Mt. Pandim with Rhododendron Wightii

Dendrobium ochreatum growing at Wayside Gardens & nurseries

Campsite at Thangsing with Mt. Pandim at the backdrop

Trekking through Daphay Bhir - The highest pass on the Singalila ridge trek from Utteray to Dzongri

Mt. Khanchendzonga


Sikkim, sandwiched between Nepal in the West, Bhutan in the east, West Bengal State of India in the south and the Tibetan Autonomous Region China in the North is perhaps the last of the hot bio-diversity regions in the Himalayas that can be visited with more ease than its neighbors with political problems or high cost of travel or difficult permit procedures with little to no infrastructure.

A little more than 150 years after Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, one of 19th Century's most referred to botanist entered the then remote, mysterious Himalayan Kingdom of Sikkim, much of the Sikkim Himalayas (Includes Darjeeling) remains same from the botanical point of view. Be it the 28 species of Rhododendrons that he discovered (now it is38), or the 400 odd orchid (now 500+) species and numerous other flowering plants that he discovered in Sikkim. He returned with over 6000 specimens of plants to Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew (London) where he succeeded his father as its second Director. But, out of all this, perhaps the most important is the 28 species of Rhododendrons that he discovered in Sikkim and provided the early breeders with the valuable plants, the progenies of which are the much sought after garden plants in the cooler climates of the western world till this day.

In the "Himalayan- Journals" which was first published in 1854 - He writes - " Sikkim consists of a mass of mountainous spurs, forest clad up to 12,000 ft; there are no flat valleys and plains in the whole country". Today it is not difficult to understand why Hooker carefully chose Sikkim - to botanize and catalog his botanical findings. The altitude ranging from 300 Mts in the river valleys right up to Mt. Khangchendzonga (8,586 mtrs- the third highest mountain on the world), with summer humidity up to 90% is a Haven to encounter a diverse range of plant life and rich fauna unrivalled on the face of the planet.

For the leisure or cultural traveler, Sikkim consists of 3 ethnic groups, The Lepchas - the original inhabitants who comprise of about 10 % of the Sikkim populace today, The Bhutias - who later migrated from Tibet - about 25% and finally the Nepalese who comprise about 60% of the population. As Sikkim was ruled by the Bhutia King from 1641 till 1975, Buddhism and the monasteries characterize much of rural Sikkim in vantage locations, like the monasteries dotting many of the hill tops.. Sikkim, also know as Denzong - the "Valley of rice". The rice fields can be seen wherever there are settlements is the staple food and the paddy fields are a prominent character of the landscape.

 

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