Sikkim

Sikkim

Sikkim is a land of dramatic contours. Rugged mountains, deep valleys and dense forests consort with raging rivers, lakes and waterfalls to create a visual feast. The state has the steepest rise in altitude over the shortest distance and has within its 7,096 sq. kms the entire climatic range, from tropical to temperate to alpine.

The mountain chains which run southwards from the main Himalayan range form the natural boundaries of Sikkim; the Chola range dividing it from Tibet in the Northeast and Bhutan in the Southeast, the Singalila range separating it from Nepal in the West with the Greater Himalayan range forming the barrier between Sikkim and Tibet in the North.

Located between these towering mountain ranges are passes like Nathu-la, Jelep-la, Cho-la and many others which were at one time important corridors of passage between Sikkim and Tibet.

Floating high over the cloud-covered lower Himalaya, Mt. Khangchendzonga dominates the landscape of Sikkim. At 28, 208 ft is the third highest mountain in the world and the highest in India.

Sikkim has two main rivers, the Teesta and the Rangeet, both of which are formed at high altitudes and flow in a generally southern direction till they converge at the confluence near Melli. The source of the Teesta is the pristine Cho Lhamu Lake in North Sikkim. From here the river travels downwards to meet Zemu Chu just above Lachen village and the Lhachung Chu at Chungthang. At Mangan, the river is joined by the Talung Chu as it continues its journey down, finally widening at Singtam to become double its width. Further down at Melli, the Teesta merges with the river Rangeet which is born of the Rathong glacier in West Sikkim before entering the plains of North Bengal and eventually joining Brahmaputra in Bangladesh.

Flora:

The glory of Sikkim is its breathtaking array of flowers. Sikkims geographical positioning has gifted it a repository of over 5000 species of flowering plants. Forests of magnolia, blue poppies, primulas, gentians and geraniums create a spell-binding floral spectacle. Orchids, gladioli, poppies, azaleas and camellias add to the heady collection. Its great variety of rhododendron ranges from shrubs at ground level to towering specimens that set the terrain ablaze in a riot of colours.

The first study of the flora of Sikkim was undertaken by Sir Joseph Hooker, the noted English botanist. Hooker traveled to the interiors of Sikkim, including remote mountain regions in 1848-49. His expedition resulted in amazing new discovery of numerous plant and animal life in the area. He published the Rhododendrons of Sikkim in 1849 while his record of his travels in Sikkim published as Himalayan Journals is the most comprehensive guide to the botanical splendour of the region.

Hooker divided Sikkim into three botanical zones, the tropical from almost sea level height to around 5000 ft, the temperate from 5000 feet to 13000 feet, and the alpine from 13000 feet upwards.

The tropical vegetation, mostly along the banks and valleys of the rivers Tista, Rangit and their tributaries, consists mostly of figs, laurels, sal trees, ferns and a variety of bamboo. The temperate zone has oak, chestnut, maple, birch, alder, magnolia and silver fir, at the higher regions, while the lower alpine zone has juniper, cypresses and rhododendrons.

Sikkim has a rich heritage of different kinds of flowers. While these include poppies, gentians and primulas, the real treasures are the orchids and rhododendrons. Available in different colours and shapes they are found abundant in the region. Of the 5000 species of orchids known in the world, 600 can be found in the lower reaches of Sikkim alone, along with 30 species of rhododendron.

Orchids:

Orchids are found in Sikkim, mostly in the tropical regions up to 7000 feet elevations but some species inhabit altitudes of 10000 feet and above. Sikkims orchids belong to two categories: epiphyte and terrestial; the epiphytes are better known and more numerous. The popular epiphytal orchids in Sikkim belong to the genus Dendrobium, Cymbidium, Vanda, Phalaenopsis, Caelogyne, Arachnanthe or Saccolabium. Of these the Dendrobium Nobile has been adopted by the state as its official flower.

Rhododendrons:

Found in super abundance and in a riot of colours, the rhododendron is in its full glory in Sikkim. Growing mostly in sub-alpine and alpine regions they cover complete hillsides in a blaze of beauty. The route to Dzongri, the Singalila trail and the Yumthang valley in North Sikkim are covered with rhododendron shrubs and trees. Around 30 species of rhododendron are found in Sikkim in different sizes and shapes. While the Rhododendron grande is over 10 m tall, the Rhododendron nivale grows barely a few inches above the ground. Rhododendron niveum has been declared as the State Tree of Sikkim.

Fauna:

The dense forests of Sikkim are home to a variety of animals. The Musk Deer, the munjak or the Barking Deer roam the jungles in the upper temperate zone while the Himalayan Black Bear is found in forests of the lower valleys to around 12,000 feet.

Also found here is the Red Panda, belonging to the raccoon family, the Red Goral, a horned animal closely related to the Serow, the Blue Sheep or bharal, the Shapi, belonging to the Himalayan Tahr family and the elusive Snow Leopard, an almost mythical animal, found in the arid cold alpine region. Another animal found mostly in the alpine zone is the Yak. These animals are domesticated and reared in North Sikkim and provide useful service. They are used mainly as beasts of burden over mountain terrain and can survive even sub-zero temperatures.

