Mt Kanchenjunga captured on the way to Dzuluk in East Sikkim Credit: Robin Gurung 

Gangtok: Sikkim’s ‘holy peak’ Mt Kanchenjunga — worshiped by the locals for centuries — is now among the 137 mountain peaks of the country which have been declared open for expedition by the Union ministry of home affairs (MHA).

While the announcement has put the third highest mountain in the world on the global map, the news has clearly questioned the sentiments of the Sikkimese people and shaken the local organisations and stakeholders in the state. The reason — they unanimously stand together in not accepting the notification and reaching out to the state government to maintain the sacredness of the peak.

Kanchenjunga, also spelled Khangchendzonga and Kangchenjunga, was first climbed on May 25, 1955 by Joe Brown and George Band, who were part of a British expedition. They stopped short of the summit in accordance with the promise given to the ‘Chogyal’ that the top of the mountain would remain intact. Every climber or climbing group that has reached the summit has followed this tradition.

Chogyals are the monarchs of the former kingdoms of Sikkim and Ladakh in present-day India, which were ruled by separate branches of the Namgyal dynasty.

Sikkimese worship Mt Kanchenjunga as their guardian deity. It is believed that the ‘mountain god’ played an active role in introducing Buddhism into this former kingdom. There is one-day festival called ‘Pang Lhabsol’ celebrated here seeking the ‘mountain god’ to continue protecting Sikkim.

The festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the 7th month of the Tibetan calendar corresponding to late August/early September. The ‘chaams’, which are part of this festival, are unique and the spectacular Pangtoed or warrior dance was choreographed by the third Chogyal Chador Namgyal, which is said to have appeared to him in a vision. The festival also marks the commemoration of blood brotherhood sworn between the Lepchas and the Bhutias at Kabi in the 15th century.

While speaking to EastMojo, Tseten Tashi, convenor of the Sikkim Bhutia Lepcha Apex Committee (SIBLAC), said that there has been a miscommunication while issuing the notification by the Union MHA.

“It is a clear violation of the special provision of 1991. It seems like the ones who have notified this order is not aware about the special provisions and acts which states Mt Kanchenjunga to be a sacred peak, including many other peaks in the state. They should go through the previous notifications and reconsider their decision,” he said.

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Tashi further urged the state government to take up this issue with the Centre as it concerns the sentiments of the Sikkimese people. “We will see what step the state government will take and, if necessary, SIBLAC will voice the issue in favour of the Sikkimese people,” he added.

Kunzang Gyatso, president of the Sikkim Mountaineering Association (SMA), expressed his concern and resentment in the hasty decision taken by the MHA. “SMA, the concerned and immediate organisation, was not at all aware about it. We are equally shocked and in dismay as Mt Kanchenjunga is more than a peak to us. The government should respect the sentiments of the Sikkimese. We favour the notification issued by the state government in 2001. The stakeholders had also submitted a list of mountain peaks to the state government which can be made open for expeditions but not Kanchenjunga,” he added.

Sonam Norgay Lachungpa, president of the Travel Agents’ Association of Sikkim (TAAS), also said that the local stakeholders’ opinion matters in such scenarios.
“Sacred and holy peaks of Sikkim should not be touched. For TAAS, Sikkimese sentiments are the priority. It’s not that we don’t have any other peaks in the state. We have many, which will help in boosting our tourism. We are determined to approach the authority concerned of the state for it,” he added.

Bhawani Gurung, publicity secretary of the Pang Lhabsol Celebration Committee Ravangla, cum chairman, Environment Conservation Society, highlighted the importance of Mt Kanchenjunga in the state. “If we look at it from a tourism point of view, then it will be a boon for us. But looking at the future and environment, we won’t accept it. We will call a meeting soon and submit a letter to the Centre,” he added.

The state ecclesiastical affairs department minister Sonam Lama could not be reached for comments.

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