In the book Sikkim: Requiem for a Himalayan Kingdom which I read a couple of weeks ago, the author, Andrew Duff, mentioned a couple of articles about Sikkim which appeared in the 1963 edition of National Geographic. Without much hope of there being a copy in the local library, I asked anyway, and was told that the Edinburgh Central Library would have a copy.
So I went there – the first time for several years – and asked at the reference desk. The librarian was actually wearing a National Geographic sweatshirt, which I took to be a very good sign, and I could see that the most recent issues of National Geographic were on a shelf behind the desk, so things looked promising. But the librarian could not find the 1960s issues anywhere, and explained that they’d been doing some moving around of stock. She suggested I try at the National Library, across the road.
The National Library has changed quite a bit since I last went there to research some reference books I was writing reviews of, for Reference Reviews. It now has a bright and busy entrance area, with a cafe, interesting books on sale, three TV screens and various types of tables at which to sit. I had to register, get my photo taken (one of the worst photos ever, as I was peering at the camera at the time), and get a membership card. They don’t allow bags or outdoor jackets (or pens) in the Reading Room, so I used the available lockers, and then went upstairs. The chap on the main entrance had been really helpful, and the librarian upstairs was extremely helpful and filled out a request card for the National Geographic. The librarian on the counter said that she’d fax the request to the Causewayside Building, that vans delivered material from there each hour, and that my request should be available in the Reading Room by 3.30 pm.
This gave me the chance to sample the cafe downstairs, where I had a coffee and a caramel shortbread. The caramel shortbread was awesome! It was quite the best of its type that I’ve ever tasted, and it only cost £1.50. Unfortunately, the National Geographic 1963 volume hadn’t appeared by 3.30 pm and I had to wait until 4.30 for the next delivery.
I then spent a most enjoyable hour flicking through the 1963 issues and reading both articles about Sikkim in depth. Old National Geographics can really give you a feeling for things as they were, in those days. Kennedy was still alive, and featured in a couple of items. The articles on Sikkim referred to ‘the Reds’ as having invaded Tibet, and that the Chinese were, at the time, massing on the border between Tibet and Sikkim. The second Sikkim article was about the wedding of Prince Palden Gyurmed Namgyal to Hope Cooke. In 1963 there were less than 200,000 people living in Sikkim, and the only tarred road stopped at Gangtok. There were photos of various lamas in the articles.
Later on, I found a film about Sikkim, made in 1971, on YouTube. According to Wikipedia, this film was banned by the government of India, when Sikkim merged with India in 1975. The film is worth watching.
As I mentioned the other day, since I finished Sikkim: Requiem for a Himalayan Kingdom, I’ve been reading In Search of Shambhala, by Elaine Brook. This is about her travels, mostly in Nepal but she starts the first trip in Sikkim. The mysterious Hidden Valleys in the Himalayas that she mentions several times are, more or less, valleys of the mind. In the final chapters of her book she explains how she went on a six-week meditation retreat. She quickly suffers from an internal Ma̋ra – her mind cannot settle for a while.
Fat Mac is currently in a similar situation, being on an extended detox retreat in preparation for our forthcoming trip to Rumtek, and he is also suffering the ma̋ra. He’d probably really enjoy Elaine Brook’s book, as it features various lamas, Rinpoches, dakinis, bliss, meditation caves and so on. It has a Foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. On page 174, Brook writes about meeting the head of the Serchans on a trek to Lo. The Serchan, on hearing that Brook came from England, asked her if she knows ‘David’. She is about to dismiss this question as naive when she realises that he means David Snellgrove, the author of Himalayan Pilgrimage, who had been in the same area some years before.
By a strange coincidence, Snellgrove’s book was on my bedside cabinet. Some time ago I looked out all my unread books on the Himalaya. So, after I’ve finished In Search of Shambhala I’ll start Himalayan Pilgrimage.
In May 2012 I was blessed by a monk at Ganden Sumtseling Gompa, which I found to be a spiritual experience. That whole trip, especially the unplanned visit to the Dhondrupling Gompa, and the lunch in the Tibetan house, was wonderful. I can only hope that the trip to Sikkim will be something similar. However, I have my doubts whether Fat Mac will manage to negotiate the various web sites and get a visa for India.
Another coincidence – as a result of booking the Sikkim trip through Exodus, today a copy of the latest issue of National Geographic arrived in the post.