Namprikdang Of Dzongu, North Sikkim

Namprikdang of Dzongu, the Lepcha Country of North Sikkim

What “Shangri-La” is to the world, “Mayal Layng” is to Lepcha Tribe, It is believed that good Lepchas, when they pass from this life, go and live in Mayal Layng for ever. It seems to be heaven indeed.

Namprikdang today, the bridge across to Mayel Lang Mythical Mayal Country Dzongu, cocooned in the pristine nature’s lap within the Kanchendzonga Biosphere in North Sikkim, is the reserved home of the Lepcha Tribe, original inhabitants of Dzongu Area, North Sikkim, whose ancestors are believed to be the aboriginals of the mythical Mayal Lang Country. As many other lands lost to the civilization, this land was also as pure as they come, untouched and uncorrupted by the civilization. Late Arthur Foning, a true Lepcha, has described the natural purity of North Sikkim in forties and fifties in his book, “Lepchas, my Vanishing Tribe”.

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Around the first half of the nineteenth century, British overlords, after establishing suzerainty over Sikkim, had initiated the process of establishing “Lepcha Reserve” in Dzongu; however, finally, it was only in early sixties that the late Chhogyal of Sikkim declared the area reserve for the Lepcha Community.

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Weary Travellers of Yore

In the pre history of time, in the legendary and mythical Mayal Lang country, at the foothills of the mighty Kanchendzonga and in the lap of Dzongu valley, there was a small and beautiful cradle of the nature called Namprikdang. It is believed to have been formed by fast flowing glacier fed river, Teesta. Today, Namprikdang sits at the confluence of Rangyu (Teesta River) and the hills of Dzongu. As we see it today, Namprikdang is a tiny grassy flatland oasis by the bank of the Teesta River covered by thick forest with perpetual green of willow groves. Long distance travellers of ancient times long gone by, walking long days along these jungle tracks, hiding and appearing behind the concavity of the mountains, could have found this beautiful flatland by the bank of the river as a natural resting place for the night. Those travellers would have struck camps in the last of the day light and moved about looking for firewood to make campfire. During such times, the air would have been frigid with cold and the travellers would have seen the puff of their breath in the red and purple after glow of the sun. At this very place, ancestors of today’s Lepchas would have made fire in their primitive ways with stones and flints, throwing slices of dried meat into the fire along with herbs, edible roots and plants for dinner. They would have relished the natural roasts with “satto” or “Champa” (powdered gram/barley/rice as “ready to eat meals”) and perhaps washed it down with home brewed “chhang” (country wine) from their bamboo flasks. Sitting across the campfire and talking in low whispers, those travellers of the past would have exchanged their ancient thoughts across little flames of dancing between them. Finally, tired and weary by long day’s march, they would have laid over their yak skin mattress upon soft grassy ground, putting a hand between the cheek and the stone pillow below and drifted off to sleep, albeit into their ancient dreamland. After the sound of the breathing became long and steady, a fellow companion, a wife, brother, sister or a friend would have looked at the sleeping companion with an expression that would be like love. Their concept of time would have been the movement of the sun or moon or shadows of the virgin mountains falling over the green pristine valleys.

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Namprikdang today, the bridge across forever Mythical Mayal Country

Today’s chronometers of time flashing hours, minutes and seconds would have been meaningless to those ancient men and women. In a sense, they lived outside the timeframe of modern world that seems to imprison human beings of today. Come dawn, as the stars began to pale off while the morning breeze blew over the ambers of the camp fire, the ancient ones would awake, freshen themselves by the river, shoulder their humble possessions, offer prayers and trudge along towards another sunset, across another mountain. Not very hard to imagine the world of difference between the foot travellers of the past with today’s metro sexual people driving Boleros, Scorpios and Sumos on the same mountains albeit along carpeted tarmac roads. through bridges across the same Teesta River and mountains passes blasted off, echoing and shaking the countryside, making way for the civilization to invade and occupy the secret privacy of mother nature. These fast forward modern travellers of today would aim to reach Gangtok, Singtam Rangpo or Siliguri in two to four hours flat and walk into their cosy homes or hotel bars to down Black Labels, Foster’s or Breezers with uncle chips and kababs or junk food.

