Destination: Rinchenpong, West Sikkim
As our Bolero reached Rangpo, a town in east Sikkim bordering with Bengal, and penetrated the white wall of morning mists, we were greeted with a visual marvel. Melting snows giving birth to mighty waterfalls, lush green valleys, roaring rivers and steep hillsides created a picture of paradise on earth.
A Sikkimese cop strode up to our car at the border and wanted to see our I-cards. “Just one I-card is enough,” he said, his politeness and refinement unmistakable. (Are Bengal cops listening?)
I gave him my I-card. “Welcome to Sikkim. Enjoy your trip,” the cop said. The policeman’s cordiality and warmth of feeling touched me.
Even though we were groggy (Teesta-Torsha pulled into the NJP station at 2.40am and we had to wait till 5.30am for the car), the stunning sights around whipped us into a frenzy.
Leaving Rangpo behind, our car drove up the hill’s winding roads. The morning sun caressed the meandering Teesta creating a mystic ambience. I was mesmerized by Nature’s majestic beauty.
We reached Melli, 22km from Rangpo around 9.30am.
Melli lies both in Bengal and Sikkim. The part of the town in Bengal is called Melli Bazaar. The town lies on NH 31A connecting Siliguri to Gangtok. Melli is the main entry point for West and South Sikkim districts. Jawaharlal Nehru Bridge, the longest bridge in Sikkim, connects the two parts of the town.
We got off the car and walked into a wayside restaurant for breakfast. We had steaming vegetable momos and tea.
Melli is located 7 km upstream from Teesta Bazaar. On the Sikkim side lies Yuksom Brewery which produces most of the beer in the region. The brewery and a biscuit factory are the major industries in the region. One can go for river rafting here.
The car then left Melli Bazaar for Rinchenpong, 62km away. On our way, we saw innocent faces of Sikkimese children as they walk to their school; we also saw people arranging their wares in the middle of the market. Then came our driver’s warning: “Don’t throw anything on roads through window.” He added: “Plastic is banned and smoking in public places forbidden in Sikkim.” My friend Bapi was let down by the sudden announcement. “Well, you can smoke inside your hotel rooms,” said the driver.
Bapi sighed in relief.
We reached Rinchenpong (5600ft) around 12.30pm. The soothing noontime sun welcomed us as our car came to a halt at Rinchenpong bazaar. I was stunned by the spick-and-span marketplace.
Our hotel Denzong Residency was a few paces up the hill from Rinchenpong bazaar. The hotel guys came and took our luggage. Our third-floor room offered a breathtaking view of Mt. Khanchendzonga.
We were thrilled.
What struck me about the Rinchenpong bazaar was its tranquility and quietude. I haven’t seen such a noise-free bazaar anywhere in India. Sikkimese people are soft-spoken and well-mannered. During my week-long stay in Sikkim I didn’t encounter any brawls or altercations there. Let me share an incident: I went to the Axis Bank ATM near Ravangla chowk to withdraw money. My friend Bapi and I stood in the queue. As our turn came, we walked into the kiosk. The ATM’s display monitor was a tad different from what we have in Kolkata. So it took some more time for us to take money. There were as many as nine people waiting in the queue. But no one shouted at us nor was there any angry outburst. They waited patiently. This is amazing.
Can anyone in Bengal think of such a scenario? I was stunned by their civility and gentility.
Will the Bengalees take a lesson?
When will Bengal learn from Sikkim?
Sikkim, which in 1998 became the first Indian state to ban disposable plastic bags, is among the first to target single-use plastic bottles. “In 2016, Sikkim took two major decisions. It banned the use of packaged drinking water in government offices and government events. Second, it banned the use of Styrofoam and disposable thermocol plates and cutlery in the entire state to cut down toxic plastic pollution and tackle its ever-increasing garbage problem,” said Rajendra Pradhan, a school teacher, sitting at his home-cum-shop near the Rinchenpong bazaar.
“From April this year, we’ve banned import of all vegetables from Bengal,” Pradhan said.
I hung my head in shame.
Sikkim was declared the first organic state in the country which means all food produced in Sikkim is free of pesticides. It is also India’s first state to ban open defecation. Urinating in public can cost Rs 500.
The government has made it mandatory to have a sanitary toilet at home to be eligible for any benefits or to contest in village-level elections. This has resulted in the success of the program which was envisaged long before Swachch Bharat Campaign (Clean India Campaign) was even conceptualized. The state even banned firecrackers in 2014 to contain noise and air pollution.
“Sikkim is a rapidly evolving society. Gangtok, Namchi and Jorethang are urbanizing at a steady pace. Gangtok will be connected by air soon. (SpiceJet has already made trial flights). More and more people are being attracted by business opportunities.
“Though Sikkim is predominantly a Buddhist state its spirit is secular and churches, monasteries, gurdwaras, mosques and temples co-exist peacefully here.
“It’s hard to define the true culture of Sikkim. It could be called a wonderful mosaic, a unique pattern made beautiful by the unusual harmony in its individually colorful threads. And that is its trait.
The Lepchas, Bhutias and Nepalese are the predominant communities and there have been inter-racial marriages among the three over the years,” said Pradhan.
Another interesting thing I observed: One could hardly see the photos or festoons featuring Pawan Kumar Chamling on the roads of Sikkim. Chamling has surpassed the record of former Bengal CM Jyoti Basu by becoming the longest serving chief minister of any Indian state. “If a CM sincerely works for the people of his state, is there any need to hang his photos or festoons?” said Somnath Pradhan, a shopkeeper at Ravangla chowk.
Compare this with Bengal: Photos of Bengal CM have adorned the streets, roads and hills of the entire state. Wherever one goes, he or she will see the CM’s photos and posters.
What a waste of money! What an eyesore!
Is the Bengal leadership listening?