EAST INDIA

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Eastern Himalayan Delight

Sikkim

The state is legendary for its peaceful nature and simplicity. 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.

Travel and Tourism in Sikkim gained popularity during the last decade with increasing number of tourists visiting this hilly region for its natural beauty.

One of the smallest states in India, Sikkimese life is centered on Gangtok, the capital. Rising 300m above the Indian plains, Sikkim borders the edge of the Tibetan Plateau on its north and Nepal on its east. Although it was historically a Buddhist kingdom, the Hindus currently represent the majority. Sikkim has close links with Tibet and it's the home of over 250 monasteries of mostly the Nyingma-pa sect.

Sikkim is rich with wide variety of flora and fauna. 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. As a result ornithology tourism is also gaining in prominence in Sikkim.

Entering Sikkim - Foreign visitors to this state must first get tourist permits before travel to Sikkim. naturebeyond assists foreign visitors in getting the same. To promote tourism the entry formality has been considerably eased up.

The State Capital - Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim lies on a ridge with fine views of the Kanchenjunga. This is the most common tourism destination for those who travel to Sikkim.

Culture - Sikkim's cultural life is related to Tibetan traditions. The Namgyal Institute of Tibetology in Gangtok has one of the largest collections of Tibetan books in the world. Many Buddhist monasteries are repositories of artistic treasures, including wall paintings, tankas, and bronze images.

Buddhism is an integral part of Sikkim and its culture, and many of the recommended trips around Gangtok have a monastery as their ultimate destination. The monasteries that are closest to Gangtok are Enchey, Rumtek and Phodong.

To really see this himalayan state, it is necessary to leave the hamlets and travel to the remote areas. It is impossible not to be awed by Sikkim's sharp, lush hills, leaping waterfalls, thundering rivers, and placid lakes.

The people, sculpted by lives of low-tech farming and mountainous travel, have behind them generations of communal intermixing.

Sikkim is divided into 4 districts - in South Districts main attraction is Ravangla. The East District is where capital Gangtok is situated. West District offers destinations such as Pelling and Yuksom as well as beautiful treks such as the one to Dzongri. The north district bordering China has been recently opened to tourists. The most common destination here is Yumthang.

Gangtok

The capital of Sikkim, is a unique hill resort of northeast India and undoubtly one of the most oft-visited ones. Perched on the ridge of a hill at an altitude of 1700 mt, Gangtok is famous for its scenic beauty and spectacular views of the Kanchenjunga, their highest mountain in the world. The town offers a mild temparate climate with a temperature of around 23 degree centigrate in Summer and around 6 degree centigrate during winter.

This hill resort is 110 km from Siliguri and well connected with other major places of the region.

Officially the population of Gangtok is around 50,000 but actually the number is at least double that figure. The principle language in Gangtok as in other parts of the region is Nepali. But Hindi, English, Bengali and Tibetan are also spoken and understood by a large part of the population. The town covers an area of approximately 25 square kilometer.

Rumtek Monastery : The largest monastery in the Eastern Himalaya, built by the Gyalwa Karmapa in strict accordance with the traditional designs of the monastery in Tibet. Rumtek is the seat of Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism. This magnificent gompa is only 24 km from Gangtok.

Tsongo Lake : Lying 40km northeast of Gangtok, it means 'Source of the Lake' in Bhutia language. This placid lake is located at an altitude of 3780m and held to be sacred by the local people.

Nathula : At an altitude of 14200ft, Nathula pass is the border between India and China in the Tibetan plateau. Only 56 km away from the Gangtok, tranquility of this place is very charming. Waving Chinese soldiers and Chinese tourists on the other side of the border is an added attraction.

Namgayal Institute of Tibetology : Built in 1958, this is a unique institute for research into Mahayana Buddhism and the language and tradition of Tibet. A renowned center for Buddhist study, the institute houses a rare collection of Tibetan, Sanskrit and Lepcha manuscripts, statues, Thankas (tapestry used in Buddhist liturgy) as well as more than 200 Buddhist icons.

