Sikkim: Hope-La in Gangtok

Sikkim: Hope-la in Gangtok
Friday, Apr. 16, 1965
There is usually little zest to life in Sikkim, India's tiny protectorate in the Himalayas. For day-to-day kicks, some citizens can only contemplate the crags of majestic Kanchenjunga, the world's third highest mountain, marvel at the gay flowers that grow in profusion beneath its peaks, or laugh gaily at the frolicking wild pandas of the region. But last week excitement galore gripped the populace as chic photographers, starchy diplomats and perfumed post-debs from abroad suddenly inundated the charming little capital of Gangtok.
The occasion was the long-postponed coronation of His Highness Chogyal (King) Palden Thondup Namgyal, Sikkim's own maharajah. Squatting on 13 gold cushions in elaborate robes and felt boots embroidered with thunderbolts, he gravely accepted a fur-brimmed crown handed him by red-robed lamas, popped it on his head and thus became King—and honorary major general in the Indian army.
Lamas & Top Hats. At his side one of the world's two American-born reigning princesses* became Sikkim's Queen. Ex-New Yorker Hope Cooke (Sarah Lawrence '63) became Her Highness Hope Namgyal, Gyalmo (Queen) of Sikkim. She wore a pearl chaplet, a red bhakku over a white silk gown, and high-heeled shoes for the occasion. Her vast hazel eyes downcast, she whispered "Thank you, thank you," as a parade of lamas and top-hatted guests pressed forward to present the royal couple with cards marked with mystic symbols and heaps of white scarves for good luck.
With that, corks popped from champagne bottles, and turbaned bandsmen struck up tunes from My Fair Lady as lissome American girls, friends of the Queen who had flown in for the occasion, joined young Sikkimese aristocrats in dancing. Even the King and Queen did the twist and a quartet of Sikkimese Beatles shrilled their Himalayan version of I Want to Hold Your Hand.
Yak Butter for All. Sikkim rejoiced at having a crowned king; it would have had one sooner but for court astrologers, who had insisted on postponing the coronation for 16 months after the death of Thondup's father, Maharajah Sir Tashi Namgyal. King Thondup, a progressive monarch fond of blue Mercedes, has resolved to make his land "a paradise on earth" with high literacy and plenty of yak butter for all. "Hope-la," as Thondup affectionately calls the wife he married in 1963, is obviously happy in her role as Queen, wife and mother, keeps busy developing Sikkim's handicrafts and studying Buddhism, though she has not formally adopted the faith. The Sikkimese wistfully pine for more autonomy under India, which handles their defense and foreign affairs and grants entry visas. But it is India's army that has thus far kept Peking from making another Tibet out of Sikkim. Red China's President Liu Shao-chi sent congratulations to the newly crowned King.