Enter the land of the Yaks, Glacial Lakes, Hot Springs, Tibetian & Nepali Cuisine. A land enriched with flora and fauna, which was original inhabited by the Tribes of Lepcha and Bhutias. Now they are vastly outnumbered by the armymen and business men from all over the country. Nepalis are the majority population in the state today. A demographic transformation indeed. Tourism is the mainstay of Sikkim.
Sikkim signifies SU means New and Khim means Palace or House, which refers to the first palace built by Phuntsong Namgyal ( 1604-1670) who was the first official King of Sikkim. Guru Rinpoche in the 9th century predicted that a good Samaritan will be crowned as the king in 1642. Three Lamas went in search of the fabled King. They encountered a man churning milk and he offered the Lamas as good will gesture milk and food and even gave them shelter. So impressed by his selfless service the Lamas concluded that he was the chosen man to be crowned as the King. He was crowned on a stone slab near Yuksom which is close to Gangtok. The Lamas converted certain tribal people into Buddhism, Lepchas and Bhutias are the main inhabitants of Sikkim, with Lepcha Dzongpon as the governor.
History reveals that Bhutan tried to invade Sikkim but driven away by Tibetians, Nepalese too tried to raid Sikkim which lead to the Gorka war of 1814 which was successfully repelled by the British troops. Chogyals were puppet king from thereon under the sovereignty of the British Empire.
In 1947 a popular referendum declared that Sikkim will not join the Indian union. Sikkim was given a special status wherein Indian Govt took over the Defense and external affairs and retained autonomy of the monarchy. But the popular uprising witnessed the dismantling of the monarchy in 1975. On May 16th 1975 after a popular mandate Sikkim became the 22nd state of the Indian Union. China tacitly agreed provided that India acknowledges that Tibet is part of China. In 2000 the 17th Karmapa Urgyen Tingley Dorjee escaped from Tibet and sought refuge in Rumtek Monastry Chinese were flabbergasted that their puppet rebelled and eventually made truce with India and recognized Sikkim as part of Indian Union in 2003. India had accepted Tibet as part of China in 1953 under the Indo-China Bhai Bhai slogan. On the 6th of July 2006 Himalayan Nathula Pass was opened for cross border trade. A visa is required to enter into China which is issued for 4 months costing Rs 1800 unofficially.
HOT SPRINGS & RIVER
Sikkim is blessed with many Hot springs, which are having curative and therapeutic value. The most famous among spots are located in Yum thang, Borang, Purchachu ( Reshi ). The springs have high sulphur content and boil upto 50 degree centigrade.
Rangeet and Teesta river are the lifeline for Sikkim, but sand mining seems to taking place with rampant frequency, which may destroy the ecology of the river bed.
A number of hydro-electric power projects are established in the valleys, which ensures there is sufficient power supply to the state. This may ultimately ruin the ecology if it is not properly managed.
History of Sikkim :
FLORA AND FAUNA :
Sikkim is blessed with the Himalayan belt which is conducive for diverse floral breeding. Orchids, Figs, Laurel, Bananas, Bamboo, Oaks, Chestnuts, Maples, Magnolias grow in plenty.
Fauna includes Snow Leopard, Musk Deer, Red Panda, Barking deer, Langur, Himalayan Black Bear and civet cat. All the varieties are beautifully showcased in the Padmaja Naidu Zoo at Darjeeling.
Liquor is highly subsidized in Sikkim in lieu of the hilly terrain. Majority of the tourist carry their favourite brand which is available at half the price of the plains. Signature for example which costs almost Rs 700 is sold at Rs 378 MRP. The film actor Danny Denzgompa owns a distillery, which sells beer under the brand name of HIT. The per capita consumption of liquour is the highest in Sikkim due to cold climate.
Noodle based dishes are popular fare in Gangtok. Many varieties such as Chowmein, Thukpa, Wonton, along with Momo which are generally steamed with centre filling of vegetables, pork, beef or mutton is available in plenty.
Momo This is popular Tibetian dish served in restaurants around Sikkim. It is also known as dumplings which constitutes fillings of either meat ( chicken, mutton, beef or pork ) Momo are generally steamed and served hot along with soup and spicy chutney or sauce.
Thukpa Basically a noodle soup with vegetables, served piping hot in most hotels in Gangtok.
TRANSPORT & ROADS :
Local share taxis are available in the form of Maruti van, outside state vehicles are not permitted to ply within Sikkim. One has to essentially hire the locally registered vehicle or Taxi with Sikkim registration. This may be a strategy to ensure employment of local youths. Maruti van travel is not recommended for hill route travel, it is bound to be most uncomfortable at the end of the day. Kindly avoid this vehicle, and prefer Indica, Alto or Jeeps. Maruti van is heavily used for local travel, invariably the tyres are worn out or bald which poses another risk, watch out for drivers driving in neutral, for saving petrol, it can end up as risky to passengers life in the event of engine seizing downhill.
SIGHT SEEING :
Rumtek Monastery, Tsongmo Lake ( changu ), Nathula Pass, Baba Mandir, Hanuman Tok, Ganesh Tok and Tashi view point. Ideally depending on the weather condition one should begin the trip by visiting Tashi point to view sunrise and the Kanchenjunga view point. Generally the Sunrises at 5 am in the eastern part of India during summer. Please ensure with the holiday providers that Nathula pass is included. Special permit is required to enter both Baba mandir and Nathula pass. If one is on individual or small group, Nathula pass and other points mentioned about is covered by paying Rs 600/- per pax, bigger groups can bargain harder. Many tour operators try to cheat the tourists by deleting Nathula pass since it requires early morning departure by maximum 7 am since the pass is opened between 9 am to maximum 12 am. Return permitted max by 2 pm at check post as per understanding with Chinese authorities. Weather changes into extremely cold after 2 pm in the Changu area. If it is bright and sunny in the morning than it invites cold wave in the noon. Better to be equipped with wollen sweaters and header along with gloves and face mask.
A drive past the Tsongmo lake with snow clad mountains makes one feel as if one is visiting the Alps or Swiss mountains.
Lovely mementos can be purchased from Baba mandir defense stores such as Cowboy hats, Designer necklaces, Bangles, Badges, Photographs, Shawls, Wall Hangers, Mugs, etc. The profit goes to the defense personnel. Other artifacts can be bought from M.G. Market, Handicraft Emporium and New Market. Liquor too can be added to the shopping basket. All shops close around 8 pm.
It is ideal to lodge oneself near M.G.Road, a number of good hotels are available such as Hotel Tibet, Mayur, Hilltop, Suyong, Blue poppy is the last one down the hill. The tariffs vary between peak season and off season. As much as 50% discount is given during off season.
Gangtok is experiencing for the first time water shortage despite perennial river of Teesta. Roads are under various stages of repair towards Baba mandir. Mining and rapid construction activity is taking its toll on the ecology. A day may come that tourism needs to be restricted to conserve the ecology. Plastics are totally banned in Sikkim.