SIKKIM: Land of the Uphill Devils

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The ruling Maharajah, 65-year-old Sir Tashi Namgyal, is the eleventh in a line of consecrated Lama rulers. He leaves politics to others. A shy, untraveled man with a pinched face and faint mustache, a delicate porcelain figurine who goes about in green-tinted glasses, Tibetan cap and a golden bakkhu (robe), the Maharajah paints Sikkim's misty peaks and glaciers in a surprisingly abstract style. Recently he had a "vision" of the Abominable Snowman, put him on canvas as a skinny, jet-black creature with a red face, carrying a naked pink lady across the peaks of the Himalayas. When he is not painting, he is praying. "His Majesty," an aide reports, "gets up at the most incredible hours of the morning to clang the cymbals."

The real power in the palace is 35-year-old Maharaj Kumar (crown prince) Palden Thondup Namgyal, who was educated in India, and then spent several years in a Buddhist lamasery as a reincarnation of his uncle (who had been an abbot). The handsome young prince wheels over the country's 57 miles of navigable roads in a pink Mercedes and has imported a fleet of Mercedes trucks for the government.

Watch Against Evil. Ironically, it is the dewan sent in from India who leads the battle against "evil outside influences." The present dewan, buoyant N. K. Rustomji, spent 18 years in Britain, but has become so attached to his work that he walks around Sikkimese style in a gleaming, embroidered bakkhu with a Great Dane said by the Sikkimese to be a reincarnation of Albert Einstein. The dewan considers his main task to be "the Sikkimization" of Sikkim—the attempt to preserve Sikkim's culture and identity from too much Tibetan or Chinese influence. The Indians are also pushing a $7,000,000 seven-year plan to modernize Sikkim's covered-wagon transport, build schools and roads.

The dewan worries about Sikkimese students who copy "some cute design" from an Indian magazine. "We must watch very carefully," he warns. Both he and the crown prince are aware of ushering in the 20th century too rapidly. When Gangtok's first movie house opened a few years back, Sikkim's young people took one look and promptly went out and engaged in drunken brawls and prostitution. The movie was closed down.

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