India - Sikkim and Darjeeling
HISTORY: Buddhism, the major religion in the state, arrived from Tibet in the 13th century. It took its distinctive Sikkimese form four centuries later, when three Tibetan monks of the old Nyingamapa order, dissatisfied with the rise of the reformist Gelukpas, migrated to Yoksum in western Sikkim. Having consulted an oracle, they went to Gangtok looking for a certain Phuntsong Namgyal, whom they crowned as the first Chogyal or 'Righteous King' of Denzong in 1642. Being the secular and religious head, he was soon recognized by Tibet, and brought sweeping reforms. His kingdom was far larger than today's Sikkim and included Kalimpong and parts of western Bhutan. Over the centuries, the territory was lost to the Bhutanese, the Nepalese and the British. The British policy to diminish the strong Tibetan influence resulted in the import of workers from Nepal to work in the tea plantations of Sikkim, Darjeeling and Kalimpong and these soon outnumbered the indigenous population.
After India's Independence, the eleventh Chogyal, Tashi Namgyal, strove hard to prevent the dissolution of his kingdom. Officially, Sikkim was a protectorate of India, and the role of India became increasingly crucial with the Chinese military build-up along the northern borders that culminated in an actual invasion early in the 1960s. The next king Palden Thondup was a weak ruler and in 1975, succumbed to the demands of the Nepalese majority of becoming a part of India.
People and Ethnicity: Sikkim is the least populated state in the country. There are Nepalese (75%), Lepchas (20%), and smaller proportions of Bhutias and Limbus. The Lepchas or the Rong were the first tribe to come and settle in the region. In the 13th century, the Bhutias from Kham area of Tibet came and brought with them for the first time the Mahayana sect of Buddhism to the state. Most of the people speak Nepali, which is also the state language
Buddhism is entrenched in the tradition of the state tough Hindus are in minor numbers. People have faith in Buddha, the Dhamma (his teachings), and the Sangha (assembly of monks) where religious texts are studied, taught and preserved. Soaked in religious tradition, the land has a spiritual ambience where prayer flags with inscriptions of Buddhist texts flutter around the boundary of the village to ward off evil spirits, prayer wheels rotate to the currents of water, and chortens and lucky signs are common sights.
Climate: There is an immense variation in climate and vegetation in Sikkim. In the state, the climate is tropical up to 1,624 m, temperate between 1,624 m to4,222 m, alpine above 4,222 m, and snowbound at 5,248 m.
The best time to visit Sikkim is mid-March to June. In April and May, the rhododendrons and orchids are in full bloom. However, temperatures can be high, especially in the valleys. During monsoons, from the end of June till early September, rivers and roads become impassable, though plants damaged by the incessant rain spring back to life again and bloom towards the end of August. October, when orchids bloom once again, and November tend to have the clearest weather of all. As December approaches, it gets bitterly cold in the high altitude areas, and remains that way until early March, though interspersed with spells of clear weather.
Location: Located in the eastern Himalayas, Sikkim is bound by Tibet (China) in the north, West Bengal in the south, Tibet and Bhutan in the east and Nepal in the west. The state is spread below Mount Kanchanjunga (8,534 m), the third highest peak in the world. The locals worship the mountain as a protecting deity. The elevation of the state ranges between 300 m and over 8,500 m above sea level.
Travel to Sikkim- By Air: There are regular flights to Bagdogra from Guwahati, Calcutta, and Delhi. The nearest airstrip Bagdogra which lies at a distance of 124 km from Gangtok . You can fly in from Kathmandu to Biratnagar or Bhadrapur (in Nepal) and drive to Silguri.
By Rail: The nearest railway stations from Gangtok are New Jalpaiguri (125 km) and Siliguri (144 km) connected to Delhi, Calcutta, Guwahati, and other important cities in India.
By Road: From Gangtok, there are daily buses services to Siliguri (5 hours), Darjeeling (7 hours), Kalimpong (3 hours) and Bagdogra (4½ hours). Share jeeps and taxis are a faster alternative to commute. Gangtok is connected by road to Darjeeling, Kalimpong, and Siliguri. Cars, luxury coaches and jeeps are available for hire in the town. There are also regular bus services run by the Sikkim Nationalized Transport.
