Khangchendzonga National Park


General Description 

Khangchendzonga National Park is a national park & Biosphere reserve located near Chungthang, Sikkim. This place was declared as a world heritage site by UNESCO in July 2016. This place name came from the mountain Kanchenjunga which is 3rd tallest peak in the world. With its diverse landscapes and rituals unique to ethnic groups, the high altitude park in Sikkim meets the criteria for both natural and cultural heritage, making it India’s first mixed heritage site.

The Khangchendzonga National Park (KNP) is a part of Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve (KBR). The KNP/KBR complex situated in North and West Sikkim districts is the biggest IBA in Sikkim, occupying nearly 40% of the State. It lies entirely along the Sikkim-Nepal border and includes the Khangchendzonga Range from the South Lhonak Glacier in trans-Himalayan Sikkim down to Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary in the South Sikkim. This IBA stretches eastwards up to Tsungthang in North Sikkim with the Tista river flowing south from the Tso Lhamo cold desert forming its eastern boundary for most part.

The Rathong-Rangit valleys in the southern part of this IBA are a trekker’s paradise with flora from lowland subtropical forests to alpine meadows and snowcapped peaks and glaciers. This IBA has the world’s third highest (and India’s highest) peak Mt. Khangchendzonga (8,598 m) and is hence the highest altitude wildlife protected area in India. Most of the core area of this IBA is permanently snowbound with a large number of peaks which are climbers’ delights, while the peripheral areas including buffer zones and habitation are more important wildlife habitats.

Outstanding Universal Value 

Khangchendzonga National Park (KNP) exhibits one of the widest altitudinal ranges of any protected area worldwide. The Park has an extraordinary vertical sweep of over 7 kilometres (1,220m to 8,586m) within an area of only 178,400 ha and comprises a unique diversity of lowlands, steep-sided valleys and spectacular snow-clad mountains including the world’s third highest peak, Mt. Khangchendzonga. Numerous lakes and glaciers, including the 26 km long Zemu Glacier, dot the barren high altitudes.

The property falls within the Himalaya global biodiversity hotspot and displays an unsurpassed range of sub-tropical to alpine ecosystems. The Himalayas are narrowest here resulting in extremely steep terrain which magnifies the distinction between the various eco-zones which characterise the property. The Park is located within a mountain range of global biodiversity conservation significance and covers 25% of the State of Sikkim, acknowledged as one of India’s most significant biodiversity concentrations. The property is home to a significant number of endemic, rare and threatened plant and animal species. The property has one of the highest numbers of plant and mammal species recorded in the Central/High Asian Mountains, and also has a high number of bird species.

Khangchendzonga National Park’s grandeur is undeniable and the Khangchendzonga Massif, other peaks and landscape features are revered across several cultures and religions. The combination of extremely high and rugged mountains covered by intact old-growth forests up to the unusually high timberline further adds to the exceptional landscape beauty.

Mount Khangchendzonga and many natural features within the property and its wider setting are endowed with deep cultural meanings and sacred significance, giving form to the multi-layered landscape of Khangchendzonga, which is sacred as a hidden land both to Buddhists (Beyul) and to Lepchas as Mayel Lyang, representing a unique example of co-existence and exchange between different religious traditions and ethnicities, constituting the base for Sikkimese identity and unity. The ensemble of myths, stories and notable events, as well as the sacred texts themselves, convey and make manifest the cultural meanings projected onto natural resources and the indigenous and specific Buddhist cosmogony that developed in the Himalayan region.

The indigenous traditional knowledge of the properties of local plants and the local ecosystem, which is peculiar to local peoples, is on the verge of disappearing and represents a precious source of information on the healing properties of several endemic plants. The traditional and ritual management system of forests and the natural resources of the land pertaining to Buddhist monasteries express the active dimension of Buddhist cosmogonies and could contribute to the property’s effective management.

