Sikkim is a small, serene, Indian-controlled, Himalayan kingdom with a culture similar to Tibet and Bhutan. Situated in the shadow of Kanchenjunga, the world's third largest mountain, Sikkim is known for its gompas (colorful Tibetan monasteries), mountain scenery, jungles and Tibetan-influenced culture. Tibet, Nepal, India, and Bhutan all share borders with Sikkim. State Tourism Website sikkimtourism.gov.in
Situated in the Eastern Himalayan, Sikkim is the least populous and second smallest of India’s states. It covers 7,096 square kilometers (2,704 square miles), is home to about 610,000 people and has a population density of 86 people per square kilometer. About 75 percent of the population live in rural areas. Gangtok is the capital and largest city, with about 100,000 people.
Kanchenjunga (Khangchendzonga) is not just a physical entity but the abode of guardian deity whose benign watchfulness ensures peace and prosperity of the land. Most of the people of Sikkim live in a 65-kilometer wide, enclosed basin, located between two deeply dissected north-south running ridegs that for 125 kilometers. The Kanchenjunga range lies about 20 kilometers to the south. It is covered with snows and ice and glaciers. It takes heavy monsoon precipitation and possess the potential for catastrophic avalanche. The creaking and groaning of glaciers and the roar of avalanches are noise frequently heard in Sikkim.
Sikkim has easily traversed passes which lead to the Chumbi Valley in Tibet. In the old days Sikkim was an important stop on the trade routes between Lhasa and Kalimpong, an important trade route between China and India. Tibet used to intervene in Sikkim’s internal affairs. The Black Hat sect (Kagyu Karma), the oldest of Tibetan four allied schools of Buddhism, is strong in Sikkim. The ceremonial Black Crown of the 16th Karampa Lama — leader of the Black Hat sect — rests at Rumtek Monetary in Sikkim.
Sikkim is a restricted area. Tourist need a special permit to visit Sikkim. Only a few thousand Western travelers visit the state each year. Many of them are trekkers anxious to get a good look at Kanchenjunga. Getting There: Siliguri (80 kilometers south of Darjeeling) is the gateway to Darjeeling and Sikkim. A bustling commercial city with 700,000 people, it is located in the middle of lovely tea growing region and is a good access point for Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Sikkim and Gangtok. By Air: Pakyong Airport in Pakyong village lies about 35 kilometers south of Gangtok and is the nearest one. By Road: Gangtok has well-connected reasonably good roads accessible from anywhere in India. By Train: New Jalpaiguri Railway Station in Siliguri is 148 kilometers away from Gangtok and well-connected to all the major cities in the country.
People of Sikkim
The Sikkimese, sometimes referred to as Lepchas, are Buddhist people similar to Tibetans and Bhutanese. Many wear their traditional ankle-length robes called khos, tie prayer flags on bamboo poles, and drink chang, an alcoholic drink made from barley that is also popular in Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. It is said the Sikkimese are such a peace-loving people there is no word for "war” in their language. English is the official language but few people speak it. Most people speak Sikkimese or Gurkali
Sikkimese generally only refers to inhabitants of Sikkim not an ethnic group. In Sikkim, Nepalese immigrants outnumber local Buddhist people. The majority of Sikkim's residents are of Nepali ethnic origin. The native people of Sikkim consist of the Bhutias, who migrated from the Kham district of Tibet in the 14th century, and the Lepchas, who are believed to pre-date the Bhutias and are the oldest known inhabitants.
About 57 percent of Sikkim's are Indian Hindus or Gurkhalis (Hindu Nepalese), who have immigrated in the past 100 years. Many came under British rule to cultivate cardamom and rice. There are also large some Bhutanese and few indigenous Bhutias. Native Lepchas comprise only 10-20 percent of the population, Many of them are worried that the influx of Hindus will cause their traditional Buddhist culture to die out. Buddhist is now only practiced by 27 percent of the population Tibetans reside mostly in the northern and eastern reaches of the state. Among the largest migrant communities are Bengalis, Biharis and Marwaris are prominent in business in South Sikkim and Gangtok.