Sikkim is rich in avifauna too and is considered to be a birdwatchers paradise. Its avian population extends to almost 550 species. The avifauna of Sikkim is comprised of the Impeyan pheasant, the crimson horned pheasant, the snow partridge, the snow cock, the lammergeyer and griffon vultures, as well as golden eagles, quail, plovers, woodcock, sandpipers, pigeons, Old World flycatchers, babblers and robins.

Sikkim also has a rich diversity of arthropods, much of which remains unexplored even today. The best studied group remains the butterflies, with 50 per cent of the 1,400 butterfly species recorded in the Indian sub-continent found in the state. These include the endangered Kaiser-i-hind, Yellow Gorgon and the Bhutan Glory amongst others.

Blood Pheasant:

The Blood Pheasant is the state bird of Sikkim. The only species in genus Ithaginis of the Pheasant family, it has 15 different subspecies. It is so named because the males have vivid red coloring on the feathers of the breast, throat and forehead. Females are more uniformly colored with duller shades of reddish brown. Both males and females have a distinct ring of bare skin around the eye that is crimson colored, in addition to red feet. Subspecies are determined by varying amounts of red and black feathers. The habitat most preferred by Blood Pheasants is coniferous or mixed forests and scrub areas right at the snowline. The pheasants move their range depending on the seasons and during the summer is found at higher elevations. Populations move to lower elevations as the snow increases in the fall and winter.

Red Panda:

The State Animal of Sikkim is the Red Panda. This species belongs to the raccoon family and lives mostly on tree tops. It is found in altitudes ranging from 6000 to 12000 feet. The red panda is bright chestnut in colour, has a triangular face with a dark stripe covering the cheeks to the chin, sharp pointed ears and a bushy ringed tail. It is never more than 2 feet in length and usually moves around in families.

Red Pandas are excellent climbers and forage largely in trees. It is specialized as a bamboo feeder with strong, curved and sharp semi-retractile claws standing inward for firm grasping to facilitate substantial movement on narrow tree branches and seizing leaves and fruit. The Red Panda does little more than eat and sleep due to its low-calorie diet. Bamboo shoots are more easily digested than leaves and exhibited the highest digestibility in the summer and autumn, intermediate in the spring, and low in the winter.

East Sikkim

Aritar:

Located in east Sikkim, Aritar is steeped in history and natural beauty. A breathtaking view of Khangchendzonga only adds to the many natural riches that Aritar is blessed with. Lush green forests, sweeping hills of paddy fields and placid lakes hidden inside deep forests makes it a perfect destination for those in search of nature trails and a serene holiday.

he Lampokari Lake surrounded by lush greenery is considered one of the oldest in Sikkim. This lake has been recently provided with artificial embankment to facilitate boating, a first for Sikkim. A short trek leads you to Mankhim Dara, where a temple dedicated to the ethnic Rai community is located. Mankhim offers a 360 degree view of the surrounding areas. The Aritar Gumpa is one of the oldest monasteries in Sikkim belonging to the Karma Kagyu lineage order of Tibetan Buddhism.

Aritar hosts the Lampokhari Tourism Festival is during end of March and early April. There is leisurely boating in the Lampokhari Lake, horse riding around the Lake, traditional archery competition and short treks to nearby hilltops and viewpoints. For the more adventurous, there is rock climbing and paragliding, which is guaranteed to keep your adrenaline rushing. The festival offers visitors traditional cultural shows, flower exhibition and local ethnic cuisine to tickle your taste buds.

Gangtok:

Wreathed in clouds, Gangtok, the capital city of Sikkim is located on a ridge at a height of 5500 metres. With a spectacular view of the Khangchendzonga, the town provides the perfect base for travel through the state. Once an important transit point for traders traveling between Tibet and India, it is today a busy administrative and business centre and presents an interesting mix of cultures and communities.

Gangtok is a cosmopolitan town which offers the tourist all possible amenities. Hotels are available in a range of prices along with a variety of eateries serving cuisine for all tastes. Shopping complexes, cyber cafes, night clubs and pool parlours abound for those so inclined.

MG Marg, the main street of Gangtok town is a great place to chill out. The countrys first litter and spit free zone, no vehicular traffic is allowed into the marg. You can sit at the Titanic Park or at the various benches stretched across the mall and take in the carnival like atmosphere, especially during the tourist season. The Mall is lined with shops on both sides of the road so shopping becomes an added pleasure.

MG Marg is also the venue for the annual Gangtok Food and Culture festival held in December each year when Sikkims multi-cultural cuisine, along with music and dance performances are showcased. This event attracts a large number of locals and tourists each year.

