Thursday, January 08, 2009

Know Singtam!! my hometown

This is how Singtam looks from Google Earth!

Singtam is a town in the East district of Sikkim. Singtam is often referred as the business capital of Sikkim since it connects the four districts of Sikkim. Singtam comes from a Lepcha word that says about a place where logs were collected. It had been known since ages that the rivers used to carry tree logs from distant places and leave along the bank of Singtam. All the places of Singtam Lal bazaar was once a river bank. Singtam is better known among the folks for its Government Fruit Preservation Factory located at Shantinagar, only motarable tunnel in the state at Toppakhani and the oldest iron bridge of Sikkim at the heart of the town. Friday weekly haat is very popular among the neighboring places. Singtam is the hometown of Late Ganga Kaptan, the first Nepali novelist from Sikkim and Uttam Pradhan, a popular cine star in world of Nepali film industry.


As of 2001 India census of India, Singtam had a population of 5431. Males constitute 56% of the population and females 44%. Singtam has an average literacy rate of 71%, higher than the national average of 59.5%: male literacy is 75%, and female literacy is 66%. In Singtam, 12% of the population is under 6 years of age. Singtam is located at 27.15° N 88.38° E. It has an average elevation of 1396 meters (4580 feet).


To its geographical reach the town of Singtam is located at 27.15° N 88.38° E and has an average elevation of 1396 meters (4580 feet). Before late 80s, bullock carts used to wander in these area, which is no where to be seen these days. The kids' cricket playgrounds are now shopping complexes. Once a popular centre of oranges that would come from far place including Sang, Tshallamthang and others but to this date it seems more of a fable. Singtam has grown from a small inns bazaar to a business town, but the few things that remain frozen in time are the old British period Iron Bridge and the only motarable tunnel at Toppakhani.


The only major instance the place of Singtam finds its name in the golden page of Sikkim history was during the pre-merger movement in the early 70s when the gathered crowd in Singtam blocked the road near Bhanu Park and stopped on the run Crown Prince in his motor vehicle forcing him back to Gangtok. During that instant the pro-merger activists were caught, made captive and kept at Thakurbari mandir! The town of Singtam also find mention in world postal airmail history when in 1935 a series of eight Rocketmail firing was conducted over the Singtam River.

In 1975 when Sikkim became the part of Indian Union, which restricted my thoughts to a certain boundary. The earliest mention of the name of Singtam is found in 1888 Lepcha-Bhutia Grammar book where the town of Singtam was among the ten popular places in Sikkim. A travel book published in early 1940s mention Singtam to be a small river-side town with a Post Office. What was more fascinating was the fact that it was not the present business capital of Singtam that was sought-after marketplace more than half a decades ago but a little heard of Sirubari now angelized Sirwani that was more popular than Singtam and people far across the remote corner of the state would walk down to Sirubari to buy or say exchange “siru” with their belongings.

Singtam at the moment is the busiest town among the four districts and its Friday haat one of the most popular in the entire state. But eight decades back the story wasn’t the same as these days. Those days it was the small siru bazaar of Sirubari (Sirwani) that was well known. People would never mind walking all three days to reach to this place to collect siru. This was the period when bazaar at Singtam was little heard off. But all of a sudden under mysterious circumstances the then popular Siru bazaar came to a halt and today stands an isolated Sirwani that helplessly gape up at vehicles passing by!

Jay Dhamala in his book “Sikkim koh Ithihas” speaks about of a place called Sinchuthang that was visible from the Bermoik Kazi kothi. The name Sinchuthang is present day Singtam, marked the writer. It is familiar that on a clear weather Bermoik Kazi kothi is noticed from this town but it must also be mentioned that the other little known bazaar of Manglay (now also called Sainotar) some 14 km from Singtam towards Timi Tarku is also called Sinchuthang. Tracing back the meaning of the name Singtam; it is believed to be a Lepcha word which means “collection of logs”. Singtam’s Lal Bazaar the present haat ghar was more of a sand depository and wild bears moving freely across the river banks had been witnessed by many folks. The river Teesta would carry out logs and deposit at the river banks. The logs were collected in huge extent such that it was sold to other place of necessity. Thus came the name Singtam i.e. collection of logs.

“Kanchenjunga” magazine published from Gangtok in the early 1960s in one of its issue carried an article on Taksaari Chandrabir Pradhan, the same man behind the introduction of Sikkim’s coin system. It said it was Taksaari Chandrabir Pradhan who got the royal order from the Chogyal to cut down the jungles and set up a dweller at Singtam. He further went up to establish Rangpo and Pakyong too. It is due to lack of recorded documents in the past we know little about how the bazaar at Singtam started up. But there are few fascinating stories about this town which might appeal to the readers. On one such tale of this town though never acknowledged in the pages of the book it is said that during the first day of the construction of the Toppakhani tunnel in the late 1920s the labourers working at the site had killed a snake most probably a cobra. Call it a mere coincidence that from the very next day the small inn bazaar of Singtam was surrounded with the mysterious disease still remembered by the old folks as “kalo zoro”. Even to this day when those old folks recall that period they say Singtam was a desolated town and a popular phrase related to that endemic was the talk of the state, they would say “even the crows would not stay at Singtam”.