Nathang falls on old silk route circuit in East Sikkim. This valley is very close by Nathula pass leading to Indo China border.

That day as we got out of our vehicle at Nathang , the little village at about 13500 ft altitude looked at us with it’s drowsy eyes. It was cold and cloudy . Almost no body was out on streets. little wooden houses sat huddled together as if in an attempt to counter the biting chill in the air.

Gautam had to go about in the area for few minutes to ascertain our homestay and then we entered the narrow lane between two houses, walking on the frozen layers of snow . Heaps and mounds of snow were all around homes.

 

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Way to our homestay.

 

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Entering the doors of homestay we were engulfed in the warmth of welcoming smiles of hosts and the cozy, comfortable indoors. Neat, clean rooms, bright colored comforting beds. linens and spotless western style toilets …… homestay in that little village on high altitude . surrounded by rough terrain was a very pleasant surprise.

Except night, I spent most of my indoor time in the kitchen of the home talking to the lady of the home and basking in the warmth of the indigenous room cum food warmer. It was a long, knee length high rectangle table with tin surface.  On the lower surface of the table ,almost in the middle an iron furnace was fixed. logs were burning in it. On the upper surface there was hole at the mouth of furnace but it was covered with an iron lid. A long cylindrical pipe arose from the table and went out of the roof, a chimney to carry out the smoke.Warmth around the table was very comforting. Moreover I got to share lots of family, community , life in general kind of things with the lady.  How easily can we open ourselves to the strangers… perhaps  the comfort of anonymity makes it easier to share. But you know the amazing part is that while conversing you never feel that you are stranger to each other. It’s easy to strike the chord, when you open your heart wide. And then I believe that one who is  closer  to nature is  simpler . Luxuries and material comforts do contaminate human thought process.

 

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Welcoming smile of lady of the home

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Those cozy warm moments in the kitchen

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This is the indigenous warmer I talked about above. That is the chimney pipe extending out from the table surface. dinner preparation are on.

 

 

From my room window I could see the far off mountains and snow but day light receded fast as hoards and hoards of grey, white clouds descended in the valley. Wrapped in the furry blankets of cloud as if valley too was getting ready to take rest.

Early. very early in the morning I parted the curtain of window and was excited to notice the signs of a bright morning.  Nudged others to get ready and after a piping hot cup of tea in the warm kitchen ventured out to walk in the valley.

The valley is guarded by mountains from all sides and have stretches of grasslands, Valley is totally devoid of any kind of tree. There are few streams crisscrossing the valley and there are cute wooden small bridges across the streams. We wandered around as if in a vast plain of nothingness. Except those few dogs no body was to be seen. Wind though chill was comforting. Those were the moments of uninterrupted interaction with mountains, with sky  stretched over.  a small shrine atop a ridge, beckoned,prayer flags fluttered in the air….. and… and you feel as if that noisy world full of chaos didn’t exist at all.

 

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under the blessed shadow of blue horizon above head, guarded by tough, mighty mountains and the prayers in the air.

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Sometimes to find yourself, you need to travel through wilderness, nothingness.

 

Pictures by Sunder Iyer and Shubham sunder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mankhim view point…….The temple at Mankhim view point is at the height of about 6500 ft and offers a wonderful scenic view of Aritar and hills around it.The temple belongs to Rai community of Nepali origin. The Nandi outside the temple and various tridents in the premises suggest that the temple is dedicated to lord Shiva however the Shivalinga inside temple is in different form than found in other parts of country. Lord here is called Paruhang. Rai, mainly a community of cultivators consider themselves children of Peruhung, who is supposed to reside in Himalayas. Rai people in Sikkim gather here every year to celebrate Sakewa, a festival celebrated for expressing gratitude towards Mother Earth. Sakewa is also known as Bhumi pooja or Chandi pooja. Prayers are offered  for peace and protection of all living  beings and for rich crops and cultivation.

 

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Temple at Mankhim view point.

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Peruhang….inside temple. As it was annual festival time in the valley, we found many youngsters visiting temple in groups and pairs. youngsters clad in western outfits, different colored streaks in hair and half shaved head kind of hairstyles…. taking off their sports shoes and bowing before God with that expression of surrender and reverence….. somehow the sight felt very reassuring.

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Nandi and Kalash in row outside temple.

Besides panoramic view of hills and mountains, from here we can also enjoy the beauty of Lampokhri lake and scenes around it.

 

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and when the blues descend to embrace greens, the dreamscape created is so surreal, so inviting that you close your eyes, stretch your arms and are almost ready to be lost in oblivion…. Niravana kind of feel.

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From up there, the view point, the terrace fields looked like wide spread poetry sheets, nurturing life in their womb.

