Blessings in Disguise
Silk Route - Dreams revived
Rajiva Shanker Shresta
Mohani 1136/Dashain 2016 was celebrated here after a gap of seven years to be back home for the festival blessed by Muma. It gave us an opportunity to welcome some of our near and dear ones to spend a night or two but this year we missed to be with the family we always spent Dashain day together. Dashain brings back memories how we managed to reach to be with them at the Kothi right since childhood days. It was, otherwise too, almost a daily affair to be there with Thulo Mama*-Maiju and little sisters or our own kids were no problem as I would take them on my back climbing uphill way back. We enjoyed our visit there as they too were equally happy to be sharing the latest news and views as those were the days no mobiles or even telephones till we got connected some fifty years back while Thulo Mama had one with number Rhenock 30 as the telephone exchange had subscribers limited to two digits in number and ours was 36. Rhenock was among the first places in Sikkim to get a Post Office and Telegraph Office due to the Silk Route and The Chandra Nursery. It was also the place to have one of the five earliest missionary schools in Sikkim. It also had one established by Rai Saheb Ratna Bahadur Pradhan* and Babu Durga Shamsher Pradhan* in memory of their mother Bhima Devi near the Kothi next to the sprawling Chandra Nursery to encourage girl-child education like that for their own daughters and others from the locality to attend and have primary education. Even in 1960s vehicles were few, could be counted in fingers with most of them service either to Gangtok or Kalimpong. For us even that did not help much as driver was allowed to spend the holidays with the family unless he happened to be a local hand like Suk Bahadur Sherpa* or Ashok Bhujel, who too often failed. With time change there are over a hundred taxis with almost every house having a car parked outside.Down the lane/Highway it seems the picture has not changed much with people standing for a taxi to come to their rescue even for a short distance. With the benefit of a taxi to share who cares to walk and mobile phones in every hand a taxi is always a call away, if you have the number of a friendly driver or two. If not available, he would help give you his friend's number. With a new generation savvy, smart to drive and own a vehicle, even banks happy to finance it, days here are blessed and getting better in the Black Hill. With husband-wife both working and some owning a vehicle or two have changed the picture here like in most part of Sikkim. Even house-wives joining a Self Help Group or the other and many running a Homestay in Aritar near the Dak Bunglow and lake with Lampokhari Tourist Festival held every year has boosted Tourism as well as the family income of the people here like some other places in Sikkim. Many here would not be surprised to know that the Festival was extension or concentration of the annual ritual and in celebration of Chaitay Dashain/Ramnavami when people used to climb uphill towards higher reaches of Rachela to pluck Rhodedendron flowers burning the forest red in blooms. People still go there but more come to Lampokhari from outside to enjoy the place the nature has endowed/blessed with as it has turned out to be a favourite tourist destination over the past decade. The tourism boom has really improved the lot of many here and adjoining places. Lampokhari, as such, has been a blessing in disguise for the people in the Black Hill!
Dashain talk is incomplete without Khasi-mansu and Chiura for most of the Newars like me and feel blessed with teeth good enough to enjoy them best. Sadly, some from our new generation lack this taste. When the mutton was brought home paying a premium of Rs. 10/- per kilo against the normal price, disappointed to find it an unusual mixed lot with plenty of fat and other sundry parts. But we thought it best of using them to make Khoyenla - a Newar delicacy which we had not made ever since it was last prepared during our son's marriage with a whole goat at our disposal. It was, as such a blessing in disguise, especially for me with even difficult bones turn deliciously soft and relishing with all nutritious virtues quite good for advancing age. Readers might be wondering what is so special about this Khoyenla also known as Takhala that has a variant in Sanya-khuna a hot favourite for many in Newar Bhoye/Bhoj in the mainland Nepal. In plain words, Khoyenla is just Cold Meat with plenty of gel good for your bones, soft to your teeth that melts with ease in tongue and of course good to taste but somehow seldom produced at home these days. Sanya-Khuna has dried fish added to give a different unique taste altogether. It might be due to buff meat many enjoy in its dried form available locally imported in the capital Gangtok. Both go best with, again, Chiura. If anyone is interested to have the recipe, we shall be glad to oblige. Friends would definitely enjoy it, especially during coming winter days with festivals, festivities and marriages.
