India’s most beautiful state

Whatever Kashmir can offer, Sikkim can offer too; plus the peace. This is one of the best places to be this summer.

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By Journey Man

Sikkim is the jewel of north-eastern India. This is one state that has continuously revelled in all manner of development and environmental progress. It is one of the smallest states in India, but one of the most developed.

Sikkim is bordered by the Tibet Autonomous Region of China to the north and northeast, by Bhutan to the southeast, by the state of West Bengal to the south, and by Nepal to the west. The capital is Gangtok, in the southeastern part of the state.

A part of the Eastern Himalayas, Sikkim is notable for its biodiversity, including alpine and subtropical climates, as well as being a host to the Kanchenjunga, the highest peak in India and third highest on Earth. Sikkim’s capital and largest city is Gangtok. Almost 35% of the state is covered by the Khangchendzonga National Park.

How to Reach Sikkim from Delhi
There is no direct connection from New Delhi to Sikkim. However, you can fly to Bagdogra airport, and then take a taxi to Jorethang.
Alternatively, you can take a train to New Jalpaiguri then take a taxi to Gangtok.

For long a sovereign political entity, Sikkim became a protectorate of India in 1950 and an Indian state in 1975. Its small size notwithstanding, Sikkim is of great political and strategic importance for India because of its location along several international boundaries.

It has an area of 2,740 square miles (7,096 square km) and has a population of 607,688 ((2011 census).

The districts of Sikkim
Sikkim has four districts – East Sikkim, North Sikkim, South Sikkim and West Sikkim. The district capitals are Gangtok, Mangan, Namchi and Gyalshing, respectively. These four districts are further divided into 16 subdivisions; Pakyong, Rongli, Rangpo and Gangtok are the subdivisions of the East district. Soreng, Yuksom, Gyalshing and Dentam are the subdivisions of the West district. Chungthang, Dzongu, Kabi and Mangan are the subdivisions of the North district. Ravongla, Jorethang, Namchi and Yangyang are the subdivisions of the South district.

In this edition we will be talking about travel in East Sikkim.

East District
The east district is the most populated with Gangtok being the main administrative and business centre. Apart from the modern attractions of the capital town, in the east you will also find the beautiful Tsomgo Lake, the historically important Nathula pass, as well as many monasteries and temples. Gangtok is the capital of Sikkim and heart of all the business hubs.

Popular Places & Attractions in Sikkim
The thrill that Sikkim offers is beyond comparison; marked with 28 mountain peaks, 80+ glaciers, 227 high-altitude lakes, five major hot springs, 100+ rivers and streams, this Northeastern State has enough challenges to quench the thirst for adventure. Not to forget, Sikkim is also home to the third tallest mountain peak, Kanchenjunga, also called Khangchendzonga that measures 8,568 m in height. In fact, this smallest state of India does house several 5 thousanders, like Frey Peak (5830 m), Mount Jopuno (5603 m), Lama Wangden (5868 m) and Brumkhangse (5635 m), evidently making it one of the best destinations for mountaineering for those who relish an added pinch of thrill.

EAST SIKKIM
Zuluk
Dzuluk or Zuluk or Jhuluk or Jaluk is a small hamlet located at a height of around 10,000 feet (3,000 m) on the rugged terrain of the lower Himalayas in East Sikkim of the Indian state Sikkim. This place is relatively an emerging and offbeat destination in East Sikkim. Today it is fast emerging as a new tourist destination. It derives its tourism importance due to the excellent view of the eastern Himalayan mountain range including the Kanchenjunga.

It was once a transit point to the historic Silk Route from Tibet to India. The silk route that connected Lhasa (Tibet) to Kalimpong was in use even a few decades ago until the Chinese invasion of Tibet. It was commonly used by traders travelling to Tibet through Jelep-la (“La” stands for mountain pass) as an overnight base. The route started from Kalimpong and passed through Pedong, Aritar, Dzuluk and Jelepla to Chumbi valley in Tibet.

