Sikkim: Through the lens of Dr. Alice S Kandell

Boy playing with Kite Pic: Dr. Alice Kandell
Dr. Alice Kandell hiding behind a Sikkimese soldier to  take a photograph of a Chinese soldier along the Nathu-La Pass

Khyentse Rinponche Pic: Dr. Alice Kandell 

Lepcha Man and Woman standing near Singhik Pic:Dr. Alice Kandell

Lepcha man in traditional bamboo hat and woven clothing  holding knife in Singhik Pic:Dr. Alice Kandell 

Lepcha women in traditional clothing in Singhik Pic Dr.Alice Kandell

Mt. Kanchenjunga, third highest mountain in the world Pic:Dr. Alice Kandell

Nepalese family outside of clay home Pic: Dr. Alice Kandell 

People herding yaks along a mountain path to higher grazing land Pic:Dr. Alice Kandell

Person crossing river on a wooden bridge Pic: Dr. Alice Kandell

Prince Palden (Second from Left) making silly faces with friends Pic:Dr. Alice Kandell

Rumtek Monastery seen from across courtyard Pic:Dr. Alice Kandell

Selling Rice in Gangtok Pic:Dr. Alice Kandell

Singlay Lama & grandchildren sit in haystack near Singhik Pic: Dr. Alice Kandell 

Suspension Bridge over River Pic:Dr. Alice Kandell

Two Men secure wood logs on Yak's back Pic: Dr. Alice Kandell

Dr. Alice S. Kandell, of New York City, New York, is a child psychologist formerly affiliated with Mt. Sinai Hospital. Additionally, Dr. Kandell is an author and professional photographer, having published books on subjects ranging from Mountaintop Kingdom: Sikkim to children's books such as Max the Music Maker and Ben's ABC Day. Dr. Kandell is also Vice President of the Board of the International League for Human Rights and President of the International Vocal Arts Institute, whose faculty is affiliated with the Metropolitan Opera. She also performs in non-singing roles with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. She received her Doctorate in Child Psychology from Harvard University.
Dr. Alice S. Kandell first visited Sikkim in 1965 to attend the coronation ceremony where Hope Cooke, a close friend from Sarah Lawrence College, became the first American-born queen. The Chogyal (king) Palden Thondup Namgyal asked Dr. Kandell to use photography to document the indigenous cultures of Sikkim and to show how he and Hope were improving education and local businesses. With this special access, Dr. Kandell created a visual encyclopedia of Sikkimese life as it was before India absorbed the kingdom.
Dr. Kandell returned to Sikkim many times, while also completing her doctorate degree in child psychology at Harvard University and establishing her career in New York City. Growing political struggles between India and Sikkim brought the photography project to a close in the early 1970s. During a final trip in 1979, she photographed the wedding of Princess Yangchen Dolma.

Her collection grew to more than 15,000 color slides and black-and-white photographs taken while traveling extensively through a country the size of Delaware. Dr. Kandell went high in the mountains to meet farmers and traders who allowed her to photograph their families and homes. She attended Buddhist religious ceremonies, captivated by the music, masks, and dances. She captured formal and informal scenes with the royal family in Gangtok as well as artisans with their crafts, children in schools, and the remarkable landscape.
Two books published in 1971 feature these photographs-- Mountaintop Kingdom: Sikkim (with text by Charlotte Salisbury) and a book for children called Sikkim: The Hidden Kingdom. Dr. Kandell also wrote and illustrated articles about Sikkim forRedbookHolidayScholastic, and The Saturday Evening Post.

During an exhibit of Sikkim photographs at the Camera Club of New York in 1971, Dr. Kandell said, "I tried to use my camera to communicate the warmth and openness of the people of Sikkim. I wanted to capture the beauty that is everywhere." A second exhibition was held at the Asia Society in New York, sponsored by the International Center of Photography, in 1975.
Inspired by her experience in Sikkim, Dr. Kandell went on to assemble a major collection of Budhhist art and religious objects. This Tibetan shrine with original paintings, sculpture, and furniture is now at the Smithsonian Institution. She also retained her connections to the Sikkimese people. In 2010, Hope Cooke joined Dr. Kandell at the Library of Congress to describe their work in Sikkim. The webcast from this program, "A Tour of the Lost Kingdom: Sikkim," can be viewed online.

