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Sikkim

Sikkim

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The small Indian state of Sikkim is nestled in the majestic Eastern Himalayan range, bounded on the north by the great Tibetan Plateau, on the west by Nepal, and on the east by the kingdom of Bhutan. It is a magical land of immense vistas, enchanted valleys, and awe-inspiring, snow-capped mountains – the most revered, Kanchendzonga, is the third highest mountain in the world. Due to its mountainous and rugged terrain, this small state encompasses an astounding diversity of climates and ecosystems, ranging from sultry tropical forest to dry alpine tundra. Sikkim is a sacred and peaceful land, home to Snow Leopard, Musk Deer, and Red Panda, where rare and exotic plants including orchid, magnolia, rhododendron, and cypress flourish in lush groves and stark highland environments.

A large number of mountains having altitudes of about seven thousand meters stands here with - Kanchenjunga (8598 m.), The third highest peak in the world. The high serrated, snow capped spurs and peaks of Kanchenjunga look attractive consisting of Kumbha Karna (7711 m.), Pendem (6706 m.), Narsingh (5825 m.), Kabru Dome (6545 m.), etc. 

A number of glaciers descends from eastern slopes of Kanchenjunga into Sikkim where snow clad line is found above 5300 mtrs. The biggest of them is Zemu, from whose snout above Lachen monastery rises the river Teesta. Teesta is the main river and its main tributaries are Zemu, Lachung, Rangyong, Dikchu, Rongli, Rangpo and Rangit which form the main channel of drainage from the north to the south. It boasts of the great mount Kanchendzonga as its crown.

 

Ethically Sikkim has mainly three groups of people viz. Nepalis, Bhutias, Lepchas. Thelocal language is Nepali. English is the official language. This jewel- like mountain state of ethereal beauty with an area of 7299 sq. kms , nestles in the heart of Himalayas. Cradled in the manifold splendors of nature deep within the snow clad Himalayas is Sikkim's capital Gangtok.

The ecological diversity of Sikkim is mirrored in the great variety of customs and cultures in the human communities, many of which still live according to centuries-old traditional patterns. The earliest inhabitants were the indigenous Lepchas (or Rong-pa, the “People of the Ravines”), whose villages are found in the north-central part of the state. Over the centuries, the Lepcha communities were joined first by the Bhutias from Tibet, later by Nepali immigrants who introduced terraced agriculture, and most recently by the Indian business community from the plains. Today these peoples – among them Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians – coexist in a model of peaceable diversity. Sikkim truly presents a kaleidoscopic wealth of images and experiences to the visitor.

Fairs & Festivals in Sikkim

The people celebrate the anniversaries relating to birth, enlightenment, and nirvana of the Buddha, besides the Buddhist New Year and the harvest festivals. Several festivals are celebrated in Gangtok and its adjoining areas. The Buddhist festival of Bumchu is held in the Tashiding Gompa during January. The festival of Chaam is held in Enchey Gompa during January–February and is marked by dancing. Kagyat 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 Buddha's first teaching. Phang Lhabsol is a mask dance celebrated statewide during August. Dasain, the biggest Hindu festival is celebrated during October, is marked by gift exchanges and animal sacrifices.

BUDDHIST FESTIVALS:

Saga Dawa: This is the Triple Blessed Festival and is considered as the holiest of the holy Buddhist Festivals. On this day in different years of his life, Lord Buddha took birth, achieved Enlightenment and passed away attaining Nirvana, three important events celebrated in the festival of Saga Dawa.

Drukpa Tsheshi: This festival is observed by the Buddhists to mark the event when Buddha first turned the Wheel of Dharma (His first sermon to five disciples at Sarnath). This festival celebrates Buddha's first preaching of the four Noble Truths to his first five disciples in a deer park at Sarnath. The first is the Noble Truth of suffering. The Second Noble Truth is the truth of the origin of suffering Karma and Delusion and their causes. The third Noble Truth is the cessation of the suffering or the attainment of Nirvana. The fourth Noble Truth is the truth of the Eight Fold Path leading to Nirvana. The day falls on the fourth day (Teshi) of the sixth Tibetan month (Drukpa).

Phang Lhabsol: This festival is unique to Sikkim. It was popularised by the third Chogyal of Sikkim, Chakdor Namgyal. In this festival the snowy range of Khangchendzonga is worshipped for its unifying powers. This festival also marks the signing of the treaty of blood brotherhood between the Lepchas and Bhutias by Khye Bumsa and Tetong Tek when the local deities were invoked to witness the occasion.

