Geography of Sikkim




What most people do not realize is the fact that the contours of the state of Sikkim in any map of India,bears pin-point resemblance with that of a human thumb! The geography of Sikkim is characterized by a vast array of magniloquent knolls that extends from one nook of the state to the other. Amongst all the stupendous hammocks that span across the entire terrain of Sikkim, Kanchenjunga is recorded to be the highest.

The terrain that forms an exceedingly important portion of geography in Sikkim is most obviously not as fertile as most would imagine it to be. The main reason that lies behind this abnormality is the fact that there is an abundance of extremely rocky and precipitous slopes which present a tough look to the landscape.

Thus to overcome this handicap, the residents of Sikkim have thought to improvise by using an unique technique of farming regarded as terrace farming. In this intriguing technique, the slopes of the mountain are cut into steps so as to retain sufficient amount of water so as to assist the crops to grow.

Another feature possessed by the Sikkim geography is that a vast number of streams that sped across the terrain of Sikkim gave rise to many exquisite river valleys. The water that runs through most of these streams are generally procured by the snow that crowns the stupendous mountains. These newly formed river valleys are confined to the southern and western fringe of the state.

The lower Himalayas are the mountains which comprises of most of the residential areas according to the geography at Sikkim. The most famous lakes that are found here include Gurudongmar, Tsongmo and Khecheopalri lake and many more.

Topography

Sikkim is nestled on the lap of Himalaya between 27° 5' N to 20° 9' N latitudes and 87° 59' E to 88° 56' E longitudes. Covering 7096 kms, the cross-section of the state measures 100 km from north to south and 60 km from east to west. The topography of Sikkim in south blend with the plain land of West Bengal and gradually gathers height towards the North. So, the altitude of Sikkim ranges from 300m to as high as 8585m, the top of mighty Khangchendzonga.

The Singalila Range encompasses the Western borders of Sikkim. In the East, the Chola Range separates Sikkim from its neighboring state. In the north, the Donkia range reaches out to the Tibetan Plateau. The major peaks of Sikkim are:

  • Khangchendzonga (8596 m)
  • Jonsang (7444m)
  • Talung (7351m)
  • Kabru (7338 m)
  • Siniolchu (6888 m)
  • Simvo (6811 m)
  • Pandim (6691 m)
  • Rathang (6087 m)


  • The snow line in Sikkim is at about 6000 m. Above this range, permanent snow can be found and upto 5000 m, habitations can be found. In lower altitudes of Sikkim, trees like Sal, Bamboo, Kapok grows to form the basic vegetation. The temperate forests a bit above are comprised of maple, birch, oak and chestnuts. The terrain of Sikkim, being rugged, is not at all conducive for agriculture. But in some places terrace farming is practiced with satisfactory results. While Teesta and Rangeet are the main water bodies of Sikkim, the state is blessed with a number of lakes- Tsomgo Lake, Khecheopairi Lake, Green Lake, Menmecho Lake, Karthok Lake, Samiti Lake, etc. There are also quite a few waterfalls and hot springs, providing the topography of Sikkim a variety and attraction.

    Waterfalls

    Sikkim is primarily a land of sky scraping mountains. The lush green vegetation on the mountain sides presents an eye-soothing view and this sight is made more panoramic by the waterfalls in Sikkim. Mostly perennial in nature, waterfalls abound in Sikkim, specially in the Northern region. The Dzongu area and the road between Lachung and Mangan are blessed with the maximum numbers of waterfalls in Sikkim. Most of the waterfalls of Sikkim are snow fed and ultimately meets either Teesta or Rangeet river.

    The local inhabitants of Sikkim consider some of the waterfalls to be sacred. The waterfalls of Sikkim are ideal sites for setting trekking base camps. Since they fall from high altitudes and are perennial in nature, these waterfalls are also conducive for setting up hydro power projects. The important waterfalls in Sikkim are:

    • Kanchendzonga waterfalls: This is the largest waterfall in Sikkim. It is located 15 km away from Pelling. Water splashes out from granite rocks in plumes of white in Kanchendzonga waterfalls. The sound produced in this voluminous and swift waterfall engulfs all surrounding noises.

    • Rimbi Waterfalls: Flowing in the outskirts of Pelling, this waterfall forms an important sight scene to the tourists in Pelling.

    • Naga Waterfalls: Along with Kabi Lungstok and Tashi Viewpoint, this waterfall is a popular tourist spot on way to Lachen from Gangtok.

    • Rukshyot Waterfalls: Rukshyot waterfalls, in the outskirt of Bay village and in close proximity to Lingzya monastic school, is the highest waterfall in Sikkim.

    • Bhim Nala Waterfalls: Bhim Nala Waterfalls and the Twin Waterfalls are the other two waterfalls of Sikkim en route to Lachung.

    Districts

    In Sikkim, districts are the unit of the administrative set up of the territory. In fact, the districts are a means to explore the beauty of the landscape. It is the districts of Sikkim that provides us with the vivid knowledge about the people, culture, religion, art and crafts, ethnicity, etc of the territory of Sikkim.