The Sikkimese have traditionally lived in wooden buildings that rest on the Himalayas slopes. Most practice farming or raise animals such as sheep, goats, cattle, yaks and mules. Rice and corn are the main staple crops. Potatoes are a major cash crop. Cardamom, citrus fruit, apples and pineapples are also grown. Animals produce dairy products, wools, skins, hides and other goods. The forest yield valuable products. There ate timber sal, sisal and bamboo plantations. Copper, lead and zinc are mined.
History of Sikkim
For most its history, Sikkim was an independent kingdom like Bhutan, with a single dynasty, headed by a Buddhist Chogyla (King), ruling since the 14th century. There was a long history of conflict between the Leptas as the Tibetan Bhutia, with the Lepchas being pushed into the lower valleys while the Bhutias inhabited the highlands. In 1890, the British began encouraging Nepalese to move to Sikkim
When India became independent in 1947, it inherited Britain treaties with Sikkim. In 1973, the Chogyla Palden Thonup Namgyal asked for help from Indian police to put down riots by Sikkim's Hindu majority who rioted, protesting the Chogyla's rule. The Indian police restored order but also attack the Chogyla's palace, killing several guards, and made concessions to the rioters.
Nervous that China might influence Sikkim, the government of Indira Gandhi annexed Sikkim in 1975 after a rigged referendum passed with 97 percent with the help of voters imported from India. The Chogyal was ousted and placed under house arrest. Sikkim was made into India's 22nd state. Nepal and China protested the annexation. The native Bhutia and Lepcha people are still bitter about it to this day.
Hope Namgyla, who runs the TrekSikkim trekking agency, is the daughter of the Chogyla Palden Thonup Namgyal and Hope Cooke, an American who caused quite a stir when she married the king in 1963. An orphan brought up in New York by an American diplomat, Hope Cooke was a 22-year-old debutante when she married the king. Some called her “Grace Kelly of the East.” She was forced to flee Sikkim for New York when her nationality became an issue when Sikkim became embroiled in political troubles. She now lives in Brooklyn and currently works as a writer, historian, and lecturer. She spends some time in Sikkim, where she is known among the Sikkimese as "our daughter." Her children lived mainly in the U.S. but married Sikkimese.
The main obstacles to development in Sikkim are a lack of power and a lack of good roads. A 240-kilometer-long North Sikkim Highway was completed in 1962 at considerable expense. Connecting Gangtok with the northern border areas, it employed 6,000 workers at one time. One of the most difficult tasks was supplying food for such a large labor force.
Sikkim Geography and Nature
Sikkim contains 20 peaks over 20,000 feet high, included 8,586-meter (28,208-foot) -high Kanchenjunga. Sikkim drops to less than 300 meters above sea level and about a third of the kingdom is covered by forests. Sikkim embraces icy cold deserts, flowering alpine meadows, lush green forests and emerald mountain lakes.
The lush valleys below the mountains are filled with beautiful forests with 4,000 plants, including, ferns, magnolias, rhododendrons, junipers, blue poppies, gentians, and primulas, unique flowers that bloom above 10,000, and over 600 varieties of orchid. There are so many orchids in fact that local people sometimes use them as cow fodder. As one ascends one passes frm tropical growth to subtropical growth and finally to the alpine region. Animals include red pandas and musk deer.
It is possible to move from the sub-tropical heat of the lower valleys to the cold of the rugged mountain slopes that ascend up to the areas of perpetual snow in a matter of few hours. Such a steep rise in altitude over a very short distance, allows the land to host a robust natural heritage and wealth. The snow-capped mountain ranges, lush thick forests, plunging mountain valleys are flush with rich flora and fauna, precariously-situated villages, groves of rhododendrons, hot springs, waterfalls, perennial streams and grand rivers Teesta and Rangit.
