Monday, April 22, 2013

Sikkim: India for your MOM*

* And for me. 

I can't really speak for 'India', as I have only bummed around in one adorable village and the surrounds in North West Bengal. I went to Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, and I guess it was kind of crowded and stuff, but not really. I found plenty of leafy avenues and the like. Anyway, my current travel pal Karo, a super tough, hilarious 19 year old Bavarian, has been all over this fair land and had her share of harassment, hassles, near misses with cars driving on the footpath, there not being a footpath, men grabbing her and touching her and all of those other more difficult experiences we associate with India. Especially as a woman. 

Sikkim isn't like that. Sikkim is India, lite. Or, as the people of Sikkim would have it, Sikkim isn't really India. The people are a bit shy, and super polite. If they want to take a photo they will say "if you wouldn't mind, I take photo?" or something equally unheard of in the rest of India, where I once woke up in general class on the train to find my new friend taking snaps of me asleep. The weather is cold. The main towns, such as Gangtok (pictured above), have pedestrian zones and in these zones people stroll leisurely around, there is no rubbish on the street, there are rubbish bins and benches and loads and loads of space. 

One small part of the reason for the difference of Sikkim is the fact that India invests so much in it - to court it and keep it from being drawn too close to China. Sikkim is semi-autonomous and actually voted to become part of India in the 1970s. So, they're in a strong relationship with India, but they're not beholden. 

Other reasons I've only read about very briefly, and which probably hold more weight, are to do with the huge cultural difference between, say, Bengalis, and the Nepali, Lepcha and Tibetan people who make up the Sikkim populace. You notice the different gender roles right away, with tough police women patrolling the streets. They march past in their very well tailored uniforms and never smile at me, and I'm glad they don't. 

In other news, as we were (sadly) leaving Gangtok, we happened to be crossing the footbridge when this happened: (Lord Rama's birthday)

NB: We also referred to Sikkim as the 'Bavaria of India', perhaps because of our Bavarian heritage, but perhaps because of the copious beer drinking (even by women), the mountains, the focus on tradition, the general 'quaintness' and the festivals. 

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