Sikkim (Land of Mystery Splendor): Sikkim an enchanting hilly state in India, overlooked by Mt Khangchendzonga (Kanchenjunga), the world’s third highest mountain peak is the place equally attractive for sightseer the adventurer, naturalist and those interested in Buddhism and Tibetology. Conveniently accessible by road from Bagdogra – the nearest Airport, NJP – the nearest Railway Station, and other places like, Siliguri, Darjeeling and Kalimpong, this little Himalayan Kingdom is fact becoming a favourite gateway for tourists in recent years. Geographically, Sikkim can be divided into three zones – the tropical, the temperate and the alpine. The area spreads from as low as about 800 feet above sea level to the summit of Mt Khangchendzonga – 28, 169 feet above sea level. Land is stretched through country rich in flora and fauna, waterfalls, frothing rivers and streams, crystal lakes, picturesque valleys, lush ever-green forests, valley of flowers, paddy and maize fields, a tea- garden, thick pines and rhododendrons. With about 450 species of wild orchids, 36 species of rhododendrons, more than 500 species of avi –fauna and more than 600 species of butterflies, makes Sikkim the hotbed of bio- diversity not found anywhere else. High–up in North, a plethora of wild ducks and wild asses roam the ground, yaks graze sheepishly, while forest share habitat with snow leopard, goral, tahr, blue– sheep, Tibetan wild ass, kiang, Himalayan black bear, musk–deer and red– panda the State animal.
A bold and visionary steps taken by the Government of Sikkim to preserve its natural wealth and to facilitate the growth of tourism in the state is worth mentioning. Creation of national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, an alpine sanctuary and a rhododendron sanctuary is the effort shown by the Government.
Sikkim covers the total area of 7096 square kilometres and passes through 27 – 28º (North) Latitude and 88 – 89º (East) – Longitude and is divided into four districts, namely – East, West, North and South. Gangtok is the capital of the state. Sikkim is the 22nd state in India and flanked by Bhutan on East, Nepal on West, and Tibet on North and Indian State West Bengal on South.
Sikkim offers several wilderness and adventure treks, leading through alpine zones while trails passing through thick pines and rhododendron forests, picturesque valleys, oldest monasteries and mountain lakes. Sikkim is also the base for Mountaineering Expeditions. The thrill of riding the wild rapids while rafting down the white waters of river Teesta and Rangeet is the taste of physical agility and resilience of mind, while bringing out the spirit of adventure.
Foreigners desirous of visiting the Sikkim State must obtain Inner Line Permit (ILP) on the strength of Indian visas. The 15 days permit is issued on the spot by furnishing the photocopies of Passport and Indian Visa and other relevant details with passport size photographs. The permits can be obtained from all Indian missions and Sikkim Tourism offices located at New Delhi, Kolkata and Siliguri. The Permits can be extended to another 15 days at the discretion of Government of Sikkim.
Sikkim in general is the place inhabited by Lepchas, Bhutias and Nepalese and the plainsmen mostly business men from elsewhere in India. Communities, cultures, religions and customs of different hues intermingle freely to constitute a homogeneous blend. One could find the existence of Buddhist monasteries, Hindu temples, Muslim mosques and Christian churches and some Sikh gurudwaras all over the settlement. In a sense, Sikkimese has accepted the influence of other cultures while at the same time retaining their ethnic identities.
Mount Khangchendzonga is regarded as the guardian deity and worshipped by the people. Among the Sikkimese and people of the surrounding regions, the Mount Khangchendzonga is a deity believed to inhabit the peak and is a greatly revered along with numerous manifestations of Lord Buddha. Khangchendzonga literally means five treasures of the snow, which represent salt, crops, holy books, gold or turquoise and weapons. Khangchendzonga is thus a mountain to be looked upon with great veneration, because the powerful deity of the mountain guides their destinies and rules their fates.
Besides its spiritual hallow, the Mt. Khangchendzonga with its towering height of 8585 metres is the first highest mountain in India and the third highest in world and has the bewitching beauty and challenging height which is awe–inspiring and alluring and has attracted mountaineers from world over to taste the human will and endurance against the insurmountable odds while in an endeavour to scale the peak from the Sikkim side.
The clothing as suggested for visitors while during their stay in Sikkim is; during summer–light woollen and during winter–heavy woollen. However, for treks, the climbing boots are also suggested along with warm socks and other warm clothing meant for high altitudes.
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 −40 °C in winter. Fog also affects many parts of the state during winter and the monsoons, making transportation extremely perilous.