The Sikkimese live in the Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim, with a population of 316,385 in 1981. Tibet, Nepal, India, and Bhutan all touch the borders of this kingdom. The Sikkimese live in villages of wooden buildings that hug the Himalayan slopes. The Sikkimese easily traverse passes that give access to the Tibetan Chumbi Valley. The country occupies a commanding position over the historic Kalimpong-Lhasa trade route. India and Tibet have frequently intervened in Sikkim's internal affairs. The British Indian government particularly put pressure upon the Sikkimese for access to central Asia. Sikkim is the political core of the larger former Kingdom, and more recently the Sikkimese feel very strongly about keeping the Lhasa route between India and China under their control. Sikkim's location favors a dynamic role in international relations between the two great powers of Asia, India and China.
The mountainous environment of Sikkim is generally inhospitable. There are adverse surface features that seriously impede human development over large areas; cultivated land amounts to only a small proportion of the total area of the kingdom. The harsh climate damages economic development. The Sikkimese live in an enclosed basin nearly 65 kilometers wide, placed between two deeply dissected northsouth transverse ridges stretching for 125 kilometers. A huge mountain mass some 19 kilometers south of the main chain of the Himalayas called the Kanchenjunga range constitutes a distinctive physical unit of Sikkim. The range receives heavy discharges from the monsoon, and it is covered with snow and ice as much as a hundred or more meters thick. These masses of snow and ice move downward slowly in the form of glaciers and great avalanches. The avalanches are an ever-present source of danger in northern Sikkim. The continuous creaking and groaning of the moving ice and the roar of avalanches combine to create a sense of instability and apprehension. The Sikkimese tribes regard Kanchenjunga as the seat of an all-powerful god. The outstanding feature of the physical landscape in the Sikkim Himalayas is the variety of temperature zones and vegetation. On the lowest level, less than 300 meters above sea level, tropical growth flourishes. From the bottom valleys, one moves north to the subtropical zone that finally leads to the alpine region.
The official language is English, though comparatively few speak it; Sikkimese and Gurkhali are the primary Languages. Existing language divisions do not affect the overall political stability of Sikkim because the people are bonded Together by what they call "a feeling of kinship."