Music and Dance : Sikkim's famous mask dances provide a marvelous spectacle. Performed by lamas in the Gompa courtyard to celebrate religious festivals, these dances demonstrate perfect footwork and grace. Costumed lamas with gaily-painted masks, ceremonial swords and sparkling jewels, leap and swing to the rhythm of resounding drums, trumpeting of horns and chanting of monks. Saga Dawa is a very auspicious day for the Mahayana Buddhists. On this day, people go to monasteries to offer butter lamps and worship the Buddha. A huge procession of monks goes around Gangtok with holy scriptures.
The Kagyat dance is performed every 28th and 29th day of the Tibetan calendar. The solemn nature of the dances is interspersed with comic relief provided by jesters.
The Buddhist festival of Bumchu is held in the Tashiding Gompa during January: The festival of Chaam is held in the Enchey Gompa during January-February and is marked by dancing. This dance is a mask dance held every month at Gangtok, Pemayangtse and Phodong. Losar marks the Tibetan New Year and is celebrated during February-March at Pemayangtse and Rumtek. Tse Chu is a Buddhist dance held in May at Rumtek. Saga Dawa (held in Gangtok during May) and Drukpa Teshi (celebrated statewide during July) mark the anniversary of the Buddha's first teaching. Phang Lhabsol is a mask dance celebrated statewide during August. Dasain, celebrated during September-October, is marked by exchange of gifts and animal sacrifice.
Attire: The Lepcha men wear a dress called 'pagi' made of stripped cotton while the Lepcha women wear a two-piece dress. Among the Bhutias, the traditional dress of the men is known as the 'Bakhu', which is a loose cloak type garment with full sleeves. The women's dress consists of a silken 'Honju', which is a full sleeve blouse and a loose gown type garment. The women are very fond of heavy jewelry made of pure gold.
Gangtok, the capital, is a modern city where tradition coexists with contemporary fashions and modes. Whereas the women are fond of traditional dresses, the men folk have taken to western attire. Jeans, jackets and suits exist along with the baku (full-length dress). Some of the old-timers can be seen with rosaries and prayer wheels.
Cuisine: One can savor all delicacies in Sikkim-from Tibetan to Chinese, Indian to Japanese. Pancakes, chicken-fried rice and momos are hot favorites. Rice is the staple diet, and legumes are readily available. Gyakho is a traditional soup served on special occasions. Most restaurants serve alcohol. One can also look out for tomba, a traditional drink consisting largely of fermented millet, with a few grains of rice for flavor, served in a wooden or bamboo mug, and sipped through a bamboo straw.
In north Sikkim, one can visit Changthang (the origin of the river Teesta), Yumthang (140 km from Gangtok), the Singba Rhododendron Sanctuary (137 km from Gangtok), and the Kanchanjunga National Park.
South Sikkim is famous for trekking and offers some of the best treks in the region. One can walk through the sylvan mountains of Namtse, 100 km from Gangtok, and Tendong hill, Varsey, Borong, Maenam hill, and Ravangla.
In the eastern part of the state, one can visit the capital Gangtok. The Directorate of Handicraft and Handloom, White Hall, Ridge Garden, Do-Drul Chorten Stupa, Sikkim Research Institute of Tibetology, Rumtek Dharma Chakra Center, Tashi View Point, Ganesh Tok, Hanuman Tok, the Fambong La Wildlife Sanctuary, and the Kyongnosla Alpine Sanctuary are oft-visited sites there.
West Sikkim boasts of the Rabdentse ruins, Pelling, and the former capital Yuksom.
Restricted permits are available for these areas under the conditions mentioned below each area.
4. Pemayangtse Khecheperi
Individual tourists are permitted in these circuits. A maximum of 15 days is allowed. State government, if necessary, can grant an extension of 15 days on request in the written form.
6. Dzongri in West Sikkim Individual tourists are not permitted to visit this place. Maximum time period allowed is 16 days.
7. Tsangu (Changu Lake in East Sikkim) Individual tourists are not permitted. The permit is valid for day visits only. Tourist groups are expected to travel on identified tour circuits only.
8. Mangan, Tong, Singhik, Changthang, Lachung and Yumthang
Individual tourists are not permitted on these circuits. Maximum stay period allowed is five days.
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