SIKKIM: Land of the Uphill Devils

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Down through the years, as the zing of arrows gave way to the boom of the bomb, the people who live on the roof of the world never complained about all the noise down below. All they asked was to be left alone. Except for the occasional call by Lowell Thomas or somebody looking for the Abominable Snowman, they got their wish. Down below, Hannibal and Hitler, Socrates and Sinatra flashed by; high in the Himalayas, ignorant and innocent of it all, the people went right on hunting snow leopards, dodging devils and waiting for the reincarnation of their uncles.

In 1950 the Chinese Communists conquered Tibet, and slowly the centuries began to topple in on the states that form a buffer between Red China and India. In Bhutan the age of the wheel began. In Nepal the politics became as complicated as the most confused European parliamentary coalition. History even came to Sikkim.

Linked by road only to India, little Sikkim, the size of Delaware, has managed to preserve its identity across the centuries. Its 140,000 inhabitants lead a happy-go-lucky life amid oranges, orchids and 4,000 species of rhododendrons, in lush emerald valleys beneath 28,146-ft. Kanchenjunga, the world's third highest mountain, and Sikkim's "protecting deity of the snowy ranges."

Dollhouse Revolution. What happens in Tibet has always echoed in Sikkim. Tibetans began to migrate across the Himalayan peaks into Sikkim in the 14th century, and in 1642 Sikkim came formally under Tibetan influence. The British took over Sikkim in 1860, but even today, members of the ruling Maharajah's family traditionally marry Tibetans, and Buddhism is Sikkim's official religion, even though three-fourths of the Sikkimese people are Nepalese by descent and Hindu in worship.

When India got its independence from the British in 1947, so did Sikkim. For a while the Sikkimese tried to run their own show. But one day in 1949, peasants in their high boots and yakskin suits surrounded the Maharajah's yellow palace at Gangtok (pop. 7,000), a capital of doll-like houses with blue pagoda roofs, perched precariously 6,000 ft. up a mountain. In a bloodless revolution, they got their demands for an elected national council and an end to tax collection by landlords. But after a 29-day experiment in democracy, the Maharajah dispatched an S O S to India.

In came Indian troops, and a dewan or Prime Minister furnished by India. When the Reds seized neighboring Tibet, India made Sikkim a protectorate, posted troops on the Tibetan border to prevent the smuggling of Communist propaganda in mule trains, required all visitors to Sikkim to give two weeks' notice before getting clearance to enter the country.

Naked Pink Lady. To this day, Sikkim's mountain climbers lift one flap on their fur caps, the better to hear the devils that always go uphill, never down. Lamas stage skeleton dances to drive away evil spirits. The country has no newspapers, and mail goes by pony express. There are no lawyers, because the government thinks that lawyers stir up more trouble than they are worth. A magistrate hears both sides of an argument, makes his judgment. Crime is so rare that there are never more than 15 prisoners in jail.

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