History of Sikkim

 Sikkim is a jewel-like mountain state of ethereal beauty, cradled deep within the splendours of the snow-clad Himalayas.  Wrapped in mists and clouds, bursting with an incredible variety of rhododendrons, wild orchids and other flowers.

The earliest historical mention of Sikkim is a record of 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, and foretold the era of monarchy in Sikkim that would arrive centuries later. In the 14th century, according to legend, Khye Bumsa, a prince from the Minyak House in Kham in Eastern Tibet, had a divine revelation one night instructing him to travel south to seek his fortunes. His descendants were later to form the royal family of Sikkim. In 1642, a fifth-generation descendant of Khye Bumsa, 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, marking the beginning of the monarchy.

Gangtok Photo Sikkim

Gangtok Photo Sikkim

Following the arrival of the British in neighboring India, Sikkim allied with them against their common enemy, Nepal. The Nepalese attacked Sikkim, overrunning most of the region including the Terai. This prompted the British East India Company to attack Nepal, resulting in the Gurkha War of 1814.Treaties signed between Sikkim and Nepal resulted in the return of the territory annexed by the Nepalese in 1817.

The Himalayan state of Sikkim is as for its mountainous terrain and Buddhist heritage, as it is for its abundant art.

Sikkim has been described as one of the last Himalayan Shangri–las by most travel guides.  “Shangri-La” is a mystical, harmonious valley, gently guided from a lamasery, enclosed in the western end of the Kunlun Mountains.  Shangri-La has become synonymous with any earthly paradise but particularly a mythical Himalayan utopia — a permanently happy land, isolated from the outside world. Sikkim is the 22nd India state.

Shangrila Sikkim India

Shangrila Sikkim India

Sitting pretty at the foothills of the sky–high Kanchenjunga or Khangchendzonga (an eight – thousander and the world’s third highest peak), Sikkim is an ethereal land draped by a cover of mist and sunshine, swathed by dizzying forested valleys and slopes and topped by wildly fluttering prayer flags. It is also a spiritual world brimming with strong Tibetan- Buddhist currents, with ancient gompas (Buddhist monasteries) sprinkled through its alpine landscape.

1. Khangchendzonga National Park, Sikkim

Khangchendzonga National Park is a National Park and a Biosphere reserve located in North Sikkim district in the Indian state of Sikkim. T he park gets its name from the mountain Kanchenjunga . The total area of this park is 849.5 Squre Kilometers. There are many glaciers in the park including the Zemu glacier.  There are a few Lepcha tribal settlements inside the park.

Khangchendzonga National Park

Khangchendzonga National Park

 

The vegetation of the park include temperate broadleaf and mixed forests consisting of oaks, fir, birch, maple, willow etc. The vegetation of the park also includes alpine grasses and shrubs at higher altitudes along with many medicinal plants and herbs.

The park contains many mammal species including musk deer, snow leopard, Himalayan Tahr, wild dog, sloth bear, civet, Himalayan black bear, red panda, Tibetan wild ass, Himalayan blue sheep, serow, goral and takin, as well as reptiles including rat snake and Russell’s viper.

About 550 species of birds are found inside the park including Blood Pheasant, Satyr Tragopan, Osprey, Himalayan Griffon, Lammergeier, Tragopan Pheasant, Green Pigeon, Tibetan Snowcock, Snow Pigeon, Impeyan Pheasant, Asian Emerald Cuckoo, Sunbird & Eagle.

2. Trekking in  Sikkim

Most of the trekking routes starts from Yuksom (145 km (90 mi) from Gangtok) in West Sikkim. Necessary Permit can be obtained from the Wildlife Education and Interpretation centre at Yuksom or from the checkpost. State Tourism Department along with other travel agents organise treks to Dzongri (4,050 metres (13,290 ft) and other places. The popular trek routes are given below. Also if you are planning to travel to Sikkim, we have done some research  and have given list of hotels where you can stay. Key the City, dates of travel  the search widow, and click on the search button below:

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Trekking in National Park Sikkim

Trekking in National Park Sikkim

  • Yuksom – Tshoka – Dzongri
  • Bakim – Dzongri – Thangshing – Samuteng – Goechala
  • Dzongri Base Camp – Rathong – Khangerteng
  • Thangshing – Lam Pokhari – Kasturi Orar – Lapdong – Tashiding.