The world has indeed changed and moved on. Organic and healthy life of the past, dubbed uncivilized and undeveloped by the modern people, has, almost pathetically, given way to synthetic metro life of today with all the creature comforts to boot, at a great cost. Defying the unavoidable changes and trapped in the civilized world, Namprikdang lives on.

The “Kyong” the stream visited by “Namprik”, the bird Legends of Namprickdang

Namprik” in Lepcha language is the name of a bird and “Kyong” means stream, whereas “Dang” means flat land. The legend has it that a Namprik, the bird, used to visit this stream to drink the clean and pure holy water, hence the name, Namprikdang. Another legend says that there was a fight between two mountains, Rongdokchu and Songfoklyo and when mount Kanchendzonga learnt about it, he sent Manik-Chu, the river to bring about peace. This peace treaty was settled at Namprikdang. Yet another legend says that Jamphimongs (Yetis) used to comedown to this place from the high Himalayas every year for their yearly ablution. Another story goes that in times long gone by, Lepchas from nearby by villages used to seek blessings of the river at Namprikdang before proceeding on a voyage and offer thanks giving prayers upon safe return.

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This version of the legend seems to be connected perhaps with historic facts. It makes sense to visualise that this beautiful place could have been the natural resting place for the travellers of the past and a place for offering prayers for safe journey, a ritual followed in many places around the world even today. Namprikdang is indeed a kind of nature’s cradle right under the protective deity of the holy Mount Kanchendzonga and blessed on all sides by scenic mountains and hills of Dzongu.

Perhaps acknowledging the magnitude of rich significance and heritage of Namprikdang, to the Lepchas of past, present and future, the wise men and women of the tribe took the initiative to accord this holy place the importance it deserves in the annals of time. Accordingly, based on the legend, decided to mark the place as an everlasting monument of the Lepcha Tribe. This is how the most important annual function of the tribe, the Namsoong Festival, the Lepcha New Year, came to be celebrated at Namprikdang.

Lepcha couple of days bygone (A painting in the Forest Lodge)

Legend of Namsoong

In the beginning of time, after creating the world with plants and animals, mother creator created a male and a female children, brother & sister and called them Fo-Dongthing and Nuzongnue respectively. They were sent to the mystic land, Mayal Lyang by different routes with strict instructions not to meet on the way. However, on the way, while resting on either side of Kohol Lake they happened to see each other, attracted and cohabited. The result was the birth of a son. Fearing the wrath of their creator they hid the baby in a cave and went away. The child survived and grew up sucking its own limbs. In the mean time, due to the sin of incest Fo-Dingthing & Nuzongnue could not reach Mayal Lyang. Finally they were forgiven by the creator and blessed to live as husband and wife and procreate many children filling the country with human race. As the time passed by, there came sufferings, disaster and pain to the inhabitants. When wise men started exploring the cause of such sufferings it was revealed that sufferings was the creation of the first illicit son who had cursed his future brothers and sisters for the ill treatment meted out to him by his parents. People decided to face the evil and fight it out and started learning the art of war making weapons like bows, arrows, spears as also men with high spiritual powers called, as Mun and Bunthung were created to help mankind fight the evil. In the mean time the evil became more powerful and started changing its appearances, size and shape in the form of various animals from a rat to a pig.

