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iXiGOers Dec 09 2012

What is the history and culture of Gangtok?

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Sikkim is one of the most popular tourist destinations not just in Northeast India but also in the country as a whole. Hills seem to tell a story of their own, and the likes of us are ever curious and wondering as to what lies on the other side of these hills. This picturesque hilly region too has a very interesting history flowing in its throes. Let us then hear the story of Gangtok.

  • The early history records of Gangtok are missing from the historical anthologies. So, the early period of Sikkim remains in dark till the establishment of the hermitic Gangtok monastery in 1716.
  • The Enchey Monastery was constructed in 1840 in Sikkim, and this transformed the place into a major Buddhist pilgrimage. It is one of the most popular places to visit in Gangtok. The English happened to conquer Sikkim in the mid-nineteenth century, and the then monarch, Thutob Namgyal under the British, went on to replace Tumlong with Gangtok as the capital of Sikkim.
    The British then went on to defeat the Tibetans, thereby opening the trade route between Lhasa (Tibet) and Calcutta (India).
  • Post-Independence, Sikkim chose to retain its sovereignty as an independent State, under a treaty signed between Chogyal, the monarch of Sikkim and the Indian PM, Jawaharlal Nehru. The Nathula and Jelepia passes were the chief trading passages between Tibet and India then. However, the passes were sealed after the Sino-Indian war in 1962.

    By 1975, the political uncertainty and internal disturbances had increased so much that monarchy was abolished and Sikkim finally acceded to become India's twenty second independent State.
    Owing to its precarious geographical location (it lies at the lower Himalayas), Gangtok suffers landslides annually, that causes loss of both life and property.

    One recent disaster, whose memory must be still fresh in our minds, is the earthquake that struck Gangtok on September 18th, 2011, its epicentre being the Kanchenjunga Biosphere, about 40 miles from Gangtok. The tragedy claimed 12 lives in Gangtok.

    Significantly, various cultural and religious ethos flourish side by side in Gangtok. The different ethnicities such as Lepchas, Bhutias, Indian-Nepalis, etc thrive amicably here. The Tibetan Buddhist culture and learning occupy a major place in Gangtok.

    While on the one hand, Gangtok is impressively modernised, what with its world-class education institutions, hospitals, fast-food courts and other modern amenities locals, and infrastructure needs, Gangtok people have not yet forgotten their ancient, native customs and traditions.

    With a rich cultural and geographical heritage, such as this, it comes as no surprise that the hospitality industry is the most important economic industry here. Moreover, in the recent years, Ecotourism, which includes river-rafting, trekking, etc, has emerged as a new and popular economic avenue among the people of Gangtok.

    Phew! It's a lot of information to be digested in one go. But, you are a curious traveller; you can, we are sure.
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Ashish Kumar Aug 07 2014
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