Gangtok (3½ hour bus or minibus ride from Silguri and five hour jeep ride from Darjeeling) is is the capital and largest city of Sikkim, with about 100,000 people. Nestled in a Himalayan valley at a height of 1,670 meters, this medieval town is known for its pagoda-like roofs, crimson-robed monks, bazaars, and Buddhist monasteries. Some people who reside here live the same way they have for centuries. Others are like people found in the rest of India.
Gangtok's Shangri-La image has been tarnished somewhat by the arrival of the modern world. There are modern buildings and motor vehicles but much less than elsewhere in South Asia. Sometimes a sliver of Kanchenjunga can be seen in the distance in the early morning. The main site is the hilltop Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, which contains some ancient texts and Tibetan-style art. The famous orchid sanctuary boasts 500 species of orchids.
Gangtok is a popular Buddhist pilgrimage site It rose to prominence after the Enchey Monastery was established in 1840. In 1894, the ruling Sikkimese Chogyal declared Gangtok the capital of the region. It grew to be a major stopover on the trade route between Lhasa in Tibet by the early 20th century. In addition to being a center for Tibetan Buddhism, Gangtok is a go-to destination for trekkers. Kanchenjunga, Siniolchu, the Chumbi Valley and the Tibetan border are not far away. The government-run handicraft center offers unique artefacts, while local hangouts like MG Marg are go-to spots for delicious Sikkimese food and artistic handicrafts. Mountain biking, hiking, paragliding and river rafting can all be enjoyed nearby.
Below the city is a famous orchid sanctuary with 200 varieties of orchids. In the mountains and foothill and wonderful lakes, forests, picturesque valleys and trekking trails. Popular destination include the Deer park, the Do Drul Chorten (a stupa surrounded by 108 prayer wheels), Echery Monastery, and Saramsa Botanical gardens. Many visitors travel day to Yumthang, a high and beautiful valley only 32 kilometers from the Tibetan border.
The drive from Shiliguri to Gangtok is very scenic. Much of the route follows the Tista River. Along the way you can visit Yoksum Brewery, famed for Denzberg Beer, and climb 1,000 meters in 10 kilometers between Singtam and Ranipul. On a clear day, tourists can avail breathtaking sights of Khangchendzonga and Mt Siniolchu, as well as the colorful villages of North Sikkim, from the Tashi Viewpoint (eight kilometers from Gangtok). The site was built by the late king of Sikkim.
Kupup Lake (25 kilometers east of Gangtok) is high altitude lake that resembles an elephant. Also known as the Elephant Lake, it is situated at a height of 13,066 feet on the way to Jelep la Pass, bordering India and China. The right side of the lake looks like the trunk of an elephant, while the left resembles the animal's tail. Locally, the lake is recognised as Bitan Cho. A stunning valley holds the lake at its center, and the small village of Kupup is the nearest attraction to the lake. Nearby is the Yak Golf Course, an 18-hole course, which is the highest of its kind in the world at about 13,025 feet. It has been affiliated with the Indian Golf Union since 1985, and has even earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. From January to May, the lake freezes over. From October to December, it is partly covered with a sheet of ice. During the spring months, the valley and shores of the lake are ablaze with in full bloom, with colorful flowers adorning every surface.
Chungthang (95 kilometers from Gangtok) is a small located at the confluence of Rivers Lachen Chu and Lachung Chu. Lying at an altitude of 1,790 meters, this town boasts abundant natural beauty. The valley is said to be blessed by the patron saint of Sikkim, Guru Padmasambhava, who is believed to be one of the founding fathers of Tibetan Buddhism. It is said that the imprints of his palm and foot are still visible on a rock that has an opening from which mineral water flows out continuously. It is considered holy by devotees. Nearby is a patch of land blessed by Guru Padmasambhava. It is said the guru sprinkled a few grains here, a place where no crops grew, and after that rice sprouted and the place is now cultivated by villagers. Legend has it the word 'Demazong' or “the hidden valley of rice” as Sikkim is known, originated with the Chungthang. Story
Monasteries Near Gangtok
Pemayangtse (110 kilometers away) is a monastery with a multi-armed four-headed statue of the god of Kanchenjunga. Around Pemayangtse are Khachoed Palri lake, Sangra-Choling Monastery and Yussam (33 kilometers away), where the first Sikkim king was crowned.