    Talking about the istricts in Sikkim, it can be said that Sikkim possess 4 districts. A snapshot at the districts of Sikkim are as follows:

  • North Sikkim:

    North Sikkim is a district in the Indian state of Sikkim. It is located in the northern part of the state. The total area of the district of North Sikkim of Sikkimis 4226 sq kms. The rate of literacy among the inhabitants of the district is 54%.The district headquarter of North Sikkim is Mangan. Mangan is situated 65 kms away from the capital city of the state, which is Gangtok. To visit the part of the district of North Sikkim in Sikkim that lies ahead of Mangan, one needs a special permission. This can be arranged by the tourist agents. The height at which this town is situated is 3950 feet.

    Other than Mangan, another important place of the district of North Sikkimis Chungthang. The altitude at which the place of Chungthang is located is around 5,600 feet. This town is located at a distance of 95 kms from the sate capital Gangtok. You can travel to this town by availing the road that runs straight from the town of Mangan.

    The important places of interest that the northern district of North Sikkim at Sikkim offers are Chungthang, Mangan and Lachung. Two other mentionable tourist spots are Lachen and Yumthang. The main rivers that make their way through the district are Lachung Chhu, Tista, Umram Chhu, Chakung Chhu and Yumthang Chhu.

    The important cash crop of the place is cardamom. Other major crops cultivated here include corn and paddy. Some vegetables are also cultivated in North Sikkim. These include potato, apple and cabbage.
    • Area-4226 square kilometers
    • Population-41023 (according to 2001 census)
    • Literacy-54%.
    • Total Gram Panchayats-18
    • Number of Sub-divisions-2
    • Revenue Blocks-45
    • Assembly Seat-3
    • Towns-1
    • Cash Crop-Cardamom
    • Rivers-Lachung Chhu, Yumthang Chhu, Chakung ChhyUmram Chhu, Tista, etc.
    • Agricultural yields-Apple, Potato, Cabbage, Corn, etc.
  • South Sikkim:

    South Sikkim is a district of the state of Sikkim in India. This district is located in the southern region of the state. In the entire state of Sikkim, the district of South Sikkim ranks second in terms of population. The population of South Sikkim of Sikkimis more dense than that of East Sikkim, the most populated district of Sikkim. But, South Sikkim is a smaller district than East Sikkim.

    The total area of South Sikkim is 750 sq kms. The headquarters of the district of South Sikkim at Sikkim is Namchi. Namchi is a town, not very big in size. You can easily travel to this town from West Bengal, one of the surrounding states of Sikkim.Namchi is gradually becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in South Sikkim. The district is slowly improving its infrastructure to cater to the needs of the tourists. Starting from convenient communication to a comfortable stay and decent food-the district has it all. Most importantly, all these basic facilities are available at quite affordable rates.

    South Sikkim in Sikkim is well known for offering many fascinating natural views. The district also has the facilities of trekking. Therefore, it is often visited by the adventure tourists for trekking. The ideal time to visit this tourist spot of India is the time between mid-September and November and also the time between April and mid-June.The closest railway station as well as the closest airport are located at Siliguri. This place is located a distance of 100 kms from Namchi.
    • Area-750 square kilometers.
    • Headquarter-Namchi.
    • Population-1,31,506.
    • Tourist spots-Namchi, Tea Gardens, Meanam Wildlife Sanctuary, etc.
  • East Sikkim:
    • Area-954 square kilometers.
    • Population-1,78,452.
    • Density of Population-187 per square kilometer.
    • Tourist spots-Gangtok, The Rumtek Monastery, Tsomgo Lake, Nathula Pass, etc.
  • West Sikkim:

    West Sikkim is a district in the north-eastern state of Sikkim in India. This district is located in the western part of the state of Sikkim. The total area of West Sikkim in Sikkim is 116 sq kms.

    West Sikkim of Sikkim is well known for housing the first capital of Sikkim, that is, Yuksom. Yuksom is located at a distance of about 35 kms from Pemayangtse. One can easily travel to Yuksom in West Sikkim from Tashiding. An alternate route to reach Yuksom is via Pelling. If you want to travel to Yuksom from Tashiding, then you have to avail a road amidst thick forests.

    Three wise Lamas declared the first Chogyal belonging to the Sikkim kingdom sacred in 1641 A D. The literal meaning of the word 'yuksom' is the place where three Lamas meet. The historical place of Yoksom is located at a height of 1780 meter. This place is the starting point of all kinds of trekking and mountaineering activities to the high ranges of the Kanchenjunga.

    The famous Phamrong Waterfall is located at a distance of about 9 kms from Yuksom. You can get a fascinating view of this waterfall from a bridge, which has been constructed close to the waterfall.Another important site in West Sikkim at Sikkimis the Dubdi monastery. If you want to travel to this well known monastery of Sikkim, then you have to trek for about an hour from Yuksom. The ideal time to visit this district is the time between the months of mid-September and November and between April and mid-June. This district is located at a distance of about 117 kms from Gangtok.
    • Area-1,166 square kilometers.
    • Population-98,161.
    • Density of Population-84 per square kilometer.
    • Tourist spots-Pelling, Sanga Choling Monastery, Yuksam, Pemayangtse, Rabdentse Ruins, etc.


