Transformations in The Land of Vajrapani (Part 2)

Rajib Aditya: ‘On my several journeys through Sikkim I had often been woken up by the boom of drums and gongs, the wail of horns from monasteries. On my first visit to Lachung we were pleasantly surprised to find that the gompa was holding its annual chhams dance’

Sugar is the new opium.

It’s sugar-tea. Drink up. On the way to Lachen, beyond Chungthang

Kasang, who was driving us on the North Sikkim segment, had picked up a sack of sugar from a yak-herder, just above an army camp, very high up in the mountains. (My GPS logged 15000 feet at his hut). I asked Kasang “Where does he get sugar at this altitude?”

‘The army gives him’, Kasang replied.

I saw Kasang pay the Yak herder. This sugar Kasang would sell at his shop in Lachung.

Kasang loads a sack of sugar at the yak-herder’s hut

At Kasang’s cozy home in Lachung, rows of copper utensils and porcelain cups lined his glass cupboards. And in one corner hung a beautifully ornamented Tibetan milk churner, used to make butter and buttermilk for Tibetan tea. No longer in use.

The yak herder in front of his hut

‘Don’t you use that anymore?’ I asked.

‘Everyone prefers sugar-tea nowadays.’

At Kasang’s home. Lachung

Yes, of course.

Woh zamana gaya, sir.

The ornate milk churner. No one has the patience or energy to operate this anymore

Bollywood, India’s greatest ‘soft-power’, has marched up the hills too. When we reached Lachen (9000 feet above MSL), it was drizzling. I wanted to find some chhang, which had eluded me on this trip. The best way to describe chhang would be ‘warm millet beer’, but that’s not quite adequate. Anyway, we found this restaurant called ‘Ingredient’, whose young owner, hardly in his twenties, said that they did serve chhang. We went in and placed our orders. There were vegetable momos. Chicken, pork and beef were difficult to procure here, he said.

He brought in the bamboo mugs filled with millets and yeast. He poured in hot water. And as we waited for the ‘beer’ to brew, Kareena Kapoor came on on a huge 55-inch LED TV. The waiters in the restaurant forgot about us and turned their attention to the Bollywood item number as the woofers went boom boom.

On my several journeys through Sikkim I had often been woken up by the boom of drums and gongs, the wail of horns from monasteries. On my first visit to Lachung we were pleasantly surprised to find that the gompa was holding its annual chhams dance. We sat in with the audience, drinking chhang and watching the dance. The audience comprised of only the local population, except me and my friend Apratim.

We stayed at Dabla Inn, a log cabin by the stream that flows by, the Lachung-chu, its beautiful sound soothing and lilting.

Today Lachung has also grown. The Yarlam Resort looks like a huge star property. Some 300 hotels have come up at Singrik, the entry point of Lachung. Thankfully, the hotel we stayed in was close to the Lachung-chu, and we could hear the stream from our balcony.

Chhams dance at Lachung Gompa, 1997

At 7pm we were blasted out of our senses by loud music from the adjacent hotel. It was so loud that it was difficult to hear ourselves in our room, let alone hear the Lachung-chu. I requested the manager of our hotel to talk to the adjacent hotel. He was reticent. Understandably. I mean, in our country, everyone minds his own business. The competing hotel has no business to go and request them to turn down the volume. But it got so bad, I had to insist. I said that I would go along with him if necessary. The manager of the other hotel sent word that they had arranged a bonfire party for the guests, and the nuisance would only continue till 9pm.

The tourism industry with its immense greed to make money, forgets the repeat visitor, forgets sustainable tourism, forgets to educate the guest. This was my third visit to Lachung. And I didn’t go back to rave to “Lungi-dance”. The guests who need bonfires, music and dancing, will skip Lachung and go somewhere else the next time around. For the same lungi-dance.

The audience at the Chhams dance, drinking Chhang from the bamboo mugs. 1997

The tourism industry, which does not really sell rooms and food, but the mountains and streams, the beaches and valleys, doesn’t own any of these properties. They must start by respecting the environment. They must educate the guests. Instead of bonfire parties, they should conduct guided tours of the river-front, the farms, and the monasteries. Otherwise, indiscriminate destruction will ensure that destinations will ultimately vanish, and leave nothing for the industry to sell.

Yumthang valley, 1997. Just an abandoned shack marked the place. That’s author sitting in

When I first visited Yumthang valley above Lachung, there was nothing. I mean, really, nothing, except snow, silence and the three of us—our driver Mingma Tsering, Apratim and I. There was one abandoned stone and wood shack, covered in snow. We spent an hour at Yumthang, and only one Army jeep passed us in that hour.

Now there is a market at Yumthang. Toilets. Gumboots for hire. Yak rides. Hundreds of screaming tourists. We ate at stall number 41. The owner spoke to me in Bengali.

Yumthang today. Stall No.41. The lady who said ‘Aamar boyfriend Bangla’

I asked her ‘Do you get many Bengali tourists?’

‘Na na, aamar boyfriend Bangla’ she informed me. (My boyfriend is Bengali).

Words and photos: Rajib Aditya

About of author: Rajib Aditya makes corporate and training films for a living. He also talks to ecologists, farmers, NGOs, professors, authors and other aliens who regularly brainwash him with strange and contrary ideas. So, he has to make pilgrimages to mountains to keep himself sane.


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