Our country India is known for its diverse culture, topography, food, people, overall an existence of its own. Sometimes it makes me wonder, how one nation can accommodate so many virtues at the same time. I think we are very fortunate to be in a land which has so much to offer.
In April 2009, I got a chance to visit this beautiful state of Sikkim surrounded by Tibet, now China, Bhutan and Nepal. Amidst the Himalayas, the state is no more than 7110 sq kms with winding hilly roads and beautiful people originating from Nepal & Tibet. I will not go much into the geographical details of the state because that is something we all can find on the internet. I would love to talk more about its people and the experience I had through those few days.
Sikkim is heavily influenced by Tibet and its culture. Most of the people in Sikkim have direct origins from Tibet and have migrated to India in the last 100 years and more. The place is so surreal, untouched, spiritual and colourful that I couldn’t help but write about it. What touched me most here, in this little lost paradise is the simplicity, discipline, honestly and modestly of people. On our first day in Gangtok, we realised that people here are very shy and self-conscious. I wanted to know more about them, about their lifestyle and eating habits and everything that I could gather. Even though they seemed withdrawn, I did not stop asking my list of questions. Hence slowly and patiently, I realised and comprehended the life and living of the people of Sikkim.
It all started with a small incident while we were on our way to Lachen, a little town up north of Sikkim. Since the state is still building up its infrastructure, the road conditions are unpleasant. To add to it, there are frequent landslides which hinder the transport to some extent. Coming back to our journey, we came across a huge landslide due to which there was traffic congestion on both sides and delay in our travel was unavoidable. After a while, the debris was cleared just to allow one car to pass at one time. According to the mountain traffic rules, the cars going uphill get the preference due to steep slopes and hardships of the windy roads. And hence the uphill going cars started their ascend slowly. Since we were descending we were waiting in queue for our turn. What astounded me here was the patience, and respect that was given to all the cars coming up. Not a single car blocked their way, instead made sure they get ample space to drive carefully. We waited till all the uphill cars passed giving them ease and time to clear the damaged section of the road. What kind of a scene would you see in Pune for that matter? People honking, pushing their way, clogging and creating so much nuisance to make the situation shoddier. Dodgy road conditions, delays and inconvenience did not one bit upset its people, they continued to respect what had to be respected in order to support the situation, not worsen it. That got me thinking, isn’t there so much to learn and comprehend?
One more incident took place which really touched my heart. Throughout our trip, we ate roti and vegetables and the usual food. I really wanted to eat the traditional Sikkimese food which is very hard to find unless it is cooked by the locals. To our surprise, our travel agent invited us to have Tibetan dinner at his place. Now when I say Tibetan, I should make clear that most of the Sikkimese people are Tibetans and share similar culture and food habits. He took us home, a simple home traditionally decorated with local artefacts. On our arrival, we started with a local beer-like drink called Chhang. Barley, Mustard and rice are semi-fermented and stuffed in a bamboo called Dhungro. Then boiling water is poured and sipped through a narrow bore bamboo pipe called the Pipsing. It’s one of the most delicious drinks I have ever had. It is said to be the best remedy to ward off the severe cold of the mountains and reputedly has many healing properties. Followed by the drink, we were served shisnu or nettle soup, Churpi – Yak cheese cooked in red chillies, phing or glass noodles with mushrooms, hot steamed momos, Phagshapha, a pork dish made with radish and dried chilies, dhal and rice which is a staple food and lastly, fish fry and chicken curry of which I do not remember the names. The best surprise was, for desert, they cut open a water melon imported from Maharashtra which seemed like an exotic fruit for the locals. After this huge meal, we were not only over-whelmed with their hospitability but very touched with the effort they put behind making us taste the best of their cuisine. It just showed how lovely and welcoming the people of the eastern Himalayas are, they just need time but when we give that to them, they give us a lot more in return.
Hence through my trip, I learnt more and more about their art and culture and lifestyles of the people. As I mentioned earlier, that our country is so fascinating and versatile yet we all are termed under one – Indians!