    It is noteworthy in this context that the South Sikkim District is the second largest populated district of Sikkim. South Sikkim District occupies the second position after the East Sikkim District, which occupies the first position. This was a brief estimate of the districts at Sikkim, a magnanimous region of the Indian Union.

    Lakes

    Sikkim is a land of undulating topography. It is preoccupied with sky scraping mountains on one hand, there are also water bodies and deep lakes on the other. Lakes in Sikkim also form sites of attraction beside the snow-capped mountains. There are variety of lakes in Sikkim - natural or artificial, river fed or spring fed. Though they are not big in size, they are serene enough to catch the attraction of the tourists. The most frequented lakes of Sikkim are:

    • Tsomgo Lake: 40 km away from Gangtok on the Gangtok Nathula highway, this lake is at an altitude of 12000 feet. It is 15 meters deep and 1 km long. The best time to visit this lake is from May to October. The rest of the year it remains snow-covered. The tourists must get inner line permit to visit Tsomgo Lake.
    • Green Lake: Green Lake forms the base camp of the trekkers in and around the lake. Though called a lake, Green Lake remains water ridden for most part of the year.
    • Chola Mu Lake: This lake is situated on a plateau on Indo-Tibetan border. A pre-historic look has been given to it by the surrounding mountain. Chola Mu Lake is the destination of thousands of migratory birds from other states, China and Russia.
    • Khecheopalri Lake: This lake is considered sacred by the Buddhists and also the Hindus. There is a hut for the trekkers to rest in Khecheopalri Lake and also a pilgrim's hut.
    • Memencho Lake: Situated 20 km ahead of Tsomgo Lake, it is the source of Rangpo-chu river.
    • Samiti Lake: It is a glacial lake in the Onglathang Valley.
    • Laxmipokhari Lake: It is a natural lake nestled in a deep crater.
    Passes

    In a range of mountains, a 'pass' is a gap or a lower region. On the route through the ranges, these passes prove to be handy to the travelers since they reduce their distance massively. The main passes in Sikkim are Nathula Pass, Jelap La Pass and Dongkhala Pass. First two of these are at an altitude of 15000 feet and lead to Tibet whereas the third one is at 13000 feet leading to Bhutan.Various Passes in Sikkim are :
    • Nathula Pass: Nathula Pass is the most useful one of the type in the Eastern Chola Range. It is situated five kilometers north of Jelap La Pass. Nathula Pass is on the Sikkim- Tibet border and runs into Tibet. While leaving Gangtok, its route is comparatively steeper than when it reaches the Nuk Tanyi Lake. At Nathula Pass, one can see the troops of India and China are on guard of their respective countries. From 1962, this pass has been an important trade route between the neighboring countries.
    • Jelap La Pass: In Tibetan terminology, the monosyllable 'La' means 'pass'. So Jelap La stands for a 'lonely pass'. Jelap La Pass runs for almost 150 feet and it remains suitable for communication almost throughout the year. In 1903, Younghusband explored this pass to attack Tibet. To commemorate this, the Jelap La route is also known as the Younghusband Track.
    • Dongkhala Pass: It takes strong determination and immense strength to reach to this pass. But all these labor is made worthwhile by the natural accolades of Dongkhala Pass. The view of the colored hill, the panoramic sight of the Tibetan plateau, and the 6.5 km long Cholamo Lake gives a heavenly feeling.
    • Chiwabhanjang Pass: It is about 3 km from Phalut, and forms a pass to Nepal. This pass in west Sikkim has a historical value for the presence of a British Inspection bungalow.

    Area

    The humble land of Sikkim is truly a spectacular venue to let your imagination run wild and get drenched in its pure beauty. The area of Sikkim is indeed endowed with all the marvels that one can dream of. As a matter of fact, the area of Sikkim has been measured to be 7096 square kilometers. To be more precise, this petite state stands at a length of 114 kilometers from north to the south and the distance of the eastern fringe from the western periphery is approximately measured to be 64 square kilometers.

    A major portion of the area of Sikkim is occupied by the Bhutias who are conjectured to have descended from the Kham district of Tibet. Their entry into the land of Sikkim roots back to the beginning of the 14th century. Besides the Bhutias, the terrain of Sikkim is also inhabited by another illustrious tribe regarded as the Lepchas. Legend has it that they had originally hailed from the far eastern nook of the globe.

    Other sects of people who reside in the area within Sikkim include the Bengalis, the Biharis who are primarily engaged in a type of blue collar job through which they principally earn their living. Then there are the glorious Marwaris who mainly invest in business and own a huge number of retail outlets sited in the southern brink of Sikkim.The latitude and longitude of the state of Sikkim 27.3 N and 88.3 E respectively. It is infested with the magnanimous presence of knolls that cheer worldwide recognition.

    Soil Conservation

    In Sikkim, Soil Conservation is practiced to enhance the prospects of agriculture within the territory. Sikkim is posited amidst the Himalayas; therefore, landslides, gullies, erosion, etc. are common in Sikkim. As a result, the government of Sikkim is taking adequate measures for soil conservation in Sikkim to check the erosion of soil within the territory.

