Trekking in Sikkim
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Area : 7,096 sq km
Population : 5,40,543(approx) as per 2001 census
Capital : Gangtok
Languages : Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Limbu, Hindi, English, Bengali.
Literacy Rate : 69.68%


A journey to Sikkim necessarily involves awakening the senses and discovering the pristine and mystic beauty of the land. What one will find most fascinating is the journey itself-a continuum of sights, sounds, and feelings. Sikkim is a dreamland that one can realize and enjoy, now that the area is open to all. It is a state cloaked in the mystery of remoteness, well perched in the hills in a horseshoe formation, with mountains varying in altitude and cut off from the din and bustle of the modern world.



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Location & Topography: Located in the eastern Himalayas, Sikkim is bounded by Tibet (China) in the north, West Bengal in the south, Tibet and Bhutan in the east and Nepal in the west. The state is spread below Mount Kanchendzonga (8534 m), the third highest peak in the world. The locals worship the mountain as a protective deity. The elevation of the state ranges from 300 m to over 8540 m above sea level.34% of Sikkim Geographical are is under protected areas. Climate Due to the extreme altitude, there is an immense variation in climate and vegetation. With a rainfall of about 140 inches in Gangtok, the climate is tropical up to 5,000 ft, temperate between 5,000 ft-13,000 ft, alpine at 13,000 ft, and snowbound at 16,000 ft. The best time to visit Sikkim is between mid-March and June but especially, April and May, when the rhododendrons and orchids bloom. However, temperatures can be high, especially in the valleys. During the monsoons, from the end of June until early September, rivers and roads become impenetrable, though plants nurtured by the incessant rain erupt again into bloom towards the end of August. October, when incessant rain erupt again into bloom towards the end of August. October, when orchids bloom once again, and November tend to have the clearest weather of all. As December approaches, it gets bitterly cold at high altitudes, and remains that way until early March, despite long periods of clear weather.

The gigantic mountain walls and steep-wooded hillsides of Sikkim are drained by torrential rivers such as the Teesta and the Rangit, and are a botanist's dream. The lower slopes abound in orchids. Sprays of cardamom carpet the forest floor, and the land is rich with apple orchards, orange groves and terraced paddy fields. The Tibetans used to call this Denzong, "the land of rice." At higher altitudes, one can find huge tracts of lichen-covered forests, where every conceivable species of rhododendron and giant magnolia trees punctuate the deep cover. Higher still, approaching the Tibetan plateau, dwarf rhododendron provide vital fuel for yak herders. Snow leopards, Himalayan black bears, tahr (wild ass), bharal or blue sheep, and the endangered red panda, the symbol of Sikkim, inhabit the forests. Avian life too is abundant with the giant lammergeyer, vultures, eagles, whistling

Buddhism, the major religion in the state, arrived from Tibet in the 13th century. It took its distinctive Sikkimese form four centuries later, when three Tibetan monks of the old Nyingamapa order, dissatisfied with the rise of the reformist Gelukpas, migrated to Yoksum in western Sikkim. Having consulted an oracle, they sent to Gangtok for a certain Phuntsog Namgyal, whom they crowned as the first Chogyal or "Righteous King" of Denzong in 1642. Both the secular and religious head, he was soon recognized by Tibet, and brought sweeping reforms. His realm was far larger than today's Sikkim, taking in Kalimpong and parts of western Bhutan. Over the centuries, the territory was lost to the Bhutanese, the Nepalese and the British. The British policy to diminish the strong Tibetan influence resulted in the import of workers from Nepal to work in the tea plantations of Sikkim, Darjeeling and Kalimpong and these soon outnumbered the indigenous population. After India's Independence, the eleventh Chogyal, Tashi Namgyal, strove hard to prevent the dissolution of his kingdom. Officially, Sikkim was a protectorate of India, and the role of India became increasingly crucial with the Chinese military build-up along the northern borders that culminated in an actual invasion early in the 1960s. His son, Palden Thondup, was a weak ruler. The beleaguered Chogyal eventually succumbed to the demands of the Nepalese majority, and Sikkim was annexed by India in 1975.

