Yuksom is a historical town in Geyzing subdivision of West Sikkim district in the Northeast Indian state of Sikkim. It was the first capital of Sikkim established in 1642 AD by Phuntsog Namgyal who was the first Chogyal (temporal and religious king) of Sikkim. The coronation site of the first monarch of Sikkim is known as the "Throne of Norbugang". Yuksom is where there is the Norbugang Chorten near the Norbugang throne, the place Namgyal was crowned and several monasteries and a lake. The dynastic rule of the Chogyals lasted for 333 years.
The Chogyal established the first monastery at Yuksom in Sikkim known as the Dubdi Monastery in 1701, which is part of Buddhist religious pilgrimage circuit involving the Norbugang Chorten, Pemayangtse Monastery, the Rabdentse ruins, the Sanga Choeling Monastery, the Khecheopalri Lake, and the Tashiding Monastery. For the Bhutia tribal community of Sikkim, Yuksom has special religious and cultural significance. It has a number of famous Buddhist monasteries and historical monuments.
Being at the head of the Khangchendzonga National Park and as the base camp for trekking to Mt. Khangchendzonga, it has large influx of mountaineers from all parts of the World. The village people, as stake holders in biodiversity preservation of the Rathong Chu valley, where the village is situated, have played a significant role in trendsetting and promotion of eco-tourism in the area. The inhabitants of this village have most successfully adopted promotion of ecotourism not only in the region but also for other similar areas in Sikkim. Yuksom is thus considered a model village for eco-tourism.
Yuksom literally means the “meeting place of the three learned monks” as three monks who came from Tibet selected Phuntsog Namgyal as the first King of Sikkim and gave him the title Chogyal. 'Chogyal' means “Religious King” or “the king who rules with righteousness”. Yuksom is also one of the sacred landscape "Demazong" (meaning a valley of rice) of four religious sites blessed by Guru Padmasambhava, which are considered to be the four plexuses of the human body, and Yuksom symbolically represents the 'third eye'.
Geography and Environment
Yuksom is a large village with a total area of 812.16 hectares (2,006.9 acres) situated at an average altitude of 1780 m. It is located in a basin-like valley surrounded by mountain ranges. Located at the head of the Khangchendzonga National Park, it is the gateway to Mt. Khangchendzonga. The popular mountaineering trek starts from Yuksom. It is well connected by a road network with Geyzing and Gangtok. The climate in Yuksom, which is located at a moderate altitude, is pleasant from March to June and September to November, while in the winter season, the coldest months are December and February.
The natural environmental setting of the town, ensconced amidst rich forests are further accentuated by the history, architecture and Buddhist legacy that evolved from the 17th century with Yuksom's establishment as the first capital of Sikkim. Situated at the head of Khangchenjunga National Park, the largest Protected Area in Sikkim, and at starting gate for the trekking trail to Mt. Khangchendzonga, Yuksom and its hills was named in the past as Ney-Pemathang for its beautiful landscape. The forest cover in the hills consist of broad-leaved oak, birch, maple, chestnut, magnolia, rhododendron, silver fir, ash and alder, which compliment the epithet of "biodiversity hot-spot" given to Sikkim.
The first act that Phuntsog initiated after becoming the King was the conversion of the local Lepcha tribes to Buddhism and set about expanding his kingdom up to the Chumbi Valley in Tibet, parts of modern day Darjeeling in the south, and parts of eastern Nepal. In this effort the three lamas also lent full support to him. Phuntsog moved his capital to Yuksom and instituted the first centralised administration. The kingdom was divided into twelve Dzongs or districts under a Lepcha Dzongpon (governor) who headed a council of twelve ministers.
During his reign Buddhism was consolidated as the established religion in Sikkim. He was succeeded by his son, Tensun Namgyal in 1670. However, the importance of Yuksum as capital ended when in 1670, Phuntsok Namgyal’s son Tensung Namgyal, shifted the capital to Rabdentse. At present, Yuksam is a heritage village in the Geyzing subdivision of West District of Sikkim. It is now an important tourist destination. It is also the starting point of the popular trek to Goechala (via Dzongri). It is the base camp of Himalayan Mountaineering Institute for treks to Mt. Khangchendzonga.
Yuksom is a well established village; according to 2001 census, there are 364 households in the village inhabited by 1,951 persons. However, the visiting population of tourists far exceeds the permanent population as it is on the trekking route and is also as a religious centre for Buddhists. In the village, the Bhutias and the Nepalese constitute major communities, with the Bhutia community being the dominant ethnic group. However, the service and the trading sectors are dominated by people from the plains.
Economy and Facilities
With the Himalayan trekking to Khangchendzonga mountain and the Khangchendzonga National Park, centred in the Yuksom town as the base camp, the economy of the town has now become tourism centric. Consequently, the Khangchendzonga Conservation Committee (KCC) located at Yuksom, with the village community as the stakeholders, with Forest Department acting as the chief coordinating agency, have planned several innovative programmes to promote ecotourism, concurrent with encouragement of local handicrafts.
The village has well established primary and secondary schools. There are three primary schools, one junior school and a senior secondary school. Basic amenities of primary health, potable drinking water, gas and electric supply, post and telegraph office are all well established. To meet the increasing tourist inflow, infrastructure facilities such as hotels guest houses and transportation have also developed, although with attendant concerns of effect on biodiversity and ecological preservation. The environment awareness level is also very high among the village community so much so that the village is now at the core of social activists. They keep a close watch on the environmental and economic conditions in the village.
As sequel to the above efforts by the local community, a biodiversity festival was held at Yuksom, for one day, the first of its kind to be held in Sikkim (the second festival was held at Chungthong) by KCC, and the Forest Department of Government of Sikkim. The objective of the festival was to create awareness among the people of the villages to conserve cultural and natural heritage. This festival was attended by 200 villagers and also some foreign tourists. In the festival the focus was on pictorial exhibitions of the natural biodiversity setting and cultural heritage of the Rathong Chuu valley, the steps taken to preserve and conserve the biosphere, interest of ecotourism in the valley along the trek route Yuksom Dzongri through the Khangchendzonga National Park, diverse exhibits relating to medicine, paper making, horticulture, Khehceopalri Lake pollution and actions for its preservation, effects of deforestation and need to preserve forest wealth, measures for hill slope stability, energy efficient methods for cooking using local produce, garbage reduction, replacement and reuse, composting with biodegradable wastes, promoting traditional handicrafts and handlooms (carpets, sheep wool blankets, etc.). Puppet shows, music and local dance programmes also formed part of the festival.
The Tibetan Buddhist monastery, Dubdi Monastery, is located in the area and also the smaller Mallu Monastery. Established in 1701, Dubdi Monastery professes to be the oldest monastery in Sikkim and is located at the top of a hill about an hour's walk from Yuksom. It was also known as the Hermit's Cell after its reclusive founder Lhatsun Namkha Jigme.