    Some of the objectives behind soil conservation of Sikkim are:

  • Enhancing the capacity of the land to retain moisture
  • Prevention of the land degradation
  • Management of watershed in the catchment areas of Sikkim
  • Enhancing the quality of the land
  • Reducing siltation
  • Reducing flood and run-off, etc.


  • Moreover, owing to the soil conservation policies adopted by the government of India, many improvements are evident in the relief of Sikkim. Among the important findings of soil conservation at Sikkim are:
    • Increase in the cropping intensity
    • Increase in agricultural production
    • Reduction in the rate of sediment production
    • Reduction in the runoff peak
    • Increase in the water table, etc.
    Besides, under the soil conservation policy of the state government of Sikkim, many unfertile lands are brought under cultivation. In fact, terrace farming is also promoted under the Sikkim soil conservation policy, in order to enhance not only soil quality, but also to enhance the prospects of agriculture in Sikkim.

    Hot Springs

    Sikkim has been a favorite tourist destination in India for many years now. But eco-tourism began in Sikkim only in 1995-1996 in collaboration of the Green Circle, GP Panth Institute, The Mountain Institute and the Travel Agents Association of Sikkim. Hot spring in Sikkim contribute to this idea of Eco tourism. The hot springs of Sikkim are believed to have high medical values. The important hot springs in Sikkim are:

    • Yumthang Hot Spring: Yumthang Hot Spring is located at an altitude of 12000 feet. It is 135 km away from the capital of Sikkim, Gangtok and takes half-a-day's journey to reach there. It is also accessible from Lachung through a road lined with Rhododendrons. In Yumthang, there is a hut with a pool a few hundred meters off the road. This pool is artificially maintained and enables the tourists to take a dip in it.

    • Phurchachu Reshi Hot Spring : This hot spring in Sikkim is located at Reshi, about 25 km from Gyalshing. It is hardly 10 minutes from the highway. The water of this spring has effective medical values and has proved to be beneficial for skin diseases.

    • Ralang Hot Spring: Ralang Hot Spring is situated 26 km from Ravangla. The spring is famous for its therapeutic value. The average temperature of the water here is 50 degree Celsius and is rich in sulphur contents.
    Other well known hot springs at Sikkimare:

    • Tholung Kangtshachhu, North Sikkim
    • Zee Tshachhu, North Sikkim
    • Gangyab Chhutshen, West Sikkim
    • Yumthangtshachhu, North Sikkim
    • Takrumtshachhu, North Sikkim
    • Ranglop tshachhu at Borong, South Sikkim.

    Geology

    Sikkim geology mainly consists of infertile soil, which is not very suitable for agricultural purposes. Half-schistose, gneissose and Precambrian are the three major rock constituents of the geology of Sikkim.

    Precambrian rock is found in a big part of the state of Sikkim and hence is a significant part of Sikkim geology. The region taken up by this rock has a relatively smaller age than the hilly regions of the state. The Precambrian rock is made up of schists and phyllites.

    The presence of schists and phyllites makes the slopes of the region prone to erosion and weathering. The possibility of erosion of soil and the reduction of mineral content is increased by excessive rainfall. Such a geology at Sikkim is susceptible to natural disasters like landslides. These landslides often separate the villages and towns from the well developed regions of Sikkim.

    The hilly regions of Sikkim mainly constitutes of two kinds of rocks - half-schistose and gneissose. These two kinds of rocks form crucial constituents of the geology in Sikkim. The kind of soil prevalent in the north-eastern state of Sikkim is suitable for deciduous and evergreen forests. The soil does not have a high content of organic matter. The soil is not rich in minerals. The texture of this soil is coarse. The soil quality is not very good and the soil level is not thick enough. It has a high content of the chemical compound of iron oxide. The presence of these two kinds of rocks have turned the soil of these regions brown and clayey.

    Forest Department of Sikkim

    In Sikkim, 81% of the total geographical land is taken care and under control of the Forest Department of Sikkim. Consequently, it has been a land of conservationists, environmentalists, botanists and obviously, nature lovers. With 8 species of Tree Ferns, 11 species of oaks, 20 species of Bamboos, 40 species of Primulas, 300 species of Ferns and 400 species of flowering plants,forests in Sikkim definitely set example of 'God's plenty'.

    Sikkim covers a geographical area of 7096 sq km, out of which 5452 sq km is alloted to Reserved Forests of Sikkim, 284 sq km to Protected forests in Khasmal and 104 sq km in Gorucharan. Very dense forests of Sikkim covers about 458 sq km, moderately dense forests about 1904 sq km and 900 sq km is occupied by open forests.

    Between 800 to 5000 feet the vegetation includes Laurels, Bamboos, Sal and fig trees. Alder, Birch, Chestnut, Oak, Maple are found in the Temperate forests of Sikkim between 5000 to 13000 feet. And above this region, Cypresses, Juniper and Rhododendrons grow till 16000 feet.

