A clear morning in the monsoons is a blessing in Sikkim. And given that such blessings are usually in short supply, each is cherished not only by the locals but by the die-hard tourists as well, who continue to flock to this Himalayan kingdom, despite the season being long over. Low-lying clouds and fog that hovers deep in the Valley, continuously threatens to rise and block everything out of sight. And frequently it turns out to be more than an empty threat. Even when the morning begins warm and clear, the rain clouds start gathering towards noon casting a dull grey all across the landscape effectively ruining the day.
The morning of July 13 began with the same promise in the capital city Gangtok. Sun was peeping weakly from behind the clouds, the roads were relatively devoid of puddles formed by the night-long rain and it seemed that the entire city had descended on the streets. The cars were jammed in a single file on one side, with drivers waiting patiently for the crowd to disperse. But it was not an ordinary crowd. Women, dressed in traditional fineries with heavy jewellery and make-up carrying flowers, were walking down the streets in some kind of informal parade along with a few men.
A couple of tableaux were parked on one side. Our driver was a Sikkimese Buddhist of Tibetan origin. Photographs of the Dalai Lama with the 17th Karmapa (Urgyen Trinley Dorje), adorned the dashboard of his car. On the right side of his windscreen, he had stuck posters proclaiming ‘Free Tibet’ and ‘End the Occupation of Tibet’. Leaning across the window, watching the procession dispassionately he volunteered, “This is Bhanu Jayanti parade.” What is Bhanu Jayanti? He shrugged, “That I wouldn’t know.” Was Bhanu a political or a spiritual leader? The answer was the same indifferent shrug. Given the scale of celebrations, the curiosity increased. But even the locals, who had come out to watch the parade, were ignorant about the identity of Mr or Mrs Bhanu and the reason for the festival. The parade culminated at a place called Zero Point in central Gangtok (if a place can be called that given the mountainous terrain) and the traffic was finally allowed to move. Later in the day, in an interaction with a few army officers posted in Gangtok we asked about the festival. “It must be something local. But it is not a state holiday for sure,” said one officer.