Enchey Monastery (outskirts of Gangtok) is set on a hilltop and more than 200 years old. The word 'Enchey' means a solitary temple. While the present structure was built during 1909-1910 under the rule of Sidkeong Tulku, Namgyal ruler of Sikkim in 1919, the original structure is much older and was installed by Lama Druptob Karpo. Lama Karpo was a tantric master, who was supposedly renowned for his ability to fly. It is believed that on his way from Maenam Hill, he stopped here, built a small hermitage for personal use to meditate and gave structure to the monastery. Lord Buddha, Loketeswara and Guru Padmasambhava are deities worshipped here.
Here, the Nyingma order of Vajrayana Buddhism is followed. Currently, there are about 90 monks residing in this monastery, which is very peaceful, and allows visitors to meditate in serenity, amidst stunning surroundings. During the 12th lunar month (January) of the Tibetan calendar, on the 18th and 19th days, the vibrant dance of chaam is held at the monastery where monks wear masks and participate in religious celebrations. Another famous festival held here is Pang Lhabsol, during which the Bhutia and Lepcha communities come together to swear blood-brotherhood, with the mighty Kanchenjunga bearing witness to this pledge.
Tashiding Monastery has been the center of worship in Sikkim since the 1700s. Situated at a height of about 5,000 ft, it offers a picturesque view of a lush valley made by two rivers, and has a a good view of Kanchenjunga. Another object of interest is a magic vase that is the main subject of the Bhuchu festival, which draws Buddhists from all over the globe to witness the yearly ritual in which the sealed vase is opened and its contents inspected. The Nyingmapa Buddhists use the vase to predict prosperity for the coming year. A full vase indicates a fortuitous year whereas low water content denotes a famine. A dusty vase indicates a period of strife and clash. The festival commences at midnight during the full moon in the first month of the Tibetan calendar (February and March). The word 'Tashiding' means “devoted central glory”.
Rumtek Monastery (23 kilometers from Gangtok) is the seat of the Kagyu order of Buddhism. It is a very beautiful building. For a while Indian soldiers were posted at the monastery to prevent violence between two factions of warrior monks involved in a acrimonious dispute involving the successor to he Karmapa Lama.
Perched on a hillock, Rumtek Monastery is also known as the Dharma Chakra Center and serves as the seat of His Holiness Gyalma Karmapa the XVI, the head of the Karma Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism. Built in the 16th century, it is the largest monastery in Sikkim and displays the best of Tibetan architecture, along with rare Buddhist art pieces. The massive prayer hall inside the monastery is decorated with splendid murals, statues and ancient thankas (Buddhist paintings on fabric). One can also observe beautiful paintings of Kargyu lineage and eight Bodhistavas. It is a world-renowned center for Kargyu teachings.
The main structure of the building was made in accordance with the traditional designs of Tibetan monasteries. Its interior is adorned with murals, frescos and paintings. There is a shrine hall in the main building with a 10-feet-high statue of Sakyamuni Buddha. The monastery is enshrined with four other statues, those of Virupaksha, Virudaka, Dritarashtra and Vaishravana, considered to be the guardians of the universe. It is believed that when the 9th Karmapa threw holy rice after performing a ritual, four rice grains were scattered in Sikkim and one of the grains fell on the spot where the old Rumtek Monastery is erected today, which is a 15-minute walk down the slope from the Dharma Chakra Center.