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 A glimpse of  Lampokhri lake from Mankhim view point. Without the emerald spread all other colours would look so static.

 

Later on we went down to Lampakhori lake. Annual cultural function and fair was going on at the ground near lake so many parked vehicles and an ongoing stream of people filled the area. However the Green placid lake surrounded by hills and trees promised that on quiet days the place would be worth spending some time in one’s own company. It’s not like that I don’t like humans or I like them less but I like nature more, There midst pathless woods I find a different kind of joy, sitting on a roadside rock, looking at the mist covered street dissolving in oblivion ,as if leads me to altogether different vistas  and I love being there.

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Lampakhori lake and the small temple on it’s bank.

 

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A folk dance by seniors in the cultural fair.

 

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A lady in her stall in fair with some handwoven stuff.

 

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And the light of world, little girls in fair, enjoying their day out. Golgappa, pani batasha, pani-puri, fuchkas…. you may call it by different names in different parts of country  but they definitely are high on ladies favourite list, whatever might the age be.

 

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This Gumpa was quite close to our homestay.

Solitude is the language of these small places on Old silk route and ever smiling, hospitable locals add charm to one’s visit there.

Meet some people who made our Aritar stay more enjoyable—-

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She is Pinchu. We met her on our way to Mankhim view point. To reach view point we need to climb a stretch of well laid stairs and on the way is Pinchu’s home, her shop. Her parents provide home stay facility too. While returning from view point we stopped at Pinchu’s shop for sizzling Wai- Wai and hot coffee. Pinchu made our stop over very enjoyable. Very smart girl she is and was handling the customers confidently, offcourse consulting her parents for cost of items etc. As her father was telling us about their homestay facilities and tourist agency at other places too, Pinchu took out his visiting card from the drawer in shop and handed over to us. Her perfect business woman kind of gesture made us laugh aloud. Nobody there even mentioned the visiting card there but she knew what should be done.

 

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And he is Aryum, our homestay owner’s son. Kid with his young companion, Nasima, a girl of eight years filled our hours with pure joy and laughter, which you can enjoy only in the company of innocent kids only. Aryum and Nasima shared a beautiful relationship. Nasima proudly told us that she was a student of class third.

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She is Aryum’s mom, owner of Shangey homestay. wonderfully efficient lady,. I saw her with amazement running on her toes from ground to second floor, attending all the guests with a charming smile, managing her staff, looking into problems of water, electricity supply and kitchen too.

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And the aesthetically decorated dining space of Shangey homestay. We stayed at four or five homestays during this trip but Shangey homestay at Aritar is our most favourite one.

Reliving my memories feels like that rose pressed between the pages of a book, even after ages I can inhale the fragrance and feel fresh.

 

©All the pictures by— sunder iyer

 

 

Few days ago I got to spend few hours with this ninety two year old gentleman with varied experiences of life. He takes care of this ages old temple but does not hold a good opinion of so called Sadhus and babas. He prefers to communicate with we grahasth [family] persons, who according to him happen to be more enriched spiritually.
He lived with Sri Govind Ballabh Pant, the first chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, when he practiced as an advocate and Our country was under British rule.He started his first government job with salary of Rs forty per month, did his char dham yatra on foot from Haridwar.He shared lots of memories of the days when entry of Indians was banned in Hazaratganj after four P.M. as that was the time British offiicials and their families used to come there for enjoying their evenings.He also shared how there was scarcity of educated people and posts in government offices, seats in higher educational courses lay vacant for want of candidates.
This temple where he now resides is ages old. He told us that no body knows who built it originally. years ago it lay surrounded by dense forest on the bank of river. Dacoits, bandits and freedom fighters too took shelter here.When he arrived here then also it was surrounded by dense forest and forty to forty five snake couple resided in the vicinity…and why not after all it is an ancient shrine of Lord Shiva.It is said that plastering of the temple structure has been done by the mixture of Urad dal [ black lentil] pulp of Ber [ indian plum / jujubi] and chasani [syrup of Gur[jaggery]

Talking to him was like turning pages of a old history book nay more interesting and enthralling. He created wonderful imagery while narrating his travel experiences of mountains and the underlying spiritual essence provided hope and strength.

 

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All pictures by Sunder Iyer.

