East Himalaya

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The story of URA YAKCHOE

Once upon a time there was an old lady who lived in the most beautiful valley, but in the lost part of the world. A Buddhist Lama (Monk), who was passing across, not seeing a single human being in his journey stopped by requesting for some drinking water. The old lady was engrossed in the blooming rhododendrons and other colourful flowers and thinking of the creator of this beautiful valley. She slowly went inside her house to fetch some drinking water and when she returned the Lama was gone, but had left a small bag. Out of curiosity she opened the bag to find a relic inside it. Till date the people of the beautiful Ura Valley, or Ura Lhakhang celebrate around this relic in a festival, Ura Yakchoe.
It is said that Bumthang is the most beautiful part of Bhutan and Ura Valley is the best part of Bumthang. It is said that Guru Padmasambhava visited Bumthang to cure the Bumthang King, popularly known as Sindhu Raja. There are lots of stories attached to this legendary journey. When the Sindhu Raja’s messengers arrived Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava) at his place in Nepal, he requested them to return with a few of his disciples and that he would follow later. When the joint team arrived the foothills of the mountain trail, they found that Guru Padmasambhava was meditating on a floating sal leaf. This place today is identified as Ultapani, the western side of Indian Manas. The Bodos have the legend of the monk going through a path next to it; Gonghar Lam as they called it is hidden in the deep forests. Just above this area is the Nubji-Korphu area, where we still can hear and see the interactions of Guru Rimpoche with Kupdra Penpo from the Monpa village near Trongsa.
The Lama who asked for water from the old lady must have been Guru Rimpoche and the relic left by him is celebrated even today. This year do not miss the Ura Yokchoe festival to start from 18th of April and should end around Friday that week.

While travelling in these areas, both in Bhutan and India, I have felt that these are the most sacred areas for Biodiversity and needs protection through the local traditions, as it has happened for hundreds of year in the past. All we need is to help keep this tradition living.

Photos from my friend from Ura, who is also a Tiger expert from Bhutan, Lhendup Tharchen.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Sandakphu, Nepal

10 Jan, 2016, Kolkata: “Chalo ILAM” is the title of the meet today to establish a strong cross-border tourism relation between ILAM, Nepal and West Bengal, India, being hosted by the Nicco Park at Kolkata. A very interesting fact was brought forward by Surendraji, Deputy Consulate General of Nepal to India at Kolkata. He said that as a part of the team implementing tourism at Mustang area, he had to attend a review meeting at the site after 03 years of tourism in the area. The villagers said that they were more happy with the Indian tourists coming to their area as they would culturally understand them, religiously pay respect to their land and spend much money in donations and their food, accommodation etc, compared to other western tourists, who would bring everything from their country and at the most buy some dokos (bamboo baskets for carrying load) and hire some porters. To this, the famous Nepali poet and wise Consulate General, Chandra Kumar Ghimire ji added, I have come to the end of my tenure at Kolkata, but the City of Joy has become my home, the culture of the people and their deep seeded want to travel to new areas has mesmerized me. Every person in Bengal has a traveller in him or her and it is good that the people of ILAM have decided to invite them as their first guests.
Sandakphu as we all know is the first adventure ground for all adventure loving people of Bengal. Darjeeling tops the list of Hill station and adjoining Sandakphu tops the list of trekkers’ destination. This 3636m highest part of the state of West Bengal in India is also the highest point of ILAM in Eastern Nepal. The most interesting part proposed in this meet is that one can start the trek from Maimajhuwa Khorsanitar in ILAM, Nepal and end it at Maneybhanjung in Darjeeling of West Bengal in India or vice versa. The advantage in Nepal that there is the bonus of the legendary Maipokhari Lake and the 85m drop Todke Waterfalls. ILAM too is easily approachable from Siliguri or NJP Railway Station or Bagdogra Airport. For all those who have been on the Sandakphu trek will confirm you of the majestic views of the snow capped peaks of Mt.Khangchendzonga, Mt.Makalu and Mt.Everest families, not to forget the rich bird life, including the rare pheasants.

