Rice is the staple food in Sikkim. Noodle-based dishes such as the thukpa, chowmein, thanthuk, fakthu, gyathuk are also very popular in the state. Momos, steamed dumplings filled with vegetable, cottage cheese, beef or pork and served with a soup are a popular snack. The mountain 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.
Foreigners must obtain Inner Line Permit (ILP) to visit Sikkim. These can be obtained from all Indian Missions, Sikkim Tourism Offices at New Delhi, Kolkata, District Magistrates Office of Darjeeling, Siliguri, and Rangpo on the strength of an Indian Visa. The 30 days duration Permit is issued on the spot without any delay provided photocopies of the passport and visa along with two pass port photos of the applicants are made available. The permissible duration of the stay for foreign tourists is 30 days initially.
The State Government is authorized to extend the same by a further period of 30 days. The extension of the permit can be obtained from FRO at Gangtok and office of Superintendent of Police of the North, West and South Districts.
For those interested in going for trekking in the interior region of the state, the Tourism and Civil Aviation issues Protected Area Permit (PAP) at Gangtok which is available for certain specified area for groups consisting of two or more foreigners subject to condition that the trekking programme is arranged through a registered travel agency.