Saturday, April 03, 2010

Singtam’s Heritage

My outlook towards the Heritage Management Seminar-2

Singtam’s Heritage

One of the interesting topics of the day (at Two Days Seminar on Strategy for Heritage Management for Sikkim organised by the Cultural Department at Denzong Residency) I really enjoyed was about the talk on Cultural Resource Mapping of Sikkim beautifully presented before the listeners. To be serious I never knew much about this till that day. The objectives of cultural resource management are the preservation, conservation and enhancement of cultural resources. Since being a student of Sikkim History, the topic of preservation and conservation too holds an important terms in my dictionary. While going through the presentation I was talking within myself did it featured the four historical landmark of Singtam. Here I am talking about the four monuments I wish the State Government could take interest on. These includes the Old Iron Bridge (1929), Toppakhani Tunnel (late 1920s), Pre-merger Sikkim Milepost and Old Hospital Gate (1950s).

The matter that was taken into discussion inside the Seminar on Strategy for Heritage Management for Sikkim was very innovative and exciting and I wish to provide few informations of my little knowledge that could be of some important for Singtam’s Heritage in days to come.

1. Old Iron Bridge (1929): The British period Iron Bridge build in 1929 by Burn and Company Limited, Bridge Builders, Howrah as it is cleanly mentioned in its name plate hangs atop of the front and the back side of the bridge is a landmark that people love to talk. Though limited to pedestrian walk since few years it is a heritage that could be preserved with proper renovation. This bridge is also known as old bridge since the new motorable bridge runs from the other side of the Town without entering Singtam bazaar. This bridge could probably be one of the oldest iron bridges in Sikkim.

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.

2. Toppakhani Tunnel (late 1920s): The construction of the Toppakhani Tunnel, couple of kilometers from Singtam was carried around the same time when the Iron Bridge of Singtam Town was raised. The Toppakhani Tunnel finds in history of Sikkim as the first motorable tunnel in Sikkim. Build more than nine decades earlier, today it needs proper maintenance, usually in rainy season the waters dripping from the stone roof is observed that could result in serious mishap.

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.

3. Pre-merger Sikkim Milepost: A rare mile-post from the old transport days of Independent Sikkim is found lying alongside the National Highway 31A at Shantinagar, a kilometer from Singtam. Built during the British influence in Sikkim shows Rangpo 8 mile with the arrow pointed towards left side i.e. west direction, while the distance towards Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim is pointed 17 mile towards east. So accurate is the calculation then that even in this date the transformation of 17 mile from Singtam to Gangtok is the same when it is converted into kilometer i.e. 27.2km.

4. Old Hospital Gate (1950s): The gate is the only thing that's left of that Old Hospital out at Shantinagar, a kilometer from Singtam. The King of Sikkim, late Chogyal Tashi Namgyal had visited this place to inaugurate the hospital in mids 1950s. Today the hospital had been shifted to other place the much larger District Hospital of Singtam and over the years this lone gate stands against all odds. I have heard people talking to dismantle it since their loads on truck does not pass beyond this gate but I ask is it worth removing the pillar of past. I say how many such heritage structure is there in Sikkim related to its great past. Even to this day the popular name of this place is Old Hospital Colony that had been changed to Shantinagar just few years back.

My informations on Singtam’s heritage would be incomplete if I don’t mention the small Coronation Park that is found little above the Singtam Bazaar on the way to Gangtok. Then build in an occasion of the Coronation of the Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal in 1965 as few such Coronation Parks were also constructed in other parts of Sikkim. Today the Coronation Park is changed into Bhanu Udhyan where yearly state level Bhanu Jayanti is celebrated with the garlanding of the Bhanu Bhakta statue that is installed at the Park. 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! I here also give an importance to a Shiv Mandir inside the Thakurbari Mandir in the heart of the town that is also as old as the establishment of Singtam, constructed by the early inhabitant of this place.