A journey to Sikkim necessarily means awakening the senses and discovering the pristine and mystic beauty of the land. What one will find most fascinating is the journey itself-a continuum of sights, sounds, and feelings. Sikkim is a dream that one can realize and enjoy, now that the area is open to all. It is a state cloaked in the mystery of remoteness, and far away from the din and bustle of the modern world.
Located in the eastern Himalayas, Sikkim is bound by Tibet (China) in the north, West Bengal in the south, Tibet and Bhutan in the east and Nepal in the west. The state is spread below Mount Kanchanjunga (8,534 m), the third highest peak in the world. The locals worship the mountain as a protecting deity. The elevation of the state ranges between 300 m and over 8,500 m above sea level.
A part of the lesser, central, and Tethys Himalaya; Sikkim is a mountainous state without any significant flat land. The larger part of the state is made up of Precambrian rock and is comparatively younger than the Northern, Eastern and Western portion of the state. The rise of the mountains is northward. The state is cut into steep escarpments in the north and except in the Lachung and Lachen valleys, is thinly populated. In contrast to Northern Sikkim is Southern Sikkim, which is lower, more open, and fairly well cultivated. The drainage of the rivers in the state is towards south. The Rangeet and the Teesta are the major river systems of state. These rivers cut through the valleys and in addition there are 180 perennial lakes at different altitudes. The state has many hot water springs like Phur-Cha, Ralang Sachu, Yumthang, and Momay. The snowline starts at around 5,248 m in Sikkim.
Buddhism, the major religion in the state, arrived from Tibet in the 13th century. It took its distinctive Sikkimese form four centuries later, when three Tibetan monks of the old Nyingamapa order, dissatisfied with the rise of the reformist Gelukpas, migrated to Yoksum in western Sikkim. Having consulted an oracle, they went to Gangtok looking for a certain Phuntsong Namgyal, whom they crowned as the first Chogyal or 'Righteous King' of Denzong in 1642. Being the secular and religious head, he was soon recognized by Tibet, and brought sweeping reforms. His kingdom was far larger than today's Sikkim and included Kalimpong and parts of western Bhutan. Over the centuries, the territory was lost to the Bhutanese, the Nepalese and the British. The British policy to diminish the strong Tibetan influence resulted in the import of workers from Nepal to work in the tea plantations of Sikkim, Darjeeling and Kalimpong and these soon outnumbered the indigenous population.
After India's Independence, the eleventh Chogyal, Tashi Namgyal, strove hard to prevent the dissolution of his kingdom. Officially, Sikkim was a protectorate of India, and the role of India became increasingly crucial with the Chinese military build-up along the northern borders that culminated in an actual invasion early in the 1960s. The next king Palden Thondup was a weak ruler and in 1975, succumbed to the demands of the Nepalese majority of becoming a part of India.