Sunday, January 21, 2018

An early premonition: Sikkim, 1988

In 1987 (before BODHI was formally started) I was invited, with another Australian doctor, to visit Rumtek Monastery, in order to explore establishing a clinic there. We had a letter of invitation from the secretary of Tai Situ Rinpoche, one of the four "seat holders" caring for the Kagyu lineage while disciples waited for the reincarnation of His Holiness the Karmapa.

Rumtek is in Sikkim, then a restricted state of India, with only 3 days maximum permits being issued.

We applied at least 3 months in advance for the permit to go to Skikim. At that time of my life, being trusting, and also anticipating a long relationship with India, I thought it prudent to be absolutely honest, so my stated purpose was not tourism but something like “to discuss establishing a clinic”.

We were granted a visa, but no permit. We were told we might get the permit after arrival in India. In Kolkata (January 1988) we went to the famous “Writer’s Building” where clerks were dwarfed by vast piles of paper (few computers in India then). We were told, “no permit but you might get one in Darjeeling". We went to Darjeeling. There, a friendly official said “yes, you can have a permit - would you like one for 7 days?) (i.e. greater than twice the normal).  Well, we couldn’t, because we had booked a train to head towards Bodh Gaya, a few days later. But 3 days was fine.

Overjoyed, we caught a bus to Gangtok (Sikkimese capital). We arrived in the evening. Next day we explored Gangtok, waiting for the bus to Rumtek (about 15 kms away). With hindsight, I think the local police may already have been looking for us.

Gangtok: source

We caught the bus. We arrived at dusk. I felt exuberant. We were welcomed, we were fed. After about an hour at Rumtek I had one of the few genuine premonitions in my life, as if I could feel a shadow. Perhaps a minute later, four police arrived. They took us back to Gangtok. Its lights were strewn like stars on the hill across the valley. The police allowed us to sleep in a hotel that night, but we had to report to them the next morning and then stay continuously with them, although we were not formally arrested. Then they took us to board the commercial helicopter (at our own expense) back to Bagdogra, the airfield on the plains below Darjeeling. The only consolation was that the helicopter’s route was via western Sikkim, then completely off limits to tourists. We saw a famous golden monastery from the sky, probably Pemayangste. The governor of Sikkim was also on board. The police were quite excited about that, they said it was auspicious, and signified we would one day return.

When we eventually reached Delhi, we spent another day in a queue; eventually we saw an official. She was initially sympathetic. But then she found a file, and her attitude changed. She told us absolutely nothing. An official at the Australian High Commission also told us nothing.

I have not yet been back to Sikkim, I have not tried.

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