RUINS OF PANDAM GARHI
BY SHITAL PRADHAN
The stories of the legendary ruined walls at Pandam, 16 km up-hill climb from Rangpo as I had heard from old folks few seasons back had ever since excited me to visit this place. Never in the pages of a history book do we come across its talk about when it was build or how it was constructed at the top of the hill. Over the years many theories had evolved regarding its origin. Some theorists associate the fort with some Lepcha legends while there are few who disagree to it and have their own adage. They make us believe it was one of the Chogyals who constructed it to stop the approaching Bhutanese army from entering Sikkim. The last theory to add up already baffled and made controversial says it was one of Gurkha General from Nepal who constructed the fort along with the Kalika Mandir also called Nishani Mandir just below it. With each theory making questions over my mind I decided to have my second trek to the Pandam Garhi. I had with me few friends, some canned foods, few bottles of water, few photographs from my last visit and lots of excitement to carry my instinct towards the steep valley climb.
Garhi is a Nepali word for fort, but at least to me I did not see any sign of a fort (to my limited vision or understanding) other than ruined boundary walls. Certainly when I first glanced at the wall the only thing that came to my mind was resemblance of the other great wall, the Great Wall of China.
The last time I visited Pandam Garhi was couple of years back, it was then just a walk across the mountain. What I recall the most of my last trek at Pandam; it was a monkey following me just above the Kalika Mandir and a fall I had when I loosed my balance and slipped over the dry tree leaves that was scattered around the path. Later I knew the poor animal was after my banana, I was carrying on my hand. It was an exciting trip at that time and on my second journey to that destination I had prepared with whatever little information I could ever collect. Most of the informations I had was more of an old folk saying told from one generation to another.
I do not know how other feels about the origin of the name “Pandam” but what I had learnt about the naming of this place is related to one of the most contentious episode in Sikkim royal history. Pende Ongmu, the half-sister of Chogyal Chakdor Namgyal, the third Chogyal of Sikkim had successfully deliberated the murder of the Chogyal at Rabdanste and had gone hiding. She is believed to have been found at the fort of Pandam as such the name of the place is called Pendem after Pende Ongmu who was later taken to Namchi where she was put to death. The more popular name Pandam of today could be the angelized name of Pendem.
We were six friends out of whom apart from me Prem was the only one to have visited the place before. The other members of our so-called expedition were Sameer, Srawan, Gopal and Roshan. When we reached Pandam bazaar it was approaching midday and yet we were firm to reach our destination on time and return back to Singtam by dusk. While through the joyous mood, the valleys and mountains around formed a magical illusion for our eyes. The two and half hour uphill climb was not a pleasure with me, carrying along some extra bulk of fats I had with me. But it was that sheer excitement of walking on the track of Sikkim history; I had in my mind been bracing my nerves.
Re-constructing those old days how the fort was shaped, we went along giving each of us that added up-lifting of the sprit to pace aloft the ascending hill. With the newly made footpath through to the Kali mandir, I took a deep breath recalling back when in my last trek I had an awful experience with a back ache along the rising pathway. The beauty of the green algae ridden dense woods made me sense as if I was in the Amazons; while the noticeable mountain range forming an outsized boundary wall lying opposite to my standing had its own exquisiteness. I could even figure out the boundary fortification of currency ink factory at Mamring, partly hidden among the valley was Rangpo bazaar and to some extent partly hidden in the clouds was the geographical mountain series of the Darjeeling districts.
When we reached Karmithang, a small village at the bottom of the gargantuan rock that had the much famed Kali Mandir on its top, the very first sight of the religious flag flying high across the tall branches of the tree on the rock gave me a pleasing thought and the sense that we are not that far. After more than an hour long climb we were all tired and went to one of the nearby house to ask for a glass of water.
We were told about the ongoing repairing of the walls going on at garhi, the interesting part the people have discovered few rusted arrows, cannon balls and a ‘jhatoa’ used for grinding grains. We were very excited to see those historical pieces but could not succeed in persuading them to show, they had all their layman excuses. I personally do believe that these objects might have been recovered from this site. I had on previous account heard stories about the war between the armies of Pandam Garhi and the Namthang Garhi. They used to throw cannon balls and arrows across each other and it is believed that few busted walls found to this day are said to be by the strength of the cannon balls thrown from Namthang Garhi. Though hard to believe since the distance between the two garhi is far and wide, even more thought provoking is to imagine on the subject of the weapon technology of couple of hundred years back. If those busted walls found around had not occurred from the scuffle with the opposing armies of Namthang Garhi, we have no added option than to draw a conclusion that this Garhi might had bystander a colossal combat on its foreground. How, when and what about the Pandam Garhi shall always remain an anonymity?
The first picture of the wall from a distance, I gasp and told myself that’s it. The new stone wall erected to give the same feel of the walls constructed on those days was added and some broken walls repaired. My greatest fear was approaching with every footstep of mine. I was having a talk within myself; those restoration works might have not disturbed the actual past of the Pandam Garhi. But I was wrong they had shut the walls that had a small opening supposedly to keep the sentry and the cannons. I feel sorry for myself. A page of a history was buried.
I here have my own opinion about the old saying that the stone used for the construction of the boundary walls were not carried from the Rangit river base. Those stones were easily available from the rocks found at that construction site. We had come across similar types of rocks on different places of the village. The so-called Pandam Garhi to me is more of a watch tower, since the hill-top location is much perfect to watch out every movement of the neighbouring territory.
When I have a discussion on Pandam Garhi, I had just observed a single-sided fortification wall towards its western border line and in a little distance a bunker like space surrounded by stone wall towards its outer edge. The people of Pandam talk about this small room; it was at this very place a king and queen was found hidden. Nothing more had been known or studied who were those king and queen but I find that those people might had mistaken about the hiding place of Pende Ongmu, half sister of third Chogyal of Sikkim and her partner in crime the physician who had sliced the vein of the Chogyal Chakdor Namgyal, conspiring the murder of the Chogyal and had fled Rabdanste.
After having our lunch along the wildly grown lycopodium meadow, we made our way east towards Budang, a small village close to Pandam bazaar. Legend says that at Budang there used to be a natural lake that suddenly vanished; we shall talk about this some other day. We stayed for some time and through the forest path we reached back to Pandam Bazaar. The time we reached Singtam, it was already 8 pm; everyone was tired, we had walked all our ways from Pandam since we did not get the vehicle back to Singtam. But for me there were few unanswered query and the thirst that I shall very soon again visit this place, once more.