Book Review- Pema Yangchen

It’s a gripping tale that chronicles the demise of the tiny Buddhist kingdom of Sikkim.
Andrew Duff, gets inquisitive about the mysterious kingdom nestled in the Himalayas after he delves deeper into the stories behind the pictures of his grandfather’s trip to Sikkim in 1922. It was only in 2008, two decades after his grandparents had passed away that he set out on a journey to India with the primary intention to reconnect with his grandfather’s time living in India and his love for Himalaya, particularly Sikkim, and to write about the experience.
However, his encounter with a monk and the book he hands to him, starts his obsession for Sikkim, ultimately resulting in this book chronicling detailed accounts from different authentic sources, to construct a vivid narrative on the unruly fate of the 300 years old Himalayan kingdom.
The book is very easy to read and written in a style of a fast-paced action adventure. Duff’s choice of language and prose augments the sense of palpable tension, struggles, helplessness and impending doom that permeates through the entire book. The narratives are so woven that the readers are transported into the world of the last Chogyal of Sikkim, Thondup Namgyal and his struggles to preserve the sovereignty of his country during the height of cold war and on the aftermath of the annexation of Tibet by China – only for his country to become the 22nd state of India in 1975.
Compared to other Himalayan states, the added spotlight the kingdom received through the celebrity like coverage in western media of the Kings marriage to an American, Hope Cooke, amidst the growing tension in the region turned out to be a foreboding precursor. She was suspected of being an American Spy planted by the CIA in a region that was teeming with foreign intelligence agents and located right at the edge of the communist influence that the Americans and its allies were trying to counter. This only aggravated the situation and did not help the country in garnering the confidence of its big neighbour, India.
Added to the tumultuous circumstances of being caught on the sides of the cold war, internal rift between the Nepali immigrants and the indigenous Bhutias and Lepchas only accelerated the demise. A political party was formed by Kazi Lhuendup Dorji, backed by his Scottish wife, Kazini Elisa Maria Longford Rae, mainly representing the immigrants and in direct opposition to the rule of the royal Palace with an intention to establish a representative Democracy.
This only led to weakening of the influence of the Palace that was already being diluted by multiple external interferences The personal rivalry between the wife of the Chogyal and the Kazini, brewing out of jealousy and bitterness, is also alluded to have contributed to the rift.
At its heart, this book is a tribute to the last Chogyal of Sikkim and in structuring the narratives as such it overlooks a lot of the prevailing geopolitical tension in the region, particularly the aftermath of the Indo-China war of 1962 and how the Indian perception of this tiny kingdom would change.

October 10th, 2019 by