Zuluk or Dzuluk is a small village which was once a transit point to the historic Silk Route from Tibet to India. It is relatively an emerging and offbeat destination in East Sikkim. This small village accommodates a population of around 700 people. There is also an Indian Army base at Zuluk, which has been used as a transit camp for the army movement to the Chinese border, a few kilometres away. It is the very first village within this whole Silk Route circuit to offer home-stay facilities for tourists. 14 km from Zuluk, the Thambi View Point offers a panoramic view of the entire Mt Khangchendzonga range. Zuluk is open to Indian nationals only who need to apply for Protected Area Permit.

Dzuluk is surrounded by wild forest, some of the forests are completely virgin. Sighting of Deer, Wild Dog, Himalayan Bear and the red panda is not very uncommon. Some tigers have also reportedly been sighted in the area.

A variety of birds can also be seen such as Blood Pheasant, Himalayan monal, Kalij pheasant, Snow Pheasant and others. During the summer months, the area and its surrounding hills are covered with thousands of blooming rhododendrons. Dzuluk during these months is a riot of colours due to the variety of rhododendrons that can be seen here.

Best time to visit Zuluk: October to February winter, cold and snow. March to May cold. June to September — the monsoon season.

Gangtok
Gangtok is the capital of Sikkim. Established as a Buddhist pilgrimage site in the 1840s, the city became capital of an independent monarchy after British rule ended, but joined India in 1975. Today, it remains a Tibetan Buddhist centre and a base for hikers organizing permits and transport for treks through Sikkim’s Himalayan mountain ranges.

The name meaning hill-top, Gangtok can be safely said to be one of the most beautiful hill stations in the country. With everything in just the right amount from a blend of cultural identities to urbanisation, Gangtok is a breathing and dynamic bit of paradise of the northeast. It has an amazing view of Mount Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain peak in the world. Also like everything around it, Gangtok is abundant in natural beauty and has various natural attractions such as the Tsomgo Lake, Ban Jhakri falls, Tashi viewpoint and more.

Other places to visit include the Enchey Monastery, Ganesh Tok, Do Drul Chorten Rumtek Monastery, etc. Also, river Teesta is one of the best spots for white water rafting in North East India.

Best time to visit Gangtok: Gangtok experiences pleasant weather during the summer season. The temperature hovers 18°C to 25°C during the season. It is the best time to visit Gangtok if you would like to escape the heat.

Nathu La
Nathu La, one of the highest motorable roads in the world, is a mountain pass in the Himalayan peaks that co-joins Sikkim and China. Situated on the Indo-Tibetan border 14450 ft. above sea level, Nathu La is one of the most important Himalayan passes in the country. Nathu means ‘listening ears’, and La means ‘pass’

Nathu La is one of the three open trading border posts between India and China and is famous for its picturesque beauty and beautiful environment. The temperature here remains low for most parts.

Located on the Old Silk Route, Nathu La connects Sikkim to China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. It was sealed for almost 4 decades after the People’s Republic of China suppressed a Tibetan uprising in 1959. However, when the former Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited China in 2003, talks to open the strategic route were resumed. The Nathu La Pass was reopened in 2006 and since then, it has served as an official Border Personnel Meeting(BPM) Point.

Since it is one of the three open trading border posts between India and China, Nathu La Pass has played a key role in the Sino-Indian
Trade. It has also shortened the distance between the important Buddhist and Hindu pilgrimage sites, thus strengthening the economy and improving border relations with China.

Best time to visit Nathu La: Summer, between the months of May to October is the appropriate season to visit here.

Lakes – Tsongmo Lake:
Tsomgo Lake, also known as Tsongmo Lake or Changu Lake, is a glacial lake in the East Sikkim district of the Indian state of Sikkim, some 40 kilometres (25 mi) from the capital Gangtok. Located at an elevation of 3,753 m (12,313 ft), the lake remains frozen during the winter season. The lake surface reflects different colours with change of seasons and is held in great reverence by the local Sikkimese people. Buddhist monks prognosticate after studying the changing colours of the lake.

After the winter season ends in middle of May, the periphery of lake has scenic blooms of flower species of rhododendrons (the state tree of Sikkim), primulas, blue and yellow poppies, irises and so forth. Also seen in the precincts of the lake are several species of birds including Brahminy ducks. Wildlife seen includes the red panda.

