Sikkim is a landlocked Indian state nestled in the Himalayas. It is the least populous state in India, and the second smallest in area. Sikkim was an independent state ruled by the Chogyal monarchy until 1975, when a referendum to make it India's twenty-second state succeeded. The thumb-shaped state borders Nepal in the west, Tibet to the north and east, and Bhutan in the south-east. The Indian state of West Bengal borders Sikkim to its south. The official language is Nepali, and the predominant religions are Hinduism and Vajrayana Buddhism. Gangtok is the capital and largest town.
Despite its small size, Sikkim is geographically diverse, owing to its location at the Himalayan foothills. Terrain ranges from tropical in the south to tundra in the north. Kanchenjunga, the world's third highest peak, is located in Sikkim, straddling its northern border with Nepal. Sikkim has become one of India's most visited states owing to its reputation for untouched scenic beauty and political stability.
Origin of name
Sikkim (or Sikhim) means crested land in Nepali. The term, which was coined by the invading Gorkhas, is derived from the Sanskrit word Shikhim which means "crested", and is the most widely accepted origin. Sikkim would thus owe its name to its almost entirely mountainous terrain. An alternative etymology suggests that the name originates in the Limbu words Su, which means "new", and Khim, which means "palace". Hence the term Sikkim may also mean "New Palace", in reference to the palace built by the state's first ruler, Panache Namgyal. The Tibetan name for Sikkim is Denzong, which means the "valley of rice".
It is also possible that the name came from Su Him which means "Superb Snow", or "Superb Setting", supposedly the words of a newlywed Nepali princess when she first entered the palace as the bride of the local Lepcha king. During its reign, the Chogyal adopted the Tibetan translation of Sikkim, known as Vbras-ljong (འབྲས་ལྗོངས་).
The earliest recorded event related to Sikkim is the passage of the Buddhist saint Guru Rinpoche through the land in the 9th century. The Guru is reported to have blessed the land, introduced Buddhism to Sikkim, and also foretold the era of monarchy in the state that would arrive centuries later.
In the 13th century, according to legend, Guru Tashi , a prince from the Mi-nyak House in Kham in Eastern Tibet, had a divine revelation one night instructing him to travel south to seek his fortunes. His descendents were later to form the royal family of Sikkim. In 1642, the fifth generation descendant of Guru Tashi, Phuntsog Namgyal , was consecrated as the first Chogyal (king) of Sikkim by the three venerated Lamas who came from the north, west, and south to Yuksom and marked the beginning of the monarchy.
Phuntsog Namgyal was succeeded in 1670 by his son, Tensung Namgyal , who shifted the capital from Yuksom to Rabdentse . In 1700, Sikkim was invaded by the Bhutanese with the help of the half-sister of the Chogyal, who had been denied the throne. The Bhutanese were driven away by the Tibetans, who restored the throne to the Chogyal ten years later. Between 1717 and 1733, the kingdom faced many raids by the Nepalese on the west and Bhutanese on the east, culminating with the capture of the capital, Rabdentse by the Nepalese.
When the arrival of the British in neighbouring India, Sikkim allied with them against the common enemy of Nepal. The Nepalese attacked Sikkim overrunning most of the region including the Terrai . This prompted the British East India Company to attack Nepal, resulting in the Gurkha War of 1814. Treaties signed between Sikkim and Nepal–the Sugauli Treaty – and Sikkim and British India – Titalia Treaty – returned the territory annexed by the Nepalese to Sikkim in 1817.
Ties between Sikkim and the British administrators of India grew sour, however, with the beginning of British taxation of the Morang region. In 1849, a pair of British doctors ventured into the mountains of Sikkim unannounced and unauthorised. The doctors were detained by the Sikkim government, leading to a punitive British expedition against the Himalayan kingdom, following which the Darjeeling district and Morang were annexed in 1861. The invasion led to the chogyal's becoming a puppet king under the directive of the British governor.
In 1947, a popular vote for Sikkim to join the Indian Union failed and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru agreed to a special protectorate status for Sikkim. After a period of unrest in 1972-1973, matters came to a head in 1975, when the Kazi (Prime Minister) appealed to the Indian Parliament for representation and change of status to statehood. A referendum was held in which 97.5% of the people voted to join the Indian Union. A few weeks later on 1975-05-16 Sikkim officially became a state of the Indian Union and the monarchy was abrogated.
