The terrain of Sikkim
is so rugged that form the air it looks as though a giant plough
had been carelessly run through it. Sikkim is a land of monumental
mounts that seems to touch the heavens. These mountains form a
part of the long range - the mighty Himalayas. the Khangchendzonga,
the 3rd highest mountain in the world, majestically towers over
all the mountain in its vicinity like a god surrounded by smaller
deities and can be seen from almost any part of Sikkim in good
weather as it thrust its mighty shoulders high above the lush
verdant valleys. , Geologic past, Guided Tour of the
Due to the relatively low altitude of Sikkim its proximity to the
Tropic of Cancer, the snow line above which permanent snow is
found is about 6,000m. Habitations are found till altitudes of
5,000m. This is in sharp contrast to Europe where the highest
mountain, Mont Blanc is at an altitude of only 4,807m but remains
perennially under the cover of snow.
Sikkim has a very rugged topography and the flat lands are
difficult to come by. The towering mountains that define this
paradise of the nature also create a barrier to efficient
The two mountain ranges are :
Singalila: on the western boarder
Chola: on the eastern boarder
The Singalila Range is an enormous spur of the Great Himalayas.
The crowning glory of this range is the 8596 m elevated summit, of
Mount Khangchendzonga. This peak - the third highest in the world,
is a difficult mountain to climb, because of unpredictable weather
and winds. The Sikkimese believe that it is not meant to be
climbed, but only worshipped, as it is the abode of five treasures
of the snows. In deference to local sentiments, no expedition has
set foot on the summit- but remained a few meters below. For those
of us who cannot attempt the climb, the 5000 m high viewpoint at
Goechela (the Lock Pass) offers a superb alternative. A
depression, between Mount Pandim, and a spur of the Kabru Peak
form the pass. It looks down into the Talung Valley, with the
mighty Talung Glacier, winding its way down below. One is
surrounded by great white peaks - Khangchendzonga (8596 m), Simvo
(6811 m), Siniolchu (6888 m), Pandim (6691 m), Kabru (7338 m) and
Rathang (6087 m). The awe inspiring sight, instills a feeling of
standing in the very lap of Khangchendzonga, and gazing up at its
Glaciers are moving mountains of ice. There are many of these in
Sikkim among which the most important ones are Zemu Glacier,
Rathong Glacier and the Lonak Glacier in North Sikkim.
The Zemu glacier is the largest and the most famous glacier of the
eastern Himalayas. It is 26 km in length and is situated in a
large U-shaped valley at the base of the Khangchendzonga massif in
northwestern Sikkim. The Teesta River rises from the snout of this
Many tributary glaciers feed the trunk glacier. The side valleys
in which these glaciers lie open into the main Zemu Valley from
different directions. Icefalls and waterfalls have formed at the
junction of the tributary glaciers with the Zemu glacier.
Sikkim has many hot springs known for their medicinal value. The
most important are the ones located at Reshi , Yumthang and Ralang.
These springs are considered holy as one of the four holy caves is
located here. This holy cave is called the Kadosangphu or 'cave of
the occult fairies' and lies on the south of the four cardinal
Yumthang Hot Spring - At an altitude of 12,000 ft, 135 km from
Gangtok in North Sikkim, a few hundred metres off the road, after
crossing river Lachung over a wooden bridge lies a small hut which
houses a pool where sulphur water of hotspring is collected for
taking a dip.
Phurchachu Reshi Hot Spring - Around 25 km from Gyalshing,
near Reshi, after crossing the Rangit river by a pedestrian
bridge, hardly ten minutes from the highway is Phurchachu springs
with medicinal properties, ideal from skin disease.
On the face of it, one would not expect to find lakes on such a
rugged terrain. But surprisingly, Sikkim does have lakes though
not very large in size. These lakes are both spring fed as well as
river fed. On the highway between Gangtok and Nathu La, 34 kms.
from Gangtok lies the serene Tsomgo(Changu) Lake at an altitude of
about 11,000 feet. Khecheopalri lake is another well known lake
that lies on a bifurcation of the route between Gyalshing and
Yuksom . Menmecho lake, Green lake and Samiti lake are some other
Tsomgo literally means "source of the lake " in Bhutia language. '
TSO' means lake and ' MGO' means head. At about 40 kms. away from
Gangtok , this serene and holy lake is situated at an altitude of
12,000 ft on the Gangtok - Nathu La highway. It is about 1 km.
long, oval in shape, 15 meters deep. It is also a home of brahmini
ducks besides being a stopover for various migratory birds.
The lake remains frozen during the winter months up to mid-May.
Between May and August it is possible to see a variety of flowers
in blooms, including the rhododendrons, various species of
primulas, blue and yellow poppies, irises etc. It is also an ideal
habitat for the red panda and various species of birds.
20 Kms. further away from Tsomgo(Changu) Lake is this beautiful
lake which lies cradled between the mountains below the Jelep La
Pass and is the source of river Rangpo-chu. It derives its water
from melting snows around. The lake is famous for its Trout and a
farm to cultivate these fish also exist nearby.
