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Sikkim is an appellation of Nepalese origin meaning "new palace". The Tibetans called it "Denzong" meaning "the land of rice". To Lepchas, the original inhabitants of Sikkim, it was known as "Nye-maeel" meaning "heaven". Sikkim has 194 Gompas or Buddhist monasteries belonging to the Nyingma and Kagyu schools. The monks living in these monasteries are very influential in the cultural heritage and daily life of the people of this former princely state. Inside these monasteries are fascinating murals, images of hundreds of deities from Tibetan Buddhist pantheon. Buddhism is an integral thread in the life of the Sikkimese and you are constantly reminded of it during your travel. The mystique of Sikkim is evoked partly by the grandeur and natural beauty of the mighty Khangchendzonga 8’586 meters or 28’169 feet above sea level.
Lepchas were oldest inhabitants of Sikkim. The Bhutias came from Bhutan in the 15th century. In early 19th century Nepalese occupied a large part of the Sikkim. The Rumtek Monastery was established in Sikkim when His Holiness, the late sixteenth Gyala Karmapa, took refuge in this state, fleeing from persecution by the communist Chinese attack on Tibet. The monastery was built as a replica of the original monastery in Tibet in 1960s. Sikkim delights one with a blend of Hindu and Buddhist cultures in this small mountainous land. Sikkim was an independent kingdom ruled by the Chogyals (Kings) until 1975 when it became the twenty-second state of the Indian Union. The Chogyals ruled Sikkim for 300 years and the history of Sikkim's Chogyals dates back to the seventeenth century, when three holy men consecrated the first Chogyal at Yuksam in West Sikkim. Until Sikkim became a part of India, the Choygals were both sovereign monarchs as well as religious head of the state. Palden Thondup Namgyal was the last monarch of Sikkim. Some of the prominent Chogyal monarchs were following:
- 1642 CE Chogyal Phunstok Namgyal ascended the throne and was consecrated the first Chogyal of Sikkim in Yuksam, then the capital of the kingdom.
- 1670 Tensung Namgyal shifted capital to Rabdanste from Yuksam
- 1700 Chakdor Namgyal - Pendiongmu (Half sister) tried to dethrone Chakdor who had to flee to Lhasa, but was reinstated as king with the help of Tibetans.
- 1717 Gurmed Namgyal - During his reign Sikkim was attacked by Nepalese
- 1733 Phunstok Namgyal - Nepalese attacked Rabdanste-the capital of Sikkim during his reign.
- 1780 Tenzing Namgyal Chogyal fled to Tibet and died there.
- 1793 Tsudphud Namgyal - Capital shifted from Rabanste to Tumlong. Treaty of Titalia in 1817 between Sikkim and British India was signed in which territories lost to Nepal were restored to Sikkim. Darjeeling was gifted to British India in 1835. Two Britishers, Dr. Campbell and Dr. Hooker captured by the Sikkimese in 1849. Hostilities between British India and Sikkim were resolved with a treaty that formalized the annexation of Darjeeling in British India.
- 1863 Sidekong Namgyal
- 1874 Thutob Namgyal - Claude White appointed, as the first Political Resident of Sikkim in 1889. Capital shifted from Tumlong to Gangtok in 1894.
- 1914 Sidekong Namgyal
- 1914 Tashi Namgyal - Treaty between India and Sikkim was signed in 1950.
- 1963 In the reign of Palden Thondup Namgyal Sikkim became twenty-second state of India on May 16, 1975 and the institution of the Chogyals was replaced with full democratic rights for the people of Sikkim.