    The main objectives of Forest Department of Sikkim are:
    • Protection of trees.
    • Prevent illegal poaching of trees.
    • Carry afforestation campaigns
    • To monitor pollution, and carry out researches on forestry.
    • To protect soil erosion.
    Few years back, afforestation was done through 806.5 hectares in Forestry Hector of Sikkim and 789.45 hectares in Soil Conservation Sector. There are four schemes sponsored by Central Government to assist the Forest Department. These are:
    • Integrated Wasteland Development Project.
    • Integrated Afforestation and Eco-Development Project.
    • Area Oriented Fuel wood and Fodder Project.
    • Non-Timber Forest Produce

    Glaciers

    A Glacier is a river of ice that moves slowly, responding to the force of gravity. Glaciers are the reservoirs of fresh water. They are formed from compact layers of snow. There are many such glaciers in Sikkim. Some of the most important of those are:

    • Zemu Glacier: Located in the large U-shaped valley at the base of the Kangchendzonga massif in northwestern Sikkim, it is the largest glacier of the eastern Himalaya. Zemu Glacier is 26 km long. It forms the junction of many tributary glaciers, waterfalls and ice falls. Incidentally, it also forms the source of the Teesta river.

    • Kangchendzonga Glacier: Located at the foot of Mount Kangchendzonga, this glacier which is one of the famous glaciers in Sikkim forms the entry point to the East and the West Ridge.

    • Rathong Glacier: If Zemu forms the source of Teesta river, Rathong Glacier is the source of Rangeet river. It is situated in West Sikkim, in close proximity to Kangchendzonga. Even Chaurithang falls has its origin in Rathong Glacier. The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute has its base camp here, since it is an ideal site for trekking base.

    • Talung Glacier: Talung Glacier is located in the south east of Kangchendzonga. At an altitude of 4940 m, this glacier is also ideal for camping while trekking. Goecha Pass, the nearest of the like from here, provides a scenic view of Talung Glacier.

    • Lhonak Glacier: Situated at an altitude of 4720 m, it is an important glacier and tourist attraction in North Sikkim. It is located close to the other two glaciers of Sikkim, the Zemu Glacier and the Talung Glacier. The trekking route to Lhonak Glacier passes through Kangchendzonga Glacier.
    Peaks

    Sikkim is a thumb-shaped state covering 7096 kilometers. Except for a small stretch of land in the southern region, most of the part of the state has rugged and mountainous topography. This has made the state highly unsuitable for agriculture. But in the other side of the coin, the peaks of Sikkim has given the land paradisaic effect. The most prominent peaks of Sikkim are:

    • Kangchendzonga: The name means 'House of Five Treasures' and it is represented by five of the tallest summits, the highest being 8585 m. This awe-inspiring mass of rock remains shrouded by snow for most part of the year. The locals celebrate the Pang Lhabsol festival on the eve of its shedding of monsoon veil in Autumn. This mountain ridge runs from north to south, separating The Teesta and the Rangeet Valley.

    • Jonsang (7444m): This beautiful peak is situated in North Sikkim, exact location being 88.133331 E longitude and 27.883333 N latitude.

    • Kabru (7338 m): This pyramidal peak was first climbed by C.R.Cook in 1935, but it was first conquered in 1949 by a Swiss R. Dittert.

    • Talung (7351m): This peak is located immediate south to Kangchendzonga.

    • Frey's Peak: Named after George Fray, this matthorn looking peak is located near the Rathong glacier.

    • Siniolchu (6888 m): Proclaimed as the most beautiful peak in the world by international mountaineers, it faces the mist of Tsomgo Lake in the east.

    All these peaks in Sikkim are excellent locations for trekking. The best time for trekking in Sikkim is from May to October., but it requires a permit from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF).

    Rivers

    In general, the Sikkim rivers are not very broad. During the rainy season, the rivers of Sikkim increase in volume and speed and it becomes quite risky to go near them. These rivers are not very suitable for navigation.They have a winding coarse and their flow is decreased by the many rocks on their beds. When the waves hit the rocks on their beds, a loud sound is produced due to the high current of the rivers. People generally dwell above the river level to avoid any unexpected incident during flooding.

    The main source of water for the rivers at Sikkim is the rainwater collected in the catchment regions and the melted snow of the mountains of the state.

    Teesta can be considered the most important of all the rivers in Sikkim, as it covers the entire stretch of the state. Teesta has its origin in the Cholamu lake. Near its origin, Teesta looks like a stream. However, only 100 kms down the stream, the river turns into a big river. The Teesta river meets the Bhramaputra river outside Sikkim in Bangladesh.

    Rangeet is the most important tributary of the Teesta. This tributary of Teesta meets it at the border of two different states of West Bengal and Sikkim. The Rangeet river has its origin in the Rathong Glacier.

    The speed and current of the Sikkim rivers have facilitated river rafting in these rivers. The most favorite river destinations fro the rafters in Sikkim are Rangit and Teesta. Both these Sikkim rivers stretch for a long distance, which make them suitable for rafting.

    Biodiversity

    Sikkim biodiversity is a broad topic related to the north-eastern state of Sikkim. The biodiversity of Sikkim includes its flora and fauna, which again encompasses the wildlife, orchids, butterflies, endangered species, fish, which are used for fishing and angling, Alpine flowers, Rhododendrons and forests.