Enchey Monastery : This 200 year old monastery is famous for the mask dance called 'Cham' performed in the month of January. An important seat of the Nyingma order, the Enchey Monastery meaning the Solitary temple, was originally built with the solace that no other construction would be allowed near it. monasteries in sikkim.

Flower Exhibition Centre : Located near the White Hall Complex this place houses a variety of orchids, seasonal flowers as well as bonsai. It is open between April to June and September until the end of November. In recent years, this show has become quite popular and famous, as there are flower exhibitions throughout the year in accordance with the seasons and the flowers in bloom.

Do-Drul Chorten (stupa): This chorten houses the complete mandala sets of Darjee Phurba, a set of Holy Books, complete 'Zung' (mantras) and other religious objects. The Stupa was built by the venerable Trulshi Rimpoche, head of the Nyingma order of Tibetan Buddhism in 1945. Around this Chorten are 10 Mani-Lhakor (prayer wheels).

Jawaharlal Nehru Botanical Garden : 24km away Gangtok, this garden is consist of temperate forest of Oaks and as many as 50 different kinds of trees species.

Tashi View Point : Built by the late King of Sikkim Sri. Tashi Namgyal this viewpoint is at a distance of about 8km away from the town and offers good view of Mt. Siniolchu and Mt. Kanchenjunga.

Ganesh Tok : This spot, 7km away from Gangtok, offers a bird's eye view of Gangtok. There is a small temple of lord Ganesh at this place. It is on a hillock on Gangtok-Nathula Road.

Hanuman Tok : Just above Ganesh Tok lays this viewpoint offering nice view of the mountains along the horizon and the Gangtok town, there is a Temple of Hanuman here.

Kalimpong is a quiet and picturesque hill station of West Bengal on the banks of the River Teesta. It is located at the foothills of the Himalayas at an altitude of 1250 m, adjacent to the state of Sikkim and very close to Darjeeling and Gangtok. The small town is inhabited by Nepali, Bhutanese, Bengali and Tibetan population which can be witnessed in its fusion culture and heritage. Surrounded by immense natural beauty, Kalimpong is dotted with tea and orchid gardens, monasteries and colonial cottages.

Kalimpong has three impressive Buddhist monasteries. Tharpa Choling Monastery built in 1937 belongs to the Gelupka Sect of Tibetan Buddhism, headed by the Dalai Lama. The monastery has a vast library of Buddhist manuscripts. Thongsha Gumpha built in early 17th century is a Bhutanese monastery, and perhaps the oldest in Kalimpong. Zong Dog Palri Fo Brang Monastery 5 Km from the town centre preserves striking wall paintings besides offering glorious views of the town.

Lepcha Museum is located in Bag Dhara and displays manuscripts and valuable artifacts of the Lepchas. Other places of interest include Dr. Graham's Home spread over 500 acres on the slopes of Dealo Hills. Established by Dr. John Anderson Graham, the educational institution is home to 1200 orphan boys and girls. There is a chapel inside the estate.

Durpin Dara Hill is the highest point in Kalimpong famous for breathtaking views of the Kanchenjunga peak, the town and surrounding tea estates. The hill is accessible by car. Brindaban Garden Nursery, Ganesh Mani Pradhan Nursery, L.B. Pradhan Nursery, Pinewood Nursery and Standard Nursery are famous for the export of exotic flowers such as roses, gerbera, dahlias, gladiolas and orchids. Kalimpong also hosts an annual flower festival in October.

Shopping in Kalimpong can be an all-day activity. The otherwise peaceful and quiet town has a bustling marketplace at Main Road and 10th Mile famous for handicrafts, Bhutanese pastel paintings, embroidered bags, Kalimpong tapestry bags, purses, copperware, scrolls and paintings.

The region also offers endless options for trekking and walking in the expansive tea estates, orchid gardens and the surrounding mountains. The famous trek routes lead through Relli, Pankhasari, Neora and Rochella. Teesta Bazaar is 16 Km from the town of Kalimpong and offers river rafting opportunities on Teesta River.