For a birds eye view of Gangtok take a ride on the bi-cable Zig-back ropeway. The one kilometre ride from Deorali to Tashiling Secretariat costs Rs. 30 one way and is completed in 7 minutes. Each cabin has the capacity to ferry 25 people at a time. The ropeway has been fitted with fully computerized modern safety mechanism of international standards. On clear weather the ride offers a great view of the Khangchendzonga range apart from an overview of Gangtok town and the valley below. After you get off at Tashiling Secretariat you can walk to the Ridge Park and soak in the beautiful surroundings as well as visit the ongoing Flower Festival held just below the park.

For a view of Gangtok and all its surrounding, one can got to Ganest Tok situated on a ridge at a distance of 7 kms from Gangtok. From this Spot one can get a view of sprawling Gangtok town, while across the hills Mt. Khang-chen-Dzonga and Mt. Siniolchu loom over the horizon. A cafeteria serves hot tea, coffee and snacks. The view from here is truly breathtaking with snow peaks providing the perfect backdrop for a panoramic view of Gangtok town. Hanuman Tok, a temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman, is situated at an altitude of 7200 feet at a distance of about nine kilometres uphill from Gangtok on a blissfully calm and quiet hilltop. The location is completely free from the pollution of city life. Apart from the clear view of the peaks surrounding Mount Khangchendzonga, some portions of Gangtok town, one also gets a bird's eye view of the Selep water works, which supplies drinking water to Gangtok. Adjacent to this area is Lukshyama, the royal cremation ground having stupas and chortens. Here the mortal remains of the erst-while royal family members of Sikkim are cremated.

Namgyal Research Institute of Tibetology is the most prestigious research institute of its kind in the world, NIT is a treasure of vast collection of rare Lepcha, Tibetan and Sanskrit manuscripts, statues and rare Thankas (colourful tapestries used in Buddhist liturgy). Apart from an attractive museum, it has over 200 Buddhist icons and other prized objects of art. As far as its collections are concerned, it is only next to an institute in Tibet. Today it is renowned world wide centre for study of Buddhist philosophy and religion. The institute was established in 1958 to promote serious study and research on Buddhism.

Rumtek:

Situated around 23 kms from Gangtok, in the hill facing Gangtok is Rumtek, a quiet getaway and home to the Rumtek Monastery, seat of His Holiness, The Gyalwa Karmapa of the Kargyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism.

The drive to Rumtek snakes through typical Sikkimese villages and many paddy fields. The paddy fields resemble a green carpet from July to September and later in October-November, the entire place is a sight to behold with golden paddy swaying in the breeze.

The lush green hilly terrain, a breathtaking topography and misty mountains makes Rumtek an ideal place for some quiet time. Rumtek offer a host of sightseeing opportunities. These include local sightseeing within Rumtek, one day tours to places around Rumtek, monastery tours and adventurous exploits such as white water rafting and trekking.

The main attraction, however, is the Rumtek Monastery, seat of His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa of the Kargyu sect of Buddhism. The largest monastery in Sikkim it demonstrates the best of Tibetan architecture and is an almost replica of the original monastery in Tsurpu inTibet. The monastery houses some of the rarest Buddhist religious art objects found in the world and is also a world renowned centre for Kargyu teachings.

ust ahead of the Rumtek Monastery is the Nehru Botanical Garden which has a mix of tropical and temperate plants and trees as well as a big greenhouse of exotic orchids. It’s a good place to stop for a while. For children there is a small playground with swings and a see-saw and a winding footpath is ideal for a stroll. Rumtek offers many stay options. You can stay at the many lodges near the monastery or at the beautiful tourist resorts, which offer modern amenities in typical rural settings.

Tsmogo Lake:

38 km from Gangtok and at an altitude of 12,400 ft, the ethereally beautiful Tsomgo lake is a must on every visitors itinerary. A winding road through rugged mountain terrain and sharp cliffs takes you to Tsomgo, which means source of the water in Bhutia language. The lake derives its water from the melting snows of the mountains surrounding the lake. Of legendary beauty, the lake looks different at different seasons. In winter the placid lake remains frozen with the area around it covered in snow while in late spring the profusion of flowers in bloom adds a riot of colours around the lake. The lake is associated with many myths and legends and is revered by the Sikkimese as sacred. It is believed that in olden times, Buddhist monks would study the colour of the water of the lake to forecast the future.

The lake is also of special significance for the Jhakris [faith healers] of Sikkim who congregate here annually on Guru Purnima, which coincides with the festival of Raksha Bandhan, from all over the state to offer prayers.

For the tourist a visit to the lake offers a wonderful outing. Rides on colourfully decorated yaks and mules are offered at the lake site, which also has a variety of eating stalls serving snacks and beverages. Snowboots and gumboots can be hired here.

Tsomgo lake is open for both Indian and foreign nationals, however foreign visitors have to be in a group of two or more and have to apply for a visitors permit through a registered travel agency.

Nathula:

Nathula Pass was a major corridor of passage between India and Tibet before it was closed in 1962. Located around 56 kms from Gangtok at an altitude of 14450 ft, the road to Nathula passes through the Tsomgo lake. It is one of the highest motorable roads in the world and is richly surrounded by alpine flora. On a clear day you can even see the road winding down the Chumbi valley. Tourists are allowed to go close to the international border from where you can see Chinese soldiers on the other side of the barbed wire.

