Until I actually checked where in the world I am here in India, did not realize that Sikkim borders Bhutan, Nepal, China … Tibet actually, and Bangladesh! I had been experiencing an aching kind of loneliness for family and feeling rather isolated from everything familiar to me … little wonder, as I am in as remote a part of the world as I have yet been in, and that includes my visit to Mongolia in 2010! These hill stations of West Bengal and now Sikkim, are hours drive from familiarity and no airports nearby that I have discovered …. not easy to land even a helicopter on these hillsides of the Himalayas!
Sikkim is a tiny state, wiggled into this north east corner of India, with extraordinary ethnic diversity … A city that literally appears to spill down a ridge. Lepchas, the original inhabitants, live alongside Tibetans, Bhutians, Nepalis and Indians from the plains of this vast country. Gangtok has often been referred to as ‘Shangrila’ ….. The scenery certainly qualifies … It is just so beautiful here …..I say it so often, that I may be starting to annoy Sanjay!
Until 1975 Sikkim was a kingdom, an Indian protectorate, ruled by Chogyals who were Buddhists of Tibetan origin, a dynasty with beginnings in the 17th century. In 1975 the state voted to join the Indian Republic ending the rule of Sikkim’s last king, Palden Thondup Namgyal, the last Chogyal!
I have been staying in the former guest house of the royal family here in Gangtok 🙂 … Yes, Palden Namgyal lived here a brief time before 1975 with his second wife, American Hope Cooke and their two children … Now a converted 25 room heritage hotel, reminiscent of the posadas of Portugal, The Nor-Khill (translated as Mansion of Jewels although none were in evidence during my stay) … Can’t say I never slept where royalty once did 🙂
Walked the hillsides to the Museum of Tibetology as well as the famous Rumtek Monastery, both rich in Tibetan Buddhist iconographic treasures smuggled in before China could get a hold of them … was allowed to view a prayer session for the student monks inside the monastery with Sanjay … No pictures allowed inside of course 🙂 …. Tourists, we are so silly about trying to photograph our journeys instead of living them 🙂 as Sanjay said …. It was very peaceful and meditative for us and we stood quietly on the side chanting along as well …. Lovely moments in these remote parts of India …. Helps ease somewhat, the lonely aches I feel for family and particularly my darling Aliana who I can hardly wait to hold close in a month’s time.