Introduction: The landlocked Himalayan State of Sikkim is wedged in between China in the north, Nepal in the west, Bhutan in the east and the Indian State of West Bengal in the south. The Singalila Ridge containing Mt. Kanchenjunga (28,146 feet) on the west and the Chola Range on the east is capped in the north by the main Himalayan range, trapping Sikkim in a gigantic mountainous horseshoe. This large strip of rugged montane country feeds the mighty Teesta which runs north to south across Sikkim.
Sikkim broadly has three altitudinal zones : The Tropical Zone upto 4000 feet which extends down to the foothills of the outer Himalayas , the Moist Temperate Zone extending to 8000/9000 feet and the Temperate Zone which goes all the way up to 13,000 feet.
The telescoping of terrain has created a divergent range of climates and vegetation making Sikkim an unique home for over 500 bird species.
Birds Sikkim is one of the best places to see birds of the eastern Himalaya. Not only is the checklist impressive, it is also a relatively easy place to see shy birds at close quarters. The Pelling and Pemayangtse area is particulary of attraction to birders. Here the well-wooded moist high altitude forests hold birds like Maroon-backed and Rufous-breasted Accentors, Green-tailed Sunbirds, Rufous-gorgeted Flycatchers, Blue-fronted Redstarts, Brownish-flanked Bush Warblers, Scarlet and Long-tailed Minivets, Coal, Green-backed and Black-throated Tits, various Yuhinas, Fulvettas, Shrike Babblers, Scimitar Babblers, Laughingthrushes and Babblers. The much sought after Fire-tailed Myzornis is also common in these parts.
Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler
Some of the key birding hotspots in the region are: South and West Sikkim: Altitude 500 - 4000m. Contains hotspots like Pelling / Pemayangtze (1500-2000m), Yuksom (1800m), Ravangla (2000m), Maenam Wild Life Sanctuary (3000m), Khechopari Lake (2000m), Dzongri, Versey Rhododendron Sanctuary and Kanchenjunga National Park. Best time to visit: November to February
East Sikkim: Altitude 1200 -4000m. Hotspots include Rumtek Gompa, Fambong Lho Wild Life Sanctuary ( 1500- 2800m), Changu Lake (3800m) and Kyongnosla Alpine Sanctuary ( 3200- 4000m) Best time to visit: November to February
North Sikkim: Altitude 3000 - 4500 m. Places to visit include Yumthang ( 3500m ), Lachung / Lachen, Chungthang and Singba Rhododendron Sanctuary. Best time to visit: October - November and February - March.
How to reach:
Sikkim is connected by road with the rest of the country. Access is from Siliguri in West Bengal. New Jalpaiguri / Siliguri stations are the nearest railheads and Bagdogra Airport is linked with New Delhi, Kolkata and Guwahati. You generally enter Sikkim by driving up the Sevok road from Siliguri. This National Highway follows the course of River Teesta. Driving time to Gangtok (capital of Sikkim ) is 4 hours (120 kms) and Ravangla 4-5 hours. Buses, shared taxis and private taxis are freely available for transport inside Sikkim.
Where to stay: Most birding destinations have reasonable accommodation of some sort. Gangtok has many good hotels like Tashi Delek, Norkhill, Hotel Tibet etc. References: 1. The Birds of Sikkim ~ Salim Ali (Oxford University Press). 2. A Birdwatchers' Guide to India ~ Krys Kazmierczak and Raj Singh (OUP).