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Sikkim

Background

Sikkim, a stretch of land measuring 7096 Square Kilometers tucked in the eastern slopes of the mighty Himalayas was a tiny kingdom ruled by a sovereign monarch as a protectorate of India till 1975 when it joined the Indian Republic as its 22nd State. It shares boundaries with Nepal, Bhutan and Chinese Tibet. The population of this tiny Indian State is approximately 6 lakhs, and the population density per Square Kilometer is 76. The temperature oscillates between maximum 21 – minimum 13° Celsius in summer and maximum 13 - minimum 05° Celsius in winter. The climate ranges from tropical in the southern reaches to alpine in the north of the state.  Sikkim is a land of varying altitudes ranging from almost sea level to 28,208 feet, which is Mount Kanchenjunga the highest peak in India and the world’s third highest peak. The nearest airport linking Sikkim with the rest of the country is Bagdogra situated in the vicinity of Siliguri town 124 kilometers away and around three hours drive from Gangtok, the capital city. The nearest railway stations are Siliguri and New Jalpaiguri 114 Kilometers and 124 kilometers respectively from Gangtok. Sikkim has seven helipads with regular helicopter flights from Bagdogra. An airport is being envisaged by the state government at Pakyong in the east district, which is about an hour drive from Gangtok.

Owing to its natural grandeur, its strategic location, its flora and fauna, its variegated bio-diversity and above all, the mystic aura that this bastion of esoteric Buddhism has exuded for centuries, Sikkim has held the imagination of people across the globe since times immemorial.  As early as the 17th century, European travelers such as Samuel Van De Puttee, Father Horazio Della Penna and the Jesuit Ippalite Desideri, on their way to Tibet, visited Sikkim and left vivid accounts of the country and their experiences. The famous botanists Hooker and Campbell exploring the herbal wealth of the land discovered some of the most exotic and rare plant species and left their accounts in journals and the Gazetteer of Sikkim. The rapid development initiatives of the state government have resulted in a sudden spurt in construction of malls, parks, resorts, religious monuments, and buildings dotting the entire landscape of Sikkim. No wonder this state has earned numerous accolades, such as, Queen of the Himalayas, Mountain Paradise and the Green State of India.

 

Sikkim – Historical Perspective

The antiquity of Sikkim though shrouded in mystery, dates back to the 8th century AD. Legend has it that the Master of esoteric Buddhism Guru Padmasambhava along with his retinue of 25 disciples visited Dhagkar Tashiding in the western district of Sikkim and consecrated four hidden caves in the four cardinal directions located at equidistance from Tashiding which came to be known as the centre of Pilgrimage – Neki Tewa.

Etymologically, Sikkim is a derivation from the Limbu word Sukhim, meaning land of prosperity. Another interpretation as Suhim meaning the bride’s new house owes to the Limbu queen of the first king of the land Phuntshog Namgyal. The first migratory settlers were however the Tibetans who had discovered the land situated at the southern tip of their country as early as the 5th century AD, preferred to call it Beyul Demojong or the Hidden Land of Rice. The Tibetan migrants who settled in the land were known as Lhopa or the settlers of the Southern region. They mingled with the local autochthones the Lepchas, and over the decades and centuries developed their own peculiar and unique culture and a dialect known as Lho Kye a derivative of the Tibetan language.
Towards the 19th century, immigrants from Nepal came to Sikkim and occupied large tracts of land for cultivation. These industrious and sincere people further enriched the socio-cultural fabric of Sikkim by dint of their religious beliefs and practices based on Hindu doctrines, large-scale agriculture and introduction of the first mint in the land. At a later stage, people from the central plains of India comprising mainly of Marwaries and Biharis migrated and settled down in the land allured by trade opportunities. The natives and the earlier settlers called them Madhesia or people from the Madhya Desha.
Today, Sikkim is a veritable cauldron of diverse cultures of the Nepalese (which include the Brahmin, Chettri, Newar, Gurung, Tamang, Magar, Limbu, Damai, Kami), Bhutias, Lepchas, Marwaris, Biharis and a small percentage of Bengalese, Punjabis, Parsis, and South Indians.
Progressive increase in the number of foreign and domestic tourists evidenced in the past two decades is testimony to the priority that the tourism sector is being accorded and the spurt of activities on the part of the state government to develop tourism as the most viable revenue generating industry in the state.
In terms of infrastructure, Sikkim has well maintained highways and district roads that connect almost every locality and village in all the four districts of the state. The road journey from Bagdogra or Siliguri to Gangtok that would otherwise take almost five hours way back in the 1990s can now be made in half that time. Sikkim also has seven helipads with regular helicopter flights to Bagdogra. An airport is being planned in Pakyong town in the vicinity of Gangtok, which will open up further vistas of tourism in Sikkim.
Sikkim has some of the most beautiful and enchanting spots in the world and the natural milieu has been left undisturbed in its pristine state to enrapture visitors and give them the ultimate bliss of solitude and divine splendor. The past few years have witnessed a spate of activities to enhance eco-tourism in the state. Tourist resorts, parks, monuments and landmark edifices have been added to the Sikkimese landscape. A ropeway across the chasm separating Deorali town and the government secretariat, a mammoth statue of Guru Padmasambhava standing at a height of 160 feet, a replica of the Chaar Dhaam – the pilgrimage centers dear to devout Hindus, besides innumerable malls, stately buildings and the like, are landmark achievements directed towards offering the best facilities and hospitality to visitors. There are 119 hotels and 42 lodges in Gangtok alone. Likewise, there are 42 hotels and resorts in North Sikkim, 44 in the South and 77 in west Sikkim. More than 120 tour operators and travel agencies are registered with the government of Sikkim.
Owing to the tranquil environment that pervades the land, many corporate houses and various organizations in India have been targeting Sikkim for their conferences, seminars, symposia, meetings, and such other programs. All these developments speak for the consistent growth in the tourism sector in the state of Sikkim.
Although there are places in the extreme northern fringes of the State where entry is prohibited to foreigners for security reasons, special permission can be obtained from the Government of India for entry into the area beyond the Tschopta Valley in the vicinity of Muguthang The State Government provides permission for entry to the other prohibited places in the Northern district of the State.