Losoong: Losoong marks the end of the harvest season and also the end of the tenth month of the Tibetan Year. Taking cue from a good harvest and praying for even better prospects for the next crop, the festival is marked by Chaam dancing's at the monasteries at Palace (Tsu-La-Khang), Phodong and Rumtek. The dances symbolize the exorcizing of the evil spirits of the year and the welcoming of the good spirit of the new year. It is best observed in rural Sikkim.  Archery competitions and festivities mark the event. Men become gods during the dances and don attires with mystical symbols.

Losar: The Tibetan New Year is shared also by the Sikkimese and marked with lot of gaiety and festivity. It falls normally in the month of February.The Tibetan youth take to the streets on the day performing the Yak dance and throwing sampa as a way of greeting and welcoming the new year with shouts of "Tashi Delek". The Tibetan community exerts itself in the more than week long festivity with their brocades, jewelry, songs, dances and picnics.

Bumchu: Bum means "pot or vase" and chu means "water". This festival is celebrated at the monastery at Tashiding in the month of January or February. During the festival, the pot containing the Holy water is opened by the lamas of the monastery. The level of water in the pot foretells the future for the forthcoming year. If the water is to the brim, it foretells a year in which peace and prosperity will prevail. If the water is over the brim and is spilling signifies a year with natural disaster and flood , it prophesies bloodshed and disturbances. If the water lever is low or almost dry it signifies famine. A part of the holy water is distributed amongst the gathering of devotes and the pot is replenished with river water and sealed at the end of the festival to be opened only in the next Bumchu.

Guru Rimpoche's Trungkar Tshechu: On this day, Sikkimese Buddhist pay homage to the master who first blessed Sikkim as holy land, Guru Rimpoche. The master is believed to have firmly establishBuddhism in Sikkim and introduce his form of Tantric Buddhism to the Himalayas after vanquishing ‘demons’ obstructing the growth of dharma in Tibet. The day commemorates his victory over these demons and the devout believe that virtues accrued by recitation of mantras on this day are two-fold.

Kagyed Dance: It is performed on the 28th and 29th day of the 10th month of the Tibetan Calendar, around December. This dance is performed symbolizing the destruction of the evil forces and hoping for peace and prosperity to flourish in every Sikkimese home. The dancers of this is extremely

Kalchakra Puja: A mention of the two bodies of Buddhism, Hinayana and Mahayana has been made at the beginning of this chapter. To attain Nirvana or Enlightenment and freedom from suffering one of the paths offered is Tantrayana which emphasizes the Tantric or mystic aspect of Buddhism involving complex and esoteric rituals.

HINDU FESTIVALS:

Dasain / Dusshera/ Durga Puja: One of the most important festivals for the Nepalese Hindus, this fortnight long festival usually falls in the month of October. While Hindus around the world celebrate Durga Puja, the Nepalese observe the days as Dasain or Bijaya Dashmi. This festival symbolizes the victory of good over evil. It is widely believed that on this day the evil Mahisura was slain by Goddess Durga who is the embodiment of Goodness and Shakti, in a fierce duel fight.

Tihar or Tyohar/ Diwali: This festival of lights also know as the Deepavali means "a row of lights". This festival is celebrated to mark the return of Lord Rama, his consort Sita and brother Lakshmana, to their kingdom after 14 years of exile. To celebrate their return, the people of Ayodhya are believed to have lit up their houses and streets with lamps and the tradition is followed till date. People also conduct Lakshmi Puja to please the Goddess of Wealth.

Saraswati Puja: This festival falls in the month of January and honors the Hindu Goddess of knowledge "Saraswati". School children place their study books in front of the statue and seek blessings for doing well in their studies.

Janmastami: Also known as Krishnastami or Gokulastami is a festival dedicated to Lord Sri Krishna and commemorates his birth. Thisfestival occurs on the eight day (Astami) of a lunar fortnight hence the name (Krishna+astami). Krishnastami which comes sometime in August is celebrated over two days. The first day is Krishnastami or Gokulastami. The second day is called Kalastami or more popularly Janmastami. This festival associated with Lord Krishna’s birthday and is a combination of religion and celebration together. Mathura, the ancient north Indian town, is Krishna’s birthplace, and it is one of the most sacred places in the entire country. People celebrate this festival with fun, frolic, and merrymaking. The raasleelas, bhajan, kirtan, and various local functions are the special attractions of the place.

Vishwa Karma Puja: This festival takes place on 17th September every year and honour Vishwa Karma - the God of Machines, statues of this deity are put up in temporary sheds called pandals and worshipped especially by those who are involved in handling machines like drivers and mechanics.