Another popular trekking point includes trekking to the Green Lake with Lachen, a village in North Sikkim as the starting point.   Foreign nationals would require a restricted area permit from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, Delhi to visit the park and the associated region.
Indian nationals are required to obtain an Inner-Line Permit from the State Home Department. Permission of the State Chief Wildlife Warden is also mandatory for everybody visiting the park. The important and popular routes are:

  • Lucanes Jakchen-Yabuk-Rest Camp (Marco Polo Camp) – Green Lake
  • Lachen-Thasngu (13,695 feet (4,174 m)) – Muguthang (16,000 feet (4,900 m)) – Thay La (17,000 feet (5,200 m)) – Khyoksa La (18,000 feet (5,500 m)) – Rest Camp – Green Lake.
  • Most of these trekking routes pass through the Khangchendzonga National Park.

3. River Rafting in Sikkim

Rafting in Sikkim  in the two snow fed rivers of Teesta and Rangit.  During the monsoon season hundreds of small streams can be found all over Sikkim.  The Teesta River flows across the length of Sikkim and the river Rangit is a tributary to river Teesta. The rivers are narrow and rocky in most stretches. Because of swift currents hitting rocks, the rivers are very noisy and can be heard for miles together. The rivers are fed by snow melting on the mountains as well as rain that accumulates in the catchments areas during the monsoons. Human settlements exist above the level of rivers ensuring that even if flooding takes place the villages remain safe.

River Rafting in Rivers of Sikkim

River Rafting in Rivers of Sikkim

Thought 3-4 days of rafting with a combination of camping is possible in both the rivers, we can also organise short duration rafting according to your convenience. It is also possible to organise leisure trips and kayaking in certain stretches especially post monsoon.

The two trails that are possible amongst rafters are :

  • On River Teesta: Chungthang – Dikchu – Singtam – Melli
  • On River Rangit: Legship – Jorethang – Melli 

4. Arts and crafts of Sikkim

People of Sikkim seem to be born with exceptional skill required for craft making. You will find some of the most beautiful woolen items like woven woolen carpets and woolen blankets along with other items like Sikkimese motifs, and table called Choktse. From ages, craft items of Sikkim have generated a lot of market in India. However what is most heartening to see is that, today it is in great demand even in foreign countries. There are different communities in Sikkim and almost all possess expertise in at least one handicraft item.

But the real inspiration behind Sikkimese art is a powerful brew of nature and religion. Buddhism is a Sikkim way of life, so is its eclectic brand of Buddhism – infused art.  Here, religious art is a vital part of the tapestry of rituals, prayers, superstitions and everyday living. It is pretty omnipresent too emblems splashed across monastery walls, the insides of shrines, and on the walls of homes.

A.Carpet Making in Sikkim

Woolen Carpets are without a doubt the most famous offering to come out of Sikkim. It is also probably the oldest form of carpet weaving in the world. The carpets are really a treat to eyes as they created by using different colored wool. They are decorated with exquisite patterns depicting landscapes of snow clad mountains or flowering valleys. Floral motifs are also quite popular among the people here. You will also see styles taken from Buddhist Iconography and geometrical patterns. There are few privately run institutes as well that teaches the traditional method of carpet weaving.

Woolen Carpets of  Sikkim

Woolen Carpets of Sikkim

One of the relatively newer crafts by Sikkim’s ancient artistic standards is its range of hand Knotted carpets. Carpet weaving workshops, called Nam- Khang’, mushroomed across the ragion sometime in the 1920s. Since then, the trade has been booming, and carpets are one of Sikkim’s biggest handicraft ventures. Traditionally, Sikkimese carpets were not place on the floor, but used on bad and sofas. Now, the more urbane homes do use floor carpets, but those without religious insignia. The handspun carpets use an assorted range of yarns from New Zealand wool to Panipat wool, and while natural dyes were used earlier, these have been traded for chemical ones these days.

Sikkim’s carpets come in a series of whimsical designs that incorporate Tibetan Buddhist motifs The popular ones are woven with the ‘Dorjee’ or thunderbolt symbol (which signifies the imperishability of truth) and the eigth lucky talismans or the ‘Tashi Tagyein’.  Then there are traditional ones with lotuses, clouds, flowers and dragons, while contemporary carpets are woven with geometric patterns. Carpets are weavers are concentrated in north and west Sikkim.   You can find their wares at the state’s handicraft emporia.