Nathula is open for Indian nationals on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturday and Sundays. The visitors have to get the permit to visit the place by applying to the Tourism and Civil Aviation Department through a registered and recognised Travel Agency. Foreign nationals are not allowed to visit Nathula. Photography is strictly prohibited. One can find ATM facility here which is the worlds highest Automated Teller Machine (ATM).

West Sikkim

Soreng:

four hour drive from Pelling in west Sikkim takes you to the picturesque village of Soreng. Surrounded by lush green hills, Soreng is located amidst scenic splendour. The area is famous for the wide variety of flowers and birds available here. A trip to Jhandi Danra is highly recommended for nature lovers.

Soreng is one of the three gateways to the Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary. Sandwiched between the Singalila National Park in the south and Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve in the north, this small 104-sq-km sanctuary is at an altitude of 10,000 ft and supports a wide variety of bio-diversity. But the main attraction of the sanctuary is the rhododendron which blooms in April-May.

A base camp for adventure tourism is being set up at Soreng along with many other tourist amenities. A trekking route from Soreng to Dzongri via Rathong glacier is being opened for international trekkers and mountaineers. Reasonably priced hotels and lodges are available for accommodation.

Versey:

Near Hilley, in West Sikkim is the Varsey Rhododendron Sanctuary. Sandwiched between the Singalila National Park in the south and Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve in the north, this small 104-sq-km sanctuary is at an altitude of 10,000 ft and supports a wide variety of bio-diversity. But the main attractions of the sanctuary are the rhododendrons which bloom in April-May coloring the Sanctuary in wild abandon.

Hilley is the last motorable point before Varsey. A four-km walk through beautiful pine forests takes you to the Sanctuary. You can stay at the Gurash Kunj Lodge here.

Dentam:

Dentam is a scenic village located 10 km from Varsey in West Sikkim District. It lies at an elevation of around 1,500 m. Dentam commands a constant view of the Kanchenjunga. The entire area is surrounded by forest of rhododendrons. Pemayangtse Monastery (10 km), Ravangla (69 km) and Hilley are nearby interesting destinations to visit. The village is an ideal spot for bird watchers and nature lovers. Trekking and mountaineering are arranged here. Accommodation is available at Pelling and Pemayangtse.

Sombaria:

Situated at an altitude of 3,700 feet, Sombaria, a small village is full of vegetation of temperate type and is located remotely in the extreme Western Sikkim. Sombaria is close to the Indo-Nepal border and border region of Darjeeling Hills. At a distance of 115 km away from Siliguri and 112 km from the capital city of Sikkim, Gangtok, it is an ideal place for Bird Watching.

Altitudinal variation provides birds species an ample environment to feed and migrate to different places within a short span of time. Both migrants and resident birds of different species are found abundantly here. Camping in Sombaria allows one to move birding around nearby places, such as Tikpur 8kms away, Ribdi 15 km, and upper Rumbuk 7 km.

It is the last major town on the trek route of Barsey. Rangit River flows close by. The entire area is surrounded by rhododendron. It commands panoramic views of green hills all around. Dentam (58 km), Jorethang (35 km), Pemayangtse and Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary are nearby places of interest. Trekking and mountaineering are arranged here. Accommodation is available at forest guest houses, hotels and lodges.

Gyalshing:

The headquarters of the West district, Gyalshing, which means the King’s Garden, is believed to have once been the royal gardens attached to the Palace at Rabdentse, Sikkim’s capital till the late 18th century. Today it is a bustling town and the main transit point to various tourist destinations of the region. Close by is Rabdentse as well as Pemayangste, Sikkim’s premier monastery. Opposite Gyalshing bazaar is the longest and believed to be the holiest, Mendang or Holy Wall, constructed by the third king, Chogyal Chador Namgyal.

About 10kms away from Pelling or a town before one arrives to Pelling is Gyalshing also known as Gyalshing Bazar, one of the oldest market established approximately about 100 years ago. This establishment was said to have been done under the initiative of the monk body of Pemayangtyse monastery for the shopping comfort of the monks and public residing in the villages around Pemayangtse. Ever since Gyalshing market was established and first few shops were opened monks could do their monastic shopping and villagers could sell their village products like crops, dairy products, vegetables in the market and buy clothing and other house hold needs. Such trends sustains till today and as usual villagers gather every Sunday to do shopping or sell their products in Gyalshing Bazar. Today the market is well equipped with shops of all kind, multipurpose community hall, library, post office, banks, police stations, eating places, lodges, internet centers, taxi terminus and foot ball ground. There is worshipping places for the people of all faith ‘Manilhagang’ where the meditation session for mostly the Buddhist women organized every year during the holy occasion called Saga Dawa that falls in the month of June and Devithan for the Hindus, church and Masjid.

