Sikkim is a landlocked Indian state nestled in the Himalayas. It is the least populous state in India,and the second-smallest in area after Goa. The thumb-shaped state borders Nepal in the west, China to the north and east, and Bhutan in the southeast. The Indian state of West Bengal borders Sikkim to its south. The official language of the state is English, while there is a sizeable population who converse in are Nepali, Lepcha Bhutia, and Limbu. It is an ancient land also known as ‘Indrakil’ or garden of Indra, the king-god of heaven, in Hindu religious texts.The predominant religions are Hinduism and Vajrayana Buddhism. Gangtok is the capital and largest town.
Despite its tiny size, Sikkim is geographically diverse, owing to its location on the Himalaya. The climate ranges from subtropical to high alpine. Kangchenjunga, the world’s third highest peak, is located in the northwestern part of the state on the boundary with Nepal, and can be seen from most parts of the state. Sikkim is a popular tourist destination for its culture, scenic beauty and biodiversity.
The thumb-shaped state of Sikkim is characterised by wholly mountainous terrain. Almost the entire state is hilly, with the elevation ranging from 280 metres (920 ft) to 8,585 metres (28,000 ft). The summit of the Kangchenjunga is the highest point. For the most part, the land is unfit for agriculture because of the precipitous and rocky slopes. However, certain hill slopes have been converted into farm lands using terrace farming techniques. Numerous snow-fed streams in Sikkim have carved out river valleys in the west and south of the state. These streams combine into the Teesta and its tributary, the Rangeet. The Teesta, described as the “lifeline of Sikkim”, flows through the state from north to south. About a third of the land is heavily forested.
The lofty Himalayan ranges surround the northern, eastern and western borders of Sikkim in a crescent. The populated areas lie in the southern reaches of the state, in the Lower Himalayas. The state has twenty-eight mountain peaks, twenty-one glaciers, 227 high-altitude lakes, including the Tsongmo Lake, Gurudongmar and Khecheopalri Lakes, five hot springs, and over 100 rivers and streams. Eight mountain passes connect the state to Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal.
The hills of Sikkim mainly consist of gneissose and half-schistose rocks, making their soil brown clay, and generally poor and shallow. The soil is coarse, with large amounts of iron oxide concentrations, ranging from neutral to acidic and has poor organic and mineral nutrients. This type of soil tends to support evergreen and deciduous forests.
A large portion of the Sikkim territory is covered by the Precambrian rock and is much younger in age than the hills. The rock consists of phyllites and schists and therefore the slopes are highly susceptible to weathering and prone to erosion. This, combined with the intense rain, causes extensive soil erosion and heavy loss of soil nutrients through leaching. As a result, landslides are frequent, isolating the numerous small towns and villages from the major urban centres.
The important mineral resources of the state are copper-lead-zinc and silver reported in Bhotang, Rangpo and Dikchu in East Sikkim district. Occurrences of other minerals like dolomite, quartzite and steatite are reported in West Sikkim district. Limestone in North Sikkim district and Marble in East Sikkim and North Sikkim districts.