Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sikkim & Silk Road Artefacts

October and much of November saw me in India, specifically Darjeeling and Sikkim, for next year's LP India guide. The real challenge on the India guide is not the research (as insane as that can be) but the word count, specifically trying to cram 70 pages of information into 30 pages of text.

After a spring visit to western Bhutan it was interesting to see Sikkim for the first time, itself a independent Buddhist kingdom until 1975. In many ways it was the absorption of Sikkim into India and the role of Nepalese immigrants in the fall of Sikkimese kings that have shaped Bhutan's current political path as it strives to keep its own identity, while dominated economically and culturally by India and China.

(Yumthang Valley, Sikkim)

I have to admit I was a bit disappointed by Sikkim. Like China, the huge rise in domestic tourism has changed the nature of travel in India's wilder areas, with lines of tourist jeeps packed with noisy Bengali tourists taking the edge of the majestic scenery. It's actually quite hard to get near to the big mountains in Sikkim since much of the mountainous areas are off-limits to foreigners.

North Sikkim was pretty spectacular, particularly the Yumthang Valley. Also of note were the huge new Buddhist statues currently under construction in the south, huge 130ft tall images of Buddha and Chenresig, that will rival the new giant Buddha statue in Thimphu.

(Buddha under construction at Ravangla, Sikkim)

On the way back, on a day to kill in Delhi, I popped into the National Museum to see what I could of the huge cache of Central Asian antiquities brought here by Aurel Stein in his three expeditions between 1900 and 1916. Only one of the three Central Asian halls was open but the silk paintings from Dunhuang were fabulous, especially as I'd been there last year shooting for the Marco Polo film. Central Asian nuts will want to see the wall paintings and leather armour from Miran, Sassanian-designed silk paintings from Astana, monkey scultures from Yotkan, combs and examples of Kharoshti script from Niya and carved stucco from Karakhoto.

(Mural from Dunhuang)

1 comment:

  1. Nice piece especially as you traced the origins--
    I visited Sikkim in March 2011 and fell short of my final destination- Gurudongmar in North Sikkim- reason-it had snowed the night before.

    At Yumthang we were lucky to watch an avalanche as it roared down the mountain- we were near the river and we all whipped around as we heard a rumble and then a roar.

    That same year, in September I read of the earthquake in this beautiful region and how it shook Darjeeling and Siliguri as well.



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