    The flora of Sikkim includes a wide range of plants. There are 4000 varieties of plants in the state. The forests cover 36% of the total geographical area of the state of Sikkim.

    The rhododendrons are abundantly found in the alpine and temperate areas of Sikkim and is an important member of the biodiversity at Sikkim. Rhododendrons of 35 different types grow in these regions of the state.

    The orchids of Sikkim are one of the most colorful varieties of flora in the state. There are more than 600 kinds of orchids in this state. The fauna of Sikkim is as varied as the flora of the state. Two important animals of Sikkim are the Yak, the Barking Deer and the Red Panda.

    The varied wildlife of Sikkim, a major aspect of the biodiversity in Sikkim, is mainly housed in the parks and sanctuaries of the state. The Fambong Lho Wildlife Sanctuary houses civet cats, red pandas, leopards and the Himalayan black bears. The Kangchendzonga National Park has a variety of wildlife including wild ass, Himalayan black bear, barking deer, Tibetan antelope and snow leopard. Some endangered species of Sikkim also form an important part of Sikkim biodiversity. They include the Snow Leopard, the Himalayan Black Bear, the Tibetan Gazelle and the Tibetan Wild Ass.

    Orchids

    Sikkim orchids are quite varied in looks and other characteristics. This north-eastern state of India exhibits as many as 876 species of orchids belonging to 151 genera.

    The Alpine regions of the state of Sikkim facilitates the growth and development of quite a few genera of orchids at Sikkim. These genera include:

  • Aorchis
  • Amitostigma
  • Herminium
  • Cypripedium
  • Cephalanthera
  • Didiciea and
  • Epipactis.


  • Some orchids of Sikkim are not only limited to Sikkim and other Himalayan states but are also found in the other state of India as well as the countries located close to India. Such genera of orchids in Sikkim include Bulleyia, Aorchis, Cryptochilus, Cleisocentron, Didiciea and Dickasonia. Some other genera of orchids having a large span are Diplomeris, Diphylax, Esmeralda, Eriodes, Risleya, Evrardianthe and Stigmatodactylus.

    The sub-tropical regions of Sikkim are suitable for the growth of many genera of orchids at Sikkim. Some of these genera are Eulophia, Anectochilus and Galeola.

    The genera of orchids commonly found in the temperate regions of Sikkim are Pleione humilus, Corybas himalaicus, P.praecox and P.hookerana. These regions also exhibit a lot of orchids belonging to the genera Spiranthus Sinensis and Satyrium napalense.

    Many species of orchids are found in the tropical parts of Sikkim. The Sikkim orchids found primarily in this region belong to the genera Eria, Phalenopsis, Oberonia and Vanda. Some other varieties of orchids commonly found in this region are members of the genera Flickingeria, Dendrobium, Habenaria and Calanthe.

    There are quite a few endemic species of orchids in Sikkim. Sikkim, along with Arunachal Pradesh, house most of the species of orchids of the endemic category.

    Flora and Fauna

    The Sikkim flora includes a variety of species of plants. The abundance of flora in the state can be understood from the fact that the forests cover as much as 36% of the total area of Sikkim. There are about 4000 different types of plants in Sikkim.

    The rhododendrons form a significant part of the Sikkim flora. They are abundant in the alpine and temperate regions of Sikkim. 35 different varieties of rhododendrons grow in these regions. The flowering time of these plants stretches between May and August. The flowers of these plants decorate the entire region. The rhododendrons are the brightest and most colorful members of the flora at Sikkim. The orchids that grow in the state of Sikkim exhibit a lot of variety. More than 600 different kinds of orchids are found here. These orchids are an important part of the flora of Sikkim. The terrestrial orchids are found in the temperate areas, while the epiphytal orchids are found in the tropical regions.

    The original fauna of Sikkim in its southern lowlands of height of 800 feet to 5000 feet include Laurel, fig, bamboo and Sal tree. These plantations have been greatly reduced for providing farming land. At a height of 5000 feet to 13000 feet, one can find temperate trees like chestnut, oak, birch, maple, magnolia, silver fir and alder. The alpine region of height more than 13000 feet is covered with cypress, juniper and rhododendron. Therefore, the flora in Sikkim varies with the height of a place.

    The world of Sikkim fauna exhibits a great deal of variety. There are as many as 550 types of birds in the state. Some of the well known birds include Eagles, Giant Lammergeier Vultures, Minivet, Whistling Thursh, Pheasant and Bulbul. Some of the birds of Sikkim belong to the endangered species.

    Some important members of the fauna of Sikkim are the birds of the place. The zoologists have discovered that the forests of this state of India is crowded with more than 400 different species of butterflies. The Sikkim rivers house a variety of fish like salmon, trout and carp. Among the animals, the Red Panda dwells at a height of 6,000 to 12,000 feet on treetops. Yak is very closely associated with this mountainous state of India. These animals are quite economically viable for the people of the region.

    The Yak is an important part of the fauna at Sikkim and is one of the domestic animals in the district of North Sikkim. They are found in abundance in the alpine region of Sikkim. A product derived from this animal is wool, which is used to make blankets and carpets. The milk of this animal is used to prepare butter.