B. Wooden Carvings

Wodden Carvings of Sikkim

Wodden Carvings of Sikkim

The best place to witness the skill of Sikkimese people in wood carving are the many monasteries in Sikkim. From top to bottom, there is lavish use of carved wood in these monasteries. The wood in the monasteries are engrossed with symbols and icons from Buddhism. You can also get a glimpse of wood work in Sikkim during the many dance performances that are a inseparable part of people here. The masks that are worn by the performers are generally made of woods, notice the intricate decorations done on the masks. Another well known wooden product from Sikkim that is famous all over India is Choktse tables. They are foldable tables which are around 2 feet in height and has some beautiful designs made on the all sides.

C. Thangka Painting

Thangka Paintings were and still are an item of reverence among the people of Sikkim. There are generally three types of thangkas all of which are spiritual in nature. The first type shows scenes from the life of Lord Buddha, the other depicting general belief of Buddhist people about life and the third kind of paintings are used for meditation and as an offering to gods. Thangkas are generally made on cotton canvas with vegetable dyes as colors. Earlier, thangkas were made only by monks and priests. But today it has spread to many more communities. To see the best of thangkas, one has to visit the monasteries which are literally a treasure chest for thangkas.

D. Handlooms

Sikkim stays cold for most part of the year and people generally wear woolen clothes. People of Sikkim save a lot on wool and money by designing the old and used woolen blanket into bags, shawls, jackets and many dolls. You will be amazed to see the fashion that young generation of Sikkim sport. Not only are they up to date with fashion industry, you can spot some uniquely fashionable clothings. Government has opened some cottage industries in the state to promote and help people grow in hand looms.

Another very Sikkimese crafts is its tradition of handwoven textiles. Lepcha fabrics are instantly recognisable with their distinctive black, red yellow and green stripes and the base of white. Mufflers, shawls, bags and coats fashioned out of Lepcha fabric make for good buys.

Handicraft products from Sikkim are gaining recognition and accolades from all parts of the world. And this fame and popularity seems to have encouraged the craftsmen of Sikkim even more. Come to Sikkim to witness people of Sikkim create magic of olden days with skills of today.

E. Handicrafts of Sikkim

There is almost a surfeit of handicrafts created by artisans in the state including metal craft, cane and bamboo craft, handmade paper stationery, and silvery set with precious stones. Sikkim’s wood – carving tradition is particularly well – known. The Bhutias and Lepchas are skilled at carving a range of products from locally available wood (Chaap, Okar and Tuni). Decorative objets d’art lamps, wall hangings, furniture and screens are widely available. Of these, a good collectible is the ‘Choktse’, a foldable, wooden centre table with delicately carved panels, which is an essential part of every Sikkimese drawing room.

5. Lepchas of Sikkim   

Lepchas of Sikkim

Lepchas of Sikkim

Sikkim is also a vibrant artistic outpost Apart from its Eden –like natural splendour, ‘Sukhim’ (one of the local renditions of ‘Sikkim,’ which translates into ‘new home’), has a rich arts and crafts tradition, born out of the eclectic confluence of communities settled here. Its denizens include the Lepchas or the original inhabitants of the region, the Bhutias (with ancestors from Tibet), and another settlers from Nepal, West Bengal and Darjeeling.

Sacred art has always been a backdrop for life in this region. The earliest inhabitants of Sikkim (the Lepchas) were a nature – worshipping, animistic people who interpreted natural forces as divine – for instance, their guardian deity was mountain ‘Kanchen Konglo.’ While the influences of animistic Bon still linger, the prevalent school of art in this area has always hinged on Tibetan Buddhism – in fact, Buddhist influences in Sikkim can be traced to as far back as the 8th century. The archetypes, themes and motifs of Sikkimese art are heavily borrowed from the surrounding Buddhist regions of Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan.

6.Monasteries of Sikkim

 It is but natural then that Sikkim’s 200 – odd monasteries are also treasure troves of art.  Its old- world gompas are a treat for any connoisseur – the walls are replete with ginormous murals and frescoes depicting ancient Buddhist legends, the inner shrines exhibit rare silk and brocade thangkas (painted scrolls) and the outer structures are elaborately embellished with sacred symbols and icons.

