The Lepchas are one of the oldest tribes of the world, dates back to the 9th century and are the aboriginal inhabitants of the land encompassing present day Sikkim, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and the neighbouring areas. Their simple yet unique lifestyle revolves around praising Mother Nature in all forms. The mighty Kanchenjunga is their supreme Protector. Strong yet gentle, the Lepchas are truly the beloved children of Mother Nature and God.
The Lepchas prefer referring to themselves as the Rongs, which means "the son of the snowy peak". The Lepchas believe that the Almighty molded them out from the prisine snow from the peak of the Kanchenjunga. The Nepalese who came to settle along with them later, coined the term "Lapchay", which over time, turned into "Lepcha" in the vocabulary of the British.
Lepchas refer to their homeland in the lap of the verdant slopes of Himalayas as 'Mayal Lyang', which means 'Hidden Land' or 'The Land Blessed By God'
The ancient religion of the Lepchas is known as Bongthingism or Munism. This animist religion propagates Nature Worship and the existence of only One Supreme Being. Both living and non-living entities of Mother Nature are worshipped. This form of practice goes back well before the seventh century. In course of time, the Lepchas got introduced to Buddhism and Christianity. Today, the Lepcha households keep on practicing Munism along with Buddhism and/or Christianity, based on individual belief.
The Lepchas were once nomadic hunters and food gatherers. With time, they started practicing cultivation. They have phenomenal knowledge of the flora and fauna of their immediate environment, especially the medicinal properties, which have been handed down through generations.
They are also known for intricate bamboo craft, and can design abd produce items of daily use as well as those of aesthetic value. Currently, many young Lepchas are also joining other professions and working in different parts of the world.
These gentle people mostly stay in remote villages, perfectly in harmony with Nature. However, the gradual infiltration of modernization and urbanization policies are silently affecting their lifestyle too. While they are embracing the new ways of life, they are also on the verge of losing forever the age old wisdom, traditions and myths.
It has therefore become very important to develop a sustainable economy for these children of Mother Nature. Development of Ecotourism in the areas inhabited by the Lepchas will not only help to retain the fragile ecology of the surroundings, but will also empower the Lepchas simultaneously.
The Dzongu region in North Sikkim has been designated as the official Lepcha reserve.