This was my fourth visit to Gangtok, Sikkim but the place felt as fresh and I was as happy. Exciting for visiting Sikkim is always high on radar; reasons are vague in my head:
- It could be the weather and the natural beauty
- It could be Suchana, my roommate from college; or Rowena and other friends from work
- It could be that I am fond of people there innocent loving spiritual souls
- It could be that it’s a break from Delhi’s very metro culture that I live my daily life in.
- It could be just good temperament of working environment in the state!
I am sure, its an amalgamation of these and many other reasons what gets me excited.
The trip was planned to attend Kanchan Panda Start up Fest organised by Government of Sikkim from 24th – 25th November 2017; followed by a policy round table on farmers producers organisation that we were organising on the 28th November 2017. The fest was a convulation of young entrepreneurs, financial experts and enterprise start up seed capital funders from cross the region. While I met some budding entrepreneurs closely, there wasn’t much scope of longish conversation, given the high density of the event and very tight schedule.
As soon as I got some time, I ran to PEPE’s (the same old home-cum-restaurant at Tadong) I met Daju, his wife, Nima and Suren all together and the delight of just seeing each other was beyond expression of happiness.
26th November, the Sunday was planned with Suchana for a trek near Gangtok. The trek goes through Pangthang Wildlife Sanctuary, incidentally the same trek that Rowena had mentioned during my last visit to the state. We were told that it tales approximately two hours uphill to reach the peak. When we reached the start destination, the locals around the place said, it will take you less than an hour to reach the top à a spirit booster for someone who wasn’t really a trekking person. Workout and exercises are things that I am fond of, do averagely okay given my bad habits of inhaling Delhi’s smoke. Also I realised that I usually choose (over) adventurous people around me as friends and then happen to do all adventures, only in their desperate need for a company. Not a suitable argument but surely a true story.
And the length of the trek was not the only scary thing. A woman in the passing, just commented; beware of bears, always stay in big groups. This was enough fro me to start instigating fear in my fellow trekkers; to perhaps give up the idea of trekking and sit in one beautiful corner of the valley and chat the evening out. Another local guide; asked us to be very cautious of the biodiversity there. He warned us to not touch any plants. There is a belief that there is one species of plant that is found there; which if anyone touches; gets lost in the woods and never returns. Superstitions, I believe, like stereotypes are there for a reason. I would believe on anything to prevent adding more adventure in my life. We were three –Suchana, Binita and I. There were a group of four adults ahead of us and we hopped quickly to join them to have a bigger group to fight the bear. In my head, no size f the group will matter if the bear comes.
The rest of the trek was mostly about gasping our breathe till we reach the top. There was a middle aged man in the group we joined and he and I went up the terrace of the small tower at the top of the hill. We were the only two at the terrace that time. He had some agarbattis in his hand, which he offered me so that I can conduct my own prayers. He folded his legs and sat in prayers, I followed in doing the same, sitting a little behind him. After ten minutes of silent prayers, he initiated the conversation, Sikkim is blessed, it gets the first ray of Sun when it shines on Kanchanzonga and this is the reason why it is a biodiversity hotspot. At this height, we must now waste ourselves in worldly conversations but sit and breathe deep; and thank nature and God for all the gifts he has bestowed on us. He added by saying, such beautiful sight of nature is just a clue of his might. He again closed his eyes in prayers. I followed with my own prayers in silence. After another 6-8 minutes of silence, he turned back, looking at me where I sat and added, I remembered my ancestors; such places connect us to our ancestors. He further adds that “No one prays together for no reason. We may have been connected in our past lives. You might be my mother in my previous life.” There were too many extraordinary moments in that moment. I absorbed and kept peace; to the extent that keeps me in sane conditions.
This is now the last evening in Sikkim and I make my way to go to my family, Pepe daju and family. They love me, unconditionally. They cooked vegetarian food for me, twice over and that is the best version of local food I’ve eaten in my cumulative of 40 days in Sikkim, from the start. They never forget to gift me with local food wrapped in love. There is hardly anything that can be expressed by words, in the order of magnitude of their kindness and love.
On the morning of our return from Gangtok to Bagdogra (nearest airport); we went via Rumtek Monastry. Some of the participants at the FPO round table wanted to visit it. This was my fourth visit to Sikkim and because of some reason or the other, I have never missed a visit to Rumtek Monastry on each of these visits. This visit was more special that just that. The day was the holy day of prayer and recital of Buddha’s teaching. According to some, this festival comes once in 10 years. I meditated with a fellow young monk and shared 2 cups of nun-chai (salt tea).
We had an interesting Bhutani dish for breakfast as we moved from the Monastry. It was made of tomato, onions, chillies in liquid cheese.
Also, this was the first visit of Amar ji, my office support system, originally from Nepal but stayed mostly in India. He was in full enthusiasm all the trip, to visit a city very close to his own culture in Nepal. He will always have story to share of how customs in Sikkim are similar to the ones his family follows in Nepal.
Chogel Daju drove us back to the airport from here. With Amarji, Chogel Daju and myself sharing the car, we had some interesting conversations I would not want to forget:
- I asked what does “Chogel” means. He said, he only know that had he had “P” instead of “G” in his name , he would have been the King of Sikkim but “G” made hi driver. (Kings are referred as Chopel in native language.)
- As Chogel Daju continues to share his adventures, he tells how in Bhutan and Sikkim, Bhaang is served to Cows when their stomach is upset. A friend of his, not aware of this; on one of the visit to our friend’s house asked for some bhang to smoke up. He was shocked when he received an arm full of Bhaang plat, not able to contemplate what people do with that quantity.
- Chogel Daju is a Buddhist (bhutia) and married a Nepali (Pradhan). While naming his daughter, he wanted to keep a name that can be said to have christened from both the religions. He christened her Angela. When his Buddhist family will enquire the Buddhist identity in her name; he would argue that the name ends with a “La” – a general feature of Buddhist names. His friends would make jokes on what if Chogel had a son, would he have name him – DracuLa?
- Once Chogel Daju was taking a gujarati family from Bagdogra Airport to Gangtok. He noticed that the person sitting besides the drivers’ seat is tilting inside almost permanently. Chogel daju suggested to him, in case he is afraid, he might want to exchange his seats with someone else from behind. To that the gujarati fellow responded that he is the most “Himmatwala” – courageous in the group, which is why sitting in front.
- Chogel Daju has a very stylish beard, reminding me of Chineese fighters from one of the Akshay Kumar’s movie. Asking him on the relevance of his beard, he said that is said in their community, that all his ancestors used to keep this but many lost their beard in gambling, so people have forgotten. He keeps the beard to live upto the tradition.
- While crossing the Junction where Teesta and Rangeet rivers met he mentioned that there is a temple near this junction. It is believed that those who get married there, stays together for 7 lives. In the same minute, he adds, “that’s why I didn’t get married here. One life of togetherness is enough. Who knows, what next?”
- Just to not forget that Chogel Daju also acts in movies and if you find his face familiar, go watch — once again!