Nathu La (56 kilometers from Gangtok, between Tibet, India, Sikkim and Bhutan) is a 4310-meter (14,000-foot) -high Himalayan pass that opened in July 2006 after being closed for 44 years. Formally part of a Silk Road route between China and India and revived the British, it was the most important trade link between India and China, accounting for 80 percent if bilateral trade in the early 1900s.
After China and India became independent after World War II, trade boomed with 1,000 mules and horses and 700 people crossing the border on the narrow trail every day. India imported raw wool, animal hides and yak tails for use in shrines, and exported clothes, gasoline, tobacco, Rolex watches and even disassembled cars, including one for the Dalai Lama. Payment was made with sacks of Chinese silver coins. Trade continued after Tibet was invaded and didn't stop until China and India went to war in 1962. Five years later skirmishes on Nathu-la left many dead on both sides,
The reopening of Nathu La is expected to generate $3 billion worth of trade at some point in the future but in initial phase only 39 items — including goat skins and yak tails — could be traded. Nathu La connects Tibet with Sikkim. The government in Sikkim is much more enthusiastic about the opening than New Delhi. There is one plan to build a $500 million highway from Nathu La to western India.
Nathu La is considered as the Indo-China border, and serves as one of the primary trade routes between India and China. There are military bunkers on either side, with an entrance gate to both countries. Just across the barbed wire at the pass, one can see the Chinese soldiers guarding their border. At the border check-post, a war memorial has been erected, along with an exhibition center of the Indian Army.
Nathu la Pass has one of the highest reasonably good roads in the world and the world's highest ATM. The road from Gangtok to Nathu la passes by the Tsomgo Lake, and the entire area, including the pass, has a beautiful cover of alpine flora. The road to the pass is dotted with army settlements, and allows visitors an unparalleled view of the Chumbi Valley. You can also explore the recently constructed Baba Harbhajan Mandir on the way. If the weather clears up, you can see an excellent view of Mt Chomolhari, the second-highest peak of Bhutan, from the pass.
Indian tourists can go visit Nathu la Pass with a special permission from the Tourism and Civil Aviation Department with a registered and recognised travel agency, but foreign nationals are not allowed to visit it. The pass is open for tourist viewing from Wednesday through Sunday, but closes by 1:30pm. Since the altitude is so high, be ready to adapt to the receding level of oxygen. The temperature dips to as low as 25 degrees Celsius, and the area receives heavy snowfall in winter. Remember that photography is strictly prohibited in certain areas.
Lachung (120 kilometers from Gangtok) is a picturesque mountain hamlet. Surrounded by beautiful waterfalls, clear streams, snow-capped mountains and orchards of peaches, apricots and apples, it is perched at an altitude of 2700 meters (8,858 feet). The town attracts visitors with its trekking and snow sports. Zero Point, with its sweeping views and panoramic surroundings, is a popular trekking destination. Mt Kato's slopes are popular for skiing, snowboarding and snowtubing.
Lachung comes to life during the Saga Dawa festival, celebrated in the month of June. One of the most important Buddhist festivals, it signifies three prominent phases of Lord Buddha's life: birth, enlightenment and death. From sacred ceremonies and folk art to exotic cuisines, there are many attractions for tourists here.
Lachung Monastery is located amid apple orchards just across the scenic Lachung Chu river. It lies at a height of about 2,750 meters and forms the base of the Green Lake trek. A symbol of cultural and religious heritage, Lachung Monastery has an edifice that was installed in 1806 by the Nyingmapa sect of Buddhism. It also houses a statue of Guru Padmasambhava, who is believed to be one of the founding fathers of Tibetan Buddhism. The monastery is a small and colorful structure that has a two-storey prayer hall. On the porch lie two extra-heavy prayer wheels, along with two metal dragons that are carved above it. Visitors also like the exquisite wall murals and a few ancient statues. Religious dance festivities are organised at the monastery on the 28th and 29th day of the 10th Buddhist month, which falls in December.
