Greetings from central Lingee, in Southern Sikkim. Today was my first day at my homestay here. Safe to say, I have reached nirvana and am in a state of absolute bliss. Himalayan mountain-scape, living breathing and pulsing rainforest, and a family that DOESN’T SPEAK ENGLISH!!!! Wawhoo!!! I’ve been frustrated since arriving in India at how many people speak English, making my acquisition of Hindi fluency truly impossible. I already know more in Lepcha, one local dialect, than I had learned in three weeks in Jaipur. Let me just jump into what I did today.
I woke up around 530 and went for a jog (a mountain ascent tour more like) with Neemchang around 6. Neemchang is my host brother. He goes to university in Gangtok and is studying to be a physical education teacher. He’s about 22 years old. We stopped at the Russian Orthodox Church and on the way down, stopped at Elfanz’s house, where my coordinators eventually gathered. Elfanz’s family made me chai, which was followed by different sizes and flavors of guava (based on the various trees each fruit was picked from), cardamom, a tomato from a tomato tree (yes tomato trees do exist and yes the ‘matos are better than your finest heirloom). Elfanz’s sister in law was singing and dancing with the many flowers in front of the house. Neemchang went to the kitchen as I sat with Elfanz and the other advisors, going through a book about Sikkim and talking about Lepcha.
We returned from Alfanz’s house around 10 and I was fed a huge bowl of the most delicious rice, dal, and vegetables I have ever had (440% certified organic). Then I helped Phudoma peel the skin off huge buk veggies. Phudoma is the Bonthing’s daughter (My project is on the shamanic practices of Lepcha mun and bonthing). Phudoma is 23 years old and just graduated university studying political science. Buk is a tuber that I later found out tastes like starchy buttery organic matter. Nothing better. Good thing I had so much energy, because we went to the sacred cave after. This cave is up up up up the mountain. I learned from Neemchang and Phudoma that the paved roads on which many taxis fly to and from Gantok (the capitol of Sikkim) and other big villages were just put into Lingee three years ago. Before this everyone walked everywhere. Up and down steep stairs to school, to your families’ house, to Gangtok (which is about a 3 hour drive). We saw an oxen plow being put onto oxen and a field being tilled, we passed a very old monastery that was locked and had been damaged in an earthquake. We eventually got to the cave. We came upon what was titled “doorway”, which is said to lead to the mouth of a cave in West or North Sikkim, but in the earthquake the passage way was blocked. We walked clockwise around an ancient stone monument with Tibetan script carved into stone, before continueing to the actual enterance that is used by people today. We shimmied between two huge rock faces using a root for balance, as if the root was created as a rope for cave worshipers. We got to a hole covered by metal gate type thing which Neemchane removed and explained you must have a bright light and when you climb down the ladder you must shimmy along the ground until you get to a huge open area. There is a stilagtite that stops those with negative energy from going further. We didn’t go inside because we had no light. We began walking down the stairs to the paved road which we continued to walk down. We passed many people, some called Rye people, who are of a different caste than Lepcha. We passed some Rye people building a protestant church. Neemchange emphasized on multiple occasions that the Christians accept the Christian Doctrine blindly without understanding of the roots of Christianity.
I saw a photograph of a bridge made from a few shoots of bamboo river a rushing river in Elphanz’s book, and Elphanz told me that bridge was within an hours walk. I asked Neemchang and Phudoma if we could go to the bridge, and despite the fact we had already been hiking for about 2 hours, they were happy to adventure further. Our journey took us off road and onto a jungle path, a trail that wraps around the mountain. Along the way we passed people carrying baskets of grasses, firewood, cardemon, strapped to their foreheads and resting on their backs. This trail is the only way to reach a village situated on an adjacent mountain. If people from that village want to come to market they must walk half a day, across the bamboo bridge and on this trail to reach Lingee, the small town in which I am staying. As we walked we laughed and talked easily, going downhill until we reached the bamboo bridge after about an hour.