Saturday, August 08, 2009

Search for the Singtam’s earliest settlers

I am still looking for the earliest settlers at Singtam bazaar but with little success. As a student of Sikkim history when I try to wrap myself within the frame of that era where transportations and communications were only on the animal’s ride or possibly the “dollies” used by the wealthy social order, I would beyond doubt find myself the sole person to think what or how things could have happened then. 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. These trees are as old as Singtam and those people who first sowed the mango seed were the first to have thought to beautify this then small time river-side inhabitant.

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.

The early 1900s saw the introduction of Marwari community along with other business classes into the kingdom of Sikkim of which few families settled at Singtam thus making their descendants count among the old settlers out here. When I tried to collect the oldest shop license at Singtam bazaar, I failed to find anything that could really help my findings do well. Most of the old settler’s family claims their original license were burned during the outbreak of fire that do used to regularly happened at Singtam.

1928 document of a shop license at Singtam

But there was one shop license or rather a letter sent from the office of the King of Sikkim to one Hari Narain Modi that has an interesting note. The letter says, since the shop was opened without the prior concern of the Durbar, the shop had been retained but the shopkeeper had to pay Rs 5 as a fine. This letter dates back to 6.1.1928 send from the Sikkim Durbar, the king then was Chogyal Tashi Namgyal and on record this is the oldest documented shop at Singtam bazaar!
The construction of Toppakhani Tunnel and Iron Bridge in the late 1920s did helped Singtam spread out to other locales. Prior to that I suppose it was just the earliest way of swapping “things” that were used by the small population out here. In later year tea shops with local cuisines could have been the earliest selling commodity the people of Singtam could have thought off when people far across the kingdom would come to this place to exchange or buy “siru”. Other than that in the names of business, it seems the people were more interested in selling off logs that were collected from the river beds. 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 that was done till late 70s.

“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 jungle and set up a dweller at Singtam. So I do not hesitate to say Taksaari Chandrabir Pradhan to be the father planner of Singtam bazaar.

The earliest mention of the name of Singtam bazaar I had ever found was in a Lepcha-Bhutia Grammar book that was published in 1888. The book finds Singtam to be one of the ten popular places in Sikkim. Here we can add the settlement at Singtam was there much before 1888. The original name of Singtam is Shichuthang which is a Lepcha word, but what happened to those earliest Lepcha settlers (if they were) that had lost its presence in this side of the region a century latter is little known.