Legship:

Often called the Gateway to West Sikkim, Legship is slowly gaining in popularity. On the left banks of the river Rangit is a Shiva temple known as the Kirateshwar Mahadev Mandir, which has many mythological episodes of the Mahabharata attached to it. The main festival of the temple, Bala Chaturdesi is observed in December each year. Other temples dedicated to Lord Rama and Durga are also found here making it an important pilgrimage destination for Hindus. There is a Dharamshala next to the Shiva temple.

4 kms from here, close to Reshi is the very popular Phur Cha-chu sulphur baths. This hot water spring is well known for its medicinal properties. Close by is Kah-do Sang phu or ‘the cave of the occult fairies’ considered sacred by the people. Rangit Water World, a lake formed by the Rangit dam offers swimming, angling and river rafting facilities.

Tashiding:

ashiding is a small village on a hilltop near Pelling. The Tashiding monastery belongs to the Nyingmapa order and is highly revered among the people of Sikkim. Build on the top of the hill and looming over the Rathong and Rangit river, the monastery can be seen from far and wide.

It is believed that even a slight glimpse of the monastery can cleanse mortals of all sins. The monastery was built during the 17th Century. There are a large number of oranges orchards and cardamoms plantations around Tashiding which can be visited from here.

Inside the monastery, a pot of holy water is kept sealed only to be revealed and its droplets given to devotees once every year at the Bumchu Festival during the 14th and 15th day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar.

Tashiding is accessible from Yuksom (16 km) and Geyzing (about 40 km). Daily, one bus operates from Geyzing to Tashiding.

Uttarey:

Situated in the west district of Sikkim, you can reach Uttarey from Pelling, Gezing or Dentum. On your way you will pass Singsor bridge, said to be the second highest bridge in Asia. The height of Uttarey is about 6600ft.

Uttarey is famous for its tranquility and natural beauty. The place provides beautiful view to the Himalayan mountains and is yet relatively less traveled by tourists. This allows a more serene atmosphere to be enjoyed. During winter the mountains around here are covered with snow allowing heavenly views.

The Kagju Gumpha (Gumpha is the local for monastery) in Uttarey is a highly revered place of worship for the locals and a good place for sight seeing. The monastery is set amidst dense forests. The wall paintings in the monastery might be of interest to you. The Dentam peak and the river is also visible from the monastery.

Other important tourist spots around Uttare include the Mainbus Waterfall and the Chewyabhang Pass. This pass is about 10 km of Uttarey and is the gateway to Nepal.

Rinchenpong:

The upcoming tourist spot in the western part of Sikkim, has a magnificent command over the mountain views, sunrise and sunset, flora and fauna, village tourism ,historical sites and heritage of Resum Monastery, rich forests and ample area for short treks.

At an altitude of about 5576ft, Rinchenpong is the latest addition to the tourist map of West Sikkim. The place is famous for the beautiful view of the Kanchenjunga range of mountains. Apart from the natural beauty of the surroundings, the place is also quite significant from historical point of view.

Yuksam:

33 kms from Pelling, Yuksom, literally meaning the ‘meeting place of three lamas’ is of great historical importance to the Sikkimese. It was here that the first Chogyal was crowned in 1642. The throne made of stones is even today considered sacred as is the footprint of Lhatsun Chenpo, which can be seen close to the throne. 2 km uphill from Yuksum is Dubdi monastery, the oldest in Sikkim. The monastery has now been declared a National Monument and is under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India Yuksum today is an attractive tourist destination offering various stay options for the visitors including village home stays, where you can stay as part of a local family and imbibe the real Sikkimese way of life. Also available is a trekkers hut plus many lodges.

Yuksom is also the gateway to the Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve, the base for some of the most fascinating treks through high mountain region with the route to Dzongri being the most frequented.

Pelling:

Around 10 kms from Gyalshing (District Headquarter), Pelling is today emerging as the second biggest tourist destination in the state after Gangtok. Although in itself it is little more than a strip of road lined with hotels, its main USP is the breathtaking view it offers of the Khangchendzonga and surrounding ranges, as well as the easy access it provides to tourist spots in the area.

Pemayangste monastery is less than a kilometre from Pelling, while a 40 minute walk on the hill opposite the monastery takes you to Sanga Choling monastery built in 1697, one of the first in the state. Pelling’s serene environment and picturesque setting is perfect for nice nature walks and small treks. A destination for all seasons, Pelling has hotels and resorts catering to all budgets.

Named after the guardian deity of Sikkim, Khangchendzonga Festival is held at Pelling every year. It offers a host of fun activities like white-water rafting on the Rangit, kayaking, promotional trekking, mountain biking, sightseeing, traditional sports and bird- watching.

The festival also includes Flower exhibitions, traditional crafts and ethnic food and costume stalls. Cultural folk dances and music add colour and sound to the festivities. The festival is aimed at balancing all diverse aspects of the area to produce a holistic package showcasing its potential for tourism.

Khecheopalri Lake:

Situated at a distance of 25 kms. from Pelling, it is considered to be one of the sacred lakes of the State both by the Buddhist and the Hindus. The Lake remains hidden under the rich forest cover. The birds do not permit even a single leaf to float on the lake surface.