Tourist attractions at the lake site include joy rides on decorated yaks and mules where kiosks offer a variety of food and drinks. There is also a small Shiva temple on the bank of the lake. As the lake is located in a restricted area it is essential for all Indians visiting the area to obtain permits. In the case of foreign nationals, a special permit is essential.

This is one of the few and awesome high altitude lakes in India. The lake becomes doubly attractive with the reflections of the surrounding hills on the water. From Gangtok which is at 5410 ft, the altitude rises to about 10,000 ft in just 15kms. You can imagine how steep the gradient would be on this stretch of the road.

Best Time To Visit January to March

HISTORY OF SIKKIM

Pre-History
When the Kirat King Yalamber captured outer Nepal in 1,500 BCE his kingdom extended from river Trisuli in the west to river Teesta in the east. According to Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva is said to have appeared in the form of hunter Kirateshwar or Lord of the Kiratas to Arjuna in the very spot where the ancient Kirateshwar temple lies in Legship, West Sikkim.

By the 6th century the Lepchas occupied the Lapchan area of Nepal (present Ilam region), present Sikkim, Har Chu Valley and Ammo Chu Valley (present South Western Bhutan) and most of Eastern part of Greater Sikkim up to the Chumbi Valley.

Meanwhile, the Limbus inhabited the Western part of Greater Sikkim (present Limbuwan region). A part of Limbuwan is still retained in present Sikkim in the West district, South district and a part of North district. The Lepchas spoke the Himalayish language Lepcha, and were believers of Buddhism and Munism or Animism by faith. The Limbus spoke the Limbu dialect and were believers of Yumaism or Yuma Sammang, a form of Kirat Mundhum.

Medieval History
In the 7th century, Thekung Adek consolidated the Lepcha tribes and declared himself a Panu, a Tribal Religious and Administrative chief or king. Similarly, the Limbu tribes were ruled by 10 elected chiefs or Hangs from each of their clans to form a social and administrative body called Thibong Yakthum Tumyanghang (tribal republic council or Ten Limbus Council).

Around 870 CE Na Hang, the chief of Daramdin, West Sikkim was incited by the Chilikchom people to fight against the Kirati Limbu king of Limbuwan, Mabo Hang. Na Hang was defeated and the Chilikchom were banished from Limbuwan. Sikkim also finds mention in many Hindu texts because the Buddhist saint Guru Rinpoche or Padmasambhava is said to have passed through the land in the 9th century. According to legend, the Guru blessed the land, introduced Buddhism to Sikkim and also foretold the era of the monarchy in the state, which would arrive centuries later.

There are numerous stories regarding the migration of Tibetans into Sikkim and the establishment of the Sikkimese monarchy. The most popular states that in the 13th century, Guru Tashi, a prince from the Minyak House in Kham in Eastern Tibet, had a divine revelation one night instructing him to travel south to seek his fortunes. Guru Tashi settled down in the Chumbi Valley.

The population and linguistic survey were not held during this period but it’s certain that the region was inhabited by the Lepchas, the Limbus, the Magars and some Bhutias in the later periods.

In 1200 CE, Guru Tashi, a prince of the Kham district in eastern Tibet had a divine vision to go south and seek his fortune in ‘Denzong, the valley of rice’. As directed, he heads in the southern direction with his family that includes five sons. During their wanderings, they enter a Sakya kingdom where the construction of a monastery is being held back with the workers’ inability to erect the pillars.

In 1300 CE Khye Bumsa’s wife is barren and the couple is advised to seek help from the Lepcha priest king, Thekong Tek who rules (Sikkim) the area south of the Chumbi. Having received the blessings of Thekong Tek, Bumsa’s wife is able to bear three sons, and out of gratitude he visits the grand old sage several times more nurturing an amicable relationship between them. Ironically, Thekong Tek himself is without an offspring to inherit his kingdom.

Modern History
By 1641 the Lepchas, the Limbus and the Magars were ruling in different villages independently. The Limbu and the Magar tribes lived in the remote Western and Southern regions. In the early 17th century Tibetan migrants (called “Bhutias” locally) were forced to take refuge in Sikkim due to the conflict between followers of the Yellow hat and the Red hats in Tibet. The Bhutias tried to convert the Sikkimese worshippers of nature to Buddhism and succeeded to an extent. The Tibetan Lamas sought to establish Sikkim as a Buddhist Kingdom thereby electing a Lhopa King of Tibetan origin.