Note: The details about Dr. Alice S Kandell are collected from ‘Biography of the Photographer’ that is available on the website of Library of Congress

Maghe Sankranti: Sikkimese Festival of Joy and Happiness

A scene of Maghey Mela at Ranipool 
Maghe Sankranti is the commencement of the holy month of Maugh, which usually falls in the mid of January. It brings an end to the inauspicious month of Poush (mid-december) when all religious ceremonies are forbidden. On this day, the sun leaves its southernmost position and takes off for its northward journey, so Maghe Sankranti is similar to solstice festivals in many other traditions. While, the day of Sankranti is considered as the coldest day of the year, it blots the upcoming warmer weather. Though, it is rejoiced by the Hindu Nepalese in Sikkim, the festival is greatly observed by all the ethnic communities. This day is said to be the propitious day for holy bathing in spite of the chilled weather conditions. This ritual usually takes place at the union of sacred rivers and streams known as Triveni. Sikkimese people usually visit Triveni of Teesta and Rangit, the two holy rivers of the state near Melli to take holy bath and to pray for a better year filled with peace and prosperity. After a holy dip on the river, the devotees put Tika of Ban Tarul (Dioscorea Hamiltonii) on their foreheads.
In addition to holy bathing and worship of shrines, certain auspicious foods like till laddoos (seasame seeds ball cakes), chaku(molasys), gheu (clarified butter), sweet potatoes, khichari (mixture of rice and lentils) and Simal Tarul (Tapioca) are taken on this day. Edibles like sweet potatoes, ban tarul and tapioca are regarded as Kandamuls (things that are grown under soil) by the Nepalese of Sikkim and other Indian States. The day is also regarded as the New Years Day among the Limboo community of Sikkim.
Rotey Ping; The major attraction of Maghey Mela at Ranipool 
Historical Importance of Maghe Sankranti in Sikkim:
The study of Sawai and Khado (the writings of some contemporary writers) and the History of the Gorkhas reveals the fact that in 1788-89, the Gorkha General Jahar Singh crossed the Chiabhanjyang pass, taking the Sikkimese forces by complete surprise and made a lightening raid on Rhabdentse. The capital was caught napping and the most disorganized abandonment of any capital imaginable took place. The Gorkhas under Purna Alley captured Southern Sikkim through Elam. Another Gorkha force, more numerous and powerful than the former ones under Damodar Pandey, subsequently re-inforced the Gorkhas, they spread themselves all over the country, prying into every crick and corner of Sikkim, they sent out parties to pry and prowl about all the valleys of the river Teesta and its tributaries. A fierce battle took place between the Sikkimese forces and the Gorkhas that ultimately led to the victory of the latter. Hence, after ensuring their sway over the Western and Southern parts of Sikkim, the victorious Gorkha soldiers celebrated their triumph at the confluences of River Teesta and Rangit. They washed their blood stained Khukris on the river and had taken a rinse in the river, they sang, danced and took all wild foods like ban tarul, sweet potatoes etc. on the day of Maghe Sankranti. Therefore, it is said that to commemorate their victories over Sikkim and other Himalayan States of Kangra, Kumaun, Garwhal and so on the Indian Gorkhas celebrate the day of Maghe Sankranti every year. But, the Nepalese version of the celebration is silent about the victories made by the Gorkha forces in the Indian States. Hence, it is not clear to ascertain that it is celebrated by the Indian Gorkhas to commemorate their victories over the Himalayan Sates including Sikkim.
People busy in buying materials during feast
One can witness people enjoying swings, dance and many other games like dice, ghurni etc at the feast organized by various organizations throughout Sikkim. These feasts are locally known as Maghe Mela. Every rural Sikkimese is an aficionado of such Maghe Mela to visit and to have fun. The important of such feasts can be seen at Jorethang, Saramsa, Rorathang, Singtam and even at Triveni at the Bengal side. Apart from the historical controversies, Maghe Sankranti has now become a festival of unity and brotherhood in the state of Sikkim. People of diverse ethnicity can be seen enjoying swings and Tambola in the various feasts throughout the State.

Sikkim Coronation: From the Collection of Dr. Alice S. Kandell’s Photographs

Picture of Dr. Alice S. Kandell 

Sikkim Coronation 1965- The King and the Queen Pic: Dr Alice S Kandell

Guest at Sikkim Coronation- Photographer Dr. Kandell on the queue to put Khada to the King 

King and Queen getting ready to fly Bhutan Pic: Dr. Alice S Kandell
King and Queen on the Royal Throne Pic: Dr. Alice S Kandell

King and Queen during Coronation Pic: Dr. Alice S. Kandell

The Chogyal receiving salute from Sikkim Guards Pic: Dr. Alice S. Kandell

Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal and Gyalmo Hope Cooke of Sikkim Pic: Dr. Alice S Kandell