Recently the Black Hill was in the news as the Sikkim Express had the headline 'New Spiritual Retreat at ancient Silk Route town' Vishwavinayak Mandir inaugurated at Rhenock. So was the news enthralling of the Silk Route Motorcycle Rally making headlines to a warm public reception next day at Mahatma Gandhi Road in the capital that saw felicitation of all some odd 80 bikers. They had ventured out from Aritar the previous day with Area MLA Bikram Pradhan leading to take them through what once used to be the much remembered Silk Route for the Indo-Tibet Trade that was there till 1959. But much before there were signs of decline in the cordiality between the two great powers to be in the South Asia. This I could personally understand from the decline of the business our forefathers after years of toiling to come finally to Banares and settled down and start a business house under the name and style of Harishankerlall Ramshankerlall Nepali established as long as back in the year 1886 at Chaukhambha by the two cousins. Somewhere I read of tracing out the first use of the word Nepali in India to a much later date but to this author it was already there in our family a century or two ago. This enterprise that came later to be popularly known as the famed Nepali Kothi. It would not be much surprising if some scholar doing research on the Newars would find this historic event also very much akin to the advent of the Newars in Sikkim around the same time when Laxmidas Newar with his cousin Chandrabir Newar first came to Sikkim invited to make it their new home. The younger/latter was entrusted the onerous task of bringing development in that part of the Himalayan Kingdom what is fabled now that we know as the Black Hill. Someone was telling me that this word Back Hill is the actual meaning of the name Rhenock for it was the den of all ills right from ferocious wild animals, killer diseases, mosquito and all venomous insects infested to the cruel inhabitants who wanted to skin Chandrabir and sing song of victory playing drum made out of it. Not an easy task to overcome all the hurdles and befriend and be blood-friends out of them bringing laurels to them with much coveted honorification of the Taksari. This illustrious Taksari Family gave Sikkim in its next generation six sons to be honoured by the British Raj the title of Rai Saheb for their outstanding contributions to make a difference in the life and society here. Black Hill had this for the founder of The Chandra Nursery Rai Saheb Ratna Bahadur Pradhan who made it a landmark achievement along with his brother Babu Durga Shamsher Pradhan. His younger son Mohan Pratap Pradhan* became he first chief secretary to the Government of Sikkim from the Nepalese community while the second to follow him was Keshab Chandra Pradhan son of Rai Saheb Bhim Bahadur Pradhan*, another brilliant son of Taksari Chandrabir Newar from his third wife, known for his epoch changing contributions in the Himalayan Kingdom as the Forest Manager. The Rest, as they say, is history that everyone would not take the cudgels to trace out in the present scenario as there is no time to dwell upon the past except for this soul who is attempting to write a few episodes connecting the past with. It is, as such, a blessing in disguise for me to be here in the Black Hill after a decade of retirement to jot down things past and present related to it and share with along with some pictures off and on to make reading somewhat interesting and relevant enough of making story out of things that happened recently and not that very recently as well!
The Silk Route that once passed through Aritar in the Black Hill to the high altitudes of Jalepla and Nathula is still much valued trade route and the most hard hit by its closure was the town of Kalimpong 42 kilometres from Rhenock. My Buba used to be there at 10th Mile in the Kodamull Building with the branch office of the Nepali Kothi.With the closure of the Indo-Tibet Trade it was but natural for Buba to move the family to a place close by and choice was naturally Rhenock as both my mothers belonged to the place. He not only settled down but dedicated himself and rest of his life to the cause of education in the much needed part of and time in Sikkim and the people find him best to be remembered as their Head Sir - name given out of love and respect. This author could thus come to Gangtok exactly six decades ago and get his education in the Sir Tashi Namgyal High School (now Tashi Namgyal Academy) in the premier educational institute of Sikkim under the careful guardianship of his maternal uncle Mohan Pratap Pradhan*. Half a century later when the vice-president of India Bhairon Singh Shekhawat* visited Sikkim, it was this author in the capacity of the Secretary in charge of the Cultural Affairs and Heritage Department in his welcome address in the civic reception held in the Chintan Bhavan at the capital had said that the people of Sikkim looked much ahead of the Indo-China Trade that had restarted that year in 2006 and far beyond to Kailash Manasarovar Pilgrimage in days to come through the Nathula Pass. I was posted in that department for the second time in my 36-year long career and this rare feat could be due to my brilliant and successful first tenure that saw a befitting end given to the concluding month-long state-wide functions held celebrating 50 Years of India's Independence in 1998. This (2016) was the second year for the pilgrims thus to visit that place making dream come true for the fortunates but this author felt being blessed to have such an opportunity to put across the message that time while for the present he is age-barred as no person of age 70 and above can go there for the arduous trip when even people much younger had to come back half way disappointed as their health did not permit them to travel beyond. It would be no surprise if the dream of the people in Kalimpong come true in coming days with the fabled Silk Route too opened up much to the economic, social and overall upliftment of those here too. With my early education and stay there, I am fully with them on this matter. Such an eventuality would be a blessing in disguise to the people in the Black Hill as well. Our people are well prepared with several homestays opened here at Reshi, Aritar and Zuluk along the SilkRoute to welcome such an opening ambitiously. Those days are not very far off seeing the well-built Reshi-Rongli-Nathula/Jelepla Highway getting spruced up with road widened all along in tune with the hopes and aspirations of the people here and other side of the Reshi as well. It could also be similar for those in the other side of the border too, who knows!
Disclaimer: This is author’s personal account of memories updated to cherish and treasure often on a detour here and there en route to share the joy of the journey called life. Some names (asterisk for those no more), quotes, places and events mentioned are just to connect with and no malice whatsoever intended. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Newars World~Wide Connecting the Dots Sikkim is available at the Rachna Books.