“Just live clean”: how in the Indian state of Sikkim they learned to take care of nature for universal harmony

Trash-free streets, tap water, organic food. And all this in India with its unsanitary conditions. The people of Sikkim say: “We are the healthiest and happiest in the country because we are clean”

— Prepare your entry permit. We are on the border of India and Sikkim,  – the driver informs.

Only those foreigners who, in addition to the Indian visa, have a special pass stamped by the state immigration department are allowed into the territory of Sikkim. Sikkim has long been an independent kingdom, and its inhabitants are accustomed to taking care of security themselves. And also about cleanliness, which ignorant tourists will definitely not maintain.

First of all, ads in English are designed for them, strangers. “Sikkim – clean and green”, “Throw garbage in the bins” – I read on the wall of the checkpoint. And here is a green urn with a large inscription in bright yellow paint: “Use me.”

Sikkimese Police and Gangtok Municipal Corporation (GMC)fine anyone who pollutes the state. Smoke on the street – 200 rupees. You leave plastic bags and other “inorganic” items anywhere – 1000-2000 rupees (in each case, law enforcement officials determine the degree of “inorganic” garbage). Celebrating a small need on the street – 500 rupees. There are toilets. On the turns of the Himalayan serpentine here and there there are booths with poorly closing doors and a banal “point”. Some are right on the edge of a cliff, over an abyss or a waterfall. Everything flies away.

The inhabitants of Sikkim stand up for purity, not only external, but also internal. They are proud of their Tibetan origin, consider themselves close to the Buddha, and therefore “especially pure.” Every tribe in Sikkim wholeheartedly supports the government's organic program, the Sikkim Organic Mission. In particular, he regularly arranges educational eco-festivals. I visited the Zero Garbage Festival in the Himalayas, which is held by the Sherpa community in the village of Okkhari.

No bottles and electricity

Above the abyss, at an altitude of almost 2000 m, there are trays and stalls made of bast, similar to huge baskets. They sell cotton T-shirts with the slogan of the festival and roots “from seven ailments.”

— What hurts you? Knee? Have you walked in the Himalayas? Take viscum articulatum, mistletoe. Brew with boiling water and drink,” the seller advises.

Women in colorful robes and striped silk aprons dance around the stalls. From behind the hill, from time to time, two dancers jump out under a cape, to which the rag head of the “snow lion” is sewn. This animal is the protector of the Buddha, a symbol of Tibet and the Himalayan nature, which the Sikkimese are saving from pollution.

Posters everywhere, reminiscent of school wall newspapers, with photographs of Sikkim nature reserves, dustbins and handwritten signatures: “We will comb every bush, find the garbage and throw it away”, “Organic garbage can be recycled”, “The main evil  is plastic bottles. They don't decompose. Drink filtered tap water.”

Plastic utensils are not welcome in the state. Electricity is also evil. Power plants pollute the air, disrupt the ecosystem. Conscious Sikkimese save energy.

At a guesthouse in Okhari, the lights occasionally go out unexpectedly, leaving a room with simple furnishings and a poster of Sikkim's Birds Views plunged into pitch darkness. The air temperature is about zero, and the room is without heating. After waiting for electricity, I run to the boiler to turn on hot water and warm the room at least a little. But after five minutes, the device automatically cuts down. Of course, this time is more than enough to fill the pelvis. And the Sherpa does not need another. Putting on a turtleneck, sweater and jacket, I crawl under three blankets. Alas, I still can’t get warm, and I go out into the street with a lantern to look for one of the owners.

— Are you cold? It’s not cold yet?.. – the owner’s son Baichun, a boy of about 14 years old, is surprised. He is in a thin T-shirt with the inscription “I love Okkhari”. – Well, let’s go to our canteen then – drink tea.

«Just live clean": how the Indian state of Sikkim learned to take care of nature for universal harmony

The canteen is located in a low wooden building that looks like a hut. On the table there is a thermos with Tibetan tea: with milk and salt.

