By the cultural aspect Sikkim is a most exciting state as here is a big mixture of folks and "the sikkimese" is not existing. It is said, that it is most likely that first the Lepchas settled, who came from southeastern parts. They count as the natives of Sikkim. Shortly after them the Bhutia arrived, who have their origins in Tibet. In the end of the 19th century, actively they called for Nepalese people to settle down in Sikkim. So the number of inhabitants rose from 30.000 in 1891 to 600.000 in 2011. Nowadays the Lepcha and Buthia are only 20% of the inhabitants of Sikkim and the Nepalese are the biggest population-group.
Sikkim was a kingdom since 1641though having had some historical turbulences, in which the neighbourcountry India played sometimes quite a part. 1975 Sikkim joined as 22. state India and the king was dethroned.
How Sikkim deals with this situation is exciting to observe - which traditions are kept, how the different cultures are living together, how they look at gouvernment etc.
There are areas where the cultures mix more and areas, where there are more people from just one population. To learn more about the life of the Lepchas, one should stay in Dzongu, an extended area north of Gangtok. Here are homestays and local guides who can tell you a lot.
Best way to get to know a culture better is to join their daily life. That you can do in one of the many villages. You experience how the people live, what they do, can find out in talks what is important for the culture, which traditions are kept vivid and which changes are there in modern times.
In some places there are some festivals organised. Maybe for example the Tourism-Festival in Aritar sounds like a "tourist-only"-event - but on the contrary there are mostly locals. In 2013 we were the only western people there. During these festivals the locals celebrate their cultural diversity and are happy about your visit. Please ask - we'll have a look wether there is a festival during your travel-period!
Sikkim has 8 cities and 440 villages. Therefore it makes sense to enjoy the atmosphere on one or more villages. You will get to know a lot about Sikkim and it's people.
Sikkim supports the village-tourism and we like to follow that. since several years in some chosen villages there are homestays, guides and offers like village-walks, nature-walks, wildlife-spotting, school-visits, cultural programmes (dance and songs), games, telling stories, participating in agricultural duties and for sure you will enjoy the local cuisine.
The homestays are in following villages divided by districts:
Eastsikkim: Pastanga, Zaluk, Tumin, Central Pendam
Southsikkim: Lingee Payong, Maniram, Kewzing, Rong, Jawbari
Westsikkim: Hee-Bermiok, Darap, Yuksom, Uttarey
Northsikkim: Dzongu, Tingchim, Kabi, Lachen
In contact with host and guide you have the chance to have many conversations, can get explained relationships and life-stories, exchange views and have new experiences together. It is not the "big things", but encounters and experiences that will lead to more understanding and turn into nice memories.
How life is going on in a culture-mix like this, how old traditions are merging with modern lifestyle, which changes there are in village-communities, how decisions are taken, how uncomplicated hospitality feels - all this you can experience during a longer village-visit.
And you can turn into a lower gear and just relax. Get infected by the gentle speed of the villagers and see what happens, which thoughts are arising in your mind, sense, how life feels in this part of the world.
Most of the Sikkimese are Hindus. But while travelling through the country, you can get a different impression as everywhere there are buddhist prayerflags blowing. Also there are many more buddhist monasteries for sightseeing as there are Hindu-Temples.
Hinduism is practised more in privacy. Every house has its own altar, where the gods are paid hommage and prayed to. As public temples to visit, we would recommend the following: Chardam Sai Mandir in Namchi, Sai Mandir in Legship plus some smaller ones in Gangtok and other places.
But what really nice and in open public are the festivities - the real big ones as Dussehra and Diwali one can see everywhere, on Holi one can have good fun on M.G. Marg in Gangtok and regarding some smaller incidents like Hanumans birthday you are more lucky to see a procession passing by.
35% of the sikkimese are following Buddhism, mainly Lepcha, Bhutia and the Tibetans in Exile. There are numerous monasteries spread over the state, inviting you for a visit. They are nearly all monasteries for monks, it is very rarely that you spot a nun. In Sikkim there is something special about the monks: many of them lead an "ordinary" life with family and job - but whenever there is a ceremony requested, the pull on their monk's robe and perform it. So it seems as if all the village monasteries are not alive, but there is always someone, who takes care and monks, who know about the Dharma and how to perform the ceremonies and rituals.
