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Sikkim

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Status: North Eastern State of India
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Population: 5.40 Lac

Sikkim is a landlocked state of India situated amidst the Himalayas. It is the least populous state in India, and the second smallest in area after Goa. Sikkim was an independent state ruled by the Chogyal monarchy until 1975, when a referendum to make it India's twenty-second state succeeded. The thumb-shaped state borders Nepal in the west, China to the north and east, and Bhutan in the south-east. The Indian state of West Bengal borders Sikkim to its south. Gangtok is the capital. With 50,000 inhabitants, Gangtok is the state's only significant town. Despite its tiny size, Sikkim is geographically diverse, owing to its location at the Himalayan foothills. Terrain ranges from tropical in the south to tundra in the north. Kanchenjunga, the world's third highest peak, is located in Sikkim, straddling its northern border with Nepal. The state has twenty-eight mountain peaks, twenty-one glaciers, 227 high altitude lakes, including the Tsongmo Lake, Gurudongmar and Khecheopalri Lakes, five hot springs, and over 100 rivers and streams. Eight mountain passes connect the state to Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal. Sikkim has become one of India's most visited states owing to its reputation for untouched scenic beauty and political stability.

Climate

The thumb-shaped state of Sikkim is characterised by wholly mountainous terrain. Almost the entire state is hilly, with the elevation ranging from 280 metres (920 feet) to 8,585 metres (28,000 feet). 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 (82 F) in summer or dropping below 0 C (32 F) 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 (64 F). Sikkim is one of the few states in India to receive regular snowfall. The snow line is around 6,000 metres (19,600 feet). During the monsoon months, the state is lashed by heavy rains that increase the number of landslides. 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 also affects many parts of the state during winter and the monsoons, making transportation extremely perilous.

Language and culture

Nepali is the lingua franca of Sikkim. English and Hindi are also spoken and understood in most of Sikkim. Other languages spoken in Sikkim include Bhutia, Dzongkha , Groma, Gurung, Lepcha, Limbu, Magar, Majhi, Majhwar, Newari, Rai, Sherpa, Sunuwar, Tamang, Thulung, Tibetan, and Yakha. The southern urban areas have English, Nepali and Hindi dailies. Nepali language newspapers are locally printed, whereas Hindi and English newspapers are printed in Siliguri. English newspapers include The Statesman and The Telegraph which are printed in Siliguri, as well as The Hindu and The Times of India, printed in Calcutta, and are received with a day's delay in the towns of Gangtok, Jorethang, Melli and Geyzing. The Sikkim Herald is an official weekly publication of the government. Internet cafs are well established in the district capitals, but broadband connectivity is not widely available, and many rural areas have yet to be linked to the Internet. Satellite television channels through dish antennae are available in most homes in the state. Channels served are the same available throughout India along with a Nepali language channels. The main service providers are Sikkim Cable, Dish TV, Doordarshan and Nayuma. The area is well serviced by local cellular companies such as BSNL, Reliance Infocomm, and Airtel. BSNL has state wide coverage, whereas Reliance Infocomm and Airtel have coverage only in urban areas. The national All India Radio is the only radio station in the state.

People and Lifestyle

Today the majority of Sikkim's residents are of Nepali ethnic-national 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 mostly in the northern and eastern reaches of the state. Immigrant resident communities not native to the state include the Marwaris, who own most of the shops in South Sikkim and Gangtok, the Biharis, most of whom are employed in blue collar jobs, and the Bengalis. Hinduism and Buddhism are the religions professed by most Sikkimese. The state has never had inter-religious strife. Mosques in downtown Gangtok and Mangan also serve the minuscule Muslim population. Sikkim residents celebrate all major Indian festivals such as Diwali and Dussera, the popular Hindu festivals. 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. Christmas has also recently been promoted in Gangtok to attract tourists during the off-season. It is common to hear Western rock music being played in homes and in restaurants even in the countryside. Hindi songs have gained wide acceptance among the masses. Indigenous Nepali rock, music suffused with a Western rock beat and Nepali lyrics, is also particularly popular. Football (soccer) 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, beef or pork and served with a soup is a popular snack. The mountainous peoples have a diet rich in beef, pork and other meats. 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.

Mountain

Sikkim has a very rugged topography and the flat lands are difficult to come by. The towering mountains that define this paradise of the nature also create a barrier to efficient agriculture. The two mountain ranges are Singalila on the western boarder and Chola on the eastern boarder

The Singalila Range

This is an enormous spur of the Great Himalayas. The crowning glory of this range is the 8596 m elevated summit, of Mount Khangchendzonga. This peak - the third highest in the world, is a difficult mountain to climb, because of unpredictable weather and winds. The Sikkimese believe that it is not meant to be climbed, but only worshipped, as it is the abode of five treasures of the snows. In deference to local sentiments, no expedition has set foot on the summit- but remained a few meters below. For those of us who cannot attempt the climb, the 5000 m high viewpoint at Goechela (the Lock Pass) offers a superb alternative. A depression, between Mount Pandim, and a spur of the Kabru Peak form the pass. It looks down into the Talung Valley, with the mighty Talung Glacier, winding its way down below. One is surrounded by great white peaks - Khangchendzonga (8596 m), Simvo (6811 m), Siniolchu (6888 m), Pandim (6691 m), Kabru (7338 m) and Rathang (6087 m). The awe inspiring sight, instills a feeling of standing in the very lap of Khangchendzonga, and gazing up at its face.

Glaciers

Glaciers are moving mountains of ice. Important Glaciers of Sikkim are:

  • Zemu Glacier

  • Rathong Glacier

  • Lonak Glacier

Zemu Glacier

The Zemu glacier is the largest and the most famous glacier of the eastern Himalayas. It is 26 km in length and is situated in a large U-shaped valley at the base of the Khangchendzonga massif in northwestern Sikkim. The Teesta River rises from the snout of this glacier. Many tributary glaciers feed the trunk glacier. The side valleys in which these glaciers lie open into the main Zemu Valley from different directions. Icefalls and waterfalls have formed at the junction of the tributary glaciers with the Zemu glacier.

Hot Springs

Sikkim has many hot springs known for their medicinal value. The most important are the ones located at Reshi, Yumthang and Ralang. These springs are considered holy as one of the four holy caves is located here. This holy cave is called the Kadosangphu or 'cave of the occult fairies' and lies on the south of the four cardinal points.

Yumthang Hot Spring

At an altitude of 12,000 ft, 135 km from Gangtok in North Sikkim, a few hundred metres off the road, after crossing river Lachung over a wooden bridge lies a small hut which houses a pool where sulphur water of hot spring is collected for taking a dip.

Phurchachu Reshi Hot Spring

Around 25 km from Gyalshing, near Reshi, after crossing the Rangit river by a pedestrian bridge, hardly ten minutes from the highway is Phurchachu springs with medicinal properties, ideal from skin disease.

 

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