In 2000, in a major embarassment for China, the seventeenth Karmapa Urgyen Trinley Dorje, who was proclaimed by China made a dramatic escape from Tibet to the Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim. Chinese officials were in a quandary on this issue as any protests to India on the issue would mean an explicit endorsment on India's governance of Sikkim, which the Chinese still hadn't recognised. China eventually recognised Sikkim as an Indian state in 2003, which led to a thaw in Sino-Indian relations. As part of a significant pact between India and China signed by the prime ministers of the two countries Manmohan Singh and Wen Jiabao, China released an official map clearly showing Sikkim as part of the Republic of India. (Barua, The Hindu, 2005)
Government and politics
Like all states of India, the head of the state government is a governor appointed by the Central Indian Government. His appointment is largely ceremonial, and his main role is to oversee the swearing in of the Chief Minister. The Chief Minister, who holds the real executive powers, is the head of the party or coalition garnering the largest majority in the state elections. The governor also appoints the cabinet ministers on the advice of the Chief Minister. Sikkim has a unicameral legislature like most other Indian states. Sikkim is allocated one seat in each of both chambers of India's national bicameral legislature, the Lok Sabha, and the Rajya Sabha. There are a total of 32 state assembly seats including one reserved for the Sangha. Sikkim also has a High Court, the smallest high court in the country.
In 1975, after the abrogation of Sikkim's monarchy, the Congress Party got the largest majority in the 1977 elections. In 1979, after a period of instability, a popular ministry headed by Nar Bahadur Bhandari, leader of the Sikkim Parishad Party was sworn in. Bhandari held on to power in the 1984 and 1989 elections. In the 1994 elections Pawan Kumar Chamling from the Sikkim Democratic Front becoming the Chief Minister of the state. The party has since held on to power by winning the 1999 and 2004 elections.
The thumb-shaped state of Sikkim is characterised by wholly mountainous terrain. Almost the entire state is hilly, with the elevation ranging from 280 metres (920 feet) to 8,585 metres (28,000 feet). The summit of the Kanchenjunga is the highest point. For the most part, the land is unfit for agriculture because of the precipitous and rocky slopes. However, certain hill slopes have been converted into farm lands using terrace farming techniques and is used for cultivation. Numerous snow-fed streams in Sikkim have carved out river valleys in the west and south of the state. These streams combine into the Teesta and its tributary, the Rangeet. The Teesta, described as the "lifeline of Sikkim", flows through the state from north to south. About a third of the land is heavily forested.
The lofty Himalayan ranges surround the northern, eastern and western borders of Sikkim in a crescent. The populated areas lie in the southern reaches of the state, in the Lower Himalayas. The state has twenty-eight mountain peaks, twenty-one glaciers, 227 high altitude lakes, including the Tsongmo Lake and Khecheopalri Lakes, five hot springs, and over 100 rivers and streams. Eight mountain passes connect the state to Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal.
The hills of Sikkim mainly consist of gneissose and half-schistose rocks, making their soil brown clay, and generally poor and shallow. The soil is coarse, with large amounts of iron oxide concentrations, ranging from neutral to acidic and has poor organic and mineral nutrients. This type of soil tends to support evergreen and deciduous forests.
A large portion of the Sikkim territory is covered by the Precambrian rock and is much younger in age than the hills. The rock consists of phyllites and schists and therefore the slopes are highly susceptible to weathering and prone to erosion. This, combined with the intense rain, causes extensive soil erosion and heavy loss of soil nutrients through leaching. As a result, landslides are frequent, isolating the numerous small towns and villages from the major urban centres.
The climate ranges from sub-tropical in the south to tundra in the northern parts. Most of the inhabited regions of Sikkim, however, enjoy a temperate climate, with the temperatures seldom exceeding 28 °C (82 °F) in summer or dropping below 0 °C (32 °F) in winter. The state enjoys five seasons: winter, summer, spring, and autumn, and a monsoon season between June and September. The average annual temperature for most of Sikkim is around 18 °C (64 °F). Sikkim is one of the few states in India to receive regular snowfall. The snow line is around 6,000 metres (19,600 feet).
During the monsoon months, the state is lashed by heavy rains that increase the number of landslides. The state record for the longest period of non-stop rain is eleven days. In the northern region, because of high altitude, temperatures drop below −40 °C in winter. Fog also affects many parts of the state during winter and the monsoons, making transportation extremely perilous.
Flora and fauna
The Rhododendron is the state tree.
Sikkim is situated in an ecological hotspot of the lower Himalayas, one of only three among the Ecoregions of India. The forested regions of the state exhibit a diverse range of fauna and flora. Owing to its altitudinal gradiation, the state has a wide variety of plants, from tropical to temperate to alpine and tundra, and is perhaps one of the few regions to exhibit such a diversity within such a small area.