The forms were rat, ox, tiger, eagle, dragon, snake, horse, ship, monkey, fowl, dog and pig. Finally the evil was destroyed in the form of a pig on the last day of the twelfth month of the Lepcha calendar, Marlavo Tyangrigong. The evil, due to its ability to change form just like the perfect organism in the concept of “Alien” was named Lasso Mung and his defeat is celebrated as victory of good over evil as “Marlavo Tyangrigong Sonap” every year. in short that is Lepcha New Year that is Namsong Nambung. It is this Namsoong festival that is celebrated every year at the Holy place, Namprikdang. To further commemorate the killing of the evil in the form of pig, a custom still exists to this day to slaughter a huge pig and offer it to the Chief Guest of the celebration. Needless to say that the Chief Guest is expected to reward the event by offering adequate incentives in the form of handsome amount of cash and favours. A good bargain or almost a great barter.

Back to the Present Reality
It is in this yearly Namsoong Festival of 2008-09 at Namprikdang, Dzongu held from 20 Dec 2008 to 4 Jan 2009 that I had the rare honour to be invited to play a humble part in this great and ancient event. As NGO committed to Relief and Rehalbitation programme in North Sikkim, I was invited with a request to organise a Free Health Camp on 3 & 4 Jan 2009 at Namprikdang during the Namsoong Festival. It was a rare opportunity to be a part of such legendary and ancient ritual even today. So our Medical Team proceeded from Mangan to the famous Namprikdang, half an hour drive down the valley on to the bank of River Teesta and established a Free Medical Camp for the benefit of villagers coming to celebrate Namsoong Festival. It was a rare honour to tread the same resting place of ancestors of Lepchas, people who rested at this very place by the same river or ancestors of the same trees that we can touch today. As we drive down a narrow but well paved road, we find ourselves on a flat land by the bank of Teesta; lo and behold this is Namprikdang, the old resting place of the ancestors Lepchas of Dzongu.

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As we drive along, we are engulfed by thick foliage of well maintained forest nursery of few acres, thereafter there is a flat empty land that serves as football field as well as huge flat area that used for fair. As we move along we are greeted by the beautiful traditional Lepcha House on a platform. It is built with modern cement and brick but made to look like the original version of wooden and bamboo structure. Finally, as if to commemorate the resting place of the ancestors there is a beautiful Forest Bungalow of the Government at the end of the flat land beyond which is Teesta River almost touching the foundation of the forest Guest House. Inside the traditional Lepcha House there are ancient pots, pans, weapons, utensils and photographs of ancient Lepcha couple. There. The hustle and bustle of generation of today has replaced the presence of a lonely traveller or a group of people resting at the same place but of very ancient times that can never be fathomed by the generation of today.

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During this festival there are young and old, Lepchas and non Lepchas from nearby and far off villages. The people are happy, colourful and most of them donning traditional Lepcha dress. Ministers, MLAs, Village Panchayats, Govt Officials sit on their majestic sofas at the VIP stand in the central VIP Stand with magnificent view of the entire festival. In the make shift restaurants people sit over hand woven yak wool rugs placed on mud floor smeared with cow dung. At the centre of the room is the ancient fire place of tree legged irn stand to keep pots and pan over fire called “Odhan”. The menu hung on the wall along with display of ancient utensils is mouth watering meals fire roasted pork, beef, rice with Chhang, the local brew to wash the delicacies down. Having grown up amongst the same type of houses and among Lepcha neighbours and friends in Kalimpong, it was indeed heartening to connect with the ancient times at Namprikdang. Of course there was the official reception of VIPs in the traditional ways, the forgettable speeches after speeches, with clear and present hints to “vote for me”. In spite of all these, the muck, the lack of toilet facilities, clean drinking facilities, high prices of food, people were enjoying themselves. I am sure the spirit of Mayal Country, its Legends would be smiling and blessing from up there, knowing the Great and holy Mount Kanchendzonga would be protecting Dzongu and Namprikdang forever, till the end of times.

God Bless Namprikdang and keep it fresh and green forever and let the pure Himalayan water of Teesta and the fresh winds from Kanchundzonga keep it evergreen forever.

Lana, dearest friend; this article is dedicated to you. Keep smiling up there in Mayel Lyang, always.

22 Comments

  • Mahesh Semwal says:

    Dear Mani,

    May I have the pleasure of giving comment.