Sikkim is endeavoring hard for a place in the booming Buddhist tourism circuit and the state government unveiled a giant statue of Guru Padmasambhava, believed to be the founder of tantric Buddhism, on Friday, February 20, 2004. The Dalai Lama personally consecrated the site for the installation. It is expected to be a big draw for tourists from South East Asia. The 151-feet high statue can be seen from as far away as the Darjeeling Hills in the south. It took two and a half years to build with concrete, veneered with a copper layer. The price tag was a whopping Rupees 66'100'000. While religious leaders, artists, architects and engineers from Sikkim, West Bengal and Taiwan debate the artistic merits of the statue, the state government, which funded the project, hopes for good returns on its investment. "This will improve Sikkim's profile in the country in the fields of religion and tourism and it will bring prosperity and sustainable development for the people of Sikkim," said Pawan Kumar Chamling, the Chief Minister of Sikkim. The statue is located about 100 kilometers from the closest airport at Siliguri and eight kilometers from the town of Namchi that is already dressing up for the imminent tourist boom.
Flora and Fauna
Sikkim is densely covered by forest due to heavy rainfall. Geographically it can be divided into three zones. Tropical zone is at about 1000 meters with its vegetation such as Bamboo, Fern, Pandanus, Sal and Orchid. Dense undergrowth and bush vegetation are found in sub-tropical zone. The temperate Zone in the northern valley is covered by Cherry, Laurel, Oak, Chesnut, Maple, Pine and Magnolia. Rhododendrons, which are abundantly found above 2000 meters or 6562 feet above sea-level, have about thirty species in this region. In the north different varieties of Primula are found. There are roughly 4000 variety of flowering plants and shrubs in Sikkim of which orchids are about 700 species. There are several hundred varieties of butterflies in Sikkim. The myth of Yeti persists in Sikkim Himalayas despite no physical proof of its existence. Snow leopard is found at altitudes around 4’000 meters or 13’123 feet above sea-level, Himalayan black bear is found at 2’000 meters or 6562 feet above sea-level, above this altitude Barking Deer, Musk Deer, Sambar, Marbled Cat, Leopard Cat, Squirrel, Tiger, Panda, Otter, Ovis, Nahura, Ovismon Goral and wild boar are also found. About 500 species of birds are found in Sikkim. Among them the most common are Pheasants, Partridges Ducks, and Lammergeyer. Trout and Salmon are the principal fish of Sikkim.
A bovine mammal, “Bos grunniens”, is oxlike in build, with short and thick legs, humped shoulders, large upwards curved horns, and a thick coat that hangs down to the ankles. Wild yaks were formerly found from Kashmir to West China, but were so extensively hunted for meat and hides that they now survive only in isolated highlands at elevations above 14,000 feet (4,300 meters). They live in herds numbering from 10 to 100 animals, mostly females and young led by a few old bulls; young males are mostly solitary.
Yaks have been domesticated for centuries, and the domestic form has been introduced into other parts of central Asia. The wild yak may attain a shoulder height of 65 inches (165 cm) and have horns up to 3 feet (90 cm) long; its coat is dark brown. The domesticated yak is smaller, with shorter horns; its coat, which may be long enough to reach the ground, may be black, brown, reddish, piebald, or albino. Yaks can live on vegetation so sparse that cannot support any other domesticated animals. The domestic yak is a source of milk, butter, meat, hair (for cloth), and leather and is also much used as a beast of burden. Yak Safari is an unforgettable and unique experience organized in different areas of Sikkim. Popular trails are Dzongri area and Tsongmo lake. One can get to ride on the yak in Tsomgo Lake and in various trekking points like Dzongri in West Sikkim onwards.
Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim with a population of approximately 50,000 has emerged into the mainstream of the Tourism Industry, with more and more tourist visiting this little Himalayan state every year. Gangtok has developed into a cosmopolitan flavor where old-world charm and hospitality exist along with the Internet Age. With different cultures and religions existing in perfect harmony, Gangtok is a living example of "Unity in Diversity" in Sikkim. Sikkimese have strong bonding with their age-old traditions and customs. However, a quick survey of Gangtok shows that the bubble of modernization has burst with a bang in the town. The capital is definitely not behind the rest of the world in terms of urbanization - Broad roads, flyovers, posh markets, state-of-art hospital, educational institutes, fast food outlets, discothèques, and all other modern amenities that the heart can desire for can be seen in Sikkimese capital city. One imposing manmade landmark of the town is the 200 feet-high TV tower which overlooks the town and is situated near the Enchey Monastry below Ganesh Tok. A stroll along the Mahatma Gandhi Marg is shopper's delight - hotels, restaurants, curios, footwear and almost everything is available in the stores on this street.
