Landing in Sikkim, 1983

S Balakrishnan *

 A Tourism Folder of Sikkim in 1983
A Tourism Folder of Sikkim in 1983

''That's one small step for a man but NOT a giant leap for mankind." I muttered this as I stepped on the soil of Sikkim, slightly altering the famous quote of Neil Armstrong when he landed on the moon in July 1969. As a first timer to the Himalayan State of Sikkim maybe I was as nervous as Armstrong was.

When I gingerly stepped out of the Sikkim Nationalised Transport (SNT) bus on 13 May 1983, it was late afternoon, almost evening. I thanked all the innumerable Pantheons of both Hinduism and Buddhism for the safe but giddying 5½ hours road journey from Siliguri to Gangtok.

The narrow, winding ghat road had a ferociously running river as its companion throughout – either on the right or the left, which was really scary! That was River Teesta, I learnt later. There was no hold up due to landslips or rolling stones; of course, these would have been unique experiences for a newcomer but maybe not during a nervous first journey.

The river wasn’t as mighty as the Mahanadi River of Orissa (Odisha) from where I had been transferred but it was roaring down towards the plains. The greenery all along was refreshing as the monsoon had already started.

It was my first sight of the mighty Himalayan range. I had not crossed beyond the borders of Orissa (now Odisha). I was excited when I saw a suspension bridge for the first time; the bus slowly moved across it while the river roared down.

As I stepped out of the rickety SNT bus at Gangtok bus-stand it started drizzling as if divinity was welcoming me to Sikkim. The tiny bus stand of Gangtok was then situated below the Tourism Centre, near STNM Hospital. It took some time to unload my luggage of a steel trunk and a hold-all from the top of the bus, covered safely with tarpaulin sheet.

The canvas hold-all could be a thing of the past these days; maybe the military people still use it. You could stuff anything and everything in it. The steel trunk came with my mother when she got married in 1952; so it has her name ‘Parvatham’ painted on the top.

It accompanied me in 1978 in the sea voyage to join my first posting in Port Blair (Andamans). And it is still with me in the loft stuffed with antiques/curios, while it is by itself a 71-year-old antique item.

 A Tourism Folder of Sikkim in 1983
A Tourism Folder of Sikkim in 1983

Well, my next mission was to locate my office ‘Press Information Bureau’ (PIB) that was located within Raj Bhawan complex. I should join before sun set. With no Google map then, I had no option but to rely on a taxi. One of the ubiquitous white-coloured Fiat (Premier Padmini) taxi promptly dumped me at the Zero Point gate of Raj Bhawan complex.

The CRPF security men there refused permission for the taxi to proceed further despite my explanations. But they were kind enough to permit me to dump my luggage at their booth itself. I slowly trudged along the upwards path enjoying the greenery on the way– the long ferns, soft moss on the rocks, and a miniature waterfall (which, I later learnt, was actually dirty water!

Thank goodness, I did not play in it!). PIB was then temporarily functioning in the indoor game hall of Raj Bhavan, cramped in just two rooms; it was due to the efforts of the then Governor, Homi J.H. Taleyarkhan, that PIB was opened in Sikkim. So he had magnanimously allowed it to function from Raj Bhavan. Taleyarkhan was known as a publicity seeker.

I successfully joined my duty before Friday ended because it was second Saturday the next day and the office would remain closed. The next problem was my accommodation. For the time being it was decided that I could stay with my Bengali colleagues who had hired a portion in a building behind Sher-E-Punjab Hotel. A load man was hired to carry my steel trunk and hold-all to that area. My life in Sikkim had begun.

I simply had no idea about Sikkim when I was transferred from Cuttack. I was then on leave in Madras (Chennai). Of course I knew I would be transferred, because I was occupying the post of a person who was on deputation in another post in that same office. That person, Mr. B.B. Jena, being an Odia, naturally wanted to retain his original post and was already on a secret mission to move me out.

I loved seeing new places so I was only wondering if it would be Calcutta or some N-E State (Sikkim then did not come under N-E States). So it was surprise and not shock when I was posted to Gangtok. The only detail I had on Sikkim was that it merged with India during Indira Gandhi’s tenure as Prime Minister.

With no internet then, I went to the India Tourism Office on Mount Road (now renamed Anna Salai) and got two folders - “Sikkim” and “Festivals and Festivities of Sikkim” - to gain some knowledge about my new place of posting. Going through them I was very excited and keen to reach Sikkim. I still preserve these two folders.

May was perhaps the right month to get acclimatized to Gangtok’s winter that peaks during November to February. Gangtok’s pleasant May was so soothing from the scorching summer of the plains (Madras/Cuttack).

 A Tourism Folder of Sikkim in 1983
A Tourism Folder of Sikkim in 1983

But as the bus approached Gangtok, the sight of high-rise buildings dangerously clinging to the hill slopes was a great shock to me. It shattered my imagination of a rustic Gangtok of single-storied wooden houses with tin roof and beautiful garden around.

I had hoped to rent such a house and tend its garden. Yes, tin roofed they were but five-storied concrete structures; and more and more were coming up. How else do we define development?

Looking back 40 years later, I can happily say that my 5 ¼ years stay in Sikkim was a richly rewarding one except that my dream of becoming Sikkim’s bridegroom did not materialise. Neither any Sikkimese beauty proposed nor had I the courage to propose even to one! Well, well, my better half is peeping over my shoulder.

* S Balakrishnan wrote this article for
The writer is from Chennai and can be reached at krishnanbala2004(AT)yahoo(DOT)co(DOT)in
This article was webcasted on May 19 2023.

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