    Thanks for sharing such a rarely visited place of North East. Its my opinion that photographs always give life to the Stories (write-up). Its same as body without soul.

  • […] Read the original: Namprikdang Of Dzongu, North Sikkim […]
    OH! You’re my new favorite blogger fyi

  • nandanjha says:

    You do it again Mani Sir. While reading the first half, I was feeling like being in a fantasy land, totally disconnected from current mundane reality.

    Splendid.

    I am guessing that you are not active on the e-mail id which you use to login at Ghumakkar and hence may not be seeing these comments. Also I guess you wanted to put some pics since there are some headings kind of things.

    • Mani Gahatraj says:

      yes, thank you nandan. i did try to send the photographs with the text but it didnot happan. if i send the snaps seperately can it be endorsed?

  • nandanjha says:

    Yes, sure. Just send it to me over e-mail. It wont take me long to insert them in this story.

  • arthur says:

    good afternoon uncle…… good reading… enjoyed it. looking forward to more…

    • mani says:

      arthur, thank you indeed. you can go to the author on the right hand side of home page, click my name, mani, and read article on Kalimpong

  • Patrick Jones says:

    A wonderland sure is this, Colonel.

    Would’ve done well with a few more pics thrown in.

  • Ajit Gupchup says:

    Beautiful. A good place to visit …leave all your worldly worries behind and see where you fit in with nature. Is it possible to get some details about the logistics etc?

    • mani says:

      sure thing. Reach Siliguri by train or flt from Delhi or Cal. from Siliguri take cab (preferably SUV) and head for North Sikkim. Either straight to Mangan via Singtam (6 hrs) or via Gangtok (7 hrs). In Mangan (Dist Hq, N. Sikkim) stay at a homely hotel called Tshana Residency (Rs 1000/ night). Next day head for Namprikdang, about 45 mins drive down to Teesta. take some pack lunch, beer, breezer and have a ball with nature.

  • Dalip K. Seth says:

    Beutiful! Thanks Mani !! More Power to your pen!! — dalip

  • sang doma says:

    Its really a great job 2 bring such thing to the notice of others.

  • i enjoyed reading about ma place…

    • Mani says:

      Thank you Sodyang, I am glad you liked the article about your place. Lucky you to be part of such an exotically beautiful lap of mother nature. God Bless you and all the people of your beautiful place.

      • sodyang lepcha says:

        sorry that i couldn’t keep in touch with the page..thank you very much that u brought our place in notice to others.

  • Jigme says:

    Extremely well written. Excellent portrayal of the Lepchas and their simple ways of living. After reading the article, one cannot help but feel tempted to visit this Mayel Lyang of these simple village folks.

  • tshering zoe says:

    respected sir,
    after having read your article, i feel i am proud to be the a part of the Lepcha community. but sadly i was brought up in a manner where i could not get much insights about my own tribe. i don’t speak my language, have never even tried wearing my traditional attire… someway i have always felt that i was missing something in life.. i have tried giving seminars in my university about my tribe, which ofcourse of not much difficult because of the fact that internet has made the things much easier, but i always had that feeling of guilt… the guilt that has been running there in me for many years. i feel i am not really worthy enough to talk about my tribe as my contribution to my own society is nil..
    but over the years i have been trying to see how i can help my community… and lastly i have found an answer. i guess i will come upto you only when i am done with my work… because i would love to enter into Mayel Lyang…

    • Col Mani K Gahatraj says:

      Hi Tshering Zoe,

      I am sorry that I am able to see your comments almost after a year. Your point is well taken, you dont need to feel guilty about not being able to be a part of your tribe and place. All you have to do is make up your mind, get up and come over. May be I can help you see your very own Mayal Lyang : ). You may contact me at makghat4@gmail.com

      Best Wishes

  • Veena says:

    As usual enjoyed reading your very evocative article…….pictures create the magic and make imagination fly.What a place !!

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