In 1642, the fifth generation descendant of Guru Tashi, Phuntsog Namgyal was consecrated as the first Denjong Gyalpo or the Chogyal (king) of Sikkim by Lhatsun Chhenpo, Nga-dag Lama and Kathhog Lama, three great Lamas who came from the north, west and south to Yuksom Norbugang in West Sikkim. The event, Naljor Chezhi, was as predicted by Guru Rinpoche some eight hundred years before. The Dalai Lama sent the new Chogyal a silk scarf, the mitre of Guru Rinpoche and a sand image of him as a coronation present.However the Limbu and the Magar chiefs refused to accept the rule of the Chogyal who had to bring in Tibetan soldiers to subdue them.

Sikkim during the British Raj
During British rule in neighbouring India, Sikkim allied with Britain against their common adversary, Nepal. Reacting to a Nepalese attack that affected much of Sikkim including the plains of the Terai the British East India Company was prompted to attack Nepal, resulting in the Gurkah war of 1814.

Treaties signed between British India and Sikkim resulted in the return of some, but not all occupied territory to Sikkim.

The intervention by British India following their war with Nepal, and the signing of the Treaty of Titaliya between British India and Sikkim restores some of the Nepalese occupied territory though not all.

In 1835 Darjeeling is leased from the Sikkim Raja for a fee of Rs 3,000 per annum. Ties between Sikkim and the British weakened when the latter began taxation of the Morang region.

In 1865 Kalimpong was ceded by the British Indian Empire from Bhutan and vies with Sikkim and Darjeeling as a Tibetan trading post.

In AD 1890, Sikkim became a British protectorate, and was gradually granted more sovereignty over the next three decades.

Post independence
When India became independent in 1947, a popular vote rejected Sikkim’s joining the Indian Union and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru agreed to a special protectorate status for Sikkim. Sikkim came under the suzerainty of India, which controlled its external affairs, defence, diplomacy and communications, but Sikkim otherwise retained administrative autonomy.

A state council was established in 1953 to allow for constitutional government under the Chogyal. Meanwhile, the Sikkim National Congress demanded fresh elections and greater representation for Nepalis in Sikkim.

Merger with India
In 1975, the Prime Minister of Sikkim appealed to the Indian Parliament for Sikkim to become a state of India. In April of that year, the Indian Army took over the city of Gangtok and disarmed the Chogyal’s palace guards. Thereafter, a referendum was held in which supposedly a majority of voters supported abolishing the monarchy, effectively approving union with India. However, the legitimacy of this referendum-vote has been widely criticized.

Although the union with India was presented as the will of the people by the India authority, the merger was widely criticized as an annexation and India was accused of exploiting the ethnic divide and rigging the referendum. On 16 May 1975, Sikkim became the 22nd state of the Indian Union, and the monarchy was abolished.

To enable the incorporation of the new state, the Indian Parliament amended the Indian Constitution. First, the 35th Amendment laid down a set of conditions that made Sikkim an “Associate State,” a special designation not used by any other state. Later, the 36th Amendment repealed the 35th Amendment, and made Sikkim a full state, adding its name to the First Schedule of the Constitution.

People and Culture
The People of Sikkim consist of three ethnic groups, that is, Lepcha, Bhutia and Nepali. Communities of different hues intermingle freely in Sikkim to constitute a homogeneous blend. Hindu Temples coexist with Buddhist Monasteries, Churches, Mosques and Gurudwara. The predominant Communities are Lepchas, Bhutias and Nepalese. These myriad Cultures have produced a quintessential Sikkimese Culture that encompasses all ways and walks of life, but has also managed to preserve their own identity. These can also be seen in the various places of worship, festivals and cultural dances that are celebrated through the year.

The native Sikkimese consist of the Bhutias, who migrated from the Kham district of Tibet in the 14th century, and the Lepchas, who are believed to have migrated from the Far East. Tibetans reside mostly in the northern and eastern reaches of the state. Migrant resident communities include Bengalis, Biharis and Marwaris, who are prominent in commerce in South Sikkim and Gangtok.