Thursday, November 4, 2010

Day 34 - In Gangtok

Mother Nature is amazing. The artist in her is unmatched. No photographer, no painter, no story teller can ever fully capture the wondrous beauty of Nature. What the eye and the mind see and experience is unique – paper and canvas are unequal to the task of translating that. This morning I was witness to a ‘show’ that Nature put on, exclusively for me I think. I had visited Gangtok exactly two years back with my son. All the seven days that we stayed there, the clouds ‘protected’ the view of the Khangchendzonga from us. We were not fully disappointed, for she ‘revealed’ herself to us in Pelling on the last day of our stay in the wonderful Himalayan State.
Last evening the caretaker of the GH had asked me if I would like to see the sun waking up the mountain range. Even though I was absolutely tired and a few extra hours in bed wouldn’t hurt, I asked to be woken in time for the ‘grand show’. For three hours, starting 5.15 am, I had the opportunity to see the ‘passage of time’ over the Khangchendzonga and other mountains in the range. The ‘show’ was nothing short of spectacular. The Khangchendzonga can be seen in three hues – blue, a reflection of the sky, golden orange, when the sun’s rays fall on the mountain and pure white, the color of the snow. The changeover of these hues is what the show is all about. From the slight blue tinge, the top of the mountain gets a small ‘red nose’ – one wonders if the ‘red nose’ is the mountains’ way of feeling a child like shame when the blanket of the sky is lifted off and it is bathed in the golden orange hues of the sun. From then on the golden orange fills the mountain rather rapidly and stays there for a while. Slowly the sun moves on, probably to cast its magic show on other mountains and ranges for people in other parts of this land to see and enjoy her great show. By 8.30 am the entire range was enveloped in thick clouds and it remained that way for the rest of the day. Whichever way one looks at it, the magnificence of the ‘show’ can never be described in any manner befitting it. What was most appealing is the fact that the entire episode could be enjoyed from the GH where I was staying. I know who to thank for this and I will.
Many cups of tea and three aloo parathas later I decided to brave the water for a bath. It is quite cold in Gangtok during late evening and early morning, naturally with snowfall in the mountains. The first stop was at the office of the Director, Fire Services to take the testimony of my visit to Gangtok, which was provided by Mani Pradhan, the Deputy Fire Officer.
What strikes you first as you drive around Gangtok is the fact that the Police Department means business when it comes to traffic management. The streets are narrow and vehicle density has leapfrogged in the past few years. Hence, enforcing discipline and efficiently implementing the traffic rules are what the traffic police men and women (33% of government jobs are strictly reserved for women) go about doing – and they do it extremely well, without being rude and offensive. One cannot find a vehicle being wrongly parked or obstructing the flow of traffic. Honking is an offence and sign boards at regular intervals remind you of that. In fact, at a busy road I found a policeman directing traffic holding a “Blow No Horn” sign. Kudos to the Traffic Police of Gangtok; they do a remarkable job.
Gangtok must be the greenest and the prettiest Indian city and most definitely it outshines the rest of the capitals with its thick green cover and flowers everywhere. Gangtok has been modernized without any compromising the bounty Nature has showered on her. A walk on the Bhanupath and the MG Road will confirm what I have said. You can actually hear the crickets and the birds in a melodious rhapsody, perhaps a jungle jugalbandhi. Not far back, the MG Road was a crowded and busy market place. A decision was taken by the political and bureaucratic administrators to improve the Road. They gradually made it a no parking zone, then a no drive zone and finally banned all modes of transport. It is not as if the implementation process was smooth. There were protests by the traders who feared that their businesses would be compromised. They were all overcome. The MG Road of today is a picture postcard location with a European setting, complete with shops, entertainment, pretty garden in the median, paved walkways, benches to relax and garbage bins. And the traders have found their businesses flourishing, as tourists and locals frequent this area now. (This is the ‘model’ to implement in Broadway, Kochi). The transformation of MG Road and the efficient administration of the city go to prove that a combination of political and bureaucratic will is a sine qua non for improving the living conditions of the citizen. After all Sikkim is a State in India and Indians rule and administer this part of our country too. Why can’t we replicate this story in the rest of the country? A senior officer of the Sikkim government told me that when it comes to law enforcement there are no favorites – the MLA, the Officer’s son, the taxi driver are all equal; if at all, the bigger the fish the more serious the case. This builds confidence in the citizenry and being a law abiding member of the society is not a liability and a joke.
The third thing remarkable about Gangtok is the cleanliness. No garbage can be seen anywhere. Again warnings are everywhere reminding the citizen of severe action in case of violating the ‘no dumping garbage’ boards. The streets are clean; nobody throws even a piece of paper on the road. Plastic waste does not clog the drains and the use of paper bags is actively encouraged by the administration. There are garbage bins almost everywhere. The local administration makes sure that the garbage removal and disposal is undertaken efficiently and deterrent action is initiated against offenders. You do not find people relieving themselves in full public gaze or spitting as if there is no tomorrow. Civic consciousness is very high and they pride themselves about it too.
The Lal Bazaar is a must visit in Gangtok. Fresh vegetables, fruits, flowers, utensils, clothes, shoes, everything one needs for the kitchen are all there. Name the brand and you will most likely lay your hands on a fantastic bargain. The market is crowded most of the time and was more so today with last minute festival shopping in full swing. The market does not give off the usual stink of the market place. It has ‘pay and use’ toilets on every floor.
The only unfinished item on the day’s agenda was a haircut. That was accomplished near the Lal Bazaar in a conventional ‘barber shop’. Prem Kumar, from Bihar, did a no fuss job in 15 minutes. He kept on insisting that I should have a shave too and seemed genuinely upset when I turned down his requests. For Rs. 30 Prem Kumar did a reasonably good job. I did not think twice about tipping him one third the amount.
By 5.30 pm it was dark; probably the reason why the government offices work 10 to 4, 6 days a week.  All in all, what one sees in Gangtok and Sikkim is the presence of good governance and a ‘motivated’ citizenry. Maybe, just maybe, a good place to relocate to!

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