Sikkim – A Gateway between Two Countries

Sikkim is a beautiful Indian state in the north-eastern part of the country. It is a mountainous state, lying in the Eastern Himalayas, with elevations ranging between 280 and 8568 metres at the summit of Kangchenjunga. It is the second smallest and the least populated state in the country. Padmasambhava, the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, is said to have come here in the 9th century. Another legend tells that Guru Tashi, a prince from Tibet, had and epiphany telling him to travel south. Monarchy was established in the region in 1642, with Phuntsog Namgyal being proclaimed as its first king by lamas. In the 18th century, the region saw invasions from Bhutan and Nepal. The kingdom allied with the British against the latter in 1814, resulting in the Gurkha War. It became a part of India after signing a referendum in 1975. Since then, it developed a reputation as a major tourist destination. Sikkim travel is an ideal way to see its alpine lakes, Buddhist monasteries and the pass named Nathu La.

 

Nathu La

 

Nathu La

Nathu La

Nathu La is a high-altitude mountain pass in the south-eastern part of the state. It connects India to the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. In the Tibetan language, its name translates as listening ears pass. Situated at an altitude of 14450 feet above sea level, it is one of the three open borders between India and China. The Indian government has allowed the trading border to develop it into a tourist destination. Only Indian citizens, after obtaining a permit from Gangtok, can visit the site. It was closed after the 1961 war and reopened in 2006. An agreement between the two nuclear military powers allows 29 types of items from the Indian and 15 types from the Chinese side to cross the no mans land. Since ancient times, it has been used as a significant trading route, with the Silk Route passing through here. Crossing the line towards Tibet leads people to the Chumbi Valley.

 

The area is important for Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims, who have to undertake inter-country journeys to go to their respective temples and sites. Rumtek Monastery is an important Buddhist destination, where monks and devotees from Tibet arrive. Similarly, the Hindus take annual pilgrimages to Manasarovar Lake and Mount Kailash on the other side. The opening of the pass for human travellers is expected to cut the distance and the time taken to move from one nation to another, significantly. While coming here, tourists encounter many beautiful alpine glacial lakes on the way that further increase the value of the destination. The vegetation changes dramatically as people climb upwards. At lower elevations between 2000 and 6000 feet, pine is the dominant tree type. Above this, up to a height of about 9000 feet, the vegetation comprises deodar, fir and spruce. Further upwards, trees disappear and only meadows of grass, rhododendrons and other herbs like aconite or wolfsbane are found.

 

Many streams and rivers originate from the surrounding mountains gush through the region. The wildlife includes snow leopards, wolves, gazelles, snow cocks, lammergeiers, crows and eagles. The site should ideally be visited between May and August as during the rest of the year, it remains snow-clad.

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