Sikkim Travelog – Part 8

“What’s the thing you remember the most about this trip?” we asked our 5-year old. “Mickey and Rosie!” she squealed happily. Mickey and Rosie were the 2 Samoyed dogs that belonged to the Pandim Hotel. They resembled polar bears both in color and size. They were so adorable and cuddly, that our daughter wanted to smuggle them back home. We took her to see the biggest mountain in the world and all she remembers are 2 shaggy dogs.

The last leg of our journey was Kalimpong in West Bengal. On the way from Pelling to Kalimpong, we stopped at the roadside “Sisne Mandir”. According to “Lonely Planet” it is a Shiva temple. But the priest insisted it was Devi Ka Mandir. He looked sullen when we pointed to 2 eroded Shiva Lingams in the temple complex and asked him what they were doing in a Durga temple.

Whenever a temple has some room to spare, locals add idols of their favorite deities. Over a period of time, the temple loses its original identity. All this would be fine if the temple’s history was recorded – either orally or written down for posterity. But this is India. We are an ancient land whose people have no sense or respect for history. It is but natural that we couldn’t find anything else about the Mandir. Which is rather bad – “Sisne” means “Nettle” in Nepali and Sukumar had a hunch that it could be another name for Shiva.

Whether you are in Darjeeling or Kalimpong, signboards boldly proclaim the address as Gorkha Land, not West Bengal. Our guide, a native of Darjeeling defended this. ” Successive governments in West Bengal have done nothing to improve the region. We believe that local leaders will do a better job.” We pointed out that we have local leaders ruling the state of Tamil Nadu, but they don’t seem to be working for our progress. Our guide shrugged and said, “it is worth trying. After all, we are seeking a separate state, not a separate country”.

Our initial foray into Kalimpong confirmed the guide’s opinion that the region is indeed backward. The city wears a squalid look with creaking infrastructure.  A major tourist site like Kalimpong deserves better. To offer a comparison point, Kodaikanal and Ooty look a lot better developed.

I don’t know if I’m a gourmet, but I’m certainly a gourmand. I love trying out new recipes from across the world. So my shopping list always includes rare spices, herbs and condiments. “Where can I get Jimbu?” – this question drew blank stares from the Sikkimese. Jimbu is a high altitude Allium that grows exclusively in the Himalayas. It looks a lot like dried Chives. It is an important ingredient in Nepali cuisine. 80% of Sikkim’s population is Nepali yet no one in Sikkim seemed to know whether Jimbu was a solid, liquid, gas or plasma.

I was very lucky to find Jimbu in the Haat Bazaar in Kalimpong. I wasn’t that lucky with Radhuni, a spice used exclusively in Bengali cuisine. “There’s nothing called Rajumi”, said a wizened old spice merchant. “Radhuni, not Rajumi”, I corrected him. “That’s what I keep saying, there’s no spice named Rajumi, but you won’t listen to me”.

I tried my luck in another shop. “It looks like Ajwain”, I explained. “Then you must buy Ajwain, why do you want this Rajumi?” asked the lady. “I’ve been cooking for 30 years and I’ve never heard of this spice”, she said contemptuously. I gave up.

As it happens, Sukumar had spent 2 years of his early childhood in Sikkim. He fondly remembered Peda lollipops, a delicacy from Kalimpong. If you want to believe him, they were the size of an adult’s palm and tasted divine. “You can get them in Lark’s”, the hotel manager told us.

We expected a specialty sweet shop thronging with sweet-toothed Indians. But, Lark’s turned out to be a puny grocery store cum candy shop. “Oh, yes. We have the lollipops”, said the store manager. Time had shrunk them to the size of an adult’s thumb. Sukumar looked crestfallen. “This is not how I remember them”, he wailed. He took a delicate lick. “And they are cloyingly sweet”.

Unfortunately, the Peda lollipop industry is in decline. Only 3 dairies in Kalimpong make it these days. Neither the communists nor TMC have done anything to support this unique delicacy. We felt that a cultural marker was fading before our very eyes.

That concludes my posts on our visit to Sikkim. Sukumar will continue the series with a Photo Blog.


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    Well written with a lot of details. Waiting for the photo blog. 🙂

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    Karthik said May 13, 2013, 12:21 pm:

    Initially thought of skimming through but your narration just enticed me to read the complete series. Excellent narration with teasing humor about Indian toilets, mindset, infrastructure and more importantly about sukumar’s snoring and earthquake :):).. Just superb blog. waiting for Sukumar to post the photos.. it would be the icing on the cake…

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    Mouli – Thanks for your kind words.

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    Karthik – Thanks for your comment & kind words.

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    sowmya said May 13, 2013, 9:43 pm:

    Awesome, rib-tickling, informative & compelling read… Had a trip to Sikkim and back, thank you! looking forward to Athimber’s photo blog

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    Mukund said May 14, 2013, 4:10 pm:

    Men can see more than 5 colours, Priya. We just don’t like to call them with different names. I am tempted to make a trip after reading this. Did you go with a travel agency?


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    Mukund – Thanks for your comment.

    Kuppura vizhundhaalum….. 🙂

    Yes, we used a travel agent – and Lonely Planet’s guide to decide the places of interest.

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    Sowmy – Thanks for your comment & kind words 🙂 I may have to threaten your athimber with dire consequences (no watching cricket matches!) till he does the photo blogs.

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    More than two people would probably have read all 8 parts right through. Nicely paced, and with vivid detailing. Despite the recurring theme of creaking infrastructure and poor amenities, I’m guessing most readers will have at least momentarily thought of retracing your trip. (I’m assuming the unidentified rust-coloured bird with black wings is not a Hoopoe, you would’ve mentioned the crest.) Now the wait, for the pics.

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    Veena said May 18, 2013, 5:32 pm:

    Nice travelogue Priya . I read all the posts now . I agree with you on tha lack of infrastructure and lack of respect for our own heritage.
    I hope things change in the coming years. Your sense of humor is sparkling as usual. You would have enjoyed viewing the scenic beauty of Sikkim. I have to appreciate how much you prepare for a trip , read up everything and try to taste the local cuisine.

    Can you imagine that I am cooking sambar rice , Tamarind rice and curd rice and packing it and eating on sydney harbour. All because my chennai bred brats will not even eat pasta or burgers !! I sometimes worry that some one will tick us off for eating home cooked food when so many well stocked flourishing cafes are doing business on the harbour.

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