Visit- February 19th to 28th, 2020
Four of us, me, husband, brother and wife made a memorable road trp to Sikkim in the month of February 2020, and managed coming back just before the nation was caught in a lock-down. Reliving the memories of that trip has been a pleasurable past-time during the lock down!
According to ABP live, since the corona pandemic reached Indian shore, the state of Sikkim has remained completely virus free. Early measures taken by the state have so far been effective in keeping the virus at bay. Since the state has a border with China, it was on high alert and very early issued mandatory screening at the border. Even though tourist season had just started the state still ordered a ban on foreign tourists on 5 March. And even before the nationwide lock-down, Sikkim declared self-quarantine by March 17. Borders with neighboring state West Bengal were also closely monitored.
There are some other features of this Indian state which could have been a deterrent.
Sikkim is the first fully organic state in the country. Sikkim has registered a 4 percent increase in the state's forest cover since 1993.
The total forest and tree cover of the State as per the latest India State of Forest Report 2017 is 3379 sq. km (47.62% of the total geographical area of the state)
In Feb 2020, when Aadu(Peach) trees were in full bloom and rhododendron were beginning to bloom, we entered Sikkim. The date is 19th February,2020. This short video tells it all
Anyone travelling in Sikkim by road cannot but be impressed by the mighty Teesta River.
Teesta(Tista) River is a 315 km long river that rises in the eastern Himalayas. It flows through the states of Sikkim and West Bengal in India and through Bangladesh before entering the Bay of Bengal.
Flowing through the length of Sikkim, the Teesta River is considered to be the lifeline of the state.
The Teesta River originates from the Pahunri (or Teesta Kangse) glacier above 7,068 metres (23,189 ft), and flows southward through gorges and rapids in the Sikkim Himalaya.
It is fed by rivulets and tributaries Rangit, Rangpo.
A number of hydroelectric projects and dams have been built on this river. The Teesta river dam projects have been approved with the requirement that they adopt suitable seismic coefficient in the design for the dam, tunnel, surge shaft and power house. The projects are cascaded over the length of the river, do not store large amounts water, have small reservoirs, and therefore the projects are expected to have very low risk from the reservoir induced seismic activity in the area.
Melli (also spelled Malli) is a town on the West Bengal-Sikkim border near the River Teesta.
Lepchas are among the indigenous peoples of Sikkim, India and number between 30,000 and 50,000. The Dzongu valley, an officially demarcated reserve for Lepcha community bordering Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve, known for its vast plant wealth is one of the least attended areas on ethnomedicinal aspects, for being sacred and restricted, especially to outsiders.
Sikkim is a haven for bird watchers. Trekking the hills and valleys is certainly the best way to observe and photograph them. However, if you are a bird lover you can spot birds wherever you are visiting-near a monastery, at waterfalls, on the roadsides, near the place you are staying. Absence of chemicals and fertilizers make the entire state bird friendly.
As Northern part of Sikkim was mostly inaccessible in February, our recordings of bird sightings are linmited to the South and West part mostly.
The video is a visual account of the common birds we could capture.
For serious birdwatchers, Sikkim has a bird sanctuary not very far from Gangtok, the capital city.
Kitam Bird Sanctuary is a protected sanctuary located near Namchi, Sikkim. From Gangtok, it is 71 km away.
The bird sanctuary lies between 1200 feet and 3200 feet above sea level, and occupies an area of more than 6 square kilometers within thick vegetation of shrubs and sal, pine forests. This sanctuary has two rivers namely, River Rangit and Manpur River. Sumbuk and Kitam are the two villages located in the sanctuary. Tumbol Schor, the highest point of Kitam Bird Sanctuary, offers great panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.
Kitam Bird Sanctuary is heaven for bird lovers and attracts domestic and international tourists around the year for birding. Kitam is the only low altitude bird sanctuary and remain open throughout the year. Home to over 200 species of birds, Kitam is also known for several beautiful butterflies.
There are many bird watching trails and a few watch towers and viewpoints in this sanctuary that are ideal for bird watching.
The best time to visit this place is during the months of October to May, as in winters several colourful migratory birds come to visit here.
To enjoy birding in the early morning hours, one must opt to stay at a homestay in Kitam. Look for Barbet Home Stay Kitam on google. We had done a day trip from Gangtok. Here is a documentation of our trip
Any write-up on Sikkim would be incomplete if we do not cover Mount Kanchenjunga, the all pervasive mountain range which oversees Sikkim.
