My Journey into Sikkim

Sikkim - Land of Simplicity & Colour

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.

Hanuman Tok - Gangtok

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.

To-be Lamas

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 Even though they seemed withdrawn, I did not stop asking my list of questions.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.

Traffic regulations due to landslides

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?

The home-made Tibetan Dinner

The warm locals who fed us the wonderful homemade Tibetan meal.

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.

Chhang - beer-like drink made with barley, mustard and rice stuffed in Dhungro or bamboo

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!

Tibetan Art & Architecture

The Prayer Turbines called Mané

The Prayer Turbines called Mané

Just recently, I came back from a trip to Sikkim. Now you might think that the article is titled Tibetan Art and I am talking about a visit to Sikkim. The fact is, 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 more about the art and architecture. It deeply inspired me to implement it in my work but before that I wish to share it with all of you.

Tibetan Architecture

The rich colours of the Museum of Tibetology

The rich colours of the Museum of Tibetology

Tibetan architecture is one of the most simple, colourful and splendid form of art. Its simplicity brings out the temperament and character of the lives and people of the place. Tibetan Buddhist architecture, in the cultural regions of the Tibetan people, has been highly influenced by China and India. For example, the Buddhist prayer wheel, along with two dragons, can be seen on nearly every temple in Sikkim. Many of the houses and monasteries are typically built on elevated, sunny sites facing the south. Rocks, wood, cement and earth are the primary building materials. Flat roofs are built to conserve heat and multiple windows are constructed to let in the sunlight. Due to frequent earthquakes, walls are usually sloped inward at 10 degrees.

Hand-carved Pillar of Tibetology

Hand-carved Pillar of Tibetology

Rabdentse Ruins of the 17th century

Rabdentse Ruins of the 17th century

Tibetan Furniture

Traditional Tibetan Furniture

Traditional Tibetan Furniture

Furniture from Tibet has always been quite rare. Except for the wealthy, Tibetans used very little furniture in their homes, and the population of Tibet has always been so small that not much was ever made. Most of it was probably always found in the monasteries, and of course most of these monasteries were destroyed by the Chinese during the “Cultural Revolution” along with huge amounts of furniture. Made primarily from pine and other Himalayan soft woods, it is noted more for its sometimes lavishly painted surface and/or carved decoration than for its joinery.

Tibetan Motifs & Symbols

8 Symbols of Good Fortune

8 Symbols of Good Fortune

The eight Buddhist auspicious symbols consist of – a parasol, pair of golden fish, the great treasure vase, a lotus, the right turning conch, the endless knot, the banner of victory and the wheel of dharma. These originated from a group of early Indian symbols of royalty which were presented at special ceremonies such as the coronation of a king. The symbols differed between different groups, for example the Jains and Newar Buddhists. In Buddhism these symbols of good fortune represent the offerings that were made by the gods to Shakyamuni Buddha immediately after he attained enlightenment. Brahma appeared offering the thousand spoked golden wheel as a request to Shakyamuni to turn the teaching wheel of dharma. Indra appeared presenting the right spiraling conch shell as a symbol of the proclamation of the dharma and Sthavara presented the golden vase full of the nectar of immortality.

Sri-Yantra

Sri-Yantra

The Sri Chakra or Shri Yantra is formed by nine interlocking triangles that surround and radiate out from the bindu point, the junction point between the physical universe and its unmanifest source. It represents Sri Lakshmi, the goddess of abundance on all levels, in abstract geometric form. It also represents Tripura Sundari, “the beauty of the three worlds.” Four of the triangles points upwards, representing Shiva or the Masculine. Five of these triangles point downwards, representing Shakti or the Feminine. Thus the Sri Yantra also represents the union of Masculine and Feminine Divine. Together the nine triangles are interlaced in such a way as to form 43 smaller triangles in a web symbolic of the entire cosmos or a womb symbolic of creation. This is surrounded by a lotus of eight petals, a lotus of sixteen petals, and an earth square resembling a temple with four doors.

For more pictures of Sikkim, click http://picasaweb.google.com/livelywood/Sikkim2009?feat=directlink or go to Photos of Sikkim, India on the home page