The lovely state of Sikkim is a small hilly area in the Eastern Himalayas. It is spread across 114 Kms from north to south and approximately 64 Kms from east to west. This small yet beautiful state of Sikkim is spread below the world’s third highest mountain range of Kangchendzonga. Sikkim is bounded by the vast stretches of the Tibetan Plateau in the north. It is surrounded by the Singalila range from Nepal in the west, bordered by the Chumbi valley of Tibet and kingdom of Bhutan in the east and Darjeeling in the south.
The climate of Sikkim is moderate and humid. The state experiences rainfall in almost every month. Due to the proximity of Bay of Bengal the frequency of rainfall is extremely high. The rain showers on the land every now and then. The climate is roughly divided into three categories viz. the tropical, temperate and alpine zones. The climate is cold and humid throughout the year with rainfall occurring in almost every month. The area experiences heavy rainfall. The north region experiences relatively less rainfall than other districts of the region. Pre monsoon rains are seen in the months of April and May while monsoon season arrives in the month of May and continues up to October.
The temperature of the hilly state of Sikkim is cold throughout the year. Winter is very cool with the temperature as low as 1.5 degree C. The maximum temperature is recorded in the months of July and August and the minimum temperature is recorded during December and January. Temperature in Sikkim varies with altitude and slope. The mean temperature in the lower altitudinal zones varies from 1.5 degree C to 9.5 degree C. Snowfall is seen in the wintertime. During this period fog is also a common feature. The temperature varies from 21 to 13 degree Celsius in summer and 13 degree to 5 degree Celsius in winter. Light woolen cloths in summer and heavy woolen cloths in winter are required..
Although Buddhism appears to be the predominant religion in Sikkim, the real side of religion in the state is Hinduism. Buddhism is followed by mostly the Tibetans and Bhutias. Hinduism is followed by the Nepalese. Other religions too flourish because of the tolerant mindset of the Sikkimese like Christianity, Sikhism and Muslim.
The official languages of Sikkim are English, Bhutia, Nepali, Lepcha, and Limbu and Hindi. It must be noted though that almost all written transactions are in English.
The people of Sikkim are firm believers of God and religion. The people who have lived in Sikkim for a considerable amount of time can clearly tell that life in Sikkim is in itself a festival. Life in Sikkim is an ongoing festival. The people of Sikkim are lovers of fun and they do not miss a single chance of amusement. In Sikkim everything that people do is governed by the customs of the religion. The major festivals of Sikkim are:
- Saga Dawa
- Rumtek Chams
- Drukpa Tseshi
- Pang Lhabsol
- Enchey Chaam
- Dasain - Dipavali
- Enchey Gompa - Set amidst a forested patch, the Enchey Gompa comes alive with religious festivals and dances in the month of August and January. Needless to say, this is the best time to visit the monastery. Otherwise too, this Chinese Pagoda styled edifice, built in 1901 during the reign of Sidkeong Tulku, is quite fascinating. It’s about a kilometre-long walk uphill from the White Hall (the residence of the chief minister), and follows the Nyingmpa Order. It is believed that over 200 years ago, Lama Druptob Karpo had built a small hermitage at this very spot.
- Namgyal Research Institute of Tibetology - The world-renowned Namgyal Research Institute of Tibetology, is built in the typical Tibetan style of architecture; roosted on a hilltop, it is an absolute must see. Situated amongst woods of magnolia and oak, the institute promotes research on the largest collections of books and manuscripts on Mahayana Buddhism in the world. There are about 30 thousand volumes and translations of the original teachings of Buddha, and various other treatises of other venerable Buddhist scholars from around the world.
- Government Institute of Cottage Industries - The Government Institute of Cottage Industries is another interesting place to visit. Located uphill from the main market, the institute was established in 1957, with the aim of promoting local handicrafts. The outlet at the institute is a good place to pick up handicrafts like tangkhas, woollen carpets, dolls and masks amongst other things.
