Sikkim is the second smallest state of India. It was an independent monarchy ruled by kings called Chogyals till 1975, when it joined the Indian union. Sikkim has borders with Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan and the Indian state of West Bengal. Situated in the Himalayan ranges, the state is entirely hilly with elevations ranging between 300m and 8583m. The highest elevation is Mt. Kanchendzonga, the third highest peak in the world, which is worshipped as the guardian deity of the state.
Lepchas are considered to be the oldest inhabitants of Sikkim. Then came the Bhutias from Tibet, and later Nepalis, and the people from Indian plains. Sikkim is home to the Mahayana form of Buddhism and its colourful Gompas (Buddhist monasteries) are a major attraction. Of these, Rumtek monastery near Gangtok, and Tashiding & Pemayangste monasteries in West Sikkim are the most important.
Gangtok is the main city and the capital of Sikkim. It is a cosmopolitan place with views of snow-covered Himalayas, botanical gardens and monasteries. Gangtok is also an ideal base to visit the southern parts of the state where most of the tourist sites are located. Approachable from Gangtok, Tsongo Lake is located 3720m above sea level and is frozen during the winters. The Chinese border at Nathula Pass is close by. The town of Pelling is in west Sikkim and is a popular tourist spot. The Kanchendzonga National Park is a habitat for the snow leopard, red panda, Tibetan antelope and wild ass.
Phang Lhabso and Losoong are the main festivals of Sikkim. Phang Lhabso is dedicated to the worship of Mt. Kanchendzonga and is celebrated in August/September. Losoong is celebrated in December/January and marks the end of the harvest season.
Foreign nationals visiting Sikkim must obtain an Inner Line Permit. The permits are available at Indian missions and tourism offices in Delhi and Calcutta.