Maghe Sankranti : One of the important festivals of Hindus, Maghe Sankranti known as Makar sankranti in other parts of India is celebrated on the first day of the month of Magh (of the Vikram Sambhat calendar) and is observed for three days. This day is believed by the Nepalese as the day that marks the division of the Winter and Summer solstice. It marks the beginning of the lengthening of days. Bathing in rivers, especially in the confluence of rivers, is prescribed for this day followed by feasting. Huge fairs are organized along the river banks and confluence of rivers. The prayers begin with dawn and the fairs draw people from surrounding areas in thousands. It is an occasion for villagers to gather, meet each other and make purchases. The most colourful introduction to the Sikkimese milieu as people from all communities patronize these fairs. Although just about every district has its fair, the bigger ones are seen at Jorethang (south Sikkim) and Saramsa (East Sikkim).

Holi Colors, Mathura Travels

Holi: This Hindu festival of colors takes on a new meaning in the colder climes of Sikkim. All night revelry, songs and dances brings the business community (which is largely Hindu) to the streets and also observed is the (Matki) competition in the heart of the town. A good example of the communal harmony prevalent in Sikkim as even the ethnic Bhutias and Lepchas can be seen scrambling with their Hindu friends to take a crack at the pot hung high in the air.

Ramnavami (Chaite Dasain): This festival is dedicated to the memory of Lord Rama. It occurs on the ninth day (navami). The festival commemorates the birth of Rama who is remembered for his prosperous and righteous reign.

Other Festivals: Namsoong , Sakewa, Bhanu Jayanti, Tendong Lho-Rum-Faat, Teyongsi Srijunga Sawan Tognam, Christmas , Tamu Lochar, Nyempa Guzom

Monasteries in Sikkim

Sikkim's near about 200 monasteries or Gompas belonging to the Nyingma and Kagyu order have not only been influencing the cultural heritage and lifestyle of the people, but also demonstrates the ancient rituals in practice. 

Devoted Lamas robed in red, chant ancient mantras to the rhythm of drums and trumpets while soft lights flicker from decorative lamps placed before statues of the great Guru Padmasambhava. Feel the peace and quiet of being one with nature and close to the almighty as sacred words mingle with the whirring prayer wheels.  The Gompas are adorned with life-like frescoes of hoary Buddhist legends, rare silk and brocade Thangkas. Also preserved here, are ancient Tibetan manuscripts, exquisitely carved wood work and icons of silver and gold. 

PEMAYANGTSE MONASTERY 
Pemayangtse Monastery is situated in West Sikkim at Gyalshing (140 kms. from Gangtok) and commands an impressive view of Mount khanchendzonga. It was originally a small Lhekhang build by Lhatsun Chenpo in the 17th century. Later during the rule of the third Chogyal Chakdor Namgyal, Lhatsun Chenpo's third reincarnate jigme Pawo extended it and rebuild the structure. This monastery belongs to the Nyigma order and all other Nyigma order monasteries in Sikkim are subordinate to it. The monks of Pemayangtse are usually from the leading Bhutia families in Sikkim. There are 108 monks in this monastery.

 

The monastery houses numerous religious idols and other objects of worship, most of which are precious because of their antiquity. On the top floor of the monastery there is a wooden sculpture depicting the Maha Gurus Heavenly Palace "Sanghthokpalri". This master piece was completed by the late Dungzin Rimpoche, who took five years to craft it single handed. The main festival of the monastery is on the 28th & 29th day of the 12th month of the Tibetan calender, normally corressponding to the month of february. During these two days religious dances are performed and pilgrims come from all over Sikkim to watch them.

ENCHEY MONASTERY 
This monastery is situated in Gangtok on a hill top. It was built during the reign of Thutob Namgyal. This 200 year old monastery has in its premises images of Gods, Goddesses and other religious objects. Every year around January "Chaam" or religious masked dance is performed.

Lama Drupthob Karpa is supposed to have built a small hermitage at the spot he reached after he flew from Maenam Hill in South Sikkim. Later during the reign of Sikyong Tulku (1909-1910), the present monastery was built in the shape of a Chinese Pagoda.

 

Following the Nyingma order, it has around 90 monks. The annual Puja is celebrated with dances on the 18th & 19th days of the twelfth month of the lunar calendar.

RUMTEK MONASTERY 
24 Kms. from Gangtok, a drive through beautiful countryside takes one to Rumtek Dharma Chakra centre built in 1960'S by his holiness the late 16th GYALWA KARMAPA when he took refuge in Sikkim after the Chinese attack. It houses some of the worlds most unique art objects, ancient manuscripts and icons. Traditional in design, it is almost a replica of the original Kagyu headquarters in Tibet.

Rumtek monastery, a must for every visitor, where one can find some of the worlds most unique art objects , this place is the seat of the Kagyu order -- a close replica of the original Kagyu in Tibet. 

About 2 kms. away from Dharma Chakra Center is the rebuilt 300 year old Rumtek monastery which was originally built by the fourth Chogyal. His Holiness late Gyalwa Karmapa lived in this monastery till the completion of the Rumtek Dharma Chakra Center. The annual dances are held here on the 28th & 29th day of the Tenth month of the lunar calendar.

