Sun, Dec 11, 2016 | updated 03:55 AM IST

Mixed World Heritage site Khangchendzonga National Park to give boost to Sikkim eco-tourism

Updated: Jul 31, 2016 08:05 IST

Gangtok (Sikkim), July 31 (ANI): Khangchendzonga National Park (KNP), which Unesco has declared as India's first "Mixed World Heritage Site, is set to give a major boost to Sikkim's eco-tourism sector.

The state government has set for itself a target of attracting at least 12 lakh tourists by 2025 to see the breath-taking view from India's highest mountain peak Kanchenjunga (28,169 feet or 8,586 metres). Kachenjunga is also the world's third highest mountain peak.

The KNP is popular for both its beauty and majesty and has been on the tentative list of World Heritage Sites since 2006. It represents India's unique traditional links between nature and culture, fulfilling the nomination criteria under both natural and cultural heritage.

As India's least populated state, Sikkim is a Himalayan wonderland, rich in mountain peaks, lush picturesque valleys, hills, pine forests and fast flowing rivers that offer opportunities for rafting, forest-trail trekking, monasteries and incredible flora, all required ingredients to declare it a tourist haven.

"Sikkim, with a highest forest cover of 47 per cent in the country, is a favoured northeastern tourist destination. In the last decade alone, tourist arrivals have doubled," said Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling.

He added, "Sikkim registered 347650 domestic tourist arrivals in the year 2005, which increased to 705023 in the year 2015. There were 16518 foreign tourist arrivals registered in the year 2005, which increased to 38479 in the year 2015 .The number of domestic and foreign tourist arrivals have more than doubled in the last ten years. The state has set a target of around 12 lakh tourist arrivals in the state by the year 2025."

Sikkim is a wholly mountainous state, with one third of its area lying above 3,000 meters to the highest point of India, Mount Khangchendzonga.

The Khangchendzonga National Park, which is located in the eastern Himalaya was set up in a 850 square-kilometer area in August 1977 and was subsequently enlarged to 1784 square-kilometers in May 1997 by including surrounding areas for the purpose of protecting and developing wildlife or its habitat.

The KNP has the widest altitudinal range of all the protected areas of the world. This park has an enviable altitudinal variation varying from 1,220m to 8,586 metres within an aerial distance of just 42 kilometres with permanently snowcapped mountains, glaciers, high altitude lakes, grasslands, cold deserts and varied forest types and consequent floral and faunal diversity to delight the visitor.

With an altitudinal range of 7,366m (1,220 m to 8,586 m) within an area of only 1,784 km2 , KNP is endowed with one of the highest ecosystems in the world.

There are 20 peaks, which are above 6,000 metres within the KNP. Of these peaks, 11 are between 6,000 to 7,000 metres, eight between 7,000 to 8,000 metres and one above 8,000 metres. The KNP along with the adjacent reserve forests is home to some 22 endemic and 22 rare and threatened plants.

It is listed as one of the 14 "eight-thousanders,"independent mountains on Earth that are more than 8,000 metres high above sea level , . Its name, "Khangchendzonga" literally means the "abode of Gods consisting of five treasure houses." Mt. Khangchendzonga is flanked by Mt. Narsing (5,825m) Mt. Pandim (6,691m) and Mt. Kabru on the southern side, the Twins (7,350 m), Nepal peak (7,150 m) and Tent peak (7,365 m) on the northern side, and Mt. Simvo (6,811 m) and Mt. Siniolchu (6,886 m) on the eastern side. All these mountains and peaks lie wholly or partly within KNP.

Mt. Khangchendzonga is perhaps, the finest example of an independent mountain having its own glacial system radiating from its several summits. There are eighteen glaciers. Among them, the huge, fearsome and turbulent looking Zemu Glacier which is at its widest point 300m and 26 km in length and ice reserve of 22 km is one of the largest in Asia. Similarly, 73 glacial lakes occur within the KNP which are all above 4,000 metres. Together with the mountain peaks, KNP has a claim to some of the most magnificent snow and ice scenery in the world.

The white snow leopard, jet black Asian black bear, red fox, blue sheep, blood pheasant, yellow throated marten, red panda, Tibetan argali (wild sheep), leopard cat and colourful high altitude pheasants are few of hundreds of species that enrich various niches in this unique hill range. The emerald waters of eighteen high altitude lakes dot this snow clad hill range and host more than a hundred species of birds. Numerous waterfalls which cascade down the hill slopes with their sonorous music also create hundreds of rainbows as the sunrays filter through the valleys between lofty hills.

The KNP has 18 sub-forest types . It has a large diversity of species of higher plants (1,580), mammals (124) and birds (300). There is no other protected area found in the Indian Himalaya with such variety of sub-forest types and species diversity.

Though KNP has less than 0.1 percent of the total area of India, a significant number of mammals are found here. , 124 species of mammals (31 percent of the estimated 400 mammal species found in India), 300 species of birds and 400 species of butterflies have been reported in KNP. More than 100 species of medicinal plants are found in KNP and its surrounding areas. The KNP along with the adjacent reserve forests is home to some 22 endemic, rare and threatened plants.

There are a total of 313 glacial lakes throughout the Teesta basin of the Sikkim Himalaya covering an area of 21.5 square kilometers. Of these, 73 glacial lakes occur within the KNP covering an area of about 3.34 square kilometers.

All the lakes within the KNP are above 4,000 metres and are classified as glacial lakes. The Prek Chu and the Zema Chu watersheds have the maximum number of 16 lakes each, while the Rangit Chu watershed has just two lakes. In terms of area, the Lhonak Chu watershed contains 43 percent of the total area under lakes, primarily due to the presence of South Lhonak Tsho which has an area of 0.71 square kilometers.

For trekking, there is the popular Yuksam-Dzongri-Gochela trek or the expedition to the Green Lake. Tourism has also improved the living standards of local communities, especially at Pelling, Yuksam, Gangtok and Rabongla. Tourism-related activities such as running pack animals, portering, guiding and lodge management have become major economic activities and now determine the way of life.

There are no major developmental projects like roads, buildings or public places which can affect the integrity of KNP. The only colony that existed within KNP comprising 10 family units of Tibetan refugees at Tshoka in its south-west part was relocated outside the park.

The mean minimum and mean maximum temperatures vary inversely with altitude with January being the coldest month and August the warmest . Due to altitudinal variation, the temperature distribution shows a north-south change. Average temperature of the warmest month is indicated as 22°C in the temperate area in Aug, 15°C in the sub-alpine area in July and 12°C in the alpine area in July. Average temperature of the coldest month is indicated as 3.8°C in the temperate area in January, -3°C in the sub-alpine area in January and - 17 °C in the alpine in January. (ANI)