Sikkim, an eastern Indian state in the Eastern Himalayan ranges, notable for its biodiversity, including alpine and subtropical climates. Sikkim is a home to many beautiful glaciers, mountains, waterfalls, valleys, landscapes, dense forests, and others. All of these natural wonders enjoy being in its real form and being untouched by humans.
Home to Kanchenjunga — the highest peak in India and the world’s third highest peak — Sikkim being a mountainous region, neighbouring China, attracts a plenty of tourists for its amazing views and landscapes several months of the year.
Due to Sikkim’s proximity to neighboring China, the whole of Sikkim is under a restricted area regime, therefore, all foreign nationals require Protected / Restricted Area Permit (RAP) to visit any part of Sikkim including Gangtok. There is also a permit, to protect the nature reserves in this quaint state, popularly known as Inner Line Permit (ILP). There are 8 protected areas in Sikkim viz., Khangchendzonga National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Fambong Lho Wildlife Sanctuary, Kyongnosla Alpine Sanctuary, Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary, Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary, Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary, Kitam Bird Sanctuary and Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary.
Sikkim’s natural beauty is beyond belief and is a treat to the eyes. It is a land of rugged mountains, deep valleys, dense forests, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, Monasteries and Pagoda-style houses makes it the most mesmerizing place to visit. It is situated at an altitude of 5800 ft. (1,547 metres) between the borders of Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet. The state is famous for dazzling waterfalls, virgin forests, Tibetan style Buddhist Gompas, alpine meadows, Rhododendron flowers. Steep paths lead to hilltop Buddhist monasteries such as Pemayangtse, which dates to the early 1700s.
Sikkim is the least populous, is the second smallest among the Indian states and is not a part of the Seven Sister states. It 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.
Just as the colorful and diverse natural vegetation of individual districts of Sikkim, ethnically too, Sikkim has been inhabited by a blend of different friendly communities, customs, religion and traditions of natives. Since ancient times, Sikkim has been occupied by three tribes, namely, the Lepchas, the Bhutias and the Nepalese. They continue to form the people’s group and culture in Sikkim even today.
Kanchenjunga Mountain, Sikkim
These communities have been maintaining and celebrating their beautiful traditions and cultures. Sikkim is rich in culture and heritage with the three ethnic communities, Lepcha, Bhutia and Nepalis constituting the folk dances and songs, which are an ingrained part of Sikkimese culture. This music and folk dances relate to the beauty of the natural surroundings, depicting the harvest season and are performed for good luck and prosperity. Music of Sikkim ranges from traditional Nepali folk music to Westernized pop music.
The Mask dance is the most famous dance of Sikkim and one can say it is almost synonymous to Sikkim. The Mask dance is divided into various types, Enchey Chaam, Rumtek Chaam and Gouthor Chaam. Gouthor (winter) Chaam, is performed two days prior to Losar in the month of February.
The Maruni/Mabuni dance is the oldest and most famous dance of the Nepalese community residing in these regions, originally danced as part of the Tihar festival. Dressed colorfully with rich ornaments, the dancers dance to commemorate “the victory of good over evil”, accompanied by the traditional Nepali Naumati Baja orchestra
Along with traditional dances, Sikkimese also are known for their traditional dress, like the Kho or Bakhu worn by Bhutia, the ethnic Sikkimese people of Sikkim and Nepal. It is a loose, cloak-style garment that is fastened at the neck on one side and near the waist with a silk or cotton belt similar to the Tibetan Chuba and to the Ngalop gho of Bhutan, but sleeveless.
Sikkimese people are involved in agriculture as their primary occupation. The state is popular and well-known for their organic form of farming. Sikkim is also known as the first and the only state in India to produce crops completely with organic farm techniques. The major crops of the state include Rice, Maize, Tea, Soybean, Ginger, Orange, Pear, Potato and Tomato.
The Sikkim Mandarin, a different fruit than Orange belonging to the same tangerine family, represents the most important commercial fruit of Sikkim, cultivated in an area of about 6,300 hectares and fetches a total average annual production of about 17,190 tonnes. This native fruit of Sikkim, known to be cultivated from time immemorial, is a very popular product in the markets of Kolkata, West Bengal. Sikkim Mandarin is similar to the Nepal or Assam or Darjeeling Mandarin.