 

Some Unique Features of Sikkim Tourism

  • 1. Sikkim, despite its diminutive size in terms of area and population is endowed with the entire infrastructure of a full-fledged state of India. As the maxim goes - small is manageable, communication is easier and more efficient at all levels. The government machinery is relatively more efficient than elsewhere minimizing bureaucratic wrangles and bottlenecks.
  • 2. Ever since its merger with the Indian Union, the people have been voting to power single regional parties that ensured political stability and peace in the state. Resultantly, strikes, demonstrations, insecurity, discord, which are the bane of development and progress, are near totally absent in Sikkim.
  • 3. Traversing through Sikkim in a matter of just a few hours, one can experience vagaries of climatic and natural settings ranging from tropical to alpine. An uphill four hours drive can deliver a visitor amidst snow clad mountains, lush green valleys and lakes. In less than eight hours, one can climb up to wuthering heights and gaze at the most enchanting perpetual snowline.
  • 4. Sikkim is known the world over as a bastion of Esoteric Buddhism. Its landscape is dotted with Buddhist monasteries, wayside chapels, Chaityas and such other religious monuments. Every year, thousands of scholars visit Sikkim for studies and research in Buddhist doctrines. The Sikkim Research Institute of Tibetology, one of the three largest Institutions specializing in Buddhist and Tibetan Studies in the world, caters to post doctoral research.
  • 5. Sanatana Dharma too has taken deep roots in the state, practiced and professed by a large number of Hindus belonging to various communities. Some of the most beautiful temples are located in Sikkim. Apart from these, there are mosques, churches and prayer houses of the local shaman worshippers, making Sikkim a veritable archetype of religious and communal harmony.
  • 6. For an industry that is based on the principle of hospitality, the people of Sikkim are amicable and helpful by nature, a reflection of the cultural ethos that they mutually share notwithstanding their ethnic differences.
  • 7. Sikkim is known to be a haven for those avid nature lovers, rich in flora and fauna. 690 varieties of butterflies, 552 bird species, 48 types of fishes, 4500 varieties of flowering plants, 36 types of rhododendrons, 515 varieties of orchids can enchant and engage people of all interests for months and years at a stretch.
  • 8. Sikkim is home to the world famous Red Panda. Trekkers camping in Khedi and Melatar have often been visited by this most exotic animal right in their camps.
  • 9. The official calendar of the state is marked with festivals making it evident that Sikkim is a land of festivals and festivities as depicted in the following table:

 

Festivals

Time

  • Maghe Sankranti

13 to 15 January

  • Nyenpa Guzom

January

  • Sonam Losar

February

  • Guthor Chaam of Rumtek Monastery

February/March

  • Bhumchu Festival of Tashiding

February/March

  • Tourism Festival of Ravangla

April

  • Village Tourism Festival of Aritar

April

  • Tourism Festival of Pelling

May

  • Village Tourism at  Hee Barmiok

May

  • Flower Festival at Gangtok
  • For Orchid Lovers

Round the year
March-May & October – November

  • Saga Dawa (Buddha Poornima)

May/June

  • Guru RinpocheThungkar Tsechu

July/August

  • Lho Rum Faat at Tendong

August

  • Pang Lhabsol

August/September

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