Ban Jhakri Falls is a symbol of the pluralism in Sikkim’s cultural inheritance. Nepalese is the lingua franca of Sikkim though the population is a variegated mixture of Lepchas, Bhutias, Nepalese, and a few others, the Nepalese constituting about seventy percent. I found myself conversing freely in Hindi with the people; their Hindi was as good as mine. English doesn’t work in most places.
A beautiful park has been constructed near the Ban Jhakri Falls (4 km from Gangtok on the way to Lingdum monastery, more popularly known as Ranka monastery) with a Shamanistic theme. The word jhakri means Shaman, and ban probably has its roots in the Tibetan word bon which refers to the early Tibetan form of Shamanism. Many of the healing practices of Buddhism and Hinduism were employed by the Ban Jhakri, or the Sikkimese Shamans. In short, standing in the Ban Jhakri park you will be reminded of the Nepalese, Tibetan and Hindu cultures and religions.
There is also a fun and adventure park being constructed near the Ban Jhakri Falls.
Our local sightseeing which started at 9 in the morning with visits to the Buddhist monasteries (please see the previous post) ended in the evening with visits to two Hindu temples: Ganesh Tok and Hanuman Tok. Ganesh Tok is a very small temple perched atop a hillock on the Gangtok-Nathula road. One can get a panoramic view of the Gangtok town as well as the Khangchendzonga Peak [the third highest peak in the world] if the day is clear. We missed that view due to the mists that had risen in the evening. [But we were extremely lucky in Darjeeling from where we got a very clear view of the peak for a short while before the silver clouds came wafting along.]
Hanuman Tok is not far from Ganesh Tok. Situated atop another hillock, the temple premises too provide panoramic views of the capital town and the third highest peak in the world. The temple is maintained by the Indian Army and the premises are spick and span. Of course, we did not see any place during our sightseeing that was not kept shipshape.
There is a perennial flower show near Gangtok. Varieties of colourful flowers nod their heads happily welcoming you and filling your hearts with the colours of joy.
Our local sightseeing came to an end, almost anticlimactically, with a visit to the Bakthang Falls. It’s a beautiful cascade whose sparkling waters tumble over granite rocks whose interstices are strewn with lush green vegetation. The waterfall provides a unique sight in that it appears as if water is running through a assortment of trees and plants. Yet it was anticlimactic for us because the waterfall is just on the side of the Gangtok-Nathula road and very close to the town. You have no place to sit and relish the beauty of the place. You just have to stand on the roadside and watch it while vehicles go honking behind you.
From the temples dedicated to Ganesh and Hanuman we had proceeded to the Tashi viewpoint, a peak which provides a complete view of Gangtok town and its farther reaches in addition to the Khangchendzonga Peak. We were unlucky due to the mists which stole our view. When I asked for two tickets to the view tower the lady at the counter told me: “I can give you the tickets, but all you’ll see is the mist which you can see from here too.” Tourism in Sikkim is more than a commercial enterprise for the Sikkim Tourism Department, I thought. Instead of going up the tower to see the mist, Maggie and I went through the souvenirs kept for sale and contented ourselves with a gracefully framed artwork.
And in the evening, when the twilight fades into the mists beyond the mountains, take a walk on the M.G. Marg at the heart of Gangtok town. There is no traffic on this exquisitely tessellated road both of whose sides have shops and eateries for all kinds of people. In the middle of the road is an almost end-to-end stretch of benches for people to sit and relax. You can sit on one of those benches and watch the vast variety of people, mostly tourists, sauntering along with a serenity that’s unusual in cities. That serenity is the spirit of Gangtok. The blend of cultures you witness on the M.G. Marg is the spirit of Ban Jhakri.
This is the second part of my travelogue on Gangtok. The next and the last post on our Sikkim tour will be on our visit to Kupup at an altitude of about 16000 feet on the Indo-China border.
For the photographs, please log on to: www.matheikal.blogspot.com