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When Climbers Trek

Ashish Kaul is a travel writer, a landscape and outdoor portrait photographer, a trekker and mountaineer. He has traversed many trails in the Himalayas as well as in the Nilgiris and is Editor, Indian Himalayas at suite101.com. Other than that, he lives in the corporate world

This isn't a mountain region of mere subjective beauty. Nor one, which claims its greatness, based on just an overwhelming opinion of a large majority. For Sikkim is a treasure that few know about. However, the facts of its remarkable geography bear enough testimony to pitch Sikkim in a slot that no other mountain region, anywhere in the world, could duplicate or rival. What Everest is to peaks, Sikkim is to the mountains. Tragically, a region so wild and exotic and with such geographic and climatic extremes, that its amazing wilds and not its unremarkable hill stations, ensure its accessibility to the adventurous only.

Just delve on these facts a bit. From the plains, in a mere 80 kms as the crow flies, the altitude reaches 28,168 feet at the very top of Kangchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world. Such a sharp elevation is unrivalled anywhere else and is the first geographical claim of Sikkim.

More About Sikkim
An Overview

Classic Dzongri Trek
Freedom from Fear

Adventure activities
Rock climbing
Scuba Diving

The second is an offshoot of the first. Nowhere else do so many 7,000 metre plus peaks crowd up such a confined space. And the third is really a consequence of the first and the second with the sharp gradation creating the most variegated flora and fauna possible anywhere in the mountains. The fourth uniqueness is also a consequence of the first and the second and lies in the extremes of the climate which ranges from the tropical to the typical arctic type. And the fifth claim is its thin permanent population and relatively fewer travellers by virtue of its remote far-eastern Himalayan location.

The startling facts about Sikkim never seem to end. For starters, all of Sikkim lies in a mere 110 kms by 65 kms of mountains, peaks, glaciers, rivers and forests. A little dot on the map at a latitude 27 degrees North and longitude 88 degrees East. Its 7,000-sq kms make it about as large as the National Capital Region of India! To the North and extending to the East of Sikkim, is Tibet / China and to the West is Nepal. To the South are the Himalayan and sub Himalayan regions of West Bengal.

Yet, it is unbelievable how Sikkim remains an anachronistic Himalayan entity, secluded from masses of travel writing. True, it may have something to do with the large areas of the state, being 'restricted'. Or even due to the funny way it juts out of the Indian sub continent. However, even with all this, its yet-to-be-discovered status is confounding.

It is, in fact these geographical extremes and the resulting ambience, that makes mountaineers trek here, when they are not climbing, besides fuelling mountaineering dreams in the minds of trekkers, what with the closest possible proximity to magnificent peaks while trekking.

On the subject of trekking here, it is strange but true that acclimatisation is much tougher in Sikkim than elsewhere. It may have something to do with being closer in latitude to the Tropic of Cancer, besides the rather sharp stages involved in each day of trekking. The closeness to the Tropic of Cancer has meant that the snowline will always be much higher and therefore human settlements are seen even at altitudes of 16,000 feet!

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