Criterion (iii): The property – with Mount Khangchendzonga and other sacred mountains – represents the core sacred region of the Sikkimese and syncretistic religious and cultural traditions and thus bears unique witness to the coexistence of multiple layers of both Buddhist and pre-Buddhist sacred meanings in the same region, with the abode of mountain deity on Mt Khangchendzonga. The property is central to the Buddhist understanding of Sikkim as a beyul, that is, an intact site of religious ritual and cultural practice for Tibetan Buddhists in Sikkim, in neighbouring countries and all over the world. The sacred Buddhist importance of the place begins in the 8th century with Guru Rinpoche’s initiation of the Buddhist sanctity of the region, and later appears in Buddhist scriptures such as the prophetical text known as the Lama Gongdu, revealed by Terton Sangay Lingpa (1340-1396), followed by the opening of the beyul in the 17th century, chiefly by Lhatsun Namkha Jigme.

Criterion (vi): Khangchedzonga National Park is the heartland of a multi-ethnic culture which has evolved over time, giving rise to a multi-layered syncretic religious tradition, which centres on the natural environment and its notable features. This kinship is expressed by the region surrounding Mount Khangchendzonga being revered as Mayel Lyang by the indigenous peoples of Sikkim and as a beyul (sacred hidden land) in Tibetan Buddhism. It is a specific Sikkimese form of sacred mountain cult which is sustained by regularly-performed rituals, both by Lepcha people and Bhutias, the latter performing two rituals: the Nay-Sol and the Pang Lhabsol. The kinship between the human communities and the mountainous environment has nurtured the elaboration of a profound traditional knowledge of the natural resources and of their properties, particularly within the Lepcha community. Mount Khangchendzonga is the central element of the socio-religious order, of the unity and solidarity of the ethnically very diverse Sikkimese communities.

Criterion (vii): The scale and grandeur of the Khangchendzonga Massif and the numerous other peaks within Khangchendzonga National Park are extraordinary and contribute to a landscape that is revered across several cultures and religions. The third highest peak on the planet, Mt. Khangchendzonga (8,586 m asl) straddles the western boundary of Khangchendzonga National Park and is one of 20 picturesque peaks measuring over 6,000 m located within the park. The combination of extremely high and rugged mountains covered by intact old-growth forests up to the unusually high timberline and the pronounced altitudinal vegetation zones further adds to the exceptional landscape beauty. These peaks have attracted people from all over the world, mountaineers, photographers and those seeking spiritual fulfilment. The park boasts eighteen glaciers including Zemu Glacier, one of the largest in Asia, occupying an area of around 10,700 ha. Similarly, there are 73 glacial lakes in the property including over eighteen crystal clear and placid high altitude lakes.

Criterion (x): Khangchendzonga National Park is located within a mountain range of global biodiversity conservation significance and covers 25% of the State of Sikkim, acknowledged as one of the most significant biodiversity concentrations in India. The property has one of the highest levels of plant and mammal diversity recorded within the Central/High Asian Mountains. Khangchendzonga National Park is home to nearly half of India’s bird diversity, wild trees, orchids and rhododendrons and one third of the country’s flowering plants. It contains the widest and most extensive zone of krummholz (stunted forest) in the Himalayan region. It also provides a critical refuge for a range of endemic, rare and threatened species of plants and animals. The national park exhibits an extraordinary altitudinal range of more than 7 kilometres in a relatively small area giving rise to an exceptional range of eastern Himalaya landscapes and associated wildlife habitat. This ecosystem mosaic provides a critical refuge for an impressive range of large mammals, including several apex predators. A remarkable six cat species have been confirmed (Leopard, Clouded Leopard, Snow Leopard, Jungle Cat, Golden Cat, Leopard Cat) within the park. Flagship species include Snow Leopard as the largest Himalayan predator, Jackal, Tibetan Wolf, large Indian Civet, Red Panda, Goral, Blue Sheep, Himalayan Tahr, Mainland Serow, two species of Musk Deer, two primates, four species of pika and several rodent species, including the parti-coloured Flying Squirrel.



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