Communities, Cultures, Religions and Customs of different hues intermingle freely here in Sikkim to constitute a homogeneous blend. The predominant communities are the LEPCHAS, BHUTIAS and NEPALESE. In urban areas many plainsmen have also settled and they are almost engaged in business and Government service. Because of the development activities in the state, like the construction of roads, bridges and buildings a small part of the population consists of migrant laborers from the plains and Nepal.
The original inhabitants of Sikkim are said to be Lepchas. They existed much before the Bhutias and Nepalese migrated to the state. Before adopting Buddhism or Christianity as their religion, the earliest Lepcha settlers were believers in the bone faith or mune faith. This faith was basically based on spirits, good and bad. They worshipped spirits of mountains, rivers and forests which was but natural for a tribe that co-existed so harmoniously with the rich natural surroundings. The Lepcha (Zongu) folklore is rich with stories. The Lepcha population is concentrated in the central part of the Sikkim. This is the area that encompasses the confluence of Lachen and Lachung rivers and Dickchu.
Life in a Lepcha dwelling is very simple. The male Lepcha wears a dress called a “pagi” made of cotton, which is stripped. The female Lepcha wear a two piece dress. The Lepchas speak the language lepcha, although this language is not very well developed but is rich in vocabulary related to the flora & fauna of Sikkim. Lepchas are very good at archery. The polyandry marriages are permitted amongst the Lepchas.
These are the people of Tibetan origin. They migrated to Sikkim perhaps somewhere after the fifteenth century through the state of Sikkim. In Northen Sikkim, where they are the major inhabitants, they are known as the Lachenpas and Lachungpas. The language spoken by the bhutias is sikkimese . Bhutia villages are as large as those compared to those of Lepchas . A Bhutia house called “Khin” is usually of rectangular shape .
The traditional dress of the male member is known as the “Bakhu” which is a loose cloak type garment with full sleeves. The ladies dress consists of a silken “Honju” which is a full sleeve blouse and a loose gown type garment. The ladies are very fond of heavy jewelry made of pure gold.
The Nepalese appeared on the Sikkim scene much after the Lepchas & Bhutias. They migrated in large numbers and soon became the dominant community. The Nepalese now constitute more than 80 % of the total population. The Nepali settlers introduced the terraced system of cultivation. Cardamom was an important cash crop introduced by the Nepalis’. Except for the Sherpas & Tamangs who are Buddhists, the Nepalis’ are orthodox Hindus with the usual cast system.
The Nepali language is spoken and understood all over the state. This language is similar to Hindi and uses the Devangri script . The traditional male nepali dress consists of long double breast garment flowing below the waist and a trouser known as “Daura Suruwal”. The female dress consist of a double breasted garment with strings to tie on both the sides at four places, which is shorter than the Daura and is known as “Chow Bandi Choli”. They also wear a shawl known as “Majetro”. The “Khukri” which has become a synonym to the Nepali (Gurkha) culture, is a very sharp edged, angled, heavy weapon carried in a wooden or leather scabbard known as “Daab”.
Geography Of Sikkim
Sikkim is a very small hilly state in the Eastern Himalayas, extending approximately 114 Kms from north to south and 64Kms from east to west, surrounded by vast stretches of Tibetan Plateau in the North, Chumbi Valley of Tibet and the kingdom of Bhutan in the east, Darjeeling district of West Bengal in the south and the kingdom in Nepal in the west.
The state being a part of inner ranges of the mountains of Himalayaa has no open valley and no plains but carries elevations ranging from 300 to 8583 mtrs above means sea level consisting of lower hill, middle and higher hills, alpine zones and snow bound land, the highest elevation 8583 meters being the top of the Mt. Kangchendzonga itself.