PHENSANG MONASTERY 
This monastery was built in 1721 during the time of Jigme Pawo. In 1947 it was completely gutted by a devastating fire. However it was rebuilt in 1948. It is present in North Sikkim. There are around 300 monks under the monastery and the main annual function in the monastery is on the 28th & 29th days of the tenth month of the Tibetan Calender which normally corresponds to the month of December. 

PHODANG MONASTERY 
This monastery is in North Sikkim 28 kms. from Gangtok. The original monastery is rebuilt and is today one of the most beautiful monasteries in Sikkim. It possesses the old mural paintings and has around 260 monks. Like the Ralong and Rumtek the main annual Puja is performed on the 28th & 29th days of the tenth month of the Tibetan Calender when the religious dances are performed.

 

TASHIDING MONASTERY 
This is another important monastery belonging to the Nyingmapa order and is about 40 Kms. from Gyalshing by road via Legship (West Sikkim). It lies nestled on the top of a hill that looms up between the Rathong river and the Rangit river and is surrounded by a profusion of Prayer flags that flutter in the air. There are also many chortans dedicated to some Chogyals and some religious personalities of Sikkim. Carved skillfully on stone plates surrounding th emonastery are holly Buddhist mantras like "Om Mane Padme Hum" by the master crafts man Yanchong Lodil.

The monastery was built in 1717 by Ngadak Sempa Chembo during the reign of the third Chogyal Chakdor Namgyal. The sacred ceremony of Bumchu is held here at midnight of the 14th & 15th of the first Tibetan month. There is a bus service from Gyalshing to Tashiding. Atrekkers hut is available for the tourist at Tashiding.

RALONG MONASTERY 
This monastery is situated near Rabongla in South Sikkim. Belonging to the Karma Kagyu order, it was built after the return of the fourth Chogyal from his pilgrimage to Tibet. H.H. the Gyalwa Karmapa performed the 'Rabney (blessing on its completion from Tsurphu itself, and grains from this ceremony fell on the ground at Ralong. Between 1975-81 A.D. the government rebuilt the monastery which today has around 100 monks. The main ceremony falls on the 28th and 29th day of the tenth month of the lunar calendar, when the 'chaams' are performed.

 

SANGA CHELLING MONASTERY 
Sanga chelling means ' the island of esoteric teaching'. This monastery was built in 1697 and is situated about 7 kms. from Pemayangste. It is said to be the oldest monastery in Sikkim. 

DUBDI MONASTERY 
Dubdi means 'the retreat' and this monastery was built in 1700. It is located near Yuksum on a hill top. One has to travel by foot to reach it.

 

KHECHOPARI MONASTEREY 
This monastery is located just above the famous near Yukusm. 

MELLI MONASTERY 
Melli basically means 'a lepcha village'. This monastery is also located near Yuksum. 

SINON MONASTERY 
Sinon means 'the suppressor of intense fear'. The monastery was built in 1716 and is located about 10 kms. from Tashiding on a hill top. 

DALLING MONASTERY 
Dalling means 'the thunderbolt'. This monastery was built in 1840 and is situated near kwezing in . 

YANGYANG MONASTERY 
Yangyang means 'the ridge of fortune'. This monastery was built in 1840 and is situated at a place called Yangyang 10 kms. downhill from Rabongla. 

NAMCHI MONASTERY 
This monastery is located in Namchi, the district headquarters of south district and was constructed during the reign of Chogyal Gurmed Namgyal. 

KWEZING MONASTERY 
This monastery is located near Kwezing in South Sikkim. It was built during the reign of Chogyal Thutob Namgyal. 

SIMIK MONASTERY 
This monastery is situated in near Singtam town. It was built during the reign of Chogyal Tsudphud Namgyal. 

HEE GYATHANG MONASTERY 
This monastery is located in and follows the Nyingma sect of Buddhism. 

LINGTEM MONASTERY 
This monastery is located in the Zongu area of North Sikkim.

 

CHAWANG ANI MONASTERY 
This monastery is located near Phensang which is on the highway between Gangtok amd Mangan. It was built during the reign of Chogyal Tshudphud Namgyal . 

KHATOK MONASTERY 
This monastery is located in East Sikkim near Pakyong. The present structure of the monastery was built during the reign of Chogyal Thutob Namgyal. 

BERMOIK MONASTERY 
This monastery was constructed in 1952 and follows the Nyingma sect of Buddhism. It is situated in South Sikkim above Singtam. 

LACHEN MONASTERY 
This monastery in North Sikkim was built in 1806 and follows the Nyingma sec of Buddhism. 

LACHUNG MONASTERY 
This monastery in North Sikkim was built in Sikkim 1880 and also follows the Nyingma sect of Buddhism. 

