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Sikkim - Geography

Surrounded on three sides by precipitous mountain walls, Sikkim is like a stupendous stairway leading from the western border of the Tibetan plateau down to the plains of West Bengal, with a fall of about 5,215 meters in 240 kms. Sikkim, in the west is bound by the north-south spur of the Great Himalayan Range which includes the world's third highest peak, Khangchendzonga and down to its south is Singalila ridge. In the north it is bound by Dongkia range and also partly includes the Tibetan Plateau. In the east it is bound by the Chola range.

Sikkim encompasses Lesser Himalaya, Central Himalaya, and the Tethys Himalaya. The area is like a stairway leading from the western border of the Tibetan plateau down to the plains of West Bengal, with a fall of about 8,298 meters in 240 kms from the upper reaches of the Himalayas to the Northern tip of West Bengal. It has also the steepest landscape in the country since the width of the Himalaya across its entire length is narrowest here (Schaller 1977). The average steepness is about 45 degree, representing one of the world's steepest altitude gradients. Sikkim has regions that extend from temperate, sub Alpine to Alpine thereby making it one of the richest biodiversity hotspots with diverse indigenous flora and fauna having high commercial value. The habitable areas exist only up to the altitude of 2100 m constituting only 20% of the total area of the state.

The average steepness is about 45 degree. Sikkim is the main catchment area for the beautiful river Teesta, which has its main source from Chho Lhamo lake in the north and is further strengthened by many streams and rivers of which Tholung, Lachung, Great Rangeet and Rangpo are important drainers. It also has about 180 perennial lakes, among which Khachoedpalri, Gurudongmar, Chho Lhamo and Men Moi Tso are some of the most scenic.

Bounded by foreign nations on three sides, Sikkim shares its boundary with the sister state of West Bengal. Surrounded on three sides by precipitous mountain walls, Sikkim appears as a small rectangular Gem. Sikkim is like a stupendous stairway leading from the western border of the Tibetan plateau down to the plains of West Bengal, with a fall of about 5,215 metres in 240 kms. Sikkim, in the west is bound by the north-south spur of the Great Himalayan Range which includes the world's third highest peak, Khangchendzonga and down to its south is Singalila ridge. In the north it is bound by Dongkia range and also partly includes the Tibetan Plateau. In the east it is bound by the Chola range. The average steepness is about 45 degree. Sikkim is the main catchment area for the beautiful river Teesta, which has its main source from Chho Lhamo lake in the north and is further strengthened by many streams and rivers of which Tholung, Lachung, Great Rangeet and Rangpo are important drainers. It also has about 180 perennial lakes, among which Khachoedpalri, Gurudongmar, Chho Lhamo and Men Moi Tso are some of the most scenic.

Dominating both legend and landscape of Sikkim is the mighty Khangchendzonga. Known to outside world as Kanchenjunga, it is the third highest peak in the world. But to the Sikkemese it is much more than a mountain: Khangchendzonga is the Guardian deity, a country God whose benign watchfulness ensures peace and prosperity for the land. The five peaks of Khangchendzonga are the five Treasures of the Eternal Snow, a belief AboutSikkim3beautifully interpreted by the great Lama Lhatsun Chenpo: "The peak most conspicuously gilded by the rising sun is the treasury of gold, the peak that remains in cold grey shade is the storehouse for silver and other peaks are vaults for gems, grains and the holy books." Each of the five peaks is believed to be crowned by an animal-the highest by a tiger and others by a lion, elephant, horse and the mythical bird Garuda. Along with the Guardian deity, the Nepal Peak, Tent Peak, Pyramid, Jonsang, Lhonak, Pahunri etc. and glaciers like Zemu, Changsang, Teesta, Changme are also important. The most important passes are Jelep-la, Nathu-la, Cho-la and Thanka-la in the east; Donkiua, Kongralamu and Naku in the north and Kanglanangma and Chia Bhanjyang in the west.

Fuelwood continues to be the main source of energy, accounting for more than 85 per cent of the total energy consumption. Deforestation has been the most critical environmental danger for the fragile eco-system of Sikkim. One of the biggest challenges to the State today comes from the destruction of vegetation in the high altitude areas. In the alpine zone, grass, snow and temperature are maintained at a particular equilibrium. Thus, melting of snow takes place at the desirable rate only if the normal ecological features are protected. But if the soil cover is disturbed and ecological imbalances occur, snow melting, takes place at a higher speed leading even to avalanches.

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