A unique monastery is the Böngompa at Kewzing.
Apart from the monasteries there are also huge outdoor-statues to marvel about, one of Padmasambhava in Samdruptse nearby Namchi and one of Shakyamuni in Ravangla.
Also the buddhists have bigger Festivals as the monastery-festivals (Enchey and Ravangla beginning of december, Phodong, Rumtek and Pemayangtse in february), Bhumchu-ritual (Tashiding in january), Phang Lhabsol (Gangtok end of august/beginning of september), Drukpa Teshi (Gangtok and Muguthang july or august) and Buddha Purnima (also named Saga Dawa = birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha) as well as the tibetan New Year Losar. There are ceremonies in several buddhist sites for new- and full-moon.
Do you want to include one or more of these festivities in your itinerary? We will get you the exact date and arrange your journey accordingly!
It shouldn't be left unmentioned that there are also Christians, Sikhs und Muslims, but not sooo many. Especially in Kalimpong there is quite a mixture of religions and a city-walk to all their religious places quite interesting.
Another way to get closer to another culture is via the stomach. Locals are happy, when you taste their local cuisine and you yourself broaden your experiences in flavours. At homestays, in restaurants - there are several possibilities to try Momos, Thukpa, Khauri, Churpi Ningro Curry, Sissnu-Soup, Tama Curry and many more others. There are also a number of hidden places, where mostly locals eat - for sure we like to take you!
Who likes the taste of this and that and is eager to do it on own, will for sure enjoy a cooking-class, which we'll arrange with pleasure.
In Sikkim they manufacture beautiful handicraft following the old methods. The gouvernment is supporting the knowledge of traditions, but for sure allows the artists to develop patterns and products. In Dzongu there is a small training centre and in Gangtok a big handicraft-centre, where you can observe the manufacturing. There is also a museum and a shop with an offer of carpet-making, weaving, wood-carving, thangka-painting, softtoy- and paper-production.
In Sikkim there is only one tea-plantation (Timi Tea Garden), but in the Darjeeling-area there are many, which produce the famous Darjeeling-tea. At a testing you cannot only taste the differences between black, green and white tea, but especially the different types. In Darjeeling there are tearooms, which offer tasting, but also on the plantations it is possible. With this the shopping is much easier (or more difficult as there are too many options...).
In one of the long-established historic hotels as the Windamere you will be served a traditional "Afternoon-Tea" with sandwiches and biscuits.
Especially to mention is the Makaibari-Teaplantation, an anthroprosophic ruled plantation, which provides Demeter with tea. One can taste different teas, do a guided tour through the plantation and watch the production. 2015 the won the "Tea of the year"-Award with a special fine tea. In Makaibari there are homestays so that you can get a good insight into the whole "organism" of a historic company.
What about visiting a school? Every morning one can see hordes of children in neat school-uniforms rushing to their schools. Education is a priority for the ruling party and they take care that also in gouvernment-schhols in remote areas the teachers are present (not to be sure in India) and quality is established by further training of the teachers. In Lepcha-areas there are special Lepcha-lessons integrated for the children. They aspire a mixture of traditional knowledge and modern perceptions. In Yuksom there is a monastic school, where we have done the Kamerakidz-Projekt. The little monks are especially happy about interested visitors. (see here: www.kamerakidz.com/sikkimkidz)
When having physical pain, a visit to a doctor of tibetan medicine is usually quite helpful. With the help of the pulse-diagnosis, s/he looks for imbalances and disturbances in the body, to treat these with herbal medicine. The chances of healing are quite high with this method. And there is a real advantage: either the treatment works or it does nothing as there are no side-effects and never has there been any change for the worse. Who doesn't have any acute problem, just can ask for a check-up. A visit and the experience with this different approach to physical problems is anyhow very interesting.
Also we offer a herbal walk. Close to Gangtok, in Goli Thar, especially many different species of herbs for medical purpose are growing. Go and discover these with a specialist!