Getting There: By Air: The nearest airport is at Bagdogra, around130 kilometers from Gangtok. By Road: Lachung is connected by good roads to most Indian towns and cities. By Train: The nearest railway station is New Jalpaiguri, around 120 kilometers away from Gangtok.
Yumthang (25 kilometers from Lachung) lies in northern Sikkim at a height of 3,597 meters (11,800 feet) A white wonderland in winter and home to a burst of colors in summer, there are very few spots in the country that can beat Yumthang's all-year-round natural splendour. Also known as the valley of flowers, Yumthang valley is a magnificent mix of flora and fauna set amidst picturesque beauty. During spring, when the flowers bloom, the valley comes alive with varied hues of rhododendrons and primulas that lend it different colors, making it look like an artist's canvas.
Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary that boasts more than 20 species of rhododendron flowers. In spring, when these flowers bloom, bright shades of red, purple and pink paint the valley floor, the a riot of shades. Framed against the towering snow-capped mountains, the landscape looks surreal. The best time to visit the sanctuary is from April to May end when the flowers are in full bloom. To the right of River Yumthang is a hot spring, equally popular among tourists. The views of the flat valley surrounded by lush green mountains and the Yumthang river flowing through grassy alpine meadows are mesmeric. You can walk to the river, sit on its banks and enjoy the beauty.
Zero Point (3 to 3.5 hours from Lachung) is a popular trekking destination. Also known as Yume Samdong, it stands at an altitude of 4664 meters (15,300 feet) above sea level. It happens to be the last outpost of civilisation and the place where three rivers meet amid a panoramic view of snow-clad mountains and picturesque surroundings. Since it is located very close to the International border between India and China, visitors need permission to come here. It takes tourists about 1.5 hours to reach here from Yumthang Valley, which is 25 kilometers away. After reaching here, there are no civilian roads beyond and that is why it is called Zero Point. Though the roads can be treacherous, driving here is worth the reward of beautiful and pristine mountain sights. If you're lucky, you can also spot a wild yak in the snow. Zero Point hardly has any green stretches of land, except those that become visible when the snow melts.
Pelling (70 kilometers west of Gangtok and 100 kilometers north of Darjeeling) is known for its jaw-dropping views of the Himalayas and Kanchenjunga. With charming houses perched atop a wooded ridge, this hill town is framed by spectacular natural forests, making it a natural paradise. Sitting at a height of 2,150 meters, Pelling is a base for several trekking routes.
The cosy tourist town is also home to many prominent Buddhist monasteries and according to Buddhist texts, the word 'Pelling' refers to the religious body formed by Pema Linga, the discoverer of ancient Tibetian texts. A major attraction here is the Khangchendzonga Festival that is held annually and sees activities like kayaking, promotional trekking, traditional sports and birdwatching and white-water rafting on the Rangit (Rangeet) river. The festival also witnesses a flower exhibition, which is a colorful affair and hosts various stalls of costumes, ethnic food and traditional crafts.
Getting There: By Air: The nearest airport lies at Bagdogra, which is 160 kilometers (approximately) away. By Road: There are multiple options to reach Pelling via road. One can avail buses from Siliguri or hire taxis from Gangtok and Bagdogra. By Train: The nearest railway station is the New Jalpairguri Railway station.
Kanshenjunga, world's third highest mountain
Kanchenjunga (Khangchendzonga) is the world’s third highest mountain at 8,598 meters (28,208-feet) -high and is regarded as so sacred that mountaineers are banned from summitting it. Locals believe that gods dwell on the top of the mountain. As a result climbers who assault the mountain halt their ascent a few meters short of the summit as a sign of respect. The mountain itself is so massive that it is visible from Darjeeling to eastern Nepal.