SANG MONASTERY 
This monastery is situated near Rumtek and was built in 1912.

Adventure Sports in Sikkim

Sikkim, offers a vacation that is more like a voyage of adventure and discovery. When the misty rain wraps the slopes in lacy wisps of clouds, you will find yourself trekking at 14,000 ft or more. If you are more enthusiastic about the thrills of untamed waters, then go for some Rafting or Kayaking experience in Teesta River. And as the mountain scopes of Eastern Himalayas are so luring, how about having a mountaineering. expedition and conquering those virgin peaks, which are yet to be explored! The ones looking for safari trips check out the Yak Safari's that is an unforgettable experience in itself.

You can wander up lush green mountain trails, in the very footsteps of those early travellers. Test your endurance trekking the unknown paths each leading to a paradise. Acquaint yourself with a land that is bizarre at the same time fascinating. With its endless intriguing trails, mountains, flora and fauna, Sikkim offers you a dream - a voyage of adventure and discovery.

Trekking: The captivating landscape, with an incomparable diversity of flora and fauna: India is regarded as the ‘trekkers’ paradise’ and, indeed, is a refreshing treat to the trekkers. India is the ultimate destination for a trekking holiday, offering everything from short and easy excursions to the long challenges of the snowy peaks, invoking visions of the spectacular Himalayas, the lush meadows, green woodland and fragrant orchards.

Mountain Biking: Mountain Biking is another adventure sport that has been recently introduced in Sikkim. Most of the roads in Sikkim are negotiable by mountain bikes. This sport is definitely poised to become popular in Sikkim in the near future and it is being promoted in most parts of North Sikkim & West Sikkim.

Mountaineering: The Sikkim Himalayas, the epitome of the world's mountains, encompass a wonderland, which for sheer beauty and magnificence remains unbeaten elsewhere in the globe. In the southwestern part of Sikkim, in the main Himalayan range, lies the majestic Khangchendzonga or Kanchenjunga, rising to a staggering height of 8,585 m (28,169 ft) above sea level.

River Rafting & Kaying: Rafting is a later entrant of adventure sport in Sikkim. Rivers Teesta and Rangit offer long stretches which are ideal for safe rafting. Teesta has been graded on the International scale at Grade 4. The icy cold waters of the rugged Teesta have a series of rapids with varying intensity and character. It offers one of the finest rafting stretches in the world. Rangit, a tributary of the Teesta, has more turbulent waters and offers a challenge to more experienced rafters.

Yak Safari: Yak Safari is an unforgettable experience organized from Dzongri in West Sikkim onwards by Sikkim Tourism or by travel agencies on prior booking.

PLACES OF TOURIST INTERESTS

EAST SIKKIM:

Enchey Monastery :
An important seat of the Nyingma order, the Enchey Monastery meaning the Solitary temple, was originally built with the solace that no other construction would be allowed near it is built on the site blessed by Lama Druptob Karpo, a tantric master known for his flying powers. This 200-year-old Monastery has in its premises images of god, goddesses and other religious objects. Every year around January 'Chaam' or religious masked dance is performed with great fanfare for two days. it is situated adjoining the Sinolchu Tourist Lodge, 3 kms from Gangtok Town.

Permanent Flower Show :
White Hall, Close by the White Memorial Hall and just below the Palace Ridge park is the more recent Flower Show Hall. In recent years this show has become quite popular and famous as there are flower exhibitions throughout the year in accordance with the seasons and the flowers in bloom.

Do-Drul Chorten ( Stupa) :
The Do-Drul Chorten or Stupa was built by the Venerable Trulshi Rimpoche, head of the Nyingma order of Tibetan Buddhism in 1945. Inside this stupa, there are complete mandala sets of Dorjee Phurba (Bajra Kilaya), a set of Kan-gyur relics ( Holy Books), complete 'Zung'( mantras) and other religious objects. Around this Chorten, which is one of the most important stupas in Sikkim, are 10 Mani-Lhakor( prayer wheels). These prayer wheels are turned by the devout Buddhist while chanting "Hail to the jewel in the Lotus", to invoke the Buddhisattva. The Chorten is surrounded by Chorten Lakhang, where there are two huge statues of Guru Rimpoche (Guru Padmasambhava).

Handloom and Handicrafts centre :
It is now known as the Directorate of Handicrafts and Handlooms as well as the Government Institute of Cottage Industries. Started during the time of the Chogyals of Sikkim, as a venture to protect and propagate the craft and skills of local and village artisans, it has become on t of the major attractions for people visiting Sikkim where traditional handcrafts, furniture, handlooms carpets and other products can be viewed and also purchased . A word of caution to the innocent guest. It is better to check whether there is a government holiday or not as the G.I.C.I. is closed on Sundays, all government declared holidays, second Saturdays and the odd unforeseen holidays.