There is motorable road from Pemayangtse right up to the lake area. For those interested in spending a night or two in the peaceful environment, a trekker's hut is available. There is also a Pilgrim Hut.

Pemeyangtse:

It is one of the oldest monasteries of the State. It was originally established by Lhatsun Chempo, one of the revered Lamas to have performed the consecration ceremony of the first Chogyal (Monarch) of Sikkim. This ancient monastery belonging to the Nyingma Sect has been considered as one of the premier monasteries in the State. It has been entrusted with the task to perform all religious functions of the erstwhile monarch.

Originally, it was established as a high class monastery for "Pure Monks (Ta-Sang). Inside the monastery there is a wooden structure depicting the Maha Guru's heavenly palace (Sang-tok-palri), which is considered a masterpiece created by Dungzin Rimpoche. The Monastery, located on a hill top at an altitude of 6300 ft. commands a magnificent panoramic view of the Himalayan ranges, the surrounding hills and the countryside. A well furnished PWD Guest House is located just across the Monastery on a small hill top.

Hee Bermiok:

Journey to Hee Bermiok takes about four and a half hours from Gangtok. One can also reach here from Pelling, the journey taking one and a half hours. The main attractions are mountain biking, nature walk, visit to villages, Sirijonga Yuma Mangheem, Sirijonga Holy Cave at Martam etc. The adventure lovers can enjoy two and a half hour trek to Varsey. Apart from having an annual tourist festival, village home stay facilities are available. These are being further developed and upgraded with the help of INTACH, New Delhi.

South Sikkim

Namchi:

78 kms from Gangtok, Namchi, literally translating as ‘top of the sky’ is the South district headquarters and fast emerging as a tourist destination. Set in a picturesque location, Namchi offers an unmatched view of the Khangchendzonga range and the Rangit valley. Here you can visit the Sherdup Choeling Monastery and the Dichen Choeling monastery. Around two kms from Namchi is the old Ngadak monastery which is now being renovated. Situated on a hill just above Ngadak monastery is the very attractive Rock Garden, which is full of rare flowers and plants and also offers breathtakingly beautiful views.

Namchi hosts the very popular Namchi Mahotsav, a Tourism, Culture and Food Festival, every year in October. A flower festival is also held annually.

The 135 feet high statue of Guru Padamasambhava is present at Samdruptse near Namchi at a distance of 75 kms from Gangtok. Samdruptse literally means 'wish fulfilling hill' in the Bhutia language. A unique, awe inspiring and gigangtic 135 feet high statue of Guru Padamasambhava is installed atop Sampruptse. It is the highest statue of Guru Padamasambhava in the world. His Holiness the Dalai Lama laid the foundation stone of the statue in October 1997. It took nearly three years to complete the statue.

There is also the Namchi Rock Garden located between Namchi town and Samdruptse. This popular garden has many attractive plants, flowers and species of trees. A number of waiting sheds, view points and waterbodies along its footpaths have been provided. A neat and clean cafeteria serves the tourists and visitors well.

Ravangla:

Ravangla is one of the most popular tourist destinations in South Sikkim. At an altitude of 7000 ft, located on a ridge between Maenam and Tendong Hill, Ravangla offers unmatched views of the Greater Himalayas. The beauty of its landscape and its location as a transit point to nearby destinations has made Ravangla a must-visit place. Ravangla stages the Pang Lhabsol festival in a grand manner every year around August-September. The festivities last for three days, culminating in the traditional dances known as ‘Chaam’ on the last day.

8 kms on way to Damthang is the Rayong sunrise view point that offers spectacular views of the first rays of the sun falling on snow peaks. Visit the Ralong monastery as well as the Tibetan Carpet Centre. The traditionally designed and woven carpets available here are said to be the best you can buy anywhere.

In April Ravangla stages its own Tourism, Culture and Crafts Festival.

Jorethang:

Situated at an altitude of 300 m above sea level with a pleasant temperate climate is Jorethang, a major town in south Sikkim. It lies sprawled upon the foothills below which flows the Rangeet River, with the hills of Darjeeling looming large in the south on the opposite side of the river.

Jorethang lies on the way to Pelling and is well connected by buses and jeeps. River rafting, trekking and sightseeing trips to nearby destinations are some of the attractions available here.

In January, each year, the biggest and most awaited date in Jorethang’s calendar is the Jorethang Maghe Mela. It is a major event, attracting hordes of locals and tourists. The mela is said to have evolved from the agricultural fair that was held in Jorethang for the first time in 1955. Hundreds of stalls selling and exhibiting various products are put up for the huge number of people who visit the fair. It is a great mix of local cultural extravaganza as well as modern day entertainment.

Samdruptse:

Samdruptse literally means 'wish fulfilling hill' in the Bhutia language. Situated near Namchi in South Sikkim, it is at a distance of 75 kms from Gangtok. A unique, awe inspiring and gigangtic 135 feet high statue of Guru Padamasambhava is installed atop Sampruptse. It is the highest statue of Guru Padamasambhava in the world. His Holiness the Dalai Lama laid the foundation stone of the statue in October 1997. It took nearly three years to complete the statue.