Khecheopalri lake is considered as one of the sacred
lakes of this state both by the Buddhist and the Hindus. The lake
remains hidden in the rich forest cover. It is believed that the
birds do not permit even a single leaf to float on the lake
surface. There is a motor able road from Pemayangtse right up to
the lake area.
For those interested in spending a night
or two in the peaceful environment a trekkers hut has been
provided by the tourism office. The hut is presently managed by a
local person and provides comfortable stay providing a taste of
local cuisine which may include 'chang' brew made of fermented
millet. There is also a pilgrim's hut, managed by the tourism
department , which is meant to provide accommodation to the people
who come on pilgrim tours.
Kathok and Khecheopalri are two important lakes of this area.
Khecheopalri, known as the "Wishing Lake", is one of Sikkim's most
sacred lakes. A festival held every year at Khecheopalri Lake
during February-March draws people from all over Sikkim. Another
is held at Yuksam during Decembe-January in connection with Kathok
The Green Lake is fast developing into a take-off point for
mountaineering expeditions to the peaks of this area. The Green
Lake may in the minds of many conjure up an image of beautiful,
exotic waterbody, but sadly it is not true. Infact in 1899 the
lake had disappeared according to D. W. Freshfield who writes, the
hollow enclosed between the covering moraines of Zemu and Green
Lake Glaciers has been lately a lake, and was now a lake basin.
As you climb towards Gochala Pass and pause to take a deep
breadth, you can enjoy the colour of transparent torquise of Lake
Samiti- A glacial lake in the Onglathang valley. (a view from west
Tso Lhamu Lake
Tso Lhamu is a lake which lies on the plateau that juts into
Sikkim into Tibet. From this moderately sized lake, the Teesta
River takes birth as a trickle hardly a foot wide. The water in
the lake flirts with ice before getting frozen in winter. The
reflection of the surrounding mountains doubles the beauty.
Everything looks so prehistoric that you
almost expect to see a Dinosaur amble by. A flock of birds, the
cranes swims on the placid ice water of Chola Mu. These birds are
migratory from Russia, China and other parts of India.
It is a big natural lake cupped in deep crater. The rim of the
crater is so hard above the lake level that it is easy t o
photograph the complete lake without using a wide angle lens. As
you invoke the blessing on the bank of this Pristine Lake, you
cannot help thinking that it is here that God really resides.
The mountain ranges are interspersed with the passes which can be
used to cross from one side to another. On the Eastern Chola range
the most important passes are the Nathu La and Jelep La both at an
altitude of about 15,0000 ft. and Bhutah La at an altitude of
about 13,000 ft. The first two lead to Tibet and the third to
On the west boarder of Sikkim and Nepal, the most important pass
is Chiwabhangjang, which has an altitude of 10,300 ft. The other
passes on the west is Kang La. In the north one of the important
passes is the Kongra La.
Five kilometers to the north of Jelap la pass, on the same
altitude on a range that runs into Tibet, is the rarely used
Nathula pass on the Sikkim-Tibet frontier. The zig zag track
becomes steeper as it leaves Gangtok, but makes up in the changing
landscape which becomes more sublime with ever inch of ascent till
it reaches the calm waters of the lake. Nuk Tahyi in a region,
bleak and dismal. from the submit two roads from both Jelap and
Nathula passes unit in a track leading to the Chumbi Valley of
Tibet. On the one side stands a change of imposing peaks dividing
from Tibet, on the other yawning abyss of ravines and gorges.
At Nathula the Chinese and the Indian troops face each other
almost at breathing distance. It was in the news quiet a lot when
skirmishes between the two countries occurred on this pass. Jelap
la was used by Younghusband to attack Tibet in 1903 and to
commemorate this the path through Jelap la is called the Young
husband track. Nathula and Jelap la passes for a part of the trade
route between India and Tibet till 1962 .
Rivers: Flowing almost right across
the length of Sikkim is the River Teesta. Teesta originates from
the Cholamu lake where it is hardly a stream. No one can imagine
that this innocuous looking stream would transform into a
thundering mighty river less than a hundred kilometers downstream.
Meeting Teesta at the border between Sikkim and West Bengal
is its major tributary the river Rangeet which originates from the
During monsoons the otherwise innocuous looking rivers of Sikkim
become swollen, swift, muddy and dangerous. The rivers are narrow,
serpentine and full of rocks and hence are not navigable. Because
of swift currents hitting rocks, the rivers are very noisy and can
be heard for miles together. The Teesta finally joins the
Bhramaputra in Bangladesh.
The rivers are fed by snow melting on the mountains as well as
rain that accumulates in the catchment areas during the monsoons.
Human settlements usually must exist above the level of rivers and
hence even if flooding takes place life and property remain safe.
Waterfalls:The verdant green
landscape of Sikkim is broken here and there by waterfalls that
leap out of the hillside to the valley floors in plumes of white.
Waterfalls are found almost all over Sikkim but there is a
profusion of them in North Sikkim specially on the road between
Mangan and Lachung as well as in the Dzongu area. Most of the
waterfalls are perennial and are spring water fed but there are
many that derive their water from
melting snow. Except for a few most of the waterfalls are unnamed.