Namgyal Institute of Tibetology:
The Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, after the late Chogyal of Sikkim, Palden Thondup Namgyal whose brainchild it was has since become one of the most prestigious depository of Tibetan literature, rare manuscripts, paintings, thangkas, statues and religious objects and other works of art and history. Today, it is a renowned worldwide centre for study of Buddhist philosophy and religion. 

Saramsa Garden :
About 14 kms from Gangtok is the Saramsa Garden, the home of Sikkim's most exotic orchids and other rare tropical and temperate plants. Established and maintained by the Department of Forest, it is an excellent recreation and picnic spot.

Rumtek Dharma Chakra Centre :
About 45 minutes drive from Gangtok, 24 kms away, is the Rumtek Dharma Chakra Centre, the seat of the Kagyu order, one of the 4 major Tibetan Buddhist sects. Since the late 1960s, after the arrival of His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, the Centre houses some of the world's most unique religious scriptures and religious rare objects. Traditional in design, it is almost a replica of the original Kagyurpa Monastery in Tsurphu, Tibet.

Jawaharlal Nehru Botanical Garden : 
Very close by to Rumtek Monastery, and maintained by the parks and Gardens unit of the Forest Department of the Government of Sikkim, the Garden is an enchanting and soothing experience among the lush green vegetation, rare plants and trees and certain species of Himalayan flowers and Orchids.

Water Garden :
Water Garden at Martam Khola is on the 31-A National Highway some 16 kms. south of Gangtok. It is an ideal spot for picnic with a small swimming pool for children.

Tsomgo Lake :
Tsomgo lake is only 40 kms. from Gangtok town and is situated at an altitude of 12,210 ft. The drive from Gangtok takes about 2½ hours by bus. The lake is bout 1 km. long and oval in shape, 50ft. deep and is regarded extremely Holy. It is also a home of Brahmini ducks besides stopover for various migratory ducks. Between May and August, it is possible to see variety of flowers in bloom, including the rhododendrons, various species of primulas, blue and yellow poppies, iris and many other species of floras. It is also an ideal habitat of the Red Panda and various species of birds. Open for both the Foreign and Indian nationals. Foreign visitors have to be in a group of two or more and have to apply for the visitors permit through a registered Travel agency.

Nathula :
56 kms from Gangtok is a 'Nathula' Pass at an altitude of 14,200 ft. bordering between India and China in the Tibetan Plateau. It is one of the highest motorable roads and richly covered by many varities of alpine flora and fauna. A tranquil place to visit. Nathula is open only for Indian nationals on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. The visitors have to get the permit to visit the place by applying to the Tourism Department through a registered Travel Agency.

Tashi View Point :
Built by the late King of Sikkim Sir. Tashi Namgyal, it is situated 4 km from Gangtok town from where one can have a clear view of opposite hills, besides Mt. Khangchendzonga. This site offers a breathtaking panorama of the majestic Mt. Khangchendzonga and surrounding hills.

Ganesh Tok : 
It is a very small temple of Ganesh, a God worshipped by Hindus. It is on a hillock on Gangtok-Nathula Road. A Sikkim Government nursery is just nearby.

Sa-Ngor-Chotshog Centre :
It is a Tibetan refugee monastic institution established in 1961 by his Eminence Luding Khen Rimpoche, Head of Ngorpa, sub-sect of the Sakya Order, with the blessing of H.H. Sakya Trizin and H.H. the Dalai Lama. This is the only monastery of the Sakya Order of Tibetan Buddhism in Sikkim. It is located on a beautiful hill-top just 5 kms away from Gangtok Sikkim.

WEST SIKKIM:

Pemayangtse Monastery:
Pemayangtse Monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in the State. Originally established by Lhatsun Chempo, one of the revered Lamas to have performed the consecration ceremony of the first Chogyal ( Religious Monarch) of Sikkim. This ancient monastery belongs to the Nyingma Buddhism and has been considered as one of the premier monasteries in the State, having been entrusted with the task to perform all religious functions of the erstwhile monarch. The Monastery, located on a hill top at an altitude of 6840 ft. commands a magnificent panoramic view of the Himalayan ranges and the surrounding hills and country-side.

Rabdantse :: The  Ancient Capital of Sikkim

Rabdentse Ruins:
This was the second capital of the erstwhile Kingdom of Sikkim after Yuksom and till the year 1814 AD, the Kings of Sikkim had ruled the State from this place. Today, the ruins lie hidden from the main road at a walking distance from the Pemayangtse Monastery. The scenic view from the top of the ruins scanning across the deep valley to the mystic heights of Khangchendzonga ranges is something to be cherished and etched in memory.

