Sikkim is a small state in northeast India, bordered by Bhutan, Tibet and Nepal. Sikkim is the least populous state in India and the second-smallest state after Goa in total area. It also has the only open land border between India and China. Sikkim is a home of adventure, trekking and sightseeing. Sikkim is a popular tourist destination, owing to its culture, scenery and biodiversity.
Sikkim, with its rich biodiversity, has 150 lakes ranging in altitude from 200 meters to almost 8000 meters and about 600 species of bird. Sikkim has 4000 species of flowering plants, making it a botanist's paradise. It has 558 species of orchids, and 39 species of Rhododendrons and around 600 species of Butterflies.
It is worth mentioning that Sikkim won the National Tourism Award 2012, and has been proclaimed as the best state for the implementation of rural tourism projects by Union Ministry of Tourism. It is evident from the press release issued by the Union Tourism Industry in 2014 that Sikkim witnessed the maximum number of foreign tourists among all states in the North East.
Sikkim's capital and largest city is Gangtok. Gangtok is located at a height of 5500 feet above sea level. A gradually growing sprawl of concrete, the town is blessed with a handful of sights, and doubles as a good base for excursions to places such as Rumtek and Tsomgo Lake. The town provides the perfect gateway for travel through the state. Today it is a busy administrative and business centre and presents an interesting mix of cultures and communities. Tourist of all age group can avail all possible amenities like Hotels are available as per the budget along with a variety of eateries serving cuisine for all tastes, Monasteries, view points, temples, museum, zoo, varieties of flowers, Shopping complexes, cyber cafes, night clubs and pool parlors and many more.
Some of the key places to visit in and around Gangtok are MG Marg, Rumtek Monastry, Do-Drul Chorten, Enchey Monastery, Tashi View Point and the local bazaar, Lal Bazaar. Day excursions can be made to Tsomgo, Nathula Pass and Fambong La wildlife sanctuary.
The Namgyal Institute of Tibetology was declared open by the late Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on the 1st of October 1958 to promote religion, history, language, art and culture of the people of the Tibetan cultural area which includes Sikkim. The site on which the institute was established was donated by the late Chogyal (king) of Sikkim Sir Tashi Namgyal. The foundation stone of the institute was laid by the 14th Dalai Lama on the 10th of February 1957.The NIT is the second largest treasury of invaluable old Tibetan books and manuscripts on Buddhist philosophy and religion, science, medicines, astrology etc. The NIT attracts Buddhist scholars from around the world. The NIT library holds one of the largest collections of Tibetan works in the world outside Tibet and a museum of Tibetan iconography and religious art. It also houses a wide range of Lepcha and Sanskrit manuscripts and scrolls of ancient vintage.
Tsomgo Lake or Changu Lake is a glacial lake in the East Sikkim, India, some 40 kms away from Gangtok. It is a two hour journey by car from Gangtok. The lake is a kilometer long and oval shaped. It derives its water from the melting snows of the mountains surrounding the lake. The lake is associated with many myths and is revered by the Sikkimese as sacred. It is believed that in olden times, Buddhist monks would study the color of the water of the lake to forecast the future. Tsomgo lake is a must see spot for the tourist. One can take a ride on colorfully adorned yaks and ponies. During winter the lake becomes frozen and yaks and mules can be seen crossing the snowfield lake. For the tourist a visit to the lake offers a wonderful outing. Both Indian and foreign nationals are allowed to visit Tsomgo Lake, however foreign visitors need to apply for a visitors permit through a registered travel agent and operators in Gangtok-Sikkim. One more interesting activity is being planned at Tsomgo. Foundation stone of a 957-meter ropeway (cable car) has already been laid here in 2010. Once implemented, the cable cars will carry passengers from the lake to a hilltop nearby.
Baba Harbhajan Singh Temple, popularly known as Baba Mandir, is located about 52kms from Gangtok, between Nathula and Jelepla pass at an altitude of 13,123 ft. One usually covers this temple along with a visit to Tsomgo Lake or Nathula Pass. There is a story associated with this temple containing the elements of supernatural sightings and events, there is very little evidence besides anecdotal tales which cannot be reliably verified or traced to their source. Harbhajan Singh was a Sentry of Punjab Regiment and was posted at Nathula Pass as part of border patrol force as China border is nearby. In October 1968 he disappeared. It is said that while escorting mules carrying provisions, he fell into a stream and drowned. After a few days he reappeared in the dreams of one of his sentry colleagues and he himself led the soldiers to the site. The sentries then made a Samadhi and later this temple was built. Although Harbhajan Sing is no more, the sentries and guards here believe that his spirit is still alive and he is therefore treated as a living being. They all believe that Harbhajan will guard and protect them in this very difficult terrain. In fact there has been a report that Chinese soldiers across the border having seen a turbaned sentry doing his rounds at night. He is revered by soldiers of the Indian army as the "Hero of Nathula”. He was posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra medal for his bravery and martyrdom on September 11, 1967.
Sikkim is renowned for its rich flora and the festival approves the idea, with the display of around 600 species of orchids, 240 species of trees and ferns, 150 varieties of gladioli and 46 types of the world-famous rhododendrons. Continuing the list, you can also see variety of magnolias and many other foliage plants. However, the main attraction is gathered by exquisite orchids, gladioli, roses, cacti, alpine plants, creepers, climbers, ferns, herbs etc. This is a must see place for people who like flowers. The house is full of flowers in full blossom and in every colour available. A rare show of exotic varieties of flowers, orchids and other plants, native to Sikkim is held on every summer from March to May.
Rumtek Monastery, one of the largest monasteries in Sikkim, is also called the Dharmachakra Centre. Rumtek is located 24 kms from Gangtok at an altitude of about 1,500 meters. The architecture of the monastery is one of the finest in the world and resembles the original one in Tsurphu, Tibet. It was built by Gyalwa Karmapa who was the 16th Karmapa of the monastery in the year 1960. It houses some of the rarest Buddhist religious artwork in the world in form of wall murals & thankas (scrolls with intricate hand paintings), 1001 miniature golden models of Buddha etc. It is also a world renowned center for Kargyu teachings.
One of the greatest attractions in Gangtok and should not be missed is the Damodar Ropeway. It's a double-cable zig back ropeway which is operational since December 2003. Each cable car can carry up to 24 passengers. The cable car that shuttles from just below the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology to the Secretariat has three stations in this 1km long ride. It provides a One can truly enjoy the bird's-eye views and thrilling rise as the Ropeway goes over the City.
It is a Hindu temple complex which is located in upper reaches of Gangtok about 9 km uphill at an altitude of 7200 feet. The temple is dedicated to lord Hanuman the Monkey God. According to the local legends, when Hanuman was flying with the “Sanjeevani”( mythological life saving herb) mountain to save Rama's brother Lakshmana he rested in the spot where his temple now lies for some time. This place is well known for its wonderful serene ambience and a viewing area that offers spectacular view of Kanchenjunga range. The temple is maintained by the Indian army.
A 100-foot waterfall is located at a distance of 7 kms from Gangtok in a landscaped park with forested area. There are paved pathways and footbridge around the park which spreads across some 2-acres of land area with many trees and flowering plants in it. It's a popular picnic spot.
It's about 8 km, acclaimed to be most popular photography point in the Sikkim Himalayas. From here, one can see monasteries at Phudong and Lebrang. An observatory tower has been set up for marvelous panoramic view of Kanchendzonga and its ranges.