    The fauna in Sikkim include some rare species. A very rare animal found in Sikkim is the Snow Leopard. This animal has a very few photographs. Its height varies from 5,000 feet to 18,000 feet. Another important animal of Sikkim is the Musk Deer, which mostly thrives in the high-altitude temperate regions. This animal is an endangered species. Barking Deer is an important member of Sikkim fauna. Blue sheep found here is a kind of squirrel that can fly. Tahr, Binturong and Marmot are found in the greeneries of the state, mainly in the Kangchendzonga National Park.

    Medicinal Plants

    Sikkim medicinal plants are found in the lush forests that grow on the slopes of the Himalayas. The medicinal plants of Sikkim can be used to remedy a number of maladies. There are medicines for fever and rheumatism and can also be used as purgatives. The medicinal plants in Sikkim are in great demand among the pharmaceutical companies because of their effectiveness in therapies of different diseases. Sikkim medicinal plantsare found in almost the whole of the state. Some of the most important medicinal plants at Sikkim along with their therapeutic effectiveness are provided below:


    Name of the plant Medical Usefulness
    Artemisia vulgaris antiseptic
    Aconites Rheumatism and Fever
    Nardostachys grandiflora (Jatamasi) Tonic, Antispasmodic, Laxative, Diuretic, Anti-epileptic
    Picrorhiza kurrooa (Kutki) Prevents malaria
    Piper Longum Anti-venom and anti-asthmatic value

    Sikkim medicinal plants have been rampantly used by the tribal people of the state for a very long time on a purely local level. However, unregulated grazing and other bio-hazards has raised a concern about the conservation of the various medicinal plants that usually grow on the steep mountain regions. At the same time, as pharmaceutical companies have started to show a keen interest in the medicinal plants of Sikkim in making their products, it has become important for the government to regulate the cutting and exploitation of these medicinal plants of Sikkim, which form an important part of the state's natural wealth. As such, the government of Sikkim, along with the government of India has now taken significant steps to regulate and conserve the precious Sikkim medicinal plants.

    Butterflies

    Butterflies in Sikkim are known across the world. There are collections of butterflies from Sikkim in the National History Museum in London and in almost all major natural history museums across the world. It is not surprising considering the fact the Sikkim houses 700 different butterfly species, almost half of the total number of butterfly species found in the whole of Asia. The butterflies of Sikkim are currently facing ecological threats and many are on the verge of extinction. The government is being particularly careful about preserving this great natural wealth of the state.

    Butterflies in Sikkim are found in almost throughout the state. However, they are particularly numerous in the river valleys of the state. The river valleys of Teesta, Rangeet and Rhenok abound in butterflies. They move among the countless flowers and orchids that grow around the region. Other areas which have notable butterfly populations are Rangpo, Thangy, Tholong, Mangan, Rangpo, Gerathang and Zuluk.

    Sikkim has no less than 700 different species of butterflies. Natural scientists have tried for a long time to record and duly categorize the types of Sikkim butterflies. However, the sheer varieties of butterflies in Sikkim have always presented them with an arduous proposition and no exhaustive list has yet been prepared. The butterflies in Sikkim belong to the Papilionidae, Pieridae, Nymphalidae and Hesperiidae groups. They include fairly common types like the common blue bottle, glassy blue bottle, dark cerulean and niger to extremely rare species like the bright eye bush brown, French duke and blue baron. However, most butterflies in Sikkim fall in the not rare category.

    Endangered Species

    Endangered species of Sikkim pose a great threat to the amazing biodiversity of this picturesque state in the lap of the Eastern Himalayas. Sikkim is extremely rich in forest resources. It houses wonderful reserve forests and wildlife parks, which have flora and fauna of extremely rare types. However, many of these Sikkim animals are facing extinction. The endangered species of Sikkim fall under the special monitoring of the state government and are covered by the wildlife protection act of the Indian government. The government leaves no stone unturned to preserve these endangered species in Sikkim and thus maintain the ecological balance of the state.

    The various endangered species of Sikkim are spread around the various reserve forests, which include the national parks and the wildlife sanctuaries of the state. The red panda, belong arguably to the bear category of animals and a close relative of the magnificent giant pandas are on the list of the endangered species of Sikkim. Though found in most reserve forests of Sikkim, the red panda is a protected specie. One of the rarest animal of the endangered species at Sikkim is the Himalayan Tahr. However, the most famous and the elusive member of the group of endangered species of Sikkim is the Himalayan Snow Leopard. Found only at the heights of the upper tracts of the Kangchendzonga national park, these animals are rarely seen by the tourists as only a few members of this specie remains. The bear-cat is a rare specie from the civet animal, found at the lower areas of the Namding Lho reserve forest. They are also one of the significant and unique additions to Sikkim endangered species.

    Other endangered species at Sikkim include the Himalayan Black bear, the Southern Kinag, the Tibetian gazelle, the great Tibetan sheep, the bharal, several rodents and the birds. Sikkim also has a number of insects, particularly butterflies and moths of great beauty, which are categorized under the endangered species of Sikkim.