ILAM is a part of the Mechi Zone, which includes the districts of Mechi, ILAM, Panchthar and Taplejung. Mechi zone in turn is a part of Eastern Nepal, which includes 02 more prominent zones, Koshi zone and Sagarmatha zone, all sharing an interesting border with the eastern states of India, namely Bihar, West Bengal and Sikkim. The Nepal and Indian Terai is the base, which is part of the single landscape that is headed by the highest mountains of the world. All these areas are an active part of Eastern Spirituality, where local communities find their divine forces in nature, the religion of BIODIVINITY. Discover the cultures of Rai, Limboo, Lepcha, Sherpa, Newar and many more core communities, specially encounters with Ban-Jhakri (Priests of the Forests) is a rare experience.
1.Sharing the Indo-Nepal Border, a common landscape

2. People who made the Indo-Nepal meet "Chalo ILAM" meaningful

3. The Gateway to Eastern Nepal, including ILAM is Kakarvitta, which is hardly 40 minutes drive from Siliguri. There is a strong group of artists, poets, writers, fashion designers, agriculturists, traders, environmentalists, tourism service providers and several stakeholders on both sides of the border working tirelessly to maintain a strong people to people relation. 

Most of the pictures here have been contributed by an active worker of Indo-Nepal relations Mr.Laba Paul

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Indo-Burma/Myanmar relations

It is any day; the new Government will take over the reins, a change which Myanmar will be witnessing after 25 years. It is time when the enlightened Buddhist Monks will have to help the Government in building a just and empowered society, not divided by class, creed and religion. The military, which will continue to look after Home, Defence and Borders will need to show more efficiency and dedication in their work to serve the cause of making the democracy of Myanmar meaningful.
Many of us may not realize that Myanmar tops the list in WGI (World Giving Index) among the 145 nations based on the criteria of the percentage of people donating for charity, volunteering their time and those helping strangers. Hence, we must understand, it is not about how resource rich you are, it is all about how much you are deep rooted in your tradition through compassion.
 Siliguri. 12th of November, 2015: Today, the day after Diwali, when we should have cleaned our souls and through the festival of light have enlightened the world, it is also time to look to our neighbours. Only a month before was Durga Puja or Dusshera, a major festival where people celebrate to victory of good over the evil. This year I decided to be in Myanmar the Durga Pujas. Only the Myanmar Indians and Gorkhas were involved in Durga Puja, the rest of Myanmar was busy discussing the legendary November 8th elections and now results of the National Elections at Myanmar has been declared, which is the second major step towards expectations for an almost complete democracy. It is the entire world looking forward to the political developments in this Land of Gold. With India and her ACT East Policy, how much are we concerned with the developments in Myanmar? The Bihar Election results have been declared quite some days ago and we are still discussing the engagement of our western neighbour, Pakistan in it, in all media, local, regional, National or Chai (Tea). How much are we concerned about the long Indo-Nepal border along Bihar and the latest happenings there?
We share more than 1600kms with Myanmar. Along with East Himalaya, Indo-Burma is another Biodiversity Hotspot, the least explored among the 08 Biodiversity Hotspots of the World. The forests on both sides of the border are also the hotspots for anti-National groups for both countries, India and Myanmar, whose presence have caused irreparable damage to wildlife and nature resources in the region. While trying to create a proposal of Mishmi Community Conservation Reserve and Tangsa Community Conservation Reserve in Eastern Arunachal Pradesh, I have experienced that the natural resource of the Indian side, which continues to the Myanmar side are probably the last frontiers of primary habitat in the world. Someone needs to address this common issue and why not “ACT East”.
It was during the Dihing-Patkai Festival several years ago, the first engagement with the Stilwell Road started, after which there was no looking back. The Ledo Road through Jairampur and Nampong, leads to Pangsau Pass and further to ‘Lake of No Return’ (Nawng Yang) via Pangsaung village in Myanmar. Maturing from the Dihing-Patkai Festival, I became an active part in organizing the Pangsau Pass Winter Festival on behalf of Help Tourism. The initial years it was more of pushing cars on the red muddy roads, but now it is black topped National Highway. This is a historical and mythological route which was used for ages by many Tai communities who reached through this route to settle and make what is India’s Northeast today. Not long back, during the Japanese occupation of Myanmar during World War II, thousands and millions of Indians, Anglo-Indians, Indo-Burmese and Europeans in then Burma, now Myanmar, escaped to India through this route. Several of their family members and friends died in the journey. The sacrifice of lives by Indians, Chinese, Africans, Elephants, Horses/Mules while building this road can only be remembered when we chance upon a cemetery ground lost in the forests in this route. The dream of Northeast India to drive this road from Dibrugarh-Ledo to Kunming via Myitkyina continues.
During my recent trip to Myitkyina from Mandalay, I was quite astonished to see the elaborate Hindu Temple beside the Ayeyarawady (Irrawaddy) river. I doubt, I have seen such a temple in India. It was Durga Puja time and the whole community of Indian origin seemed to be there, celebrating the festival. The Gorkha people of Nepali origin also seemed to participate in large numbers. From several online sites, I got an idea that there are more than 9,00,000 Myanmarese Indians and 5,00,000 Myanmarese Gorkhas. Most of them are decedents of people who served British India in Myanmar or who fought for India’s Independence as INA (Indian National Army). The people of Indian origin in Myanmar owe their roots to almost all states of India and for people from India’s Northeast, it is almost a cross-border continuity. It is time when all of us in India and Nepal must try and look into Myanmar and connect to the people, who are part of the family.
Buddhism has tied us together for more than 2500 years: Myanmar, Nepal and India. Every step that you take in Myanmar has some or the other relation to Buddha. Kings, traders and people in general has nurtured this relation for thousands of years, which cannot be wiped off all of a sudden. Even till recently, Dr.Shayama Prashad Mookherjee, during his tenure in the first Independent India Government and as the President of the Mahabodhi Society kept close relations with Myanmar.
INA’s Burma Campaign, the development of the armed revolution for an Independent India saw the tri-colour flag of Independent India in Moirang, Manipur as early as in 1944 under the leadership of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. A leader, who was often referred to as ‘the light of Asia’, was a close part of Burma, now Myanmar. Along with the Burmese National Army, he has worked on many frontiers against the British and Allied Army. The INA (Indian National Army) battalions which fought with their headquarters in what is now Yangon, and battles like the “longest opposed river crossing of World War II as described by Field Marshall Slim” near Bagan and the hill retreat of Netaji at May Myo, now Pyin Oo Lwin, the Bungalow of the Bombay-Burma Teak (Timber?) Company are still to be recognized through a Indo-Myanmar relation.
In this century of Asia, it is India’s Northeast which will lead the way, Myanmar will be our next home and India will be the second home for the people of Myanmar. It has been a continuous endeavour for our organization, Indo-Myanmar Fraternal Alliance, based at Imphal in Manipur to run missionary road trips from Manipur to different places of Myanmar to confirm better understanding between the people of Myanmar and India.  

