By Bhaichung Bhutia
The Indian soccer star writes on his home state Sikkim
I was maybe five when I was shifted to a boarding school called Tashi Namgyal Academy in Gangtok, Sikkim. Naturally, I was apprehensive and afraid as it was for the first time that I was away from my parents. I come from a very small village called Tinkitam (South Sikkim) which is about three hours away from Gangtok, Sikkim’s capital. Locating it on the atlas would definitely require a magnifying glass. The place is virtually cut off from the satellite world. Telephones, cable networks or even the cacophony of vehicles are yet to make any inroad in this sleepy hamlet at the foothills of Kanchenjunga.
Home is where the holiday is
Being in the boarding school, of course, was a learning experience. We didn’t get much opportunity to travel beyond the boundaries of the school, but then I picked up football and the chance to go beyond the campus came in the form of inter school tournaments.
But home is where the heart is and I looked forward to going home during vacations. As there were no proper roads and transportation, this meant walking 18-20 km uphill. Now, of course, roads are in place and a lot of soccer crazy tourists from Kolkata who visit Ravong, a tourist destination nearby, make it a point to visit my village. They want to see where I spent my childhood. Now only my parents live there, my siblings are scattered elsewhere.
Yes, that’s my dream for Sikkim
We are an agricultural family, more like landlords. We are into cardamom and ginger cultivation. My village is extremely beautiful and I have big dreams of making it a hot tourist spot in every traveller’s itinerary. I would really like to develop a village resort there, some kind of a home stay programme. But this will take some time.
Indeed, the government of Sikkim has done a great job in placing Sikkim in the tourist map. But there is still a lot of work to be done. Because of heavy monsoon, our roads are constantly suffering from wear and tear. We also need bigger, broader roads – during the recent earthquake, it was difficult to carry out rescue operations in the remote interiors. The central government also can help.
No sleeping beauty, this Gangtok
If you were thinking, Sikkim is sleepy, there is a lot youngsters can do here. This is where you can go trekking and river rafting. I myself, however, haven’t got the chance to do a lot of it. I have been away from my state for more than 18 years and everytime I visited Gangtok, it was more about spending time with my family: My parents, wife and the kids. But now that I have shifted base to Gangtok, I intend to do these often.
Don’t get carried away while gambling
Gangtok also offers a number of bars and lounges and I particularly like visiting one called Little Italy for its live music. You can also visit casinos in Gangtok. There are two of them. One is called Mahjong, the other is called Casino Sikkim. And while gambling, don’t get carried away. Be in control – that’s my advice.
As for shopping, Sikkim may not be the right place, but sure do pick up handicraft, hand paintings, etc. Make Gangtok your base and visit those beautiful lakes around. Gangtok itself has a number of monasteries and waterfalls. But remember, while there, do not litter. We are a very green and clean state and we would like to keep it that way. Also respect the local culture.
Tanzania on my bucket list
As for holidays outside the state, I have enjoyed trekking in Ladakh. And off shore, my most memorable holiday was in Barcelona. This was largely because of the weather. When I visited, it was summer. My future itinerary will include lot of wildlife safaris. I would particularly like to visit Tanzania, but that will have to wait till my three kids (two if them are twins) grow older.