Total Area Statement
The total geographical area of the state is 7096 sq. Kms. but according to 1958-60 survey operation and the gazatteer fo Sikkim, the land area under different utilization categories is 7299 sq. Kms. Detail break up as follow :
Climate: Tempature And Rainfall
The climate of the state has been roughly divided into the tropical, temperature and alphine zones. For most of the period in a a year, the climate is cold and humid as rainfall occurs in each month. The area experience a heavy rainfall due to its proximity to the Bay of Bengal.
The rainfall in north district is comparatively less than of the other districts. The general trend of decrease in temperature with increase in altitude holds good every where. Pre-monsoon rain occurs in April-May and monsoon (south-west) operates normally from the month of May and continues up to early October.
The mean temperature in the lower altitudinal zone, it varies from 1.5 degree centigrade to 9.5 degree centigrade. Temperature varies with altitude and slope. The maximum temperature is recorded usually during July and August, and minimum during December & January. Fog is a common feature in the entire state from May to September. Biting cold is experienced at high altitude places in the winter months and snowfall is also not uncommon during this period.
An examination of availble rainfall date shows that the mean annual rainfall is minimum at Thangu (82 mm.) and maximum at Gangtok (3494 mm.) . An isohyatal analysis of these data reveals that there are two maximum rainfall areas (i) South-East quadrant, including including Mangan, Singhik, Dikchu, Gangtok, Rongli etc. (ii) South-West corner including Hilley . In between these two regions, there is a low rainfall region e.g. Namchi.
Rainfall in this area is about half of that in the former areas. There is an area in the North-West Sikkim which gets very little rainfall (even less than 4.9 mm.). This area is having mainly snow -covered mountains. Rainfall is heavy and well distributed during the months from May to early October. July is the wettest month in most of the places. The intensity of rainfall during South-West monsoon season decreases from south to North, while the ditribution of winter rainfall is in the opposite order. The highest annual rainfall for the individual station may exceed 5000 mm. and average number of rainy days ( days with rain of 2.5 mm. or more) ranges from 100 at Thangu to 184 at Gangtok.
The original inhabitants were the Lepchas or the “raven folks” who came to the area from Assam and Burma. From the 1200’s the Bhutias or the Tibetan people moved into Sikkim. They included the Namgyal clan who arrived in the 1400’s and gradually won political control over Sikkim.
In 1642, Phintsok Namgyal (1604-1670) became the first Chogyal (King). He presided over a social system based on Tibetan Lamaistic Buddhism. His descendents ruled Sikkim for more than 330 years. During the 1700’s Sikkim suffered massive invasion from Nepal and Bhutan and lost much territory as a result. The Nepalese also migrated to Sikkim and settled as farmers. By the 1800’s Sikkim’s population was very mixed, and internal conflict resulted.
Sikkim assisted the British in a successful war against Nepal in the year1814-1815 and won back some of its land. The British India Company purchased the health resort of Darjeeling from Sikkim. During the mid 1800’s, Sikkim violently resisted attempts to bring it under British Rule, but in 1861 it finally became a protectorate. The British had assess to Tibet through Sikkim, and Sikkim’s independent status was recognized. The Indian government took responsibility of Sikkim’s external affairs, defense and communication of Skim in the year 1950. In 1973, India took Sikkim into the union as an associate member. In 1975, Sikkim became the 22nd state of India.
By Air : The busiest route in and out of Sikkim is the road between Gangtok and Siliguri. The town of Bagdogra at a distance of 124 km from Gangtok has the nearest airport. Flights from Bagdogra can be booked at the Indian Airlines office on Tibet Road in Gangtok (Phone 03592-23099). There are regular flights to Guwahati, Calcutta, and Delhi from Bagdogra.
By Rail : The nearest railway stations from Gangtok are New Jalpaiguri (125 km) and Siliguri (144 km) connected to Delhi, Calcutta, Guwahati, and other important cities in India.
By Road : Gangtok is connected by road to Darjeeling, Kalimpong, and Siliguri. Cars, luxury coaches and jeeps are available for hire in the town. There are also regular bus services run by the Sikkim Nationalized Transport.