Located in remote corner of the Himalayas between Sikkim and northwest Nepal, Kanchenjunga means the "Five treasures" or “Great Five Peaked Fortress” in Tibetan, a reference to its five separate summits. The mountain was first climbed in 1955 by a British expedition led by veteran Everest climber Charles Evan. In 1985, mountaineer Chris Chandler died of cerebral edema during a wintertime ascent in which his girl friend lost her fingers when she took off her gloves in a desperate attempt to save him.
Kanchenjunga is not just a physical entity but the abode of guardian deity whose benign watchfulness ensures peace and prosperity of the land. The base of Kanchenjunga can be reached by a 200-mile trek in Nepal that begins in Taplejung (a small town 150 miles from Kathmandu in Nepal) and travels through some of the most spectacular scenery in the Himalayas, including 25,294-foot Jannu, the "Mountain of Terror."
Kanchenjunga lies near one of Nepal’s largest glaciers and forests that are home to Himalayan black bears, blue sheep, musk deer and snow leopards. In 1997, a 690-square mile Kanchenjunga Conservation Area was created. In 1977 India created a national park along the Nepal border, It is hoped that China will name its territory in the region a park. About 6,200 people form 13 ethnic groups live in the region.
The mountains around Kanchenjunga are hit hard by the summer monsoons and as a result the mountains are shrouded in snows and surrounded by huge glaciers. Along the trekking route visitors pass through vast forests inhabited by snow leopards and rare Asian bears. The destination of the trek in Pan Pema, a 16,800-foot-high camp sight with spectacular views of Kanchenjung and its surrounding glaciers and mountains. Many trekkers say the view is better than that the Mt. Everest or Annapurna panoramas. Longer treks visit another high campsite on a different side of the mountain.
Kanchenjunga is considered a restricted area. In Nepal, trekkers need a special permit and only about 400 visitors travel to the region each year. One of the most difficult stretches of the trek involves a 7,000 foot descent to a river, a hike through jungle and a steep gorge over river boulders, a river crossing on the back of a 150-pound porter, and a 7,000 foot accent. Trekkers are usually flown into Taplejung and flown out of Suketar.
Kanchenjunga Trek in Sikkim
The trek to the viewing point for Kachenjunga in Sikkim begins at Yuksom, a small farming village about a day’s jeep ride from Gangtok on a narrow, unpaved and potholed road that passes by rice terraces, waterfalls, forests and precipitous cliffs. In Yuksom, trekkers sleep in a hut with nasty latrine and no electricity.
The trekking season is March to late-May and September to mid-November. Trekkers generally hire porters, ponies, dzos (cow-yak hybrids) to carry their gear. The trek lead through rain-drenched jungles with giant ferns, rare orchids and magnolias with hanging moss, giant rhododendron forests, hardwood forest with oaks and maples, evergreen forests with pines and firs and alpine meadows.
The first day of the popular four-day trek involves a 16-kilometers hike from Yoksum (1,780 meters, 5,840 feet) to Tsokha, a small village at 3,050 meters (10,000 feet). The next day is a 10-kilometer to Dzongri at 3,962 meters (13,000 feet). The walking is harder going here because of the higher altitude.
On the third day trekkers wake up at 3:30am and reach the view point to see 8,598 meters (28,208-foot) -high Kanchenjunga at dawn to see the sunrise and catch a glimpse of the mountain before fog and clouds roll in. Sometimes the fog is already there and people don't see Kanchenjunga. The forth day of the trek is the hike back to Yuksom.
A longer, more daring route traverses the Singalila Ridge, which defines the border between western Sikkim and eastern Nepal and climaxes at Goeche La, a 4,940-meter (16,200-foot) pass right in front of Kanchenjunga. This route only opened in 2000 and takes about two weeks to complete. This trip begins in the village of Uttarey, which is reached by jeep from Gangtok. The steep trek up to the ridge passes through cardamom fields and dense forests. The road to the trail winds back and forth between Nepal and Sikkim in meadows littered with yak bones. As one nears Goeche Pass there are several sacred lakes and descents and climbs into and out of valleys.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: India tourism website (incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020