    Sikkim Sanctuaries

    Sikkim sanctuaries and national parks are one of the greatest tourist attractions of the state. Located high above the mighty Himalayas, the parks and sanctuaries of Sikkim are largely untouched territories. They house many animals and birds, not to speak of the many exquisite trees, flowers and orchids, which have attracted nature lovers of all ages from across the world. The government of Sikkim is devoted towards protecting the wildlife resources of the state.

    Beginning at 1859 meters and stretching up to 8550 meters above sea level is the mighty Kangchendzonga National Park, the greatest of the Sikkim sanctuaries and national parks. Framed by the mighty Mt. Kangchendzonga on the West, this grand national park is a veritable dream for nature lovers. The home of musk deers and red pandas, this national park in Sikkim is also known to be the home of such rare species like the Himalayan Snow leopard, one of the rarest specie to be spotted in the wild and the Himalayan Tahr. Many regions in the interior of this national park remains unexplored and is believed to be the home of many yet unidentified species of wildlife.

    Apart from the Kangchendzonga National park, the Fambong Lho and the Maenam wildlife sanctuaries are the two most popular Sikkim sanctuaries. Fambong Lho is located close to the capital city of Gangtok. Its altitude is also much lower at 1280 to 2652 meters. However, it is still the home of many rare mountain species. The civets and the cats are the chief attractions of this sanctuary in Sikkim. The highlight of Fambong Lho wildlife sanctuary is the Binturaong of Bear cat.Maenam wildlife sanctuary is in South Sikkim. At a notch above 10, 000 feet from the sea level, this sanctuary has a temperate forest and is a home to the red panda, various species of mountain goats, cats and partridges.

    Singhalila National Park and the Neora Valley national park in South Sikkim are other popular Sikkim sanctuaries.

    Sikkim Alpine Flowers

    Sikkim Alpine Flowers cover the river valleys of the state in the monsoon season. The entire time between April to July, the alpine flowers in Sikkim fill the areas with magnificent beauty. The alpine flowers of Sikkim are so full of variety, that it is virtually impossible to name all of them, other than broadly categorizing them into broad groups.

    The various valleys are the main regions where Sikkim Alpine flowers bloom in their resplendent glory. The mountain treks are the best ways to watch these flowers.Alpine flowers at Sikkim bloom for a very brief period in the monsoon, that lasts for a little over a month, but fills the entire region with such beauty at that time, that the number of tourists from across the world keep steadily increasing every year. The Dzongri trek is one of the most popular treks for the people interested in the scenic beauty provided by the millions of Sikkim Alpine flowers. However, the Alpine valley of Yumthang in North Sikkim is probably the best place for watching the Sikkim Alpine flowers. Singalila, Yambong, Arehlungchok and Yumesamdong are other common tourist destinations for visitors interested in the Alpine flowers of Sikkim.

    The Alpine flowers of Sikkim are too exhaustive to be cataloged. However, there are a few major categories in which these numerous flowers can be divided. The main types of Sikkim Alpine flowers are:
    • Primulas
    • Potentillas
    • Poppies
    • Cobra Lilies
    • Saxifrages
    • Rhubarbs
    • Wild Roses
    The various orchids and dwarf rhododendrons are other important parts of the Alpine flowers in Sikkim.

    Rhododendrons

    Sikkim rhododendrons are one of the major beauties of the region in the monsoon times. Rhododendrons in Sikkim are found in almost all regions of the state, be they temperate or alpine. There are about 35 different types of Sikkim Rhododendron. They, along with the orchids of the state, pave the trekking tracks and attract a great number of tourists merely on the basis of their own beauty. The best times to see the exquisite beauty of the rhododendrons at Sikkim is the time between late April to August.

    Sikkim rhododendrons are found almost throughout the state in the monsoon season. However, there are certain areas with more concentration of rhododendrons than the others. The various Alpine treks that are popular because of their orchid and Alpine vegetation growth are the best places to observe the exquisite rhododendrons that grow in the state. The Dzongri trek and the Yumthang regions are extremely rich in rhododendron growth.

    Sikkim rhododendrons are found to grow on the hillsides. The lush hillsides are rich in temperate and alpine forests and whatever the profile of the forest. The rhododendrons of Sikkim come in different attractive colors, which adds an enchanting hue to the mountain slopes throughout the monsoon. The different kinds of rhododendrons found in Sikkim are:
    • Bailey
    • Camelliiflorum
    • Barbatum
    • anthopogon
    • Campanalatum
    • Arboreum
    • Aeruginosum
    • Campylocarpum
    • Cinnabaruium
    • Dalhousiae
    • Fulgens
    • Glaucophyllum
    • Decipiens
    • Ciliatium
    • Edgeworthii
    • Falconori
    • Griffithianum
    • Lepidotum
    • Grande
    • Lanatum
    • Leptocarpum
    • Hodgsonii
    • Lindleyi
    • Maddenni
    • Setosum
    • Pumilum
    • Sikkimense
    • Niveum
    • Nivale
    • Triflorum
    • Vacciniodes
    • Pendulum
    • Virgarum
    • Wallichi
    • Thomsonii
    • Wightii

    Last Updated on : 7 March 2013