“Gives energy,” Baichun explains.

“The Sikkimese occupy their thoughts with nothing but prayer and work. Early in the morning, with large baskets on our backs, we go to the forest to collect fallen leaves. It takes half a day to collect. We stack the leaves in a pile to make organic fertilizer for potatoes. At this altitude, nothing survives except rice and potatoes. There is also wild rhododendron growing. From its flowers we make wine. It's good to drink before bed.

Baichun places tin bowls of stewed potatoes and boiled rice and a glass bottle of pink liquid on the table. I'm tasting wine. Reminds me of compote. There is hardly a gram of alcohol in this drink. One of the five precepts of Buddhism is “do not take substances that cloud the mind.” The mind must remain clear.

Phantom of the Kingdom

According to legend, in the 8th century, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, Guru Rinpoche, visited Sikkim, blessed the country and predicted the proclamation of a monarchy in it in several centuries. In 1642, Sikkim became a kingdom. The habit of hiding from the world arose due to constant wars with Bhutan and Nepal, which encroached on the territory of Sikkim.

Unable to cope with self-defense, in 1861 the state came under the protectorate of Great Britain, and then, in 1975, lost the status of a kingdom, becoming part of India as the 22nd state. This happened under the leadership of the then Prime Minister of Sikkim, Kazi Lhendup Dorji Khangsarpa, who was in opposition to the king (chogyal). Many subjects of the country did not want to join India. Until now, locals refuse to call themselves Indians, contrasting the state with “the rest of India”.

Spirit of the Himalayas

I am staying in the town of Kaluk, at the school teacher Onti.

“We, Lepcha, call this drink “beer in bamboo”, or “chi”, – Onti hands me a tall bamboo cup. – We make it from rice. The beer is not hoppy. The bottom line is that it is organic, and the dishes in which it is poured are also organic.

Onti, like his fellow tribesmen, lives in a house where instead of walls there are bamboo lattices through which the mountain wind blows. This design helps to continuously feel the presence of the Himalayas.

Lepcha – the indigenous people of Sikkim. According to legend, they are the first inhabitants of the Himalayas and descended from Mount Kanchenjunga.

We are drawn to the Himalayas. Do you know how we celebrate holidays? We drink “beer in bamboo” and go for a walk in the mountains. We walk three kilometers and watch the birds! – says Onti. – And our holidays are connected with nature. For example, Prayer Mount Tendong, Day of spring greenery and flowering, Harvest Day.

The best farms in Sikkim are in the hands of Lepchas. The people historically settled in the lowlands. At the foot of the mountains, nature is richer, it is warm and sunny almost all year round, and the land is fertile.

– Nature gives us rice, cardamom and ginger, guava, pineapples. And of course, cassava is a natural source of energy. We boil cassava tubers and eat them for breakfast in their pure form – without seasonings and garnish. It's healthier that way, adds Onti.

I bite into an oblong cassava root. It tastes like potatoes, but is sweeter and more fibrous. Don't eat much. However, for two weeks now I have been treated exclusively to rice, potatoes and pumpkin. Now here's also cassava.

– And, say, do you have poultry farms? Do you eat chickens at least sometimes? – I'm interested.

– Lamaism allows meat to be eaten only by those who live high in the mountains, where nothing grows. And then, if he is not a monk. We have no right to take the life of the lesser brothers. It is impossible to kill while loving nature and keeping clean at the same time.

See also

Meditation and light

Boys-monks are bustling about on a hillock near the Palyul Dechen Gaveling monastery in the settlement of Sribadam: putting a dog with two puppies to sleep in rags. One of them, naughty, the boy takes in his arms, presses to his chest and takes him to the monastery.

«Just live clean": how the Indian state of Sikkim learned to take care of nature for universal harmony

The soul must remain pure. Saving a living being is a good deed that keeps the soul pure. To kill a living being is to commit a grave sin, says the elderly guide Neelam.

