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Sikkim is a small beautiful state of India in the Eastern Himalayas with steep mountains and deep valleys. It lies between latitudes 27° 5' N to 20° 9' N and longitudes 87° 59' E to 88° 56' E. It is wedged between Nepal in the west and Bhutan in the east and China in the north and northeast. In the south it shares its Indian border with the state of West Bengal.

Sikkim, is oblong in shape with a north to south length of approximately 100 km., and an east to west breadth of approximately 60 km. that gives it a total land mass of 7096 square kilometers. Close to three-quarters of its perimeter that covers most of the east and the west including the entire northern borderline has a contiguous mountain range surrounding the terrain within. The Chola Ridge bounds it in the East, the Singalila in the west, and the Great Himalayan Range runs right across the north. The southern fringe of Sikkim, devoid of a Himalayan barrier opens out to the Plains of Bengal and it is towards this direction that Sikkim’s two major river systems, the Teesta and Rangeet flow down to drain the land.

This gigantic horseshoe enclosure causes the trapping of moisture-laden winds from the Bay of Bengal and results in high precipitation round the year.

Another amazing aspect of this region is the enormous altitudinal range within its geography. From a lowly 300 m., it soars up to the lofty heights of the mighty Khangchendzonga at 8585 m. resulting in climatic zones from the tropical to the tundra.

Thus, the geophysical dynamics of this region has resulted in an enormous diversity of flora and fauna in so small a place as Sikkim.

Physical Features
Spanning Sikkim’s western borders are the Khangchendzonga and the Singalila Range, a north-south spur of the Great Himalaya. The northern limits which reach out to the Tibetan Plateau is straddled by the Donkia Range while the eastern flank is bounded by the Chola Range. The average steepness is about 45 degrees. Sikkim encompasses the Lesser Himalaya, Central Himalaya, and the Tethys Himalaya. Although the trend of Great Himalaya is to run across in an east-west direction, the two ridges demarcating Sikkim’s eastern and western sides, the Chola and the Singalila, follow a north-south pattern. Across the middle, another north-south ridge of lesser elevation separates the Rangeet Valley from the Teesta Valley.

The major mountain peaks of Sikkim are; Khangchendzonga-8,846 m, Jonsang-7,444 m, Talung-7,351 m, Kabru-7,338 m, Siniolchu-6,887 m, Pandim-6,691 m, Rathong-6,680 m Koktang-6,148 m, and Simvo-6,811 m.

Sikkim’s two major rivers are the Teesta and the Rangeet. The turbulent Teesta, which has its source at the Chho Lhamu lake in the Tibetan Plateau is an unseeming little stream at first but gradually swells into a raging river as more tributaries converge into it’s path as it snakes through deep mountain valleys into the plains of Bengal. The gentler Rangeet has its source at the Rathong Glacier south of the Khangchendzonga massif. It meets with the Teesta at the valley dividing Sikkim and Bengal.

There are numerous perennial lakes in Sikkim among which, Khechiperi, Gurudongmar, Chho Lhamu, Changu and Menmetsho are some of the more scenic.

Climate
From deep river valleys no more than 250 meters above sea level to the dizzy heights of Khangchendzonga at 8,586 meters, Sikkim harbors ecosystems of nearly every elevational strata. In a matter of a few hours, one is able to ascend from sweltering tropical heat to cool alpine meadows. Facing the brunt of the North East Monsoon rains, it is also one of the wettest regions in the Himalayas due to its proximity to the Bay of Bengal and the mountain barriers of Northeast India.

Summers are extremely humid though not necessarily hot as temperatures vary according to altitude. In the lower and middle hills (Gangtok, Darjeeling, Kalimpong) the maximum temperatures range between 25 and 28° C. Down in the deep river valleys it can get stuffy but is never unbearably hot.

Winters are relatively cold at night but pleasant during the day. In the lower and middle hills (Gangtok, Darjeeling, Kalimpong), night temperatures average 5° C, and day temperatures hover around 15° C. The alpine region of course becomes very chilly, and temperatures remain well below freezing except during moments when sunlight can seep in through the clouds.

The Monsoon winds strike Sikkim between late May and early June, and there is incessant rain all across the state till late September. Around July and August, torrential downpours sometimes last for several days at a stretch. Gangtok has an annual rainfall of 325 cm.

Vegetation
The jungles in the lower parts are lush with creepers and crawlers beneath extensive canopies of tree ferns, plantain, bamboo, and several species of tall trees such as kapok and sal. The gigantic Sal is said to take a hundred years to grow, a hundred years to season, and has a hundred years of use before its decay.

The temperate forests have an interesting variety of trees and include oak, chestnuts, maple, birch, magnolia and rhododendron to name a few. Dendrobium orchids, from the giant hookeriana straddling the yokes of tall trees to the tightly-clustered densiflorum that flowers in a bunch the size of a baseball, can be seen in bloom during summer. In the soft humid soil amidst moss and shrubs are several terrestrial species, and includes several varieties of Paphiopedilum, the exotic ‘ladies slipper’.

And up in the cool temperate reaches where the earth gives way to granite, there is larch, fir, juniper and more rhododendrons. Here in the summertime, the meadows come alive with myriads of wildflowers.

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