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Sikkim

Once a princely state, Sikkim joined the Indian union in 1975. Tourism in the state flourished since the 1990’s and today the state has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in India. For many years, Sikkim was regarded as one of the last Himalayan 'Shangri-la' or the heaven for its remoteness, spectacular mountain views, varied flora and fauna in unexplored mountain slopes and ancient Buddhist Monasteries. Sikkim is legendary in India for its peaceful nature and simplicity. Located at the top of West Bengal map on the northern part of India, Sikkim with its high mountainous region of Greater Himalayas is a lucrative tourist destination. Rising 1000 ft above the Indian plains, Sikkim borders with Tibetan Plateau in North and North-east, Bhutan in East and Nepal on west, where Kanchanjangha, the third highest mountain in the world, rises to 28,600ft. Travel to Sikkim is normally combined with Darjeeling hills of West Bengal as the area is adjacent and you have to pass through the Darjeeling hills to reach Sikkim anyway.

Abound with splendid natural variations from glacial lakes and rivers in the higher Himalayas and to meandering river valleys; from remote Tibetan village to sizzling modern towns; exotic food, rich tradition & culture, myths and legends together make Sikkim the among the most favoured tourist destinations in India.

Getting There - The nearest airport is Bagdogra and the nearest major railhead is New Jalpaiguri. The airport and rail station are on the outskirts of Siliguri town of West Bengal which is about 120 kms from Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim.

Most Tourists visit Sikkim for its natural beauty. The family oriented leisure tours constitute the largest number of tourists. These tours are concentrated around Gangtok, Pelling and North Sikkim area such as Lachen and Lachung. These destinations have very good tourism infrastructure, capital Gangtok is the hub of tourism activity and offers great choice of accommodation and sightseeing.

For travellers interested to visit off the beaten track, Sikkim is one of the most prominent destinations in India. Village tourism and sustainable tourism movement has spread its wing throughout Sikkim and there are thousands of homestay in large number of villages.

For Birding enthusiasts, destinations in North, West and East Sikkim offers excellent opportunities. There is a thriving armature ornithological culture in Sikkim, many of whom work closely with naturebeyond.

Those looking for adrenalin rush have plenty of options too. The Dzongri trek or the Kanchenjunga base camp trek is the most popular trek in Sikkim. Other popular treks include the Green lake trek, Mainam trek, Varsey trek and others. Mountain biking has also gained in popularity in recent years as is paragliding. Rafting in Teesta is another classic popular tourism activity in Sikkim.

Those looking for adrenalin rush have plenty of options too. The Dzongri trek or the Kanchenjunga base camp trek is the most popular trek in Sikkim. Other popular treks include the Green lake trek, Mainam trek, Varsey trek and others. Mountain biking has also gained in popularity in recent years as is paragliding. Rafting in Teesta is another classic popular tourism activity in Sikkim.

Places to Visit

Administratively Sikkim is divided into four districts. They are North Sikkim, South Sikkim, West Sikkim and East Sikkim. Each district has its own importance from tourism point of view. The landscape, history, people and culture make an unique identity of each district in Sikkim. For most tourists, the must see destinations of the region include Gangtok and Darjeeling. This is combined with Pelling or Kalimpong or both. Those interested to visit high altitude destinations also prefer to go to Lachung and Lachen in North Sikkim to visit Yumthang valley and Gurudongmar lake.

Those interested travel further than the common tourist circuit, Sikkim has a lot more to offer. The Zuluk – Nathang Valley sector in East Sikkim has become very popular although infrastructure here is still at a nascent stage and international travellers are not allowed to visit this area. The RavanglaNamchi area in South Sikkim is another popular tourist circuit. The other popular tourist circuits include Hee – BermiokRinchenpong Kaluk sector in West Sikkim.

People of Sikkim

Sikkim is a land of different ethnic cultures and communities. Sikkim is bordered by Tibet in the North and North East, Bhutan in the East, Nepal in West and the Indian State West Bengal in the South.

Because of so many international borders there has been a steady influx of different communities from all sides. In Sikkim, those who grew up in the mountains identify themselves according to their ancestry: Nepalese, Bhutia, Tibetan, or Lepcha. Recently there has been a resurgence of ancestral languages in response to the promulgation of English. Sikkim also contends with a religious mix - the Hindu Nepalese currently represents 75% of the population. Sikkim is historically closely linked to Tibet.