Sanga-Choling Monastery:
This monastery is situated on a ridge above Pelling and the famous Pemayangtse Monastery. Built in 1697 AD, it is considered to be the oldest monasteries in Sikkim. In order to reach this Monastery one has to be prepared to spend at least 40 minutes walking up the steep hilly slope which leads through rich forest covers.

Khecheopalri Lake:
Khecheopalri Lake is considered to be one of the sacred lakes of Sikkim both by the Buddhist and the Hindus. The lake remains hidden in the rich forest cover. It is believed that birds do not permit even a single leaf to float on the lake surface. There is a 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 has been provided by the Tourism Department. The hut is presently managed by a local person and provides comfortable stay providing a taste of local Sikkimese -Nepalese cuisines. There is also a pilgrim's hut, managed by Tourism Department, which is meant to provide accommodation to the people who come on pilgrimage tours.

Yuksam:
This was the first capital of Sikkim, where according to the historical records, the first Chogyal of the Kingdom of Sikkim was consecrated in the 1641 AD by three learned lamas. The evidence of the consecration ceremony is still intact in Norbugang Chorten in the form of stone seats and a foot print of the Head Lama on the stone. Since the history of Sikkim began from this place, these areas are now considered sacred by the people of Sikkim. Yuksam is served by all weather road from Pemayangtse, which is at a distance of 32 kms from Yuksam. The trek to Dzongri and to the base camp of the famous Mt. Khangchendzonga begins here.

Tashiding Monastery:
This monastery is constructed on top of a heart shaped hill with the back drop of the sacred Mt. Khang-chen-Dzonga. According to Buddhist scriptures, Guru Padma Sambhava (Guru Rimpoche) blessed the sacred land of Sikkim in the 8th century AD from the spot. The monastery, however, was built in the 18th Century AD by Ngadak Sempa Chempo, one of the three lamas who had performed the consecration ceremony of the first Chogyal.  Tashiding is also famous for the most holy chorten known as 'Thong-Wa-rang-Dol' which literally means 'Saviours by mere sight'. It is believed that the mere act of beholding it is supposed to wash away all he sins of the devotee. Another important feature in tashiding is the sacred water festival popularly knwon as 'Bhumchu'. It is a religious tradition unique to Tashiding Monastery only. Every year, on 14th and 15th day of the first Lunar Month, the Bhumchu Ceremony is celebrated with devotees coming from far and near to get the blessing of the holy water. 

Varsey: 
It lies at an elevation of 10,000 ft. and has a motorable road access upto Hilley. An easy 4 kms trek from there takes one up to the Varsey Rhododendron Sanctuary. One can also trek from Soreng or Dentam in West Sikkim. The place provides a magnificent view of the mountains. Visitors can halt at 'Guras Kunj' trekkers' hut.

Soreng:
Soreng is a picturesque village with beautiful landscape which is about 3 hrs. drive from pelling and 4 hrs. drive from Melli. A trek to Jhandi Danra from Soreng is a must to see the various species of flowers and birds. Hotels and lodges are available for accommodation.

NORTH SIKKIM:

Phodong Monastery:
One of the six major monasteries in Sikkim, Phodong monastery is located in the North approximately 38 kms from Gangtok, 4 kms beyond Phodong is the recently renovated Labrang Monastery unique in it architectural design.

Phensang Monastery:
This monastery is situated on the gentle slope stretching from Kabi to Phodong with perhaps one of the best landscapes in the region. The Phensang Monastery, under the Nyingmapa Buddhist Order, was built in 1721 during the time of Jigme Pawo. It was gutted by fire in 1947 and rebuilt in 1948 through the efforts of the lamas. The annual festival of Chaam is performed on the 29th and 29th days of the tenth month of the Lunar calendar (Tibetan Calendar).

Singhik:
The place offers one of the most spectacular and closest views of Mt. Khangchendzonga and its ranges. A well located Tourist Lodge provides accommodation for visitors. The area also has a number of interesting short nature trails for 1 to 3 days along the higher ridges of the higher ridges of the surrounding hills. One can also savour the most graceful peak in the world, Mt. Siniolchu.

Chungthang:
Chungthang, on the confluence of Lachen and Lachung Chu and the starting point of River Teesta, has emerged as a major sub-division settlement in North Sikkim. It is the nodal junction for the two passes, Lachen and Lachung. The valley is believed to have been blessed by Guru Rimpoche and one can visit the Holy Guru Lhedo to see the foot and palm prints left behind by the Patron Saint. The place is rich in bio diversity with a large variety of orchids, plants and wildlife, is 95 kms from Gangtok, 23 kms from Lachung, 29 kms from Lachen and is predominantly a Lepcha region.

