The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, April 29, 2001
Lead Article

Sikkim’s Striking Splendour

The Tsongo Lake

Sikkim is full of culture, history, and natural wonders. The temples, the church and the mosque. The nurseries for exotic plants. And many more. But the foremost is the Rumtek monastery. The entire complex is spread over an area of about 74 acres. It houses the Dharma Chakra Centre and the Karma Shri Nalanda Institute, writes J.L. Gupta

THE land of large lakes. Majestic mountains. Rivers and ravines. Snow -covered peaks and vast valleys. Of monasteries. Of the mystic and the mysterious. Of religion and rituals. Of people, who extend a friendly hand and give a warm welcome. To everyone, from everywhere.


Where is it? What does it have to offer? It is an erstwhile princely state. Now an integral part of India. It is the splendid state of Sikkim.

Located in the eastern Himalayas, under the wings of the third highest mountain — Kangchenjunga— it is spread on an area of 7300 sq km. The elevation ranges from a mere 244 m to 8540 m above sea level. The weather varies from pleasantly warm to freezing cold. To those who have the time, it has a lot to offer.

Sikkim has China in the north, Bhutan in the east, West Bengal in the south and Nepal in the west. Diverse ethnic groups—the Bhutias, Lepchas and Nepalese inhabit it. And luckily, all combine to provide a friendly and unique blend of culture and human values. All put their prayer flags together. These people in their colourful costumes add to the nature’s gift of peace and beauty.

It is rich in flora. There are 4000 ‘species of plants’. To name a few, the magnolias, rhododendrons, junipers, blue poppies, gentians and the primulas. The flowers bloom at heights beyond 10,000 feet. As the snow melts under the hot sun, the flowers emerge. Virtually, out of nowhere. The trek through the hills from mid -May to October provides not only tranquillity, but also a rare ‘botanical odyssey.’

There is a variety of fauna, too. The musk and barking deer. The red panda. The Himalayan black bear. The blue sheep. The snow leopard and the yak.

Rumtek MonasteryThe Himalayan Zoological Park. Spread on an area of about 205 hectares. It provides a semi-natural habitat for some of the species. There is also the Fambong La Wildlife Sanctuary. It is rich in flora and fauna. It has oak, katus, kimbu, champa, wild orchids and thick bamboo forests. It is also a home for wild animals and birds.

The state caters to the needs of people of all ages. For the young and adventurous, it provides places for hang gliding, mountain biking, rafting in the Rangeet and Teesta rivers. Treks through forests and snow-covered mountains. For the middle-aged — a drive through breathtaking natural beauty. For the aged, it offers rare peace and tranquillity.

Gangtok, the capital of the state, is grand. One can stand and gaze at God’s glory. For hours. In just a day, one discovers that the place has a pattern. The sun rises in the morning. With gold in its mouth. There are rain and thunder in the evening. The breeze blows to produce music for the ears. A symphony. The city has a soul.

It has nice roads. Good municipal services. Well lit. On entry, the first thing that one notices is that the traffic is well regulated. Rash driving would be a rare sight. The vehicles move slow and smooth. In particular, even the vehicles with a red light on, take their turn in the queue. No blaring of sirens. No honking. Virtually, no overtaking. All signs of civilised behaviour.

Good buildings, too. The one that stands out is Raj Bhavan. Located in the midst of tall trees. The beautiful mountains provide a stately backdrop. With lovely and well-laid-out lawns. But what makes it truly attractive are the two occupants. Mr Ranjit Singh, the Governor, and his wife,Ms Vijay Laxmi Chaudhary. Both are large-hearted and generous hosts. Extremely kind, cultured and courteous human beings. The Governor is an old member of the Bar. A picture of good health, with a keen mind. He has a distinct presence.

The Secretariat, Legislative Assembly, hospital and other buildings are easily accessible. Not pompous. But really functional. The people are orderly. Soft spoken. Mild of manner. No shouting. Nothing rowdy. The quiet of the place is clearly captivating. The silence adds to the peace of the surroundings.

There are good places of interest for the tourist. The temples, the church and the mosque. The nurseries for exotic plants. And many more. But the foremost is the Rumtek Monastery. The entire complex is spread over an area of about 74 acres. It houses the Dharma Chakra Centre and the Karma Shri Nalanda Institute.

The road to Nathula PassThe complex is located on a hill at a distance of about 24 km from Gangtok. The four-storeyed structure of the monastery has been designed ‘to embody the ancient artistic tradition of Tibetan architecture.’ But it has been made with modern materials like cement, concrete and steel. It is the seat of His Holiness Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorjee, the ‘holder of the sacred treasure of Vajradhara.’ As ‘the supreme head of the Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism, he embodies, represents and guides its accumulated spiritual energy.’ The objective of the Centre is to ‘spread the teachings of Buddha for the liberation of all sentient beings from the sufferings of samsara.’

The Institute is a university. It was formally inaugurated on November 18, 1981, as a place for higher Buddhist studies, with the Tibetan language as the medium of instruction. A nine years’ course leads to a masters degree. The entire complex is a popular spot for people from all over the world. The devotees come in large numbers. Despite the narrow and rough road. Hopefully, it shall receive the attention it deserves.

Then there is the Namgyal Research Institute of Tibetology. A treasure trove of a collection of rare ‘Thankas’ — the ‘tapestries used in Buddhist liturgy.’ It has rare Lipcha, Sanskrit and Tibetan manuscripts. Written on paper made from poisonous shrubs. The insects would not touch it. Human hands are not affected. The more than 200 years’ old paper shows no sign of age. It retains its pure white colour. A clear evidence of good technology in action.

The Do-drul Chorten (Stupa) has sets of holy books. It also has 108 ‘mani-lahkor’ — the prayer wheels. Like the 108 beads of the rosary. The wheels are turned by the devotees while chanting the ‘mantras’ to ‘invoke the Bodhisattva.’

For those wanting to have a breath of fresh air, a drive uphill is exhilarating. Just about 38 km from Gangtok is the Tsongo Lake. At a height of about 12,500 ft above sea level. The road is steep. The lake is about 1 km long. Remains frozen till the sun is strong enough to melt its placid and white waters. With summer comes a flowery bloom. And a further drive up the hill takes one to the Nathula Pass. At an altitude of 14,500 ft, one sees the broken barbed wire barrier that divides India and China. The snow-covered peaks and the motorable road provide a rare sight to the eye. A delight to the mind. The presence of the Army in sub-zero temperature and hostile environment bears an eloquent testimony to the Indian soldier’s strength. Each Indian should stand and salute him.

Not spoilt by civilisation, nature has given the whole state God’s garment. A clean look. A refreshingly fresh air to breathe. With a natural and unique scent. It is healthy and health giving.

Summer is coming. Sikkim is inviting. Do not resist the temptation. Get away from the heat. Into the cool climate of the Himalayan lap. For a good vacation. You will never regret it.

This is a layman’s perception of the eastern part of Sikkim. The north, south and west of the state have a lot more to offer. But six days are not enough to savour Sikkim’s splendour. Not at all

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