Sikkim (सिक्किम) is a landlocked Indian state nestled in the Himalayas. It is the second smallest state in area after Goa. Sikkim state borders Nepal in the west, Tibet to the north and east, and Bhutan in the south-east. The Indian state of West Bengal borders Sikkim to its south. The predominant religions are Hinduism and Buddhism (Vajrayana). Gangtok is the capital and largest town. Kanchenjunga, the world's third highest peak, is located in the north western part of the state. Sikkim has become one of India's most visited states, owing to its scenic beauty.
Origin of name
The name Sikkim is said to be a combination of two words in the Limbu Su, which means "new", and Khyim, which means "palace" or house, in reference to the palace built by the state's first ruler, Phuntsok Namgyal.
Sikkim has four districts, each overseen by a district collector, who is in-charge of the administration of the civilian areas of the districts. The four districts are East Sikkim, West Sikkim, North Sikkim and South Sikkim. The district capitals are Gangtok, Geyzing, Mangan and Namchi respectively. The Indian army has control of a large territory, as the state is a sensitive border area. Many areas are restricted and permits are needed to visit them. There are a total of eight towns and nine sub-divisions in Sikkim.
The thumb-shaped state of Sikkim is characterised by mountainous terrain, the elevation ranging from 280 m to 8585 m. The summit of the Kanchenjunga is the highest point. While most of the land is unfit for agriculture, certain hill slopes have been converted into farm lands using terrace farming techniques. Numerous snow-fed streams in Sikkim have carved out river valleys in the west and south of the state. These streams combine into the Teesta and its tributary, the Rangeet. The Teesta flows through the state from north to south. About a third of the land is heavily forested. The lofty Himalayan ranges surround the northern, eastern and western borders of Sikkim in a crescent. The populated areas lie in the southern reaches of the state, in the Lower Himalayas. The state has over twenty glaciers and a large number of high altitude lakes (including the Tsongmo, Gurudongmar and Khecheopalri). Eight mountain passes connect the state to Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal.
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 in summer or dropping below 0 °C 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. Sikkim is one of the few states in India to receive regular snowfall. The snow line is around 6,000 m. During the monsoon months, the state is lashed by heavy rains. 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 affects many parts of the state during winter and the monsoons.
The earliest recorded event related to Sikkim is the passage of the Buddhist saint Guru Rinpoche through the land in the 8th century. In the 14th century Khye Bumsa, a prince from Eastern Tibet, is said to have had a divine revelation instructing him to travel south to seek his fortunes. His descendants were later to form the royal family of Sikkim. In 1642, the fifth generation descendant of Khye Bumsa, Phuntsog Namgyal, was consecrated as the first Chogyal (king) of Sikkim by the three venerated Lamas.
In 1700, Sikkim was invaded by the Bhutanese with the help of the half-sister of the Chogyal, who had been denied the throne. The Bhutanese were driven away by the Tibetans, who restored the throne to the Chogyal. Between 1717 and 1733, the kingdom faced many raids by the Nepalese in the west and Bhutanese in the east, culminating with the destruction of the capital Rabdentse by the Nepalese.
In 1947, India agreed to a special protectorate status for Sikkim. Sikkim was to be a tributary of India, in which India controlled its external defence, diplomacy and communication. A state council was established in 1955 to allow for constitutional government for the Chogyal. In 1973, riots in front of the palace led to a formal request for protection from India. The Chogyal proved to be very unpopular with the people. In 1975, the Kazi (Prime Minister) appealed to the Indian Parliament for change of Sikkim's status to a state of India. In April, the Indian Army moved in Sikkim and disarmed the Palace Guards. A referendum was held in which 97.5% of the people voted to join the Indian Union. A few weeks later on May 16, 1975, Sikkim officially became the 22nd state of the Indian Union, and monarchy was abolished.
The hills of Sikkim mainly consist of gneissose and half-schistose rocks, making their soil brown clay, and generally poor and shallow. The soil is coarse, with large amounts of iron oxide concentrations, ranging from neutral to acidic and has poor organic and mineral nutrients. This type of soil tends to support evergreen and deciduous forests. A large portion of the Sikkim territory is covered by the Precambrian rock and is much younger in age than the hills. The rock consists of phyllites and schists and therefore the slopes are highly susceptible to weathering and prone to erosion. This, combined with the intense rain, causes extensive soil erosion and heavy loss of soil nutrients through leaching.
Sikkim has a wide variety of plants, from tropical to temperate to alpine and tundra, and is perhaps one of the few regions to exhibit such a diversity within such a small area. The flora of Sikkim includes the Rhododendron, the state tree, with a huge range of species occurring from subtropical to alpine regions. Orchids, Figs, Laurel, Banana, Sal trees and Bamboo in the lower altitudes of Sikkim, which enjoy a sub-tropical type climate. In the temperate elevations above 1500 m, oaks, chestnuts, maples, birchs, alders, and magnolias grow in large numbers. The alpine type vegetation includes juniper, pine, firs, cypresses and rhododendrons, and is typically found between an altitude of 3500 m to 5000 m. Sikkim boasts around 5000 flowering plants, 515 rare orchids, 60 primulas species, 36 rhododendrons species, 11 oaks varieties, 23 bamboos varieties, 16 conifer species, 362 types of ferns and ferns allies, 8 tree ferns, and over 424 medicinal plants.
