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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sikkim - Visiting the North East

Sikkim – The Indian Shangrila
View of Kunchenjunga peak peeping above the clouds
Sikkim is a small hilly state, bounded by vast stretches of Tibetan Plateau in the North, the adjoining area is called the Chumbi Valley of Tibet. It is bound by the Kingdom of Bhutan in the East, the newly formed Democratic Republic of Nepal in the West. Its accessibility is through the Siliguri corridor (also called the ‘Chicken neck area’) via Darjeeling (West Bengal) in the South. The State is stretched over 112 Kms. from North to South, and 64 Kms. from East to West. Nearest airport is Bagdogra which is about 125 Kms. from Gangtok, it takes about 4½ hours drive to reach there. The closest Railway Station for Gangtok is New Jalpaiguri which is again at a distance of around 124 Kms. and it takes around 4½ hours drive to reach Gangtok. Gangtok is also conveniently connected by road to Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Siliguri and all district headquarters within Sikkim. The best season to visit Sikkim is mid February to May and thereafter from mid September to November.
The word Sikkim is made up of two ‘Su’ (meaning new) & ‘Khyim’ (meaning palace or house with reference to the palace built by its first ruler Phuntsok Namgyal). The Tibetan name for Sikkim is “Denjong’ which means ‘Valley of rice’. According to the recorded history of the place, Sikkim was once ruled by local Chieftains of small villages inhabited by the Lepchas. Since the Lepchas did not have any script, there is no recorded history of Sikkim prior to 1642. The early history of Sikkim starts in the 13th century with the signing of a blood-brotherhood treaty between the Lepcha Chief Thekong Tek and Tibetan prince Khye-Bumsa at Kabi Lungtsok in North Sikkim. This follows the historical visit of three revered Lamas to Yuksam in 1641 in West Sikkim, where they consecrated Phuntsog Namgyal, a sixth generation descendent of Khye-Humsa as the first Chogyal of Sikkim, thus heralding the beginning of the Namgyal dynasty in Sikkim. As per the version of the locals, the Lepchas had an unrecorded understanding with the Namgyal and they moved towards the North Sikkim beyond present day Mangan (district headquarters of North District) and till date maintain an isolated existence.
The world’s third highest mountain, Kanchendzonga, which is regarded as the guardian deity of Sikkim, dominates the tiny Himalayan State with its awe-inspiring beauty and majesty. Sikkim is one of the 18 Bio-diversity hotspots in the world. The Sikkim Himalayas has a fragile ecosystem and boasts of more than 5000 varieties of flowering plants (Angiosperms), which is nearly one third of the total species of angiosperm found in the country. Apart from the flora the place is rich in fauna as well and boasts of many diverse & rare animals like the Red Panda (State animal), Snow leopard, many species deer’s etc. Sikkim is endowed with many physical features like the mountains, rivers, waterfalls etc. The state is divided into four districts which have been bifurcated as East, West, North & South Sikkim.
Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim is situated in the East District of the state and is one of the most important tourist destinations of Sikkim. There are many important tourist spots in and around it which can be visited over a period of two to three days and are detailed as follows –
Rumtek Monastery : is situated 24 kms from Gangtok. The original monastery was built by one of the rulers of Sikkim, however, His Holiness the late 16th Gyalwa Karampa built the new monastery, the Dharma Chakra Centre, which is said to be replica of the original one in Tibet.
Entry gate of Rumtek Monastery

The outer facade of Rumtek Monastery

Tankha painting inside Rumtek Monastery
Shanti view point : On way to the Rumtek Monastery, one passes through a small viewing gallery from where entire Gangtok is visible.
View of Gangtok township from Shanti view point
Jwaharlal Nehru Botanical Garden : It is located on way to Rumtek which has a small green house and also houses tropical & temperate plants.

Entry gate of Botanical garden
Government Institute of Cottage Industries : It produces crafts in authentic Sikkimese designs from the whole state. Hand woven Tibetan carpets sprout dragon in natural dyes, Sikkimese-style tables called Choktse which are expertly carved and richly coloured along with bamboo decoration pieces and hand-made rice paper is also available here.
Institute of Tibetology : This organization is dedicated to furthering Tibetan studies, Buddhist philosophy and religion. It houses a rare collection of 30,000 books, Tantric documents, rare manuscripts written in gold on the bark of a poisonous tree, antique thangkhas and icons, all prized objects of art for the Buddhist world. A small book shop is also available at the site.

