Sikkim, a tiny Himalayan Kingdom ruled by priest kings known as the “Chogyal” tucked under the shadows of the mighty Himalayas has been a thing of beauty forever even after several change of guards from the Brits to becoming a part of India as its smallest state. A strategic location while sharing borders with Tibet aka China in the north, Bhutan in the east and Nepal in the west, Sikkim is probably the politically safest state in India. It is also one of the cleanest, least polluted and a hundred percent organic one. They also have hundred percents in important aspects like literacy, electrification and all villages in the state being totally connected through roads. This tiny state is also a destination for both domestic and international tourists and what this small delight of a place offers in terms of air purity, breathtaking views of the mountains, lakes and green hills, the Buddhist prayer flags fluttering in the mountain wind and a peace of mind is seen to be seemingly augmented by the simplicity and generosity of the local populace with the sweetest of smiles and unending hospitality. Sikkim offers you these and much more…..
“Chiya Bari Ma Hai, Chira Bari Ma… ” songs of the tea gardens reverberates the fresh sikkimese air as you are engulfged with the flowery orange pekoe aroma of the local tea leaf variant. Strong, full on aroma with the right colour and taste, Sikkim gives us the youngest variety of Himalyan teas produced in these young gardens which were set up only in the year 1965. The first batch of tea was produced in 1977 from the gardens of Temi and were used back then only as gift packs for the Chief Minister’s office. The 440 acre tea garden is managed by the Government of Sikkim and the tea is always produced for limited distribution. Temi Tea was certified as 100% organic in the year 2008 and a brand was born, a Himalyan tea that resembled the world famous Darjeeling tea but stood out on its own as not being a protege of Darjeeling as it’s tagline says, “There’s more to Temi than tea!”
The “Badi Ilaichi” or the big cardamom which is an integral part of the cuisine from mainland India is surprisingly produced in the foothills of the Himalayas with Sikkim accounting for 86% of the total 4200 tonnes of cardamom produced in India. This spice is the pride of all Sikkimese people second only to the mighty Kanchendzonga and is also an enormous economic booster for the farmers of the state. In 2014 a report by the ICIMOD (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development) stated that from 1999 to 2004 the area under cardamom cultivation in Sikkim increased from 19912 ha to 22714 ha. However the same was seen to be declining and in 2017 – 2018 only 17735 ha was under cardamom cultivation. However various agencies working with the State Government and the Spices Board have taken up initiatives to improve this crop which is not only a huge source of income but a part of the lives of the local people living in these hills. When the yellow flowers of the cardamom plants bloom at the end of their stems in the months of March – April, we know that spring has arrived with all its bounty. And of course the pleasure of popping a raw cardamom pod and emptying it’s gooey contents on your tongue while savouring a flavour which is incomprehensible is a delight that you live with through out your life.
Gyuma (Blood Sausages)
The Sikkimese swear on their “gyuma” or the blood sausages which originated in Tibet and is considered as a food for survival. It’s basically blood drawn from the bodies of yak which is mixed with minced beef, barley or rice powder with other ingredients and pushed into the intestine casings derived from the sheep or goats. The recipe for the “gyuma” is available here at Gyuma: Blood Sausages from Sikkim.
A perfect snack to be enjoyed with chilled beer or the ubiquitous “chaang” or local rice beer or to be devoured as a breakfast sausage with millet pancakes on the side, the gyuma even can be smoked and stored to be relished as wholesome meals during the cold hard winters.
“Chiso Chiso Hawa Ma..” the cold winds blowing through the hills and vales of Sikkim, a tinkling of the wind chimes, fireflies dancing in the distant darkness of the still nights, a long glass of chilled Dansberg beer and the husky voice of the owner of Dansberg Beer singing this pahari tune of the cold winds aka “Chiso Hawa” – that’s Sikkims favourite gift to you – Danny Denzongpa! In the eighties and the early nineties he was probably everyone’s favourite villain in Bollywood, a negative character but with a soul, maybe it was just his handsome “pahari” looks that did the trick. Danny, a graduate from the FTII, Pune was born Tshering Phintsho Denzongpa and has spent more than four decades in the Hindi film industry. Besides acting in Hindi and Nepali films Danny has also had a stint in Hollywood with a role in the famous “Seven Years in Tibet” and he sings ghazals too! This son of Sikkim has not only won the hearts of millions of Indians from the mainland with his acting and singing, he has also given back to his state where he as an entrepreneur has started various breweries providing local employment besides generating revenue for the state through the sale of his infamous Dansberg beer and ten other brands of beer. The Yuksom Breweries sells around three million cases of beer in a year and is the third highest producer of beer in India. Beers to the gift of Sikkim – Dansberg as well as Danny Denzongpa!!!
What’s with these Himalayan lakes, how can the waters be so blue, cobalt blue they say with tantalising reflections of the blue skies and fluffy white clouds driving the travellers and locals alike into a frenzy. The lesser we talk about the photographs of these lakes the better, 3 Idiots and the Lake Pangong in Ladakh notwithstanding. Sikkim offers a heavenly gift to us in the form of Lake Gurudongmar which is not only beautiful but also sacred. Legend has it that this lake is blessed by the Guru Rimpoche and Guru Nanak making the waters sacred. It is believed that even in the harsh winters a part of the lake doesnot freeze so that the locals are not deprived of their drinking water supply. Sacred or otherwise, Lake Gurudongmar is a piece of heaven dropped into the highlands of Sikkim setting our hearts a flutter in resonance with the hundreds of multihued prayer flags flying above the blue waters of this beautiful gift of Sikkim to the world of nature lovers.
Khukuri Old Gold Single Malt Whisky
Single malt whisky made at the foothills of the Himalayas and filled into bottles shaped like the “Khukuri” (Nepalese knife of utility and honour) what better gift than this quintessential mixture of culture and alcohol!!!
Stonewashed jeans with top boots, long ponytailed locks and the Aviator sunglasses driving those harispin bends with flying bandanas and the Scorpions blaring their hit “Holiday” on the car stereos – Sikkim had their badass cabbies eons before the birth of the Uber and the Olas. We loved ’em all, it was all so just out of a Hollywood movie with the prettiest girl in town always and forever falling in love with one of these badass cabbies and eloping with them over the hills to far away lands to live happily ever after. Taxi drivers can never exist in Sikkim, they have to be Cabbies and they all are Badass Cabbies!!!
Welcome to Sikkim and don’t miss the Bougainvilleas!