Kangchenjunga, also spelt Khangchendzonga, is the third highest mountain in the world. It rises with an elevation of 8,586 m in a section of the Himalayas called Kangchenjunga Himal. Until 1852, Kangchenjunga was assumed to be the highest mountain in the world.
Kangchenjunga was first climbed on 25 May 1955 by Joe Brown and George Band, who were part of a British expedition. They stopped short of the summit in accordance with the promise given to the Chogyal(erstwhile rulers of Sikkim) that the top of the mountain would remain intact. Every climber or climbing group that has reached the summit has followed this tradition of stopping short by 10 feet.
Kanchenjunga translated means “The Five Treasures of Snows”, as it contains five peaks, four of them over 8,450 metres.
Sikkimese worship Mt Kanchenjunga as their guardian deity. It is believed that the ‘mountain god’ played an active role in introducing Buddhism into this former kingdom.
We did visit many monasteries in Sikkim. I am including a write-up on the one which impressed me most, a monastery easily accesible from Gangtok.
The Rumtek Monastery is one of the largest and most significant monasteries in Sikkim. it is perched on top of a hill 23 km from Gangtok. It is also called as the Dharmachakra Centre.
The Monastery houses a beautiful shrine temple and a monastery for the monks which were established with the aim of spreading the Buddhist teachings around the world. Verdant green mountains surround the monastery and thus serves as a visual treat besides being a focal point for spiritual solace. If you climb on top to the Rumtek Monastery, you can have a breathtaking view of the whole Gangtok town situated right opposite the hill. Besides this, the architecture of the striking monastery is one of the finest in the world.
The monastery belongs to the Kargyu sect of Buddhists who originated in Tibet in the 12th century. The Karma Kagyu school belongs to the Vajrayana branch of Mahayana Buddhism.
The gompa, an epitome of Tibetan architecture, was designed by the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje himself based on his memories of the Tsurphu Monastery of Tibet, the original headquarter of the Black Hat order. Tsurphu was completely destroyed by Chinese authorities in 1966.
Built in the 1960s, the monastery is the main seat of the Karma Kagyu, a sect within the Nyingma school of Buddhism that originated around the 12th century in Tibet.
Vajrayana Buddhism has many rituals.
Between February to March, which is the end of lunar year’s 12th month, there is an organization of 10day rituals for Mahakala protector. This is followed by the sacred tradition dance of the Mahakala. Monks dress up in the colorful attires and wear to dance with the traditional instruments. You will be surprised to find that how they go into some kind of trance with the beats. Since this is one of the ritual dances, they only have well-trained dancers. The empowerment of the prayer music in the dance comes from compassion, concentration and mindfulness. Buddhism asks all of us to turn the wheel of Dharma for all sentient beings(human and non human alike)
Enjoy this video shot in the monastery
Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism and the two main branches of Buddhism. I requested Mohit, research assistant in Buddhism studies at IGNCA, New Delhi to explain in brief the progression of Buddhism as it spread out from India. I have included a talk by him to put the visuals in perspective.
In view of the COVID-19 linked locked down, Mohit recorded the talk and sent the audio to be added.
Sikkim Travels - Meeting a self -made Entrepreneur
During our tour of Sikkim in February 2020, we came across many interesting
individuals and Shri D.K Rai was one of them. 13 kms from Ravngla where the Buddhha Park is located, Mr.Rai's tree house situated on the national highway beckons travelers to enjoy a good cup of coffee/tea with snacks.
A Self styled Entrepreneur D.K Rai, interacted with team IndianWildlifeclub sharing how he created the tree house out of his imagination and experience using natural materials.
The coldest and most beautiful place we visited in Sikkim had to be Lachung.
Lachung is a mountain town in northeast Sikkim, at an elevation of about 9,600 feet (2,900 m). Lachung lies at the confluence of the Lachen and Lachung Rivers, both tributaries of the River Teesta. The word Lachung means "small pass". The town is approximately 125 kilometres from the capital Gangtok.
Tourists come from all over the world to visit the town between October and May, mostly on their way to the Yumthang Valley and the Lachung Monastery. Most of Lachung's inhabitants are of Lepcha and Tibetan descent.
Later I recorded a video on Usha Lachungpa, who served in the Sikkim Forest Department for many years. Her take on the forests and wildlife of Sikkim, throgh the medium of a casual conversation with my husband gives us a rounded perspective of Sikkim as a State.