Sunday, February 13, 2011


Physical and human geography

The land


Sikkim is a basin surrounded on three sides by precipitous mountain walls. There is little lowland, and the variation in relief is extreme. Within 50 miles (80 kilometers) the land rises from an elevation of 750 feet in the Tista River valley to 28,208 feet(8,598 meters) at Kanchenjunga, India's highest peak and the world's third highest mountain. The Singalila Range separates Sikkim from Nepal in the west, while the Dongkya Range forms the border with China to the east. Several passes across this range afford easy access to the Chumbi valley in Tibet and beyond to Llasa, imparting considerable strategic and political value to the region.

About two-thirds of Sikkim consists of perpetually snow-covered mountains, dominated by the Kanchenjunga massif. The Sikkimese have traditionally viewed the mountain as both a god and the abode of gods. The legendary abominable snowman, or yeti, called Nee-gued in Sikkim, is believed to roam its slopes. Other major peaks - all above 23,000 feet - include Tent, Kabru, and Pauhunri.

Drainage and climate

The Sikkim basin is drained by the Tista River and its Tributaries, such as the Rangit, Rongni Chu, Talung, and Lachung, which have cut deep valleys into the mountains. Originating in a glacier near the Tibetan border, the Tista River descends steeply, dropping about 15,700 feet to Rongphu (Rangpo), where it has cut a gorge through the Darjiling Ridge (7,000-8,000 feet) before emerging onto the Gangetic Plain. Hydroelectric projects on Sikkim's rivers provide power to Gangtok, Rongphu, Singtam, and Mangan.

Sikkim exhibits a variety of climatic types, from almost tropical conditions in the south to the severe mountain climates in the north. Depending on altitude and exposure, annual precipitation varies from 50 to 200 inches (1,270 to 5,080 millimeters), most occurring during the months of the southwest monsoon (May through October). The heavy rain and snows often trigger destructive landslides and avalanches.

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Glenn Kealey, National President
Canadian Institute for Political Integrity