Reaching the End of the World in Sikkim
We have reached the end of the world—or so it feels. After this village, the road stops for vehicles and if you want to travel deeper into Sikkim, you have to walk. However, we are visiting Yuksom during the monsoon, which comes with zillions of leeches. Freaked out as I get by these innocent but yucky-looking creatures, my partner Coen and I do very little hiking these days.
Yuksom is a peaceful hamlet with a few houses, a muddy path, and a couple of gompas. People are gentle and greet us with smiles and friendly namastes.
Small as the village is, it has more than enough to keep us happy and occupied for a day or two. For one, there are small animals to admire: stick insects, colorful butterflies, millions of fireflies lighting the night sky, and free concerts of screaming and croaking frogs. In Yuksom, you will always have company of some sort.
Views and animal life aside, this is a good place to dig into some of Sikkim’s history and religious life. In the 17th century, the first king of Yuksom was crowned here by three lamas (in fact, Yuksom means ‘three lamas’). Until 1975 Sikkim was an independent kingdom but it was too weak to sustain itself, and after India’s independence (1947) it became a puppet state. In 1975 the king was expelled — whether instigated by Sikkim’s people or India is not entirely clear — and after a referendum, Sikkim became an Indian state.
The ruins of the old throne are still in Yuksom, and we find them surrounded by prayer flags, stupas and a temple. As we enter the dark place of worship, women are praying. We want to turn around and leave, so as not to disturb them. However, one of the women signals to us to sit down. I cross my legs on a thick cushion next to two women who don’t speak English, but Coen is lucky enough to get seated next to a monk, who does speak English. We learn that these women are over 50 years old, no longer have great responsibilities at home (such as taking care of children) and come here three times a month to worship, as well as catch up on gossip.
We are served salty butter tea while the women continue their prayers by turning their small prayer wheels and keeping count on rosary beads. One of the women stands up and distributes grains of rice, including to us. We follow their example and hold them in our hands while folding our hands in prayer. The women stand up, fold their hands before their heads, lower them before their breasts, kneel and touch the floor with their forehead. It’s a ritual they repeat a number of times.
When the prayer session is finished we try say our goodbyes but are interrupted. We should join them for lunch, the women say. Together, we share a tasty meal of rice, potato and cheese with chili, and we communicate with sign-language.
After this social gathering we continue on our walk around the village, and do justice to the other beautiful gompas of Yuksom, the end of the world in India.