Guru Padmasambhava also known as Guru Rimpoche had blessed Sikkim more than 1200 years ago. The statue is therefore a fitting tribute to this patron saint of Sikkim. The statue funded by the State Government was constructed and installed by His Eminence Dodrupchen Rimpoche and members of his Chorten trust. The installation was conceptualised by Shri Pawan Chamling, the Chief Minister of Sikkim and he remains the motivating and guiding force behind the entire project.

The ultimate plan is to make Samdruptse as an international pilgrimage centre on completion of meditation huts, ropeway library, guest house, public amenities, parking yard etc, around the towering statue. The message of love, compassion, peace and harmony is aimed to spread throughout the world from this historic hill.

Solophok Chardham:

This place is regarded as sacred as its meant for Hindu pilgrims where the pujas and ceremonies are performed. Very soon this place will be counted among one of the ideal point for tourist destination, since the place is coming out with a big statue of Lord Shiva as equally big of Guru Padmasambhava of Samdruptse Hill.

This place will definitely fascinated the tourist as these two magnificent statues would be facing each other on two top of the hills.

Budhha Park, Rabong:

2006 marked the 2550th birth anniversary of Lord Gautama Buddha. The state government in a policy decision had decided to observe the birth anniversary throughout the year in Sikkim. As a part of the celebrations, an initiative was taken by the people of Rabong to construct and install a statue of Lord Buddha at Rabong ,to commemorate the 2550th year, and also to develop the Buddhist Circuit in Sikkim. The state government has already kicked off the Buddhist circuit and this project would give the much required impetus to boost tourism and attract pilgrim tourists to the area.

North Sikkim

Mangan:

67 kilometres from Gangtok, this small town is the district headquarters of the spectacular North district. It is an attractive place with good views and is a transit point to other destinations of the region.

A three day music festival is held at Mangan in December every year. Bands from the region as well as from the other Northeast states entertain the huge gathering and compete for the main prize. Mountains, music and the cold weather create an enthralling event.

Other attractions include an exhibition cum sale of local handicrafts, a presentation of traditional cultural songs and dances and a food festival.

Chungthang:

A small town on way to Yumthang, it stands at the confluence of the rivers Lachen chu and Lachung chu. The North Sikkim highway bifurcates from here with one road leading to Lachen and the other to Lachung. Chungthang valley is considered to be a holy place which has been blessed by Guru Padmasambhava, the patron saint of Sikkim. There is a rock here which to this day bears the hand and footprints of Padmasambhava. From a small opening in the rock there is continuous flow of mineral water. There is a small patch of land here from which grows paddy every year. The nature defying miracle is believed to be the blessing of Guru Padmasambhava who sprinkled a handful of grain on the spot which has sprouted paddy ever since.

Chungthang is a good place to halt before one takes off for the more alpine regions of Lachen, Lachung and the Yumthang Valley. Chungthang is mired in myths and legends, one such being that this is the place from where the word ‘Demazong’ [the hidden valley of rice, as Sikkim is known] first originated.

Dzongu:

70 kms away from Gangtok in North Sikkim is Dzongu, an area reserved for the Lepchas, the original inhabitants of Sikkim. Bordering the Kanchendzonga Biosphere Reserve and at an elevation ranging between 3000ft and 20,000ft above sea level, Dzongu still retains an air of exclusivity. The Lepcha Communities in Dzongu live in relative isolation from the outside world with their own traditional practice and believe.

30 minutes ahead of Dzongu is the Seven Sisters waterfall, seven waterfalls falling down cliffs amidst dense forests, it is a sight to behold. Dzongu is surrounded with panoramic views of Mt. Khangchendzonga and is particularly rich in flora and fauna.

Dzongu offers a unique home-stay experience. You can stay with local families and experience the Lepcha lifestyle and cultural traditions amidst luxuriant landscape and spectacular mountain scenery. You can go for village hikes, visit the rich cardamom fields or check out the cane bamboo bridge at Passingdon. Go angling on the Teesta River or learn how the Lepchas use medicinal plants for healing. In the evening a special cultural programme can be arranged on demand.

Dzongu offers an authentic and alluring experience of Sikkim.

Lachung:

The picturesque mountain village of Lachung, at a height of 8610 ft, embraced by snow capped mountain peaks, breathtaking waterfalls, sparkling streams and apple orchards is the perfect holiday destination. Sprawled across the banks of the Lachung Chu [river] which slices the village in two, Lachung is famous for its apples, peaches and apricots. At Lachung you can visit the Lachung Gompa, built around 1880, the monastery is situated amidst apple orchards across the river from the town centre. Also go see the handicraft centre which has exquisitely woven rugs and blankets.

Accommodation is no problem in Lachung which has many hotels and lodges including a Dak Bungalow. But despite throwing its doors open to tourists Lachung still retains its distinctive culture and tradition, including the unique system of self governance called the Zumsa where all local disputes are settled by a totally representative body of the village which is headed by an elected Pipon.

