The Abode of Gods
frBelieved by many, this Indian state was the result and a fulfillment of a ‘letter dropped om heaven’. Known as Sikkim, the state is legendary for its peaceful nature and simplicity. History has recorded that one of the Namgyals brothers who were scions of the Mi-nyak House in Kham in Eastern Tibet was directed by a letter dropped from heaven to go south towards Sikkim where his descendants were fated to rule. As interesting as the history, the state also has many other interesting aspects and facets that attracts people all over the world.
Famous for Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world at 8586m, the mountain state of Sikkim offers tremendous variety of plant and wildlife besides a diverse ethnic mix of people with rich cultural tradition. The three ethnic groups of people viz Lepchas, Bhutias and Nepalese represent weave an interesting and diverse cultures, traditions, religions in Sikkim.
This thumb-shaped state borders Nepal in the west, the Tibet Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China to the north and the east and Bhutan in the southeast. The Indian state of West Bengal borders Sikkim to its south.Despite its small area of 7,096 km2 (2,740 sq mi), Sikkim is geographically diverse due to its location in the Himalayas. The climate ranges from subtropical to high alpine. About a third of the land is heavily forested.
For most of the period in a a year, this small hilly state in the Eastern Himalayas experienced a cold climate and humid as rainfall occurs in each month. The area experience a heavy rainfall due to its proximity to the Bay of Bengal. Being a part of inner mountain ranges of Himalayas, Sikkim state has varied elevation ranging from 300 to 8540 meters. But the habitable areas are only up to the altitude of 2100 mtrs that constitute only 20% of the total area. Most part of 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.
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. The state boast of many hot springs that are known for medicinal and therapeutic values. The most important hot springs are at Phurchachu (Reshi), Yumthang, Borang, Ralang, Taram-chu and Yumey Samdong. They have high sulphur content and are located near river banks. Some also emit hydrogen. The average temperature of the water in these hot springs is 50 °C (122 °F).
Known as a dream of naturalists, Sikkim is home to more than 4000 species of plants and 30% of all the birds found in the Indian sub-continent. About 450 varieties of orchids, over 600 species of butterflies, 500 species of birds along with red pandas, snow leopards and other animals can be seen in Sikkim. The largest collection can be seen at the Kanchenjunga National Park which covers an area of 850 square kilometers. The flora and fauna naturally covers a wide spectrum in Sikkim, because of the altitude that vary right from sea level to summits that touch the skies. Nowhere in the world in such a small area can one find flora and fauna of all varieties – Tropical to the Alpines.
Situated in an ecological hot spot of the lower Himalayas, Sikkim is one of only three among the Eco regions of India. The flora of Sikkim include the rhododendron, the state tree, with a wide range of species occurring from subtropical to alpine regions. Orchids, figs, laurel, bananas, sal trees and bamboo grow in the Himalayan subtropical broad leaf forests of the lower altitudes of Sikkim, which enjoy a subtropical-type climate. In the temperate elevations above 1,500 metres (4,900 ft) are Eastern Himalayan broadleaf forests, where oaks, chestnuts, maples, birches, alders, and magnolias grow in large numbers, as well as Himalayan subtropical pine forests, dominated by Chir pine. The orchid Dendrobium nobile is the official flower of Sikkim.
The fauna include the snow leopard, the musk deer, 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 binturong, 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 state house various wildlife sanctuaries like Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary, Fambonglho Wildlife Sanctuary, Kyongnosla Alpine Sanctuary, Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary, Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary, Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary and Khangchendzonga National Park.
The avifauna of Sikkim consist of the Impeyan pheasant, the crimson horned pheasant, the snow partridge, the snow cock, the lammergeyer and griffon vultures, as well as golden eagles, quail, plovers, woodcock, sandpipers, pigeons, Old World flycatchers, babblers and robins. Blood Pheasant is the state bird while the Red Panda is the state animal of Sikkim.
Sikkim also has a rich diversity of arthropods, many of which remain unstudied even today. As with the rest of India, the most studied group is that of the butterflies. Of approximately 1438 butterfly species found in the Indian subcontinent, 695 have been recorded from Sikkim. These include the endangered Kaiser-i-hind, Yellow Gorgon and the Bhutan Glory.
Among the eight states of North-east India, Sikkim has successfully implemented Eco-tourism as part of promoting the varied land features and preserving the region rich biodiversity. Inspite of its inhabitable larger region, the state has utilised each natural bounty in the right direction. Also the cultural blend of Buddhism and Tibetology attracts many national as well as foreign tourists to the state. Adventurous tour like trekking, river rafting, kayaking, mountain biking, hang gliding, bird watching etc give the region enough utilisation of its land features. The state also has eminent orchids sanctuary where 500 indigenous species of orchids are found. With tourism industry on the bloom, the state faces daily challenges of keeping its environment free from any hazard that tourism usually brings to any region.