Outside facade of the Institute

A typical Tibetan sculpture in the courtyard of the Institute

Do-Drul Chorten : One of the most important stupa of Sikkim, it was built by Trulshi Rimpoche, head of the Nyingmapa order of Tibetan Buddhism, in 1945. Inside the stupa, there are complete mandala sets of Dorjee Phurba (Bajra Kilaya), a set of Kan-gyur relics (holy books), Zung (mantras) and other religious objects. Around the chorten, there are 108 Mani Lhakor (prayer wheels). The chorten is surrounded by Chorten Lhakhang and Guru Lhakhang, where there are two huge statues of Guru Rimpoche (Guru Padsambhava). It is believed that the area was infested with demons and any person visiting the area was taken sick, Guru Padmsambhava exorcised the area of the demons and peace returned to the place.





Enchey Monastery : An important seat of the Nyingmapa order, the Enchey Monastery is built on the site blessed by Lama Druptob Karpo, a tantric master known for his power of flying. This 200 year old monastery has in its premises images of gods, goddesses and other religious objects.




Tashi View Point : About 8 km from Gangtok, this view point offers fascinating view of the majestic Mount. Kanchenjunga and Mount. Siniolchu.


Baksthnag Water falls - Just beyond the Tashi view point on way leading towards Mangan is a small but beautiful waterfall.



Permanent flower show & Ridge park : Just above the township of Gangtok, is a very specialized garden. There are a variety of flowering plants kept inside the herbarium for which a fee of Rs.10/- per head is charged for maintenance & up-keep. There are two counters which sell the orchids and other local plants.
Hanuman tok : It is a temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman which is situated almost 5 Kms. from the city centre and is maintained by the Indian army.
Ganesh tok : Situated at an altitude of 6500 feet, this small temple is dedicated to Lord Ganesha. The temple offers panoramic view of the Gangtok township.
Himalayan Zoological Park: Situated just opposite to the Ganesh tok through a 3 Kms. road stretch which culminates in a cemented/kuccha road from where one has to trudge to see the unique & endangered animals like the Red Panda & Himalayan Snow leopard etc.


Watch the 10 Point tour of Gangtok below -


Excursions around Gangtok

TSOMGO (alt. 3,780m, 38 km from Gangtok) : The literal meaning of Tsomgo is the source of the lake in Bhutia language (‘TSO’ means ‘lake’ and ‘MGO’ means ‘head’). This 1 km long lake is about 15 m deep and in shape of oval. It is considered extremely sacred by the local people. This placid lake remains frozen during the winter months.
Sikkimese folk-lore tells the story of how Tsomgo initially at Laten, several km away from the present Tsomgo (lake) came to take present position : An old woman, one night dreamt that the lake at Laten was to shift to Tsomgo and she and her two other herder friends were warned, to leave the place as soon as possible. The old lady hastened to inform her friends but they paid no heed. In turn, she hurriedly milked her dri (female yak) and poured the milk on the ground, as an auspicious sign and left the place for Lhachungkar near Thegu. Just before leaving, she happened to see an old lady with srikinly white hair and of fair complexion who was carding yarn, entered Tsomgo where immediately the earth turned into water and formed this Tsomgo (lake). The two yak herders are believed to be sub-merged in the lake along with their herd of yaks. The locals will tell you that whenever the lake is sullied it cries like a little child which has been heard by them. Hard to believe?

KHYONGNOSIA FALLS : Just before reaching Tsomgo lake one passes through a small but beautiful waterfall.

NATHULA : 56 km from Gangtok is the Nathula pass at an alt. of 14,200 feet, bordering between India and China in the Tibetan plateau. It is one of the highest motorable roads and richly covered by various species of Alpine Flora and Fauna. It is also home to the famed Baba Mandir dedicated to memory of an army jawan who is known to defend the nation even after his demise known as Baba Harbhajan Singh. All the army units posted in the area hold him in the highest of esteems.

ELEPHANT LAKE: Beyond Nathula on way to Tukla one passes through a valley rich is local flora and a lake saddled in the valley below which is shaped like an Elephant.

TUKLA : Is a small outpost where Baba Harbhajan Singh is reported to have departed for his heavenly abode, a small temple is dedicated to him at the site. The area is resplendent with verdant & virgin alpine vegetation.


(This part has covered East District of Sikkim - in my ensuing blogs I shall separately cover the North, South & West Districts respectively - hope you find the blog interesting - please keep sending your comments so that I may improve further - expecting suggestions from your side )
To watch the Video of visit around Gangtok -

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