The monasteries are veritable museums where decorative lamps, ancient Tibetan Buddhist manuscripts, carved wooden furniture, gold and silver icons and beautiful statues of Buddhist deities such as Padmasambhava are carefully preserved. Monasteries are also venues where highly specialised forms of art are practiced.

Monastery in Sikkim

Monastery in Sikkim

 

One of the most ritualised and sophisticated practices is that of drawing the mandala or the ‘magic circle’.  Mandalas are sacred circles and intricate diagrams representing the cosmos, imbued with symbols which have a metaphysical significance.  The lamas (monks) at the monastery, who create these complex designs for puja (worship) and meditation, have an acute insight not just into the religious scriptures but into aesthetics as well. 

Trained artisan monks sketch the mandala, and then fill it with a type of coloured ink with great ingeniousness. Sophisticated are skills and immense patience are applied by monks to a number of activities like sculpting a ritualistic offering called the  ‘Torma’  – with nimble and practised fingers, the monks fashion miniature stupas and the like, out of rice flour, vegetable oil and clay.

However, the most melodramatic and larger – than – life aspect of the region’s artistic legacy is its murals, which are painted across the length and breadth of monastery walls. They peep out at you from practically any surface, from walls and windows to doors and ceilings. Colourful, one – dimensional murals, which pop out in 3- D in certain spots, typically depict the life of Buddhist saints and the Jataka fables. 

The mural – painting technique is highly rigorous and monks need to go through a thorough training to make these big scale productions.  They are also expected to follow the ancient and methodology of painting to a T. Wall – to – wall murals that dot Sikkim’s age – old monasteries still have the power to draw the viewer into meditative and mesmeric spell.  Visit the Pemayangtse, phensang, Tashiding and Sanga Chelling (the oldest in the region) monasteries, to get a whiff of Sikkimese, Buddhist art, up – close.  

7. Mask making in Sikkim

Yet another quintessential part of Sikkim’s aesthetic tradition is its ghoulish wooden and papier mache masks. While mask- making is originally a Tibetan are, it has moved on to other regions like Sikkim. Apart from the decorative ones, a sub – genre of masks called the dancing masks’, are donned by monks while performing the ceremonial ‘Iama dance’.

Art of Mask making in Sikkim

Art of Mask making in Sikkim

Painted on with natural colour extracts, masks are either crafted out of a mixture of clay, jute and handmade paper pulp. Painted Sikkim household has a mask on display. In the ‘Kanchendzonga’ or the red – faced mask worshipped for prosperity and the ‘Mahakala’, a blue – faced mask that is honoured before starting anything new. An interesting range of masks are also emotive and express varying degrees of serenity, anger and animal expressions. North Sikkim is home to the state’s best mask maker.   

Sikkim’s carpets come in a series of whimsical designs that incorporate Tibetan Buddhist motifs The popular ones are woven with the ‘Dorjee’ or thunderbolt symbol (which signifies the imperishability of truth) and the eigth lucky talismans or the ‘Tashi Tagyein’.  Then there are traditional ones with lotuses, clouds, flowers and dragons, while contemporary carpets are woven with geometric patterns. Carpets are weavers are concentrated in north and west Sikkim.   You can find their wares at the state’s handicraft emporia.

Another very Sikkimese crafts is its tradition of handwoven textiles. Lepcha fabrics are instantly recognisable with their distinctive black, red yellow and green stripes and the base of white. Mufflers, shawls, bags and coats fashioned out of Lepcha fabric make for good buys.  

8. Lucky Charms in Sikkim 

Lucky Charms of Sikkim

Lucky Charms of Sikkim

Sikkim is also lands shrouded in myths and legends, which is reflected in its popular art. The Sikkimese people are big on lucky charms. Enmeshed in the culture and art of the land are eight vivid pictorial symbols which form a sacred collective of charms.  Termed the ‘Tashi Tagyein’, the eight signs are the ‘Dug’ or parasol, the ‘Bhumpa’ or vase, the ‘Dhungkar’ or conch shell, the Gyaltsen’ or banner of victory, the  ‘Sernya’ or pair of golden fish, the ‘pema’ or lotus, the palbheu’ or Knot of eternity and the ‘Choekyi Khorlo’ or wheel of life.

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Getting to Sikkim

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Have a Great time  visiting  Sikkim.