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Aye mere watan ke logo... The Heritage of Nationalism

Thi khun se lath path kaaya, phir bhee banduk uthaake
 Das das ko ek ne maara, phir gir gaye hosh ganvaake
 Jab ant samay aaya toh - 2, kah gaye ke abb marate hain
 Khush rahana desh ke pyaaro - 2, (abb ham toh safar karate hain) - 2
 Kya log the woh diwaane, kya log the woh abhimaani
 Jo shahid huye hain unaki, jara yaad karo kurbaani
 Tum bhul naa jaao unako, iss liye kahee yeh kahaani
 Jo shahid huye hain unaki, jara yaad karo kurbaani
How many of us have tried to read about the making of India, the root of the thought process of one nation, which came through the Indian Freedom Movement. The words like Anushilan Samiti, Jugantar, Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, Kotwal Dasta, Halagali, India House, Gadar Party and Berlin Committee hardly rings any bells in my ears. On this 100th year of MARTYRDOM of Baghajatin, I feel guilty of not being a part of the same. The best part is that the 4th MCCS Gitanjali Mango Festival, which was held at Siliguri a few months back, was dedicated to this sacrifice of the legendary Jatindranath Mukherjee, popularly Baghajatin, for his sacrifice for Indian Freedom, where he said “Aamra Morbo, Jagat jagbey” translated means “as we die, the world will realize”, realize the importance of freedom of India from the then British rule. On the 9th of September, 1915, he and his 04 companions were encountered at Chashakhand in Balasore District of Odisa. Baghajatin could not survive the fatal injuries which he received while fighting with the large contingent of Government forces and died on 10th of September, 1915 at Balasore Hospital.
We all know the famous Siliguri Town Station incident of 1908, when he handled 03 British soldiers along with an officer for mishandling a poor old Indian lady, bare handed, he knocked them down. This station is a part of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the only World Heritage Site of the Sikkim and North Bengal. Many enlightened people still take pride in taking selfies here. Most of such enlightened citizens feel that this old station should be restored as a World Heritage Site dedicated to Baghajatin.
 We all are busy, we all have the freedom of work, speech and action under a free nation’s constitution. Many a times we forget to remember our great freedom fighters, who thought about one nation, one India or Bharat.
Aye mere vatan ke logon, jara aankh me bhar lo paani
Jo shahid huye hain unaki, jara yaad karo kurbaani