I complain to him that today I tried to save a butterfly that flew into my room: I let it out the window. But for some reason, she flew down like a stone …

– It's not your fault. You did everything you could,” Neelam reassures me. – No need to accumulate negative thoughts. They, too, litter the soul.

To get rid of negative thoughts, we with Neelam go to Khecheopalri Lake. Holy lake. One reincarnated monk (he remembered that in a past life he was also a Buddhist monk) saw the footprint of the Buddha in Khecheopalri: the shape of the reservoir resembles a human foot. Now Sikkimese come here to pray.

“Mani khorlo first,” Neelam announces. Mani khorlo – prayer drum. It is supposed to be rotated clockwise. Such drums surround, like a fence, a lake area. There is also a larger copy in the local temple, from floor to ceiling: you have to walk around it. With each turn, according to the Sikkimese, there are fewer and fewer negative thoughts. I watch how Nilam circles in concentration …

– Then you need to take off your shoes: you are allowed to approach the lake only barefoot, – he says.

I step barefoot on a wooden deck, which leads to Khecheopalri. Cold: a lake in the mountains, at an altitude of 1700 meters. But the Sikkimes with spiritualized faces are walking nearby and do not even flinch. I am ashamed of my weakness. We have to patiently continue the path.

It is forbidden to talk loudly, laugh and have picnics near the lake. You can not wash your hands with lake water and drink it. You can not catch fish, which is full here. Prayer is encouraged, as well as “pure sacrifice”: to stack the stones found on the shore on top of each other. “Cleanliness is more important than freedom of action,” says a poster by the lake.

“Meditation is encouraged,” Nilam clarifies. “This is the most important thing in Lamaism. Without it, there is nothing to talk about the purity of the soul. Not necessarily by the lake. You can meditate anywhere. It is important to do this every day. Highly recommend. But you won't be able to do it right off the bat. You need to prepare, tune in.

– How?

– Firstly, you can not eat before meditation. Hungry – eat dumplings without filling, tingmomo. They symbolize the sacred emptiness that comes during meditation: the soul becomes as free from everything as these dumplings, that is, pure. Secondly, you need to choose the right position for you. I personally practice “lotus”. Buddha meditated in this pose, explains Neelam.

«Just live clean»: how the Indian state of Sikkim learned to take care of nature for universal harmony

They invented a good religion, I smile to myself. I twisted the mani khorlo, assembled a cairn, meditated – and cleansed my soul of any sin. It's like being born again. Sharing my thoughts with Neelam. He shakes his head:

— No. All these methods help to maintain the original purity of the soul, not to concentrate on the negative. And sins in Tibetan Buddhism are never forgiven. If you want your soul to remain pure, do not harm anyone, do not allow bad thoughts. Incapable of doing good – don't do anything at all. Just live clean.

India, Sikkim

Administrative center Gangtok
Area of ​​the state 7096 km2 (27th among the states of India)
Population672,000 people. (29th place)
Population density 95 people/sq. km
Official languages Nepali, English
State symbols red panda, blood pheasant, rhododendron

SIGHTSEEING Rumtek Monastery (XVI century), Buddha Park in Rawangla (the largest Buddha statue in the Himalayas), Tsongmo —a sacred glacial lake at an altitude of 3753 m.
TRADITIONAL DISHES momo dumplings with vegetable filling, wood mushroom soup.
TRADITIONAL DRINKS tea with milk and salt, fruit wine.
SOUVENIRSceramic snow lion figurines, colorful cotton tunics. p>

DISTANCEfrom Moscow to Gangtok – 5120 km (from 8 hours in flight to Bagdogra excluding transfer in Delhi, then 126 km by road)
TIME 2.5 hours ahead of Moscow
VISAin addition to an Indian visa, a special permit is required to enter Sikkim
CURRENCY Indian rupee (100 INR < /em>~ 1.2 USD)


Material published in Vokrug Sveta No. 10, October 2017, partially updated in August 2023< /em>

Katerina Mironova

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