To really understand the ethnicity, social lives and culture of different communities in Sikkim, it is necessary to visit the small hamlets in the remote rural Sikkim. It is impossible not to be awed by Sikkim's sharp lush hills, leaping waterfalls, thundering rivers and placid lakes. The people sculpted by lives of low-tech farming and mountainous travel have behind them generations of communal intermixing, which, unlike in most of India, is socially acceptable in Sikkim.

History of Sikkim

Sikkim was originally home to the Lepchas, the tribal people believed to have migrated from the hills of Assam, or possibly even from South-east Asia, around the 13th century.

The Tibetans started to immigrate into Sikkim during the 15th century to escape religious strife between various Buddhist orders. In Tibet itself, the Gelukpa order (of which Dalai Lama is the head) gradually gained the upper hand. In Sikkim three Tibetan Lamas, Lhatsun Chempo, Kathok Rikzin Chempo and Ngadak Sempa Chempo, introduced the Nyingma-pa. It was these lamas who consecrated the first chogyal or king, Phuntsong Namgyal, at Yuksom, which became the capital of the kingdom (it was later moved to Rabdentse, near Pelling).

In the face of the waves of Tibetan immigrants, the Lepchas retreated to the more remote regions. A blood brotherhood was eventually forged between their leader, Thekong Tek and Bhutia leader Khye-Bumsa, and spiritual and temporal authority was imposed on the anarchistic Lepchas.

When the kingdom was founded, the country included the area encompassed by the present state as well as the part of the Eastern Nepal, the Chumbi Valley (Tibet), Ha Valley (Bhutan) and the Terai foothills down to the plains of India, including Darjeeling and Kalimpong.

Between 1717 and 1734 during the reign of Sikkim's fourth Chogyal, a series of wars was fought with the Bhutanese resulted in the loss of much territory on the southern foothills, including Kalimpong, then a very important bazaar town on the trade route between Tibet and India. Many more territories were lost after 1780 following the Gurkha invasion from Nepal, though the invaders were eventually checked by the Chinese army with Bhutanese and Lepcha assistance. Unable to advance into Tibet the Gurkhas turned into Tibet, where they came into conflict with the British East India Company. The wars between the two parties ended in the treaty of 1817, which delineated the borders of the Nepal. The Gurkhas also ceded to the British all the Sikkimese territory they had taken a substantial part was returned to the Chogyal of Sikkim in return for British control of all disputes between Sikkim and its neighbors. The country thus became a buffer state between Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet.

In 1835, the British, seeking a hill station as a rest and recreation center for their troops and officials, persuaded the Chogyal to cede the Darjeeling area in return for an annual stipend. The Tibetans objected to this transfer of territory. They continued to regard Sikkim as a vassal state, and Darjeeling's rapid growth as a trade center has began to make a considerable impact on the fortunes of Sikkim's leading lamas and merchants.

Tensions rose and, in 1849, a high ranking British official and a botanist, who were exploring the Lachen regions with the permission of both the Sikkim Chogyal and the British Government, were arrested. Although these two prisoners were unconditionally released a month later following threats of intervention, the British annexed the entire area between the present Sikkimese border and the Indian plains and withdrew the Chogyal stipend.

Further British interference in the affairs of this area leads to the declaration of a protectorate over Sikkim in 1861 and the delineation of its borders. The Tibetans, however, continued to regard these actions as illegal and, in 1886, invaded Sikkim to reassert their authority. The British who sent a punitive military expedition to Lhasa in 1888 in retaliation repulsed the attack. The powers were further reduced.

Keen to develop Sikkim, the British encouraged emigration from Nepal as they had done in Darjeeling, and a considerable amount of land was brought under rice and cardamom cultivation. The influx of labor continued right up until the 1960s, when the Chogyal was constrained to prohibit further immigration.

The British treaties with Sikkim passed to India at independence. Demands within Sikkim for a democratic form of Government as opposed to rule by the Chogyal were growing. The Indian Government supported these moves- it did not want to be seen as propping up an autocratic regime while doing its best to sweep away the last traces of princely rule in India itself.

The last Chogyal, Palden Thondup Namgyal, came to the throne in 1963 and was not popular. He was married to an American, Hope Cook, who is chiefly remembered for having introduced 'crème de menthe' to Gangtok Society. The Chogyal resisted demands for a change in the method of Government until demonstrations threatened to get out of control. He was eventually forced to ask India to take over the country's administrations.

In 1975 referendum, 97% of the electorate voted the union with India.

Map of Sikkim

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