This action of starting the 100 Years of Baghajatin's Martyrdom from the Mango Festival at Siliguri was initiated by Institute of Social & Cultural Studies, who brought the soil (mati) from the places, where Baghajatin fought to death at Chasakhand, Odisa in India and his place of birth Kaya Gram, Kustia in present Bangladesh.
The inauguration was attended by several personalities from India and Bangladesh and a committee for North Bengal was formed, keeping in view Baghajatin's connection with Darjeeling and Siliguri.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Explore Sikkim: Namthang Villages & Namchi Connections

I often do not understand that when I fall in love with a place, she has something to do with the sun. Last time the place was Namthang in East Sikkim. Nam means sun and thang means place or habitat. This is a new road which ascends from Melli Bazaar, immediately after the check-post and goes towards Namchi, Namthang is between, almost 45 minutes either ways. As per the Sikkimese tradition, the boy and the girl in love runs away from the house has to return to Namthang, where the parents of both sides will be called and the marriage will be fixed, and hence considered to be one of the most auspicious places to start life.

It is not alone about Namthang, but the cluster of villages, which are surrounded by forests, view-points, lakes and organic agricultural fields. The top of Namthang is a high forest overlooking the snow-capped peaks of the Mt.Khangchendzonga range. Many years ago, when people could hardly access this area, a monk from Bhutan (Druk Yul) came and meditated here. Learning about his powers, people slowly started visiting him, but only the blessed could do so. Finally when he left, it is believed that he hid all the treasures in the two small lakes at the top, which he left to two large King Cobras to guard them. Hence, the name Nagi Pokhari, pokhari meaning lake. Realising the importance of the area, since last year the local tourism committee started with the “Nagi Pokhari Tourism & Organic Festival”. This year again the Festival is starting on 31st of December, 2015 and will be there for 03 days.
The other places of interest would be the Holy cave of the Lepchas, Palitam. The local agriculture office offers interesting hands-on training in organic farming from 03 days to 02 weeks duration. The bamboo craft and candle making groups from the area has created sensation in Sikkim with their skills. For Birdwatchers, this is paradise, especially from the river beds of Rangit to the top of Nagi, which is 6000 feet plus, the Kitam Bird Sanctuary is a part. A very rare, but interesting trek routes exists between Namthang to Tendong Hill. Magajung, the place known for the historic war is a natural hub. The Ghanti Dara, the Samten Choeling Lepcha monastery, the tiny hamlet of Phongla and above all the culture of the people can be explored at Namthang. The Tamang Dance from Maniram has earned a name for themselves, nationally. The best part of the Namthang experience is that the only kinds of accommodation are Homestays with the local people.
Namchi is a deep rooted part of my journey, as my first exploration of Sikkim in Help Tourism, started with Nature Study and Adventure Camps for school children, where there were 02 National camps held at Namchi and 02 at Karfecter, near Namchi. The only accommodation at Namchi then was the Youth Hostel with a soccer ground beside it. A beautiful trek route, nature trail and rock-climbing site was found for the campers. The then tiny Bazaar or market place was on the other side and there was hardly of any need. Today it almost seems to be of the size of the Jorethang Bazaar or market and the places of interest developed around are some of the replicas of the most important Shiva temples of India, known as Char Dhaam (the four Holy Shrines of Lord Shiva).
Guru Rimpoche, popularly known as Guru Padmasambhava, the great soul who sowed the seed of Buddhism in the high Himalayan and Tibetan plateau region has been put as a high statue (118 feet tall) in the sky as Samdruptse. Not very far away, about 03 kms from the junction of Damthang is the Indian Himalayan Centre for Adventure and Ecotourism (IHCAE) of Chemchey. Within half an hour drive from Chemchey is Ravangla, which now houses the world famous Tathagath Sthal or Buddha Park. The best part about Namchi is that she has evolved as one of largest Convention centres in East Himalaya, with some of the finest accommodating hotels, natural eco-resorts along with authentic Homestays. The journey can continue to the only tea estate of Sikkim, Temi or to Ralong and Borong. But I still need to explore the route from South to North Sikkim...