Just as Sikkim’s blend of cultures and traditions from Nepal, India, Bhutan and Tibet, so is the influence of their cuisine. The combination of various cuisines has resulted in one specific cuisine, that is now called as cuisine of Sikkim.Their cuisine includes Rice as their staple food, along with fermented foods traditionally constituting a significant portion of the cuisine. But due to the majority of ethnic Nepali people, Nepalese cuisine is also popular in Sikkim. Many restaurants in Sikkim serve various types of Nepalese cuisine, such as the Newa and Thakali cuisines. Additionally, Tibetan cuisine has also influenced Sikkimese cuisine.
The community, culture, traditions and nature of Sikkim have been attracting tourists from all over. Sikkim’s climate ranges from subtropical in the south to tundra in the north. Most of the inhabited regions of Sikkim experience a temperate climate, with temperatures seldom exceeding 28 °C (82 °F) in summer. The average annual temperature for most of Sikkim is around 18 °C (64 °F).
Gangtok: The state capital city with its wonderful beauty and majestic views is isolated from the rest of the country and is adorned with pristine rivers, snow-capped mountains and lush greenery. There is so much to experience, explore and do in Gangtok. Entwined amidst clouds, Gangtok overlooks the spectacular Kanchenjunga and serves to be the base for exploring the rest of the state.
Pelling: A petite paradise worth witnessing especially during winters, from December until February, when Pelling is decked with fresh snowfall. Sangachoeling Monastery, Darap Village, Singshore Bridge, Rimbi Waterfall, Kanchenjunga Fall, Khangchendzonga National Park, Kaluk, Pemayangtse Monastery, Rabdentse Ruins, Tashiding Monastery and many more hidden gems to visit in Pelling. There are several small and beautiful monasteries yet most prominent places to visit. Thanks to its natural scenic beauty and rich cultural heritage, Pelling is a popular destination. From exploring natural wonders like lakes and waterfalls, engaging in shopping, to unveiling the secrets of historical ruins, there are tonnes of things to do in Pelling.
Yumthang Valley: Situated in North Sikkim, Yumthang Valley is a just another paradise on earth, which is full of natural wonders and picturesque beauty. Home to a zillions of flowers on spectacular mountain landscapes, with a serene river, this valley often also called the ‘Valley of Flowers’, just like the one located in Uttarakhand. The picturesque meadows of Yumthang valley will leave you spellbound in awe of nature’s beauty. The best season for visiting Yumthang valley starts in late February and continues up to mid June, when thousands of colorful flowers are in full bloom. To enjoy a clear sky and brilliant view of snow-capped mountains, the September to December season would be ideal.
Rumtek Monastery: Just close (around 30kms ) to Gangtok, Rumtek monastery, which depicts typical Buddhist architectural style, is as serene and charming as it gets. The monastery is also known as the Dharma Chakra Center and is one of the largest monasteries in Sikkim. The most impressive element of this monastery is the Golden Stupa which contains relics of a revered monk. Apart from the main temple, the complex has monk quarters, a monastic college, nunnery and accommodation complexes which are worth noticing.
Lachung: If you fancy some solitude and peace, Lachung shelters countless offbeat places like Mangan, Thangu, and Lachen. Head to the beautiful Green Lake or the stunning Mt. Katao for a refreshing trek. Tourist places in Lachung are virtually countless, as the place is brimming with natural beauty. Lachung, a bewitching hidden gem of Sikkim, typically has an alpine climate receiving heavy snowfall during winter and remains pleasant during the summer season.
Ravangla: Located at an elevation of 7000 feet, almost at the height of the clouds, Ravangla is a wonderful getaway from the humdrum of the city. The place is famous for its entrancing tea gardens, old religious communities, and chattering cascades. Ravangla experiences consistent snowfall, with temperature dipping to sub-zero levels. Even in cold winters, the tourists love to visit this spot clad in heavy woolen clothes, which are a must.
Although an ideal spot for honeymooners, Sikkim is known to attract travelers of all types, offering safe and enjoyable vacations. This place offers travelers mesmerizes in the harmony and mystery of the mountains of the upper east. Each season brings unique hues making them look more mysterious and lovely than other places in the country.
As one of the most beautiful places in India, Sikkim is ideal for both short with 4 to 5 days covering Gangtok, Pelling and Darjeeling in West Bengal and long with 12-15 days to explore famous as well hidden spots in the state. The best time to visit Sikkim is either between March and May or October and mid-December. If you want to witness the blooming natural beauty in Gangtok, the best season to visit would be in Spring, from March to May. Autumn, on the other hand, brings a clear view of Himalayan ranges.
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Photo Credits : Lucas, Abhishek Singh, Kaushik Nag, Pulak Bhagawati, SCZCC, Steven Campbell, Reyhan Lama