The weather in Sikkim is as varied as its exquisite orchids. In a single day one can witness glittering rain, floating clouds, a beaming sun and a howling wind.
Sikkim became the 22nd Indian state in May 1975 and fortunately, there is not a trace of resentment about their new political identity. 70% of Sikkim is Nepali and the remaining 30% comprises the tribes of Lepchas and Bhutias. Though they retain their ethnic identities, they prefer to be called Sikkimis.
What struck me the most on the political front was the complete lack of anti-incumbency feeling for the Chief Minister and his Party, the Sikkim Democratic Front even after 5 consecutive terms! Since the time of assuming office, the present Chief Minister and his government had the political vision to make education completely free and compulsory through School and College for everyone, and in deserving cases, even at level of post-graduation. Mind you, free education includes shoes, uniforms, school bags, books and the whole works.
While English is the predominant language of instruction, Buddhism and Hinduism are equally nurtured. The Lepchas are the original inhabitants of Sikkim, they are worshippers of Nature and didn’t believe in any Godhead. However, over the years the majority of them either embraced Buddhism or Christianity. Besides Sikkim, the Bhutias are spread over in the entire Himalayan region and are struggling to get their language and script official recognition.
The intricacies of Buddha Park
We were taken to what was modestly called the ‘Buddha Park’, known to the locals as the Tathagata Tsal. I literally had to look heaven wards to see the whole 135 feet tall magnificent Buddha. The inside of the Buddha temple was decorated with magnificent murals and Thankga paintings depicting the life of Siddhartha till he became the Buddha. The project had cost a hefty 200 crores and had invited severe criticism from the political opponents of Pawan Chamling, Chief Minister of Sikkim. Today, however, it can easily count amongst one of the wonders of the world. As I beheld the Buddha, I at once realized both the smallness of man and his greatness to create works which live for centuries after.
If you find Buddhist concepts fascinating: visit the historically rich Rumtek Monastery
As homage to His Holiness the 12th Tai Situpa and Karmapa, and also to express my solidarity with Tibet, I visited the Rumtek Monastery built in 1962, on land given as grant by the then Chogyal king Tashi Namgyal. The Dalai Lama and his followers had first entered Sikkim when they fled Tibet in 1959. His Holiness the 16th Karmapa renamed this monastery the Dharma Chakra Center, where he attained Samadhi in 1981. The 16th karmapa was the driving spirit for inaugurating the Nalanda University as an Institute of Buddhist studies.
From Sikkim to Tibet: the Nathu La Pass
The visit to Nathu La Pass through which the Tibetans had crossed over and entered Sikkim can only be visited by special permission issued by the Army and the Border Control Forces. The Nathu La pass has gates on both sides of the border and is patrolled 24*7, 365 days of the year by the Armies of both sides.
The drive to the Nathu La Pass is a steep climb; after reaching 10,000 fee,t one feels the sharp change in atmosphere and by the time I reached the Nathu La pass at 14000 sq feet, I was slightly breathless. When I looked across the Indian border into what was once Tibet, I felt choked with emotion – that such a glorious and ancient civilization of Tibet could be overrun by the Chinese Communist regime while the whole world simply looked on!
The Untouched Changglu Lake
I visited Tibet at a momentous time because on June 18, the Government of India and China opened up the Nathu La pass to enable the pilgrims to visit the holy lake of Manasarover (the lake where Ma Durga is believed to have bathed in Mount Kailash) in Tibet.
Actual trade by barter system between India and China has opened up for some time now. I saw jeeps and trucks actually entering the Chinese border to physically deliver food rations and other essentials and in return get camping material, snowshoes etc from their Chinese counterpart.
While returning from Nathu la, at an altitude of 12,000 ft. is the lovely natural lake Changglu untouched and unspoilt by me. The lake is considered holy, and on the bank of the lake is a small Shiva shrine. Here, it’s a common sight to see tourists on Yaks. There is a little trading hamlet where the wholesale merchants from Sikkim come to buy cheap Chinese goods, Tibetan paintings and artefacts.
Roads lined with mindful devotees
On June 2, after visiting the most beautiful zoological park with its star attraction, Red Panda, an endangered animal [also the State animal] I was told that it was the birthday of Buddha. For the first time, I encountered a traffic jam on the narrow roads of Gangtok, even as I saw the Monasteries overflowing with devotees.
As I drove back to Bagdogra to get my flight back to Delhi, I simply laid back in my seat remembering the gushing sound of the myriads of waterfalls in the beautiful mountain state.