Lone brother of the seven sisters …

I still remember my first (aborted) attempt to visit Sikkim – also known as the lone bother of the northeastern states of seven sisters – way back in 1996. We, a bunch of friends from across India, boarded a train from Guwahati on a cold night in the end of December with a plan of spending the New Year in Sikkim. But, ironically we had to return halfway as the railway connectivity to the NJP station – in the foothill of Sikkim – was cut off due to a blast by the insurgent…

Ironical, because Sikkim was – and continues to be – one of the most peaceful states of India. And it stands out even more especially while looking in context of the seven other beautiful but volatile sister states. During the shoot of Guns & Guitars, we couldn’t stop wondering what could be the reason for this beautiful paradox. When we put this question to the elderly owner of ‘Netuk Homestay’ Mr. Prema Namgyal, he had an interesting take on the subject.  According to him, Buddhists in Sikkim believed that their land is blessed by Guru Padmasambabha. And as a result, the inhabitants are able to keep their desire under control. “If you are able to keep your desires controlled, automatically your ambitions are not so big that it cannot fulfill. And once your ambitions are fulfilled, you are a satisfied person”. 

There is another aspect where Sikkim stands apart from his northeastern sisters – it is one state among the beautiful region which has exploited its tourism potential to the maximum. Regardless of whether you are tourist or a traveler (yes, I do differentiate between the two, strongly- after all, “the traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see”) it is impossible not to fall in love with the picture perfect Tsomgo lake. Situated 38 km from Gangtok, the lake derives its water from the melting snows of the mountains surrounding the lake. Once there, the tourists generally flock to climb onto the beautifully decorated Yak’s back for a photo opportunity, whereas the travelers are more likely to soak in the overall majestic beauty of the surroundings…

Moving ahead in the same route, we reach Indo –China border at Nathula Pass. Located at an altitude of 14,140 feet, Nathula Pass was the place through which the famous Silk Route used to operate until 1962. This used to be a trade route between India and Tibet. After some 44 years of closure, the old Silk Route again reopened in July 2006 allowing limited trade between India and Tibet.  There is no ‘no man’s land’ here. In the border, we came across a young lieutenant from Indian Army and talked about his hometown Pune – which was almost like my second home too, having spent my major portion of my college life there… However what took the cake ( or in this case, momo)  for my tired and hungry shooting crew was undoubtedly the hot cuppa and the steaming hot …yes, momos – in the café appropriately named ‘Café 14000 feet’.  Well, it was served stemming hot, but is totally cold even before we could take a bite- thanks to the freezing temperature and persistent snow fall outside!

That evening in Gantok was at ‘Café alive’ where we met Neha – the girl with the gorgeous voice – while she is performing in a café. Chatting over another cup of coffee (which thankfully didn’t get cold that fast in the pleasant weather of Gangtok) we had the obvious question for her – whether she faces the usual middle class bias. Viz., why you are returning home late after performances, what the society would say etc. etc. She admitted that yes that indeed is the case. Thankfully, she added, she has a supportive dad who encourages her all the time.  And he also attends her performances regularly – she adds. Well, once you have heard or seen her perform, it is but natural that you will become her fan – father included.

Neha, however, is one amongst the equal. As we were travelling across the northeast, the overwhelming feeling was, ‘so many beautiful voices and so many unheard songs in every nook and corner… Pity, all the outside world gets to hear about us is the sounds of gun shots and news of death…’

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