Lachung:
A Bhutia village with a unique local self-governing body called the Zumsa which substitutes the Panchayat. Lachung has emerged as a tourist destination with the soaring popularity of Yumthang Valley which is just 25 kms from Lachung. The village, spreads out on either side of Lachung Chu, has managed to retain its unique culture and tradition. The Lachung Monastery on the slope opposite to the highway is a focal point of all religious function of the local inhabitants. To get a glimpse of the religious functions performed on auspicious occasion a visit to the Monastery should form part of the tour itinerary.

Yumthang:
Yumthang, at an elevation of 11,800 ft and 140 kms from gangtok is a paradise for nature lovers with a fascinating blend of flora and fauna and breathtaking scenic grandeur. The valley is also the home of Singbha Rhododendron Sanctuary with 24 species of Rhododendrons. Yumthang 'Tsa-Chu' or the hot spring of the left bank of Lachung Chu is immensely popular for its curative properties and healing power.

Lachen:
Lachen is situated at an altitude of 2750 mtrs. and about 6 hrs. drive from Gangtok. The Lachen Monastery Located on top of the village commands a panoramic view of the surrounding hills and country side. Resorts, hotels and lodges are available for accommodation.

Guru-Dongmar Lake:
Guru-dongmar lake is considered as one of the sacred lakes of this State both by the Buddhist and the Hindus. The lake remains milky in color throughout and it is believed the Guru Padmasambhava had touched the lake whilst he visited Tibet from this area.

SOUTH SIKKIM:

Namchi :
Namchi, meaning 'Sky High', nestled among the hills at an elevation of 5,500 ft commands panoramic view of the snow-capped mountains and vast stretches of valley. Atop Samdruptse hilltop near Namchi, recently erected is the worlds tallest statue of Guru Padmasambhava, the patron saint of both Hindus and the Buddhist.

Temi Tea Garden:
The one and only tea garden existing in the State produces one of the top quality teas in the international market. The tea garden is spread out on a gently hill slope originating from the Tendong Hill and provides a magnificent view for the surrounding villages. The visit to the factory could be an eye opener for those wanting to know more about tea processing methods.

Ravangla:
At the base of Menam Hill is Ravangla, a small township and transit to various tourist destinations in South and West Sikkim. It is also an upcoming tourist spot, and transit point for trekkers to Menam hill and Borong. There are accommodation facilities and numerous short nature trails. A trek down to the sacred cave 'Sher Chok Bephu', one of the four holiest caves in Sikkim, would be a memorable experience.

Menam Hill:
Menam Hill towers above Tendong Hill on the other side over looking the ravangla Bazar settlement. Situated at an altitude of 10,300 ft the scenic view from this height is, perhaps, unmatched in this part of the world. Mt. Khangchendzonga and its surrounding ranges looms above the dwarf the richly forested and rugged hill. On a clear sunny day, it is possible to see the plains of Bengal spanning across Kalimpong and darjeeling Hills in the South, right across the Indo-China border towards the North. A short distance away is the legendary Bhaley Bhunga, a kind of rocky spur which juts out from the ridge top and remains suspended in the air above Yangang village.

Borong:
Facing the snow-capped mountains is Borong, motorable from Ravangla or a trek via Menam. A picturesque village, its beautiful landscape and magnificent view is also host to the hot spring, Borong TsaChu'. The trek trail, originating from Namchi or Damthang to Tendong - Ravangla - Menam - Borong (5-6 days) is one of the most interesting trails scaling all the hill tops along the route. The trek can continue to Tashiding or terminate at Borong and drive back to Ravangla.

Wildlife in Sikkim

The diversity in the plant world is complemented by a similar variety in the animal kingdom. As if this wasn't enough 600 species of butterflies and 600 species of birds adorn the forest with colour and song. Among the more commonly found animals in the alpine zone are yaks.

 

They are domesticated and reared in North Sikkim mainly for their economic productiveness. Yak milk is used to make butter 'churpi' the wool comes in handy as raw material for carpets and blankets. The musk deer, found in the upper temperate regions, is today a species in the endangered list.. A common denizen of Sikkim is the muntjac, or the barking deer. It is so called because of the barking noise it makes when alarmed.

 

Among the more exotic mammals is the Red Panda which lives mostly on treetops. It is found at altitudes ranging from 6,000 to 12,000 feet. The snow leopard is an almost mythical animal.

It has rarely been sighted and to date, only two field zoologists have succeeded in photographing this elusive animal in its habitat which can vary from 5,000 feet to as high as 18,000 feet. Blue sheep, flying squirrels, binturong, tahrs, marmots and mush deer are at home in this cool blanket of green.

 

Most of this beautiful and virgin area comes under the Kanchenjunga National Park. Sikkim also has large cardamom, orange and tea plantations. The rivers of Sikkim have trout, salmon and carp. Fishing is allowed with a permit.