Marketplace of Gangtok in 1965 Pic: Dr. Alice S Kandell

Nepali Naumati Baja on the day of Chogyal's Coronation Pic: Dr. Alice S Kandell

Nepali Girls on the Coronation Day  Pic: Dr. Alice S Kandell

Princess of Sikkim Standing on Right Pic: Dr. Alice S Kandell

Royal Procession on Chogyal's Birthday Pic Dr. Alice S Kandell

The photographs taken by Dr. Alice S. Kandell in Sikkim used to be rare until she dedicated her rights to the public domain as a generous gift to the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division in 2010. It is from this website we also have been able to get the erstwhile glimpse of Sikkim. Dr. Kandell captured these flamboyant pictures in order to document a vanishing culture of the Sikkimese society. During her visits between 1965 and 1979 (primarily 1965-1971), Dr. Kandell received special permission to photograph Buddhist monks and lamas, ceremonial dances, and monasteries; people working on farms, in canning factories, and at special crafts; and the royal palace and chapel at Gangtok, including the last king, Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal, his American wife Queen Hope Cooke (Dr. Kandell's college friend), and their family.
Apart from the Royal pictures Dr. Kandell has also taken various pictures of far off villages like Singhik and Lachung, the mountains of Kānchenjunga, the Ralang Hot Springs, and the Gangtok bazaar as well as different ethnic groups including the Kirati (Kiranti), Lepcha, Nepalese, and Bhutia people.
Other photographs taken by Dr. Kandell are available at

Kumar Sporting Club: The Pioneering Football Club of Sikkim

Though Cricket is looked open as a gentlemen’s game and is being adored by almost all of the Indians, football has its own tang and recognition among the people of the Himalayan States. The Himalayan states, particularly the North Eastern States of India have been able to provide the greatest football players for the Country. Among them Sikkim has always enjoyed a top position. There is no doubt to ascertain that football flourished into Sikkim with its contact with the British. Possibly, the Colonial Sahibs used to play football during leisure from where the Sikkimese privileged also imitated. Thus, football attained its popularity among the Sikkimese masses which has now become an inseparable part of the Sikkimese society.  
We do not have much information about the prevalence of Football Clubs in the initial decades of the 20th Century. Much later in the 40’s, few football enthusiasts from Gangtok founded its first ever football club. This very football club was thence known as Kumar Sporting Club. It was established in the name of Crown Prince Late Paljor Namgyal, who was in the Indian air force with the British and died in a plane crash in December 1941 during Second World War in Burma. It has to be mentioned here that the Crown Prince was affectionately nicknamed as Kumar Sahib, a shaded adaptation of the word Maharajkumar Sahib. Hence, the first football club of Sikkim got its name as Kumar Sporting Club. The Kumar Sporting Club won the first cup outside Sikkim in 1948. The Paljor Stadium of Gangtok is named after the late Crown Prince Paljor Namgyal.
Football is always a favorite to the Sikkimese- Prince Tenzing Namgyal 
The Kumar Sporting Club was followed by Gangtok Football and Sporting Association. After 1973, the Gangtok Football and Sporting Association was given affiliation by the All India Football Federation (AIFF). In a national tournament the Gangtok Football and Sporting Association lost its match against Goa by 10 goals which became the crossroads in the history of football in Sikkim. After this humiliating defeat, the Gangtok Football and Sporting Association was renamed as Sikkim Football Association (SFA) in 1976. With the foundation of Sikkim Football Association, Sikkim gave some of its best players to the country like Samdrup Norden, Pem Dorjee (the first Sikkimese to lead the Indian Football team as a Captain) Kul Bahadur Chettri and many other youngsters like Mr Ong Tshering Lepcha (Former Captain India Under 21 Team) Nirmal Chettri (East Bengal and Defender Team India) Sanju Pradhan (East Bengal Midfielder) and many others who have played professionally for various Football Clubs all over the Country. Nevertheless, the biggest contributions to Indian Football from Sikkim have been the annual Governor’s Gold Cup, annual Chief Minister’s Gold Cup and Padmashree Bhaichung Bhutia (former Captain of Indian Football Team) now the founder and owner of United Sikkim Football Club.
The journey of Sikkim’s Football enthusiasm which had its start with the small Kumar Sporting Club has now become an immense SFA with its pride Pem Dorji, Samdrup Norden, Bhaichung Bhutia, Kul Bahadur Chettri and many others who are struggling to get their place in the Indian Football Team. The credit of producing these football heroes of Sikkim always goes to the Kumar Sporting Club, the pioneering Football club of Sikkim.