You can also visit the Shingba Rhododendron sanctuary through which flows the Yumthang Chu. The sanctuary is known for its abundance of Rhododendron trees and shrubs. Lachung is perfect for an overnight halt before you visit the spectacular Yumthang valley.

Singhik:

A small and picturesque hamlet, Singhik is located around four kms away from Mangan. The popular Singhik View Point offers the most magnificent view of Mt. Khangchendzonga and Mt. Siniolchu . Surrounded by lush green hills, with the Teesta River flowing below it, Singhik is a great place to take a short break in before heading on to the other destinations of North Sikkim .

For those who want to linger, a tourist lodge is available close by for night halts. The area also has a number of interesting short nature trails for 1 to 3 days along the higher ridges of the surrounding hills.

Lachen:

At an altitude of 8500 ft Lachen is alluring in its simplicity. Not yet as big a tourist destination as Lachung, it retains a freshness which is very appealing. The village comprises of less than 200 houses, earlier inhabited only during winters by their owners who spend their summers on the alpine pastures bordering Tibet tending to their yaks. Lachen is the starting point for some of the most interesting treks in North Sikkim as well as the gateway to the holy Guru Dongmar and Tso Lhamu lakes.

You can visit the Lachen Gompa here and sample the simple village life of the ‘Lachenpas’.

The area is restricted for foreigners, but special passes can be procured in advance. A few lodges are available here for stay as well as Forest Department and a PWD Bungalows.

Phodong:

Around 38 kms from Gangtok are the monasteries of Phodong, Phensang and Labrang. All three are close to each other on the North Sikkim Highway.

Phodang Monastery was built in the 18th century by Chogyal Gyurmed Namgyal. It belongs to the Kargyupa sect. The original monastery has been rebuilt although the old mural paintings and frescoes were preserved. It celebrates its annual ‘chaam’ on the 28th and 29th day of the tenth month of the Tibetan calendar.

Phensang Monastery was built in 1721 by Lama Jigme Pawo, who was the third incarnation of Lhatsun Chenpo. In 1947 it was completely destroyed by a devastating fire but rebuilt again the following year. The annual ‘Chaam’ is held on the 28th and the 29th day of the tenth month of the Tibetan calendar.

Labrang Monastery is famous for its architectural style with rich frescoes detailing the interiors of the monastery. Between Phodong and Labrang Monastery are the ruins of the third capital of Sikkim, Tumlong.

Kabi:

20 kms from Gangtok, on way to North Sikkim is the sacred spot of Kabi where the pact of blood brotherhood was sworn between the Lepchas and the Bhutias in the 15th century. Nine stones were erected facing Mount Khangchendzonga to witness the treaty of brotherhood between the Lepchas and the Bhutias. To this day the stones stand as testimony to the treaty.

The area is a sacred grove rich with medicinal plants and is the venue for the annual Siqueok Puja, a thanksgiving for a good harvest to the Gods and prayers for continued benevolence. Lamas and Bongthings perform the puja with age old rituals which is participated by large number of people.The Puja falls every year on the 15th day of the ninth month of the Tibetan Calendar, normally corresponding to October.

Gorudongmar Lake:

Situated at a height of 17,800 feet, it is considered one the most sacred lakes by the Buddhists and Hindus alike. The beautiful and awe inspiring lake (190 kms from Gangtok) remains milky in colour throughout the year. According to a legend, since the lake used to remain frozen most of the year, it was not possible to use its water for drinking purposes. When the Guru Padmasambhava passed by, while returning from Tibet, the local residents are reported to have approached him for providing source of water.

The Guru obliged. A portion of the lake touched by him does not freeze in extreme winter. Since water of the lake is considered sacred, visitors carry the 'blessed' water in bottles. 

Yumthang:

Yumthang, situated at a height of 11800 feet is popularly known as 'Valley of Flowers', Located at a distance of 148 kms from Gangtok, it is a paradise for nature lovers with a fascinating blend of flora and fauna and breathtaking scenic beauty. In spring season, wild flowers such as primulas and Rhododendrons bathe the landscape in rich colours, making it a tourist hot spot. The Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary over here has 24 species of Rhododendron flowers which bloom from April to May end.

A hot spring located on the right side of Yumthang river is a popular tourist attraction. In addition to a vast green meadow, lush green forest abounding in Pine and silver fir trees throngs the place. While driving towards the valley, one can see cascading waterfalls and streams.

Six kms away further North is Shiv Mandir. A drive or trek to this place can be very refreshing and exhilerating. Situated further up at a distance of 16 kms, at an altitude of about 16,000 feet is Yumesamdong. The rugged vegetation- free mountains, especially in the months of November-December and February¬March over here present a breathtaking scenario. The approach to Yumthang is from Lachung valley, situated at a height of 8000 feet. It is at a distance of 120 kms from Gangtok. It has a unique self-governing body called the Dzumsa, which substitutes the modern Gram Panchyat. The village, spread out on the either side of Lachung Chu, has managed to retain its unique culture and tradition.

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