The flora of Sikkim includes the rhododendron, the state tree, with a huge range of species occurring from subtropical to alpine regions. Orchids, figs, laurel, bananas, sal trees and bamboo in the lower altitudes of Sikkim, which enjoy a sub-tropical type climate. In the temperate elevations above 1,500 metres, oaks, chestnuts, maples, birchs, alders, and magnolias grow in large numbers. The alpine type vegetation includes juniper, pine, firs, cypresses and rhododendrons, and is typically found between an altitude of 3,500 metres to 5,000 m. Sikkim boasts around 5,000 flowering plants, 515 rare orchids, 60 primulas species, 36 rhododendrons species, 11 oaks varieties, 23 bamboos varieties, 16 conifer species, 362 types of ferns and ferns allies, 8 tree ferns, and over 424 medicinal plants.
The fauna includes the snow leopard, the musk deer, the Bhoral , the Himalayan Tahr, the red panda, the Himalayan marmot , the serow , the goral , the barking deer, the common langur , the Himalayan Black Bear, the clouded leopard, the marbled cat , the leopard cat, the wild dog, the Tibetan wolf , the hog badger , the bintu-rong , the jungle cat and the civet cat. Among the animals more commonly found in the alpine zone are yaks, mainly reared for their milk, meat, and as a beast of burden.
The avifauna of Sikkim is comprised of the lmpeyan pheasant , the crimson horned pheasant , the snow partridge , the snow cock , the lammergeyer and griffon vultures, as well as golden eagles, quails, plovers, woodcock, sandpipers, pigeons, flycatchers, babblers and robins. A total of 550 species of birds have been recorded in Sikkim, some of which have been declared endangered.
Sikkim's economy is largely agrarian, based on traditional farming methods, on terraced slopes. The rural populace grows crops such as cardamom, oranges, apples, tea and orchids. Rice is grown on terraced hillsides in the southern reaches. Sikkim has the highest production and largest cultivated area of cardamom in India. Because of the hilly terrain, and lack of reliable transportation infrastructure, there are no large-scale industries. Breweries, distilleries, tanning and watch-making are the main industries. These are located in the southern reaches of the state, primarily in the towns of Melli and Jorethang. The state has an impressive growth rate of 8.3%, which is the second highest in the country after Delhi.
In recent years, the government of Sikkim has promoted tourism. Sikkim has a vast tourism potential and by tapping into this the state has grossed an earnings windfall. With the general improvement in infrastructure, tourism is slated to be the mainstay of the Sikkim's economy. A fledgling industry the state has recently invested in is online gambling. The "Playwin" lottery, which is played on custom-built terminals connected to the internet, has been a commercial success, with operations all over the country. Among the minerals mined in Sikkim are copper, dolomite, limestone, graphite, mica, iron, and coal.
If the Central Government proposal to open up the Nathula Pass that connects Lhasa, Tibet to India is realised, the state economy will get a significant boost. The Pass, closed since the 1962 Sino-Indian War, was an offshoot of the ancient Silk Route, which was essential to the wool, fur and spice trade.
Sikkim has four districts, each overseen by a Central Government appointee, the district collector, who is in-charge of the administration of the civilian areas of the districts. The Indian army has control of a large territory, as the state is a sensitive border area. Many areas are restricted and permits are needed to visit them. There are a total of eight towns and nine sub-divisions in Sikkim.
The four districts are East Sikkim, West Sikkim, North Sikkim and South Sikkim. The district capitals are Gangtok, Geyzing, Mangan and Namchi respectively.
A majority of Sikkim's residents are of Nepali ethnic origin, descendants of migrants who came to the province in the 19th century. The native Sikkimese, consisting of Bhutias, who migrated from the Kham district of Tibet, the Lepchas, the state's original inhabitants, and the Damais also represent a sizable portion of the population. Tibetans reside mostly in the northern and eastern reaches of the state. Immigrant resident communities not native to the state include the Marwaris, who own most of the shops in South Sikkim and Gangtok, the Biharis, most of whom are employed in blue collar jobs, and the Bengalis.
Hinduism and Buddhism are the religions professed by most Sikkimese. Sikkim also has a small Christian population, consisting mostly of people of Lepcha origin, converted to the faith after British missionaries started preaching in the region in the late 19th century. The state has never had inter-religious strife. Mosques in downtown Gangtok and Mangan also serve the minuscule Muslim population.
Nepali is the most widely spoken language in Sikkim. English and Hindi are also widely spoken and understood in most of Sikkim, particularly in Gangtok. Other cognate languages spoken in Gangtok include Sikkimese, Lepcha, Limboo and Bengali.