Crumbling walls, uninhabited houses and battered doors invite you to venture into the mysterious world of lingering shadows.
Bolted doors, though aged with times cling passionately to the naked walls as if guarding secrets lying there for years. The quiet dignity of their commitment pulls a string at your heart.
In a courtyard full of dry leaves, wind walks to you with halting steps as if crossing the distance of ages. Whispering voices call you from shadowy corners. In the moist and diffused light spread across the chipping verandah, the past speaks to you with an intimacy across the time line.
Through the cracks of shriveled doors, escape the sighs of tales untold. The dusty interiors preserve the redolent presence of forgotten ones.
And just when the haunting past reverberates through your entire being, the present peeps down at you through a crevice high above the falling roof. A just born bunch of delicate green leaves smiles at you beckoning to march forward/move onward.


pictures: © sunder iyer

That huge banyan tree stood elegantly at outskirts of our village. It was a big, really big tree, tall, shady and vibrantly green. Ensconced snugly under the tree was the shrine of Baram devta. Baram devta might have been derived from Brahm devta or may be Bhairav dev. Whatever might be the origin but when I got acquainted with this devta, he was referred to as Baram dev and he was the guardian angel, protector, benefactor of our village. As he was the savior, the defender, he had to be valiant and gallant that’s why perhaps he was considered to be a fierce and fiery God. Over such blazingly powerful God spread the blissful canopy of the banyan tree.

At the advent of any auspicious occasion in any family of the village people came to Baramdev’s shrine. Bowing their heads, they used to pray for peaceful completion of the ceremony devoid of any hassles, disturbances and obstacles. The ritual was never complete without a fervent request to Banyan tree to keep Baram devta happy and appeased in case he gets angry due to any fault of any person. That tree was like the wise old man of the family. Such tranquil was the impact of the benign shelter of the tree that the mind automatically became quiescent with quiet assurance that nothing can go wrong.

In case of any problem, illness or difficulty people rushed to the tree. Sitting near the small raised platform, the problem was narrated in detail. The God with his grim expression appeared to be unmoved/unconcerned but banyan’s hanging roots and bent leaves with slow nodding movements as if shared their grief. The rustling of leaves voiced it’s concern.

And it listened…wishes were fulfilled, obstacles removed, illness cured. Any cart or traveler entering the village never ever thought of crossing the path without paying obeisance to God and tree. We all used to spend some time under the blissful shelter of the tree. Just one look of the solid, shady Banyan standing firmly on it’s place with it’s arms stretching wide and we knew ‘all is well’. Palanquin of every daughter of village stopped under the shade of the tree before proceeding to her in law’s place. Relatives and friends accompanied her to that point. Girls after paying respect to deity would cry their heart out embracing the tree. The tree was their confidant and support like an elderly family member. In childhood the hanging  roots, the strong arms of Banyan tree were the swinging paradise. Even though kids held the roots but the feeling was that tree is supporting them. It’s his arms and he will never let them fall. While arranging their dolls marriage under the blissful shade of Banyan, girls never thought that one day they themselves will be standing under it to be away, with the grief of leaving one’s home, the near-dear ones and a prayer was ushered in the ever attentive ears of Banyan…’take care of my parents, dada. I am leaving them and please call me back to you in sawan at the earliest and the memories of carefree childhood, dreamy adolescence poured down with the streams of tears. Banyan dada was testimony to so many blooming love stories, pangs of separations, shattered dreams and soaring hopes.

Every newly wed bride before entering our village first paid her respects to Baram Dev and Banayan dada. The moment the bride put her feet decorated with aalta and payal on the ground the branches seemed to bend a little more to bless her. With hands full of red bangles, her anklets tingling, she circled the tree to pay her obeisance and with that she entrusted her dreams, her wishes to sagely Bargad or Banyan dada and with firm belief of fulfillment she proceeded to start her new phase of life. That Banyan tree was not just a tree. It was a history in its own, secured in its folds were so many tales of emotional catastrophe, treachery, sacrifices. It saw all- the purest of humane heart to the meanest of them, from epitome of ideal to the vilest of them. Nothing escaped from it’s vigilant eyes and just heart. Dreams were woven, desires were sown on the firm base of faith that Banyan dada is there to make them come true, to fulfill them.

And then life’s compulsions brought us away from village. Earlier we used to visit the native place frequently but then the generation of grand parents gradually left us, most of the homes were locked as jobs, education and other such commitments made the family members disperse in different directions. Recently I happened to meet our Bargad dada after a very long time, nearly three decades. If I were not told I could not have thought that it is the same Bargad dada. All those embracing arms, spreading wide and far were hacked to accommodate the multistory buildings with flourishing business establishments, tea shops, restaurants. The platform under it was raised higher and is quite big now. An ornamental, big temple of white marble stood in place as a small shrine of Baram dev. The evident commercialization has robbed off the soul of the place. A busy bus stop has come up nearby. Touching the platform ran a pucca road. Screeching, racing vehicles zoomed in and out. Midst all this hustle-bustle, chaos and din of empty voices was crouched our Bargad dada, with it’s few branches raised towards sky…….as if praying to the God to take him away as its shady shelter, the vast hearted canopy was being considered usurpation of land, the savior was seeking to be saved ……….

pic by sunder iyer