Sikkim, the abode of the Gods



Sikkim State, India  (28 June to 2 July 2001)
The Indian state of Sikkim, located in the North East of India, is located between the states of Nepal and Bhutan (state borders on the map above). To the North of Sikkim lies the Himalaya and Kanchenjunga. to the South the city of Darjeeling and the state of West Bengal with Calcutta as its capital. West Bengal has 74 million people whereas Sikkim only has 400,000 ! Until 1975, Sikkim was an independent kingdom with very close ties to India. Following unrest in that yea, it was annexed as India's 22nd state. However, still today, Sikkim is not recognized by China as being part of India.



Sikkim, the abode of the Gods
For many years, Sikkim was considered one of the last Himalayan paradises because of its remoteness, spectacular mountain terrain, flora and fauna and ancient Buddhist gompas or monasteries. Sikkim is peppered with dozens of monasteries perched high on the hills, just below the Himalaya. Sikkim is the abode of the Gods. On the way to these monasteries, roads are lined with prayer flags. When the wind blows, prayers will fly away to reach the gods. The colours of the flags represent the forces of the universe : air, water, earth etc. 



Religious inscriptions (left), prayer books in a monastery, wind blowing in flags and carrying the prayers to the Gods (right)


In the north of India, whether in the states of Ladakh (west of Nepal) or Sikkim (east of Nepal), Hindu religion is strongly influenced by Tibetan Buddhism. The rugged mountain land also seems fertile terrain for monasteries.   Gompas (literally solitary places) are Buddhist monasteries.


Pemayangtse Gompa



Tashiding Gompa


Sangachoeling Gompa, one of the oldest gompas in Sikkim. "It has a sublimely peaceful atmosphere with the murmurs of village life drifting up from the valley below". Well, almost.. Most of the gompas were a hours walk up steep ridges and paths were said to be infested with blood sucking leeches ! We must have been lucky as we only had two such encounters.

Sangachoeling Gompa

Rumtek Gompa is the seat of the Gyalwa Karmapa, head of the Kagyupa order of Tibetan Buddhism. This order was founded in the 11th century and later split into several orders the most important of which are the Drukpa, Kagyupa and Karmapa. Since 1992 there has been a bitter and sometimes violent dispute over the successor to the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa who died in 1981. To see the Indian army soldiers posted in and around the monastery did not exactly correspond with our romantic idea of a monastery but apparently there is nothing new under the sun and over the centuries monks have always quarreled over succession matters. Rumtek Gompa is an exact replica of Tsurphu Monastery from where the 14 year old Tenzin Chentse was smuggled out of Tibet via Hong Kong to India.

Rumtek Gompa 


Sikkim nature
Nature in Sikkim is as beautiful as we have seen it anywhere in the world. The flat plains of India transform themselves into green hills before they grow even further to become the Himalaya. All of this the result of the encounter of 2 tectonic plates : the Indian plate going down and creating curls on the European plate (or the other way around ?). Tea plantations have created a lot of deforestation (causing heavier floods in the plains) but we drove though km of what seemed like tropical forests, often in the middle of clouds. Green and humid, with orchids growing from the branches of trees, these have left a lasting impression on both of us. Sikkim has prohibited the use of plastic bags so even when nearing villages, pollution is not as bad as in Nepal or the rest of India.



Sikkim people
With the Himalaya in the North and high hills covered with tea plantations, Sikkim only has 400,000 inhabitants. Of these, the majority or 75% are originally from Nepal. These came in successive waves to provide cheap labour for the tea plantations. The others are the Lepchas (the original inhabitants, 18%), Indian and Tibetan.

Woman a work in a monastery (left), stone crusher (middle), Tibetan lamas or monks (right)


Some very original Sikkim inhabitants..


Taxis waiting for business, Gangtok, Sikkim.


We are doing well !

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