It’s probably the least known of the Himalayan states but the tiny Indian state of Sikkim shares its borders with Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet and it is nestled below the mighty slopes of Mt. Khangchendzonga, the third highest mountain in the world.
The mountain has great religious significance for the Sikkimese, as it is said to be the home of Dzonga, the Mountain God. Most Sikkimese follow the Hindu religion, although Buddhism is also widely practised as well.
By Indian standards Sikkim is not only tiny, it is also sparsely populated. It has an area of just 7,096 square kilometres (2,740 sq mi) and a population of 607,000. Given its small area and tiny population, astonishingly, there are eleven languages spoken in the state, of which Nepali is the most widely spoken. One of the official languages is English, and it is the language most often taught in schools and used by government departments.
Sikkim is an extraordinarily steep country. In fact, it has the world’s steepest rise in altitude over the shortest distance, starting from a low point of just 300 metres and rising to 8534 metres at the peak of Mt. Khangchendzonga.
Given its proximity to China’s Autonomous Region of Tibet it should come as no surprise to learn that Sikkim was once part of the famed Silk Road, which does in part explain its diverse cultures. Even today it has the only Indian open land border with China, mainly because there are political tensions between the two countries.
The state capital is Gangtok, which is a very hilly city, and it is also situated in an earthquake zone. In addition, erosion leads to landslides, which does cause some problems for the city. The city is unique in that is also has a commuter cable car which connects the lower suburbs to those further up the hill.
You can get some wonderful views of the mountains from Gangtok, which are often ruined by the regular occurrence of fog.
Public transport is interesting as the city is almost bereft of buses, with taxis being the most popular way for commuters to travel around. One reason for the dearth of buses is because many of the streets are very steep and they are very curvy, making it difficult for buses to negotiate them.
When visiting Sikkim you do need a variety of clothing because the state has a very changeable climate ranging from sub-tropical in the south to almost arctic in the north, the area also experiences five seasons: summer, autumn, winter, spring and monsoon, which occurs between June and September when Sikkim gets most of its rainfall.