PLACES OF INTEREST IN & AROUND GANGTOK
Enchey Monastery is an important seat of the Nyingma order. It is built on the site blessed by Lama Druptob Karpo, a tantric master. This 200-year-old Monastery has an interesting collection of idols of gods, goddess and other religious objects.
Pemayangtse Monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in the State. Originally it was established by Lhatsun Chempo, one of the three revered Lamas to have performed the consecration ceremony of the first Chogyal (Religious Monarch) of Sikkim. This ancient monastery belongs to the Nyingmapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism and has been considered as one of the premier monasteries in the State.
Sangacholing Monastery is situated on a ridge above Pelling and the famous Pemayangtse Monastery. Built in 1697 CE, it is considered to be one of the oldest monasteries in the State. In order to reach this monastery one has to be prepared to spend at least 40 minutes walking up the steep hill slope which leads through a rich forest cover.
Dubdi Monastery was the first monastery established soon after the consecration ceremony of the first Chogyal. The monastery is located on a hill top above Yuksam surrounded by verdant forest. It can be approached by trekking only, negotiating steep hill in about 35 minutes. It is an ideal place for Lamas seeking complete seclusion for meditation.
Tashiding Monastery is constructed on top of a heart- shaped hill with the backdrop of the sacred Mt. Khangchendzonga. According to Buddhist scriptures, Guru Padma Sambhava (Guru Rimpoche) blessed the sacred land of Sikkim in eighth Century CE by sending Nadak Sempa Chempo, one of the three lamas who had performed the consecration ceremony of the first Chogyal.
Phensong Monastery under the Nyingmapa Buddhist Order was built in 1721 during the time of Jigme Pawo. It was destroyed by fire in 1947 and rebuilt in 1948 through the efforts of its Lamas. The annual festival of Chaam is performed on the 29th and 28th days of the tenth month of the Tibetan Lunar calendar.
Phodong Monastery is one of the six major monasteries in Sikkim. It is located 38 kilometers or 24 miles north of Gangtok. At a distance of 4 kilometers beyond Phodong is the recently renovated Labrang Monastery that is very unique in its architectural design.
Do-drul Chorten (Stupa) was built by the venerable Trulshi Rimpoche, head of the Nyingma order of Tibetan Buddhism in 1945. Inside this Stupa there are complete Mandala sets of Dorjee Jphurba (Bajra Kilaya), a set of Kan-Gyur Relics (Holy Books), complete 'Zung' (Mantras) and other religious objects, Around this Chorten is one the most important Stupas in Sikkim .
Namgyal Research Institute of Tibetology (NRIT) is the most prestigious organization of its kind in India. This Buddhist Institute is a treasure trove of vast collection of rare Lepcha, Tibetan and Sanskrit manuscripts, statues and rare Thankas (Tapestries used in Buddhist liturgy) and has over 200 Buddhist Icons and other prized objects of art. Today it is a renowned worldwide center for study of Buddhist philosophy and religion.
Rumtek Dhama Chakra Center is about 45 minutes drive covering 24 kilometers or 15 miles from Gangtok. It is the seat of the Kagyu order, one of the four major Tibetan Buddhist sects, since the late 1960s, after the arrival of His Holiness the sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, the center houses some of the world's most unique religious scriptures and religious art objects. Traditional in design, it is almost a replica of the original Kagyu headquarters Tibet.
Tsomgo Lake literally means the "Source of the Lake" in Bhutia language. It is 40 kilometers or 25 miles from Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim State. This serene lake is situated at an altitude of 3780 meters or 12402 feet above sea-level. The lake is about 1 kilometer long, oval in shape , 15 meters or 49 feet deep and is considered scared by the local people. This placid lake remains frozen during the winter months up to mid-May. Between May and August it is possible to see a variety of flowers in blooms, including the Rhododendrons, various species of Primulas, blue and yellow Poppies, Iris etc. It is also an ideal habitat for the Red Panda and various species of birds.
