Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Turning back the clock of Singtam-1

Singtam from Google Earth

BY SHITAL PRADHAN

This is the updated version of the earlier article i wrote about the early days of Singtam...



When I first read a short bio-graphy of Danny Denzongpa in one of the national bollyhood magazine a decade back where he had mentioned he saw a bus for a very first time at Singtam Town, I was very glad to read the name of my hometown. I never found anyone writing about this place that gave Sikkim its first Nepali novelist in Late Ganga Kaptan. Singtam was once a popular centre of oranges and equally for its weekly Friday haat, but today limited to one of the hottest places of Sikkim. Being brought up at the small town of Singtam it was understandable that I would come up with its early history someday. I had heard old folks talk about those pre-merger days 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 mentioned in world postal airmail history when in 1935 a series of eight Rocket Mail firing was conducted over the Singtam River. 

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). I still have fresh memories of bullock carts visiting this town till late 80s before I had stepped in the teens. Late evening there used to be rows of bullock carts in front of the today’s Om Himalayan Medical shop. The playgrounds that I have had enjoyed playing crickets are now shopping complexes. Well to some extent we can read out that Singtam too is following the growing demands of the socio-economy changes.

From a small inns bazaar to a business town, the few things that remain frozen in time in Singtam are the old British period Iron Bridge; build in 1929 by Burn and Company Limited, Bridge Builders, Howrah as it is clearly written in its name plate hanging atop of the front and the back side of the bridge and the only motarable tunnel of Sikkim at Toppakhani. When I look at the age old mango trees grown along the road side leading to Singtam Bazaar from the old Iron Bridge it makes me feel nostalgic. I could feel the thoughts of the people who had planted it. We were taught in schools if you want to be remembered for a long time sow a tree, true to its word, those people who first sowed the mango seed were the first to have thought to beautify this then small time river-side inhabitants. These trees are no doubt heritage trees. Reason for giving added emphasis on these trees in this topic is to bring forth my personal views that there are/were talks that all those trees around Singtam Bazaar would be cut down to spread out the size of town and help beautify the town. These heritage trees are part of Singtam history and had make out many ups and downs to its present existence. Destroying those trees means juddering up the past existence of most happening town of the state. I had read in the pages of old Kanchenjunga magazine, in the early 1960s when there was political unrest between India and China in Nathula frontier, for every Indian Army entering and leaving Singtam was distributed free oranges juice at this very particular old bridge.

Even the construction of the Toppakhani tunnel was carried around the same time when this Iron Bridge was put up. I have an interesting account of the Toppakhani tunnel though never recorded in the pages of history but followed from one generation to other. 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”. The first contractor of the Toppakhani was a Bihari by caste who fled Sikkim after the incident while the latter construction was completed under Palaram Sardar in 1930s. I was told there used to be a song written on Palaram Sardar which I hope someday I shall collect it.

I was brushing up with the old records of the Annual Administration report for the year 1923-24 I was surprised to find a name of one accused Chimi Bhutia from Singtam, who had gone hiding after comiting theft in Sikkim. Those days the cases were under extraction between British India and Sikkim, Chimi Bhutia was caught and handed over to the Sikkim Durbar for trail. The accused was sentenced to six months rigorous imprisonment, thus making him on record the first culprit from Singtam.