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Sikkim: People & Culture

Sikkim's population is predominated by those of Nepalese origin. The Bhutias, Lepchas and Limbus are significant minorities.

Sikkim's population is predominated by those of Nepalese origin. They speak Nepali (Gorkhali) and are mostly Hindus. The Bhutias, Lepchas and Limbus are significant minorities. They speak Tibeto-Burman dialects and practice Mahayana Buddhism with large doses of the pre-Buddhist Bon religion. Since 1985, migrants from the other states of India have increased the Hindu population, while a small number of Christians and Muslims are also there. Different communities intermingle freely in Sikkim, and are seemingly inseparable to the visitor.

The Lepchas were the original inhabitants of Sikkim. They existed much before the Bhutias and Nepalese migrated to the state. The earliest Lepcha settlers were worshippers of Nature. This faith was basically based on spirits, good and bad. They worshipped the spirits of mountains, rivers and forests that was natural for a tribe that co-existed harmoniously with the rich natural surroundings.

The Bhutias were responsible for introducing Buddhism to this community. Christianity is also practised by some.

More about Sikkim
An Overview
Off the Beaten Track
Wild Life
Monastery Magic
Tourist Information
Getting There

Journey to Remember
Rumtek Diary
Yumthang Valley

Freedom From Fear
Classic Dzongri Trek
When Climbers Trek

The Lepcha population is concentrated in the central part of the Sikkim. This is the area that encompasses the confluence of Lachen and Lachung rivers and Dickchu. Life in a Lepcha dwelling is very simple. Men wear a dress called a pagi made of striped cotton. Women wear a two-piece dress. The Lepchas speak a language, also called Lepcha. Although this language is not very well developed it is rich in vocabulary related to the flora and fauna of Sikkim. Lepchas are very good at archery. Polyandry marriages are permitted amongst the Lepchas.

The Lepchas were the original inhabitants of Sikkim. The earliest Lepcha settlers were worshippers of Nature.



These are the people of Tibetan origin. They migrated to Sikkim somewhere after the fifteenth century. The Bhutias speak Sikkimese. Bhutia villages are as large as Lepcha settlements. A Bhutia house called Khin and is usually rectangular in shape.

In the inner dry valleys of Northen Sikkim, where Bhutias are the major inhabitants, they are known as the Lachenpas and Lachungpas. Conditions here are extremely severe and the valleys here are separated from each other by almost impassable high mountains. The main settlement is at Lanchung and the principal summer pastures are Mome, Samdong and Yumthang.

The traditional dress of the men is known as the Bakhu, which is a loose cloak type garment with full sleeves. The ladies wear a silken Honju which is a full sleeve blouse with a loose gown type garment worn over it. The womenfolk are very fond of heavy jewellery made of pure gold.

The largest settlement of the Bhutias in Sikkim is Gangtok, with a population of over 30,000. Other large settlements are Singtam, Rongphu, Jorthang, Nayabazar, Mangan, Gyalshin, and Namchi.


The Nepalese were the last entrants and appeared on the Sikkim scene much after the Lepchas and Bhutias. They migrated in large numbers and soon became the dominant community. The Nepalese now constitute more than 80 % of the total population. The Nepali settlers introduced the terraced system of cultivation. Cardamom was an important cash crop introduced by the Nepalese. Except for the Sherpas and Tamangs who are Buddhists, the Nepalese are orthodox Hindus following the caste system. Nepali is spoken and understood all over the state. This language is similar to Hindi and uses the Devangri script.

The traditional male dress consists of a long double breasted garment flowing below the waist and a trouser known as Daura Suruwal. The women wear a double-breasted garment with strings to tie on both sides at four different places. This is shorter than the Daura and is known as Chow Bandi Choli. They also wear a shawl known as Majetro. The Khukri which has become a symbol of the Nepali (Gurkha) culture, is a sharp edged, angled, heavy weapon carried in a wooden or leather scabbard known as Daab.

Compiled by Romola Butalia

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.