Tashi View Point is situated along the North Sikkim Highway and is about 8 kilometers or 5 miles from Gangtok. From this point one has breathtaking views of Mount Khangchendzonga and Mount Siniolchu, two of the highest peaks in Himalayas.
Ganesh Tok is situated on a ridge and is 7 kilometers or 4 miles from Gangtok. From this spot one gets bird's eye view of sprawling Gangtok town down below while across the hill Mount Khangchendzonga and Mount Sinioichu loom over the horizon. A cafeteria serves hot tea/coffee and snacks at this point.
Hanuman Tok is 11 kilometers or 7 miles from Gangtok, above Ganesh Tok. This is a popular Hindu Temple where the devotees come and offer prayers. Because of its location the view of the mountains along the horizon is just magnificent, especially on a clear sunny morning.
Khecheopalri Lake is considered as one of the sacred lakes of this State both by the Buddhist and the Hindus. The lake remains hidden in the rich forest cover. It is believed that birds do not permit even a single leaf to float on the lake surface. One can drive from Pemayangtse to the lake area.
Visa & Permits
In addition to an Indian Visa, foreigners must obtain Inner Line Permit (ILP) to visit Sikkim. The permits can be obtained from all Indian missions, Tourism Office, New Delhi, Sikkim Tourism Office, Calcutta and Sikkim Tourism Office, Siliguri on the strength of an Indian Visa. India Traveller assists tourists in getting the inner line permit.
Foreigners are issued a permit for initial period of 15 days duration on the spot without any delay by providing photocopies of Passport and Visa details along with two passport size photos of applicants. It can be extended for further 30 days in increments of 15 days each. The extension of permits can be obtained from Foreigners Registration Office(FRO), Gangtok and from the Superintendent of Police of North, South and West Districts. The FRO is located at Kazi Road, Gangtok.
For those interested in going for trekking in the interior regions of the state, you also require a Restricted Area Permit (RAP) OR Protected Area Permit (PAP) which is obtainable in Gangtok from the Police Check Post and Department of Tourism and is available for certain specified area for groups consisting of 4 or more foreigners subject to the condition that the trekking program is arranged through a registered travel agency in Sikkim. NOTE: This permit is issued through LOCAL GOVERNMENT REGISTERED TRAVEL AGENTS ONLY. While traveling in Sikkim don't forget to get your passport stamped at all check posts
- Mayfair Spa Resort & Casino - 68 rooms
- WelcomHeritage Denzong Regency Hotel - 26 rooms
- Elgin Nor Khill Hotel – 32 rooms
- Club Mahindra Royal Demazong - 32 rooms
- Hotel Tashi Delek – 46 rooms
- Suhim Portico Hotel - 30 rooms
- The Silk Route Residency – 13 rooms
- Hotel Tibet – 35 rooms
- Hotel Central – 28 rooms
- The Oriental Hotel – 20 rooms
- Hotel Rendezvous – 21 rooms
- Hotel Superview Himalchuli – 20 rooms
- Denzong Inn Hotel – 18 rooms
- The Elgin Mount Pandim Hotel, Pelling – 17 rooms
Distance from Sikkim:
City Kilometers Miles
- New Jalpaiguri 125 kilometers or 78 miles
- Bagdogra 125 kilometers or 78 miles
- Siliguri 110 kilometers or 68 miles
- Darjeeling 90 kilometers or 56 miles
- Kalimpong 70 kilometers or 43 miles
- Pema Yangtse 112 kilometers or 70 miles
- Tsongo 40 kilometers or 25 miles
- Lachung 126 kilometers or 78 miles
- Yumthang 149 kilometers or 93 miles
- Yuksom 145 kilometers or 90 miles