Thursday, August 9, 2012

Saving Sikkim's Shangri La

From Dzongu on the northeast borders of the Khangchendzonga biosphere reserve I proceeded southwest to Yuksom in the Ratong Chu valley, the official entry point to the Khangchendzonga national park.

Lorded over by the mighty and most sacred Mount Khangchendzonga, the third highest peak  (8,586 m)  in the world, Yuksom at 1,780m sits comfortably at the ankles of the great mountain, nestled in forests of broad-leaved oak, birch, maple, chestnut, magnolia, rhododendron, silver fir, ash and alder trees. Yuksom, in Lepcha language means the meeting place of three learned monks, who chose the first king, the Chogyal, to establish the Buddhist kingdom of Sikkim. Yuksom was the first capital of Sikkim and the village is an important historical destination littered with 17th-century ruins and some of the earliest Buddhist gompas of the region blessed by the great Rinpoche aka Guru Padmasambhava.

For almost two centuries, the people of Yuksom -- the Lepchas and Limboos (hunter-gatherers and shifting cultivators), the Bhutias (a trading community), the Chhetris and Bahuns (agro-pastoralists) and the Gurungs and Mangers (shepherds) -- recently converted to Buddhism, led a peaceful life mainly engaged in cultivating large cardamom and vegetables, rearing livestock and practising Tantric Buddhism in the shadow of the great mountain.

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