Sikkim is bordered by Nepal, Tibet, West Bengal and Bhutan, and is situated within the awe-inspiring Himalayan Mountain Range. It is a particularly small state, covering just over 7000 square kilometres, but remains a famous attraction for its stunning vistas and fascinating culture. Because of the different elevations of the land, this area experiences very different climates throughout its small expanse. Each area is ideal for a unique blend of fauna and flora, giving it a distinctive biodiversity and natural beauty.

There is no recorded history of Sikkim until the ninth century CE (Common Era). The earliest textual records tell the story of the Buddhist saint, Guru Rinpoche, who arrived in this land and blessed it. He is believed to have introduced the Buddhist religion. In the mid 17th century, the Namgyal Dynasty (a monarchy) took control of this region, but never without threat from the Nepalese. These enemies continued to wage war with them over territory, and succeeded in gaining some of the land that once belonged to the Namgyals. When the British Crown gained the control of other Indian states, Sikkim formed alliances with them in an effort to maintain independence in cooperation with the British government. But, England took over in the early 1800’s. From this time until 1947, Sikkim continued to strive for political independence. It became a British protectorate (essentially autonomous but with the political and militarial backing of Britain) and then merged with the rest of the subcontinent in 1975.

Sikkim is home to the highest mountain peak in India, Kangchenjunga, which towers more than 8500 metres above sea
Image of  Kanchenjunga is generally regarded as the highest mountain in India
It is the third highest mountain in the world with an altitude of
8,586 metres (28,169 feet). Kanchenjunga is generally regarded
as the highest mountain in India
level. The rest of its terrain is made up of mountains of various heights as well as rivers that are fed by melting snow and glaciers from the mountain peaks. There are eight mountain passes between Sikkim and the surrounding areas of Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. In addition, there are extensive areas occupied by dense forests. Hot springs are found within the mountains of Sikkim, and these have been used for their therapeutic and medicinal value throughout history. They are also popular tourist attractions. These various geographical areas and their elevations mean that the climate varies from sub-tropical to tundra (snowy, with temperatures dropping below zero degrees Celsius). This is one of the cooler states in India and experiences much fog. Tourists should be advised to take precautions when travelling under these conditions.

The forests are particularly prolific in fascinating plant- and animal species. Throughout the state, its flora includes the Rhododendron tree, bamboo, banana trees, figs, orchids, laurels, oaks, chestnuts, maples and so on. There are over 500 species of rare orchids and approximately 5000 species of flowering plants. Nature-lovers will delight in the different animals in this region, which include the Red Panda, Snow Leopard, Goral, Himalayan Black Bear, Tibetan Wolf, Hog Badger, Jungle Cat, Snow Cock, Crimson Horned Pheasant, Golden Eagle, Snow Partridge and Griffon Vulture, amongst many others.

Because of the mountainous topography, all industries are made more difficult in this region, as there are few places to establish farms, factories or transport routes. However, there are farms on the less steep faces of the rolling hills. As with much of the rest of rural India, agriculture has to support the community to a large degree. Their main crops include rice, wheat, maize, barley, millet, oranges, tea and India’s largest cultivated area of cardamom. Tourism is another important industry as this mysterious land lures visitors from all over the world to explore its deep gorges and towering snow-burdened peaks.

There are 11 official languages in Sikkim, but English has been chosen for the education and government sectors and Hindi is widely used. Most Sikkim residents are Hindus, while Buddhism is the second most popular religion of the state. Christians, Muslims and Jains make up the minorities.

Tourist attractions in the small state of Sikkim include:

• The Rumtek Monastery
• Tsomgo Lake
• Nathula Pass
• The Pemyangtse Monastery, Sangachoeling Monastery, Dabdi Monastery and Tashiding Monastery
• Khechepalri Lake (a sacred lake)

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