The fauna includes the Snow Leopard, Musk Deer, Bharal, Himalayan Tahr, Red Panda, Himalayan Marmot, Serow, Goral, Barking Deer, Himalayan Black Bear, Common Langur, Clouded Leopard, Marbled Cat, Tibetan wolf, Hog Badger, Binturong and the Jungle Cat. In high altitude areas, Yaks are reared for their milk, meat, and as a beast of burden. The avifauna of Sikkim is comprised of over 500 species of birds. The notable among these are the Blood Pheasant, Crimson-horned Pheasant, Snow Partridge, Tibetan Snowcock, Himalayan Snowcock, and the Golden Eagle.
Sikkim's economy is largely agrarian, based on traditional farming methods, on terraced slopes. The rural populace grows crops such as cardamom, ginger, oranges, apples, tea and orchids. Rice is grown on terraced hillsides in the southern reaches. Sikkim has the highest production and largest cultivated area of cardamom in India. Because of the hilly terrain there are no large-scale industries. Breweries, distilleries, tanning and watch-making industries are located in the southern reaches of the state, primarily in the towns of Melli and Jorethang.
Sikkim has a vast tourism potential and by tapping into this the state has grossed an earnings windfall. With the general improvement in infrastructure, tourism is slated to be the mainstay of the Sikkim's economy. Among the minerals mined in Sikkim are copper, dolomite, limestone, graphite, mica, iron, and coal. The opening of the Nathu La Pass on July 6, 2006 connecting Lhasa, Tibet to India is expected to give a boost to the local economy.
The nearest airport, Bagdogra Airport (West Bengal), is 124 km from Gantok. A regular helicopter service run by the Sikkim Helicopter Service connects Gangtok to Bagdogra; the flight is thirty minutes long, operates only once a day, and can carry 4 people. The Gangtok helipad is the only civilian helipad in the state. The closest railway station is New Jalpaiguri which is situated sixteen kilometres from Siliguri. National Highway 31A links Siliguri to Gangtok. The highway is an all-weather metalled road which mostly runs parallel to the river Teesta, entering Sikkim at Rangpo. Numerous public and privately run bus and jeep services connect the airport, railway station, and Siliguri to Gangtok. A branch of the highway from Melli connects western Sikkim. Towns in southern and western Sikkim are connected to the northern West Bengal hill stations of Kalimpong and Darjeeling. Within the state, four wheel drive vehicles are the most popular means of transport. Mini-buses link the smaller towns to the state and district headquarters.
A majority of Sikkim's residents are of Nepali origin who came to the province in the 19th century. 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 in the northern and eastern reaches of the state. Immigrant resident communities include the Marwaris, who own most of the shops; the Biharis, most of whom are employed in blue collar jobs; and the Bengalis.
Hinduism and Buddhism are the religions professed by most Sikkimese. Sikkim also has small populations of Christians and Muslims. In addition to Nepali, English and Hindi are spoken and understood in most of Sikkim. Other languages spoken in Sikkim include Bhutia, Dzongkha, Groma, Gurung, Lepcha, Limbu, Magar, Majhi, Majhwar, Nepal Bhasa, Rai, Sherpa, Sunuwar, Tamang, Thulung, Tibetan, and Yakha. The total population of the state is 540,493. Sikkim is one of the least densely populated states of India, with only 76 persons per sq km. With 50,000 inhabitants, Gangtok is the state's only significant town. The per capita income stands at Rs. 11,356, which is one of the highest in the country.
Sikkim residents celebrate all major Indian festivals such as Diwali and Dussera. Losar, Loosong, Saga Dawa, Lhabab Duechen, Drupka Teshi and Bhumchu are Buddhist festivals that are also celebrated. During the Losar – the Tibetan New Year in mid-December – most government offices and tourist centres are closed for a week. Western rock music and Hindi songs are widely popular. Football and cricket are the two most popular sports. Noodle-based dishes such as the thukpa, chowmein, thanthuk, fakthu, gyathuk and wonton are common in Sikkim. Momos, steamed dumplings filled with vegetable, buff (buffalo's meat) or pork and served with a soup is a popular snack. Alcohol is cheap owing to the low excise duty in Sikkim and beer, whiskey, rum and brandy are consumed by many Sikkimese. Almost all dwellings in Sikkim are rustic, consisting of a bamboo frame, woven with pliable bamboo and coated with cow dung, providing a warm interior. In the higher elevations, houses are made of wood.
Sikkim has a unicameral legislature. There are a total of 32 state assembly seats including one reserved for the Sangha. Sikkim is allocated one seat in each of both chambers of India's national bicameral legislature, the Lok Sabha, and the Rajya Sabha.
In Sikkim the roads are maintained by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), an offshoot of the Indian army. The roads in South Sikkim and NH-31A are in a good condition, landslides being less frequent in these areas. The state government maintains 1857.35 km of roadways that do not fall in the BRO jurisdiction. Sikkim has a number of hydroelectric power stations, providing a steady electricity source. Per capita consumption of electricity in Sikkim is 182 kWh. 73.2% of households have access to safe drinking water, and the large number of streams assures abundant water supply, thus the state never witnesses droughts.
State animal: Red Panda
State bird: Blood Pheasant (Ithaginis cruentus)
State tree: Rhododendron
State flower: Noble orchid (Dendrobium nobile)