Ethnicity Sikkim is the least populated state in the country. There are three principal communities of Nepalis (75%), Lepchas (20%), and smaller proportions of Bhutias and Limbus. Lepchas or the Rong appear to be the original inhabitants of Sikkim as no legends of their migration are available. In the 13th century, the Bhutias from Kham area of Tibet came to the state. They believed in Buddhism of the Mahayana sect. The Nepalis were the last to enter in the mid-19th century. All communities live in perfect harmony sharing each other's culture, ethos, and traditions with the result that there is now a Sikkimese culture, which is composite of all the three prominent communities. Most of the people speak Nepali, which is also the state language. It is the harmony of the place that provides justification to the name of the state derived form Sukhim, meaning "happy home, a place of peace." Though Hinduism is equally followed, Buddhism is entrenched in the tradition of the state. The people have faith in the Buddha, the dharma (his teachings), and the sangha (assembly of monks) where religious texts are studied, taught and preserved. Soaked in the religious tradition, the land has a spiritual ambience where prayer flags with inscriptions of Buddhist texts flutter around the boundary of the village to ward off evil spirits, prayer wheels rotate to the currents of water, and chortens and lucky signs are common sights. The protector deity is the goddess of Kanchenjunga that stands erect as a sentinel protecting the peace of the state. The deference is so deep and abiding that adventurers are not permitted to scale the top of the peak. Their achievement is acknowledged by reaching somewhere close to the top. Since the hills cannot be animated, anthropomorphism enables these to be depicted in masks.

Sikkim's famous mask dances provide a marvelous spectacle. Performed by lamas in the Gompa courtyard to celebrate religious festivals, these dances demonstrate perfect footwork and grace. Costumed lamas with gaily-painted masks, ceremonial swords and sparkling jewels, leap and swing to the rhythm of resounding drums, trumpeting of horns and chanting of monks. Saga Dawa is a very auspicious day for the Mahayana Buddhists. On this day, people go to monasteries to offer butter lamps and worship. A huge procession of monks goes around Gangtok with holy scriptures. Kagyat dance is performed every 28th and 29th day of the Tibetan calendar. The solemn nature of the dances is interspersed with comic relief provided by the jesters.

The people celebrate the anniversaries relating to birth, enlightenment, and nirvana of the Buddha, besides the Buddhist New Year and the harvest festivals. Several festivals are celebrated in Gangtok and its adjoining areas. The Buddhist festival of Bumchu is held in the Tashiding Gompa during January. The festival of Chaam is held in Enchey Gompa during January-February and is marked by dancing. Kagyat Dance is a mask dance held every month at Gangtok, Pemayangtse and Phodong. Losar marks the Tibetan New Year and is celebrated during February-March at Pemayangtse and Rumtek. Tse Chu is a Buddhist dance held in May at Rumtek. Saga Dawa (held in Gangtok during May) and Drukpa Teshi (celebrated statewide during July) mark Buddha's first teaching. Phang Lhabsol is a mask dance celebrated statewide during August. Dasain, celebrated during September-October, is marked by gift exchanges and animal sacrifice.

Traditionally the Lepcha men wear tego, tomo (gyado) thokro, tingip nyiamrik, ban, thektu, while the women wear dungdem, tego thetuk, nyiamrik, and ngajo (sickle). The ornaments include chyap-chyap shambrang bur, kukip alyak, nay-kong, and akager. The women maintain their hair in two braids.

The traditional attire of Bhutia men consists of hentachi kho tied by kera gyaado jaja, thuri shyambo and shampo (shoes). Women wear hanju, kho (sleeveless) tied by kera, ceiling, shyambo, tapsu (hair band) and shampo. Married women wear pangden below waist in the front. The traditional ornaments comprise khow, kesung, nyandap, and diu. The women keep their hair in two braids. Nepalese males wear daura, suruwai, topi patuka (waist coat) and a khukri, while the women wear chowbandi choli, gunew tied by patuka, hembari (shawl tied round the chest) majetro. The ornaments include chyapte sun, gadavari (ear rings) tilhari kantha (hanging from the neck) chura, dungri, mundri (nose ring), kallis (ankle ornaments), sirbandi charrani har and tikmala are female ornaments. The sindur (vermilion) and the potey (bottle green) are the signs of married women.