As India's least populous state, Sikkim has only 540,493 inhabitants, with 288,217 males and 252,276 females. It is also the least densely populated state with only 76 persons per square kilometre. Its growth rate is 32.98% (1991-2001). The sex ratio is 875 females per 1000 males. With 50,000 inhabitants, Gangtok is the state's only significant town. The urban population in Sikkim is 11.06%. The per capita income stands at Rs 11,356, which is one of the highest in the country.
Sikkim residents celebrate all major Indian festivals such as Diwali and Dussera, the popular Hindu festivals. Losar, Loosong, Saga Dawa, Lhabab Duechen, Drupka Teshi and Bhumchu are Buddhist festivals that are also celebrated. During the Losar – the Tibetan New Year in mid-December – most government offices and tourist centres are closed for a week. Christmas has also recently been promoted in Gangtok to attract tourists during the off-season.
It is common to hear Western rock music being played in homes and in restaurants even in the countryside. Hindi songs have gained wide acceptance among the masses. Indigenous Nepali rock, music suffused with a western rock beat and Nepali lyrics, is also particularly popular. Football (soccer) and cricket are the two most popular sports.
Noodle-based dishes such as the thukpa, chowmein, thanthuk, fakthu, gyathuk and wonton are common in Sikkim. Momos, steamed dumplings filled with vegetable, beef or pork and served with a soup is a popular snack. The mountainous peoples have a diet rich in beef, pork and other meats. Alcohol is cheap owing to the low excise duty in Sikkim and beer, whiskey, rum and brandy are consumed by many Sikkimese.
Almost all dwellings in Sikkim are rustic, consisting of a bamboo frame, woven with pliable bamboo and coated with cow dung, providing a warm interior. In the higher elevations, houses are made of wood.
Sikkim does not have any airports or railheads because of its rough terrain. The closest airport, Bagdogra Airport, is near the town of Siliguri, West Bengal. The airport is about 124 km away from Gangtok. A regular helicopter service run by the Sikkim Helicopter Service connects Gangtok to Bagdogra; the flight is thirty minutes long. The Gangtok helipad is the only civilian helipad in the state. Sikkim is slated to get its own airport in 2005. The closest railway station is New Jalpaiguri which is situated sixteen kilometres from Siliguri.
National Highway 31A links Siliguri to Gangtok. The highway is an all-weather metalled road which mostly runs parallel of the river Teesta, entering Sikkim at Rangpo. Numerous public and privately run bus and jeep services connect the airport, railway station, and Siliguri to Gangtok. A branch of the highway from Melli connects western Sikkim. Towns in southern and western Sikkim are connected to the northern West Bengal hill stations of Kalimpong and Darjeeling. Within the state, four wheel drives are the most popular means of transport, as they can navigate rocky slopes. Mini-buses link the smaller towns to the state and district headquarters.
Roads in Sikkim are in a poor condition because most are exposed to landslides and flooding by nearby streams. The roads are maintained by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), an offshoot of the Indian army. The roads in South Sikkim and NH-31A are in a good condition, landslides being less frequent in these areas. The state government maintains 1857.35 km of roadways that do not fall in the BRO jurisdiction.
Sikkim has a number of hydroelectric power stations, providing a steady electricity source. However the voltage is unstable and voltage stabilisers are needed. Per capita consumption of electricity in Sikkim is 182 Kwh. 73.2% of households have access to safe drinking water, and the large number of streams assures redundant water supply, thus the state never witnesses droughts.
Literacy is 69.68%, which breaks up into 76.73% for males and 61.46% for females. There are a total of 1545 government-run educational institutions and eighteen private schools mostly located in the towns. There are about twelve colleges and other institutions in Sikkim that offer higher education. The largest institution is the Sikkim Manipal Institute of Technology which offers higher education in engineering and medicine. Many students however, migrate to Siliguri and Calcutta for their higher education.
The southern urban areas have English, Nepali and Hindi dailies. Nepali language newspapers are locally printed, whereas Hindi and English newspapers are printed in Siliguri. English newspapers include The Statesman and The Telegraph which are printed in Siliguri, as well as The Hindu and The Times of India, printed in Calcutta, and are received with a day's delay in the towns of Gangtok, Jorethang, Melli and Geyzing. The Sikkim Herald is an official weekly publication of the government.
Internet cafés are well established in the district capitals, but broadband connectivity is not widely available, and many rural areas have yet to be linked to the Internet. Satellite television channels through dish antennae are available in most homes in the state. Channels served are the same available throughout India along with a Nepali language channels. The main service providers are Sikkim Cable, Dish TV, Doordarshan and Nayuma. The area is well serviced by local cellular companies such as BSNL, Reliance Infocomm, and Airtel. BSNL has state wide coverage, whereas Reliance Infocomm and Airtel have coverage only in urban areas. The national All India Radio is the only radio station in the state.
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04