- Palace of The Chogyal - If you happen to be in Gangtok during the last week of December, do not miss going to the Palace of the Chogyal (Monarch), as it is open to public only during the week of the Pang Lhabsol festival. The festival is celebrated only in Sikkim and commemorates the consecration of Mount Kanchendzonga as the guardian deity of the region. The Tsuklakhang or the Royal Chapel lies within the palace grounds, and is the place where royal marriages and coronation ceremonies took place. In its beautifully carved and painted wooden interiors, it houses an impressive collection of scriptures and images of the Buddha.
- Changu Lake - Cradled by pristine alpine forests, the Changu Lake is bordered with primula, poppies and other wildflowers and grasses, and a little temple of Shiva (Destroyer of the Universe according to Hindu mythology) dots one side of the placid waterbody. The lake formed by the melting snow of mountains, stands at an altitude of 12,400ft, and has an average depth of 50ft. There is a footpath that runs from the lake to a peaceful resting shed. It’s a great place to just lie down for a lazy while and take in the smells and sounds of Mother Nature.
- Menmecho Lake - Perched between the mountains below the Jelepla Pass, the Menmecho Lake lies 20km ahead of the Changu Lake. The lake is formed by the melting snow of mountains and is the source of the Rangpochu River. Well, if you haven’t had much luck with your hook ’n’ line at Changu, try again at Menmecho Lake as it is known for its trout and also has a fish-farm close by. But you might have to check with a local travel agent if the lake is open to tourists.
- Khecheopari Lake - The lake is again a perfect undisturbed mirror. 27km from Pelling, the Khecheopari Lake seems just straight out of this dream. The Lepchas attach a great deal of religious significance to the waterbody and believe that each leaf that drops in this wishing pool, is swept up by a bird. The Khecheopari Lake is popular with trekkers, and if you happen to be here at dusk, you might be lucky enough to see some locals offering prayers and floating leaf-lamps on the lake waters. Out of sheer respect for the sentiments of the locals, it is advisable neither to swim in the water nor litter the lake area.
- Kanchendzonga National Park - The Park covers an area of around 1400 sq.km. It is bound on the north by the Tent Peak and the ridge of Zemu glaciers, on the east by the ridge of Mt. Lamaongden, on the west by Mt. Kanchendzonga and in the south by Mt. Narsing and Mt. Pandim. Wildlife found in this Park are the snow leopard, Himalayan black bear, red panda, barking deer, blood pheasant, civet cats, black eagle etc.
- Kyongnosla Alpine Sanctuary - Adjoining the Tsomgo Lake and covering an area of 4 sq km, wildlife found in this sanctuary are the red panda, blood pheasant etc.
- Shingbha Rhododendron Sanctuary - Famous for its variety of rhododendrons.
- Meanam Wildlife Sanctuary - Located above Ravangla town and covering an area of 35 sq km, this sanctuary has its highest point in Meanam at 10,600 ft. Animals and birds found in this sanctuary are the red panda, leopard cat, civet this 33 hectares wildlife sanctuary is located near Yumthang. Wildlife found in this sanctuary - the blood pheasant, partridge, tiger, civet cats etc.
- Varsey Rhododendron Sanctuary - This rhododendron sanctuary has been recently established and lies in the west corner of Sikkim.
- Fambong Lho Wildlife Sanctuary - With an area of 51.76 sq. km and lying above the road between Singtam and Dikhu, this sanctuary is 25 km from Gangtok. The sanctuary is rich in wild orchids, rhododendrons etc. and is home to the Himalayan black bear, red panda, civet cat and many varieties of birds and butterflies.
Sikkim is endowed with a rich species of flowering plant, including 600 species of orchids. There are magnificent magnolias in the temperate regions and over 40 varieties of rhododendrons in the higher regions. The red panda, the Himalayan black bear, several species of deer, leopard cat, flying squirrels, the blue sheep, the Tibetan wild ass, the bearded vulture and around 600 species of butterflies are found in Sikkim.