Sikkim Almanac: A Monarchical Souvenir to the State of Sikkim

Sikkim Almanac
Every Sikkimese has seen Sikkim Almanac hanging on the walls of every Official building or in every house to get an idea about the official government sanctioned holidays for a particular year. But, we have never paid any attention to understand its link with the past of Sikkim. The Sikkim Almanac nowadays is merely serving as an everyday planner of the Sikkimese people. But, distant from being the official holiday marker the Sikkim Almanac has its profound bond with the history of the erstwhile Himalayan Kingdom of Sikkim.
The Royal Government of Sikkim began to issue its Almanac, which lists the official government sanctioned holidays for each year, in the mid 50’s of the last century. The noble task was undertaken during the glorious reign of Maharaja Sir Tashi Namgyal. The sole purpose of issuing such Government Calendar was to inform the subjects of the Maharaja about the Government sanctioned holidays in the kingdom of Sikkim, so that they could avoid themselves from reaching the Capital during holidays for their Official works. The Government sanctioned holidays in the calendar were highlighted with red colour which was easier for every individual to get an idea of the existing holiday in a particular month. The very same layout of Almanac is still prevalent in the Sikkim Almanac issued by the Government of Sikkim.
The Sikkim Almanac has some distinctive features as well. In conjunction with the dates of Gregorian calendar in English are the dates of Tibetan Lunar Calendar in Tibetan scripts. Presently, the heading carries emblem of Sikkim Government but, during independent Sikkim it used to have a portrait of the reigning king of the Kingdom. The fifties (1950’s) version of the Sikkim Almanac carried pictures of Maharaja Sir Tashi Namgyal in full Royal ceremonial dress, while the pictures of Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal were more casuals. The placing of the King’s pictures on Sikkim Almanac was stopped after Sikkim’s integration with the Indian Union. Apart from English and Tibetan languages the title of the Almanac is also written in other Sikkimese languages like Lepcha, Nepali and Limbu which is in vogue since its first issue.
Either side of the Almanac is bordered by the Eight Lucky Signs known as Tashi Tagey (Tak Gye) in Tibetan. These auspicious signs are symbolic with the life and teachings of the enlightened Tathagatha. After Sikkim’s integration with India, the Sikkim Almanac is printed and distributed by Home Department, Government of Sikkim every year.

A Handwritten Sikkim Herald- The oldest Surviving Newspaper of Sikkim

The publication of Sikkim Herald was started in 1956 during the reign of Maharaja Sir Tashi Namgyal to inform his subjects about the developments brought about by the Government. The initial format of Sikkim Herald was a magazine and it used to get publish every months. Prior to 1962, the Sikkim Herald Magazine was brought out in English only and later sometime in 1962, editions were brought out in Bhutia and Nepali languages as well.
The Handwritten Sikkim Herald in Nepali preserved at Ramgauri Sangrahalaya 
The picture with today’s post is also of this oldest newspaper of Sikkim in Nepali Language. The remarkable attribute of this publication of 1967 (6th Year Issue 21) is that it is a handwritten newspaper which was published on Thursday 16th February 1967. It is possibly a first of its kind in the history of journalism in Sikkim. The Top Headline of this issue deals with the suspension of the Sikkim Executive Council in the said year. It states “As per the Government Report published by the Chief Secretary Government of Sikkim Mr. T.S Gyaltsen, the Maharaja has unleashed the Councillors from their posts on 15th of February 1967 as they were busy in campaigning for the forthcoming election. Henceforth, the subjects are informed that their applications related to various concerns are to be sent to the concerned Head of the Departments for necessary action”.
The Second Headline of the Newspaper deals with the resistance techniques to be adopted to protect an individual from “Mai” influenza. The Herald has informed about the suspension of classes from all the schools for 15 days surrounding Gangtok to prevent from its further transmission. Further, this handwritten issue of Sikkim Herald has also informed the public about the date and venue as well as necessary requirements to sit for the written examination of a stipend for the year 1966-67, granted to the Sikkimese Students by the Government of India.
The Last News is an obituary on the demise of Mukhtiyar Palden Dorjee. The Sikkim Herald is now a daily publication brought out by the Information and Public Relations Department (IPR), Government of Sikkim, containing news and information on the developments and the programmes of the Government as well as notices regarding tenders and other important government notifications. One can find Sikkim herald in all the major languages spoken in Sikkim like Bhutia, Lepcha, Nepali, English and Limboo.
The only piece of this Handwritten Sikkim Herald is preserved by Shree Ganesh Pradhan of Ramgauri Museum Rhenock East Sikkim. I am greatly indebted to him for sharing this priceless document with me.