Yangyang, Sikkim – Memories of a beautiful isolation
As the world is held in lockdown and we all have slowed and brought ourselves down to bare essentials in life, all I can feel is GRATITUDE. While nature is rebooting, trees are overflowing with blossoms, animals are returning to their habitat, I sit back and reminisce about the time when I spent a few days in isolation at Yangyang, South Sikkim.
Back in 2017, Yangyang was almost cut off from the rest of the world. With terrible roads connecting the village to Singtam, barely any mobile network coverage and no Internet, I had very little idea that I was indeed headed for an ultimate digital detox.
Yanyang also called Yangang, is a small village in Ravong, South Sikkim, best known for its panoramic views of the Himalayan range. Famous for the Bhale Dhunga and Pothe Dhunga, the two ridges that stand adjacent to each other, Yangyang is a sight to behold. Well, Bhale in Nepali refers to a rooster, Pothe means a hen and Dhunga is a rock, so basically, these two ridges are nothing but a rocking couple! Bhale and Pothe Dhunga are also a very popular day hike trail.
Yangyang is also home to the biggest Police Training Centre (PTC) in Sikkim that trains all the police personnel in the state. The village also has a cultural park called the Mainam Cultural Park which is a beauty in itself.
Community Outreach Programme, Yangyang
It was in January 2017, that one of my friends asked if I could teach a few kids in a Sikkimese village. She connected me to the then principal of PTC SP Dhiren Lama who needed English teachers to teach children in the area as a part of the Community Outreach Programme. The Community Outreach Programme was an initiative by the Sikkim Police that aimed to engage and impart skills to the children in the area during the winter vacation. Generally, schools in Sikkim end their term by November every year. And through December, January and the first week of February children enjoy the bliss of a utopian winter vacation.
As important as this vacation is for children due to the harsh winter of the state, it’s also a reason for them to turn idle. The Public Outreach Programme thus aimed to make use of these long vacations into something fruitful for the kids. As a part of this initiative, the students of Yangyang, Sikkim, were coached in Football, Self defence and English Speaking & Writing.
My Welcome at Yangyang, Sikkim
I reached Yangyang on a cold evening and was welcomed by the staff there. I was shown to a spacious new police quarter where I was to live alone. The quarter was a 2bhk apartment with all the basic necessities, well lit and well provided with a bed, quilts, room heater and toiletries.
Now, I am a very brave person otherwise and don’t mind living alone. After all, I have been living alone and away from home for almost 14 years now. But something told me that I could not survive the night in that lonesome apartment. The silence of the mountains is piercing, especially in the nights. Although I was raised in the same mountains, I admit that I was beyond scared to stay alone in Yangyang. I requested to shift in with any lady staff who was okay to host me for a few days and thankfully Jharna agreed. Oh, what a saviour she was!
I moved in with Jharna into her similar apartment and took up the guest room. What a hassle it was, to have the entire staff move my stuff from one building to another. I still am quite apologetic for being such a coward that day.
I settled myself and for dinner was invited to the then SP of Yangyang, Mr Dhiren Lama’s residence to meet the other teachers and the cops. It was a delightful evening with some amazing food and conversation with the men.
My time in Yangyang, Sikkim
I woke up to beautiful mornings here, the kinds that you experience only in the mountains. It refreshed my childhood memories of winter in Gangtok, Sikkim. My home was on top of a mountain and my window opened to the most beautiful vistas of the Kanchendzonga peak, that on most days were covered with thick grey clouds. Yangyang felt like yet another homecoming.
Read more about my homecoming to Gangtok
My mornings thereafter began with a nice long stroll around the PTC campus and sometimes outside along the roads of the village. On my way back I would stop at the ground and watch the cops indulge in some power-packed football matches. Thronged by trees on one side and the mountains on the other, the roads seemed quite lonely if it were not for the intermittent bougainvillaea that added a dash of colours.
I must tell you, Sikkim and its people are known for their hospitality. Also, the respect they bestow on teachers is something unmatched. My mother was a teacher in the State for close to 20 years and the respect and adulation she received from the children or their parents were unparalleled. I got to experience something similar during my stay too.
My very first Teaching experience
I started teaching a bunch of kids, a heterogeneous mix actually. My students were from classes Kindergarten to the fifth standard. The challenge was I couldn’t teach all of them the same thing. Therefore, I grouped them as per their classes and started teaching them the basics of English grammar. I spent the rest of the days studying and researching fun ways to teach kids. The lack of internet made it all the more challenging.
On one of my morning walks, I discovered a spot on the campus with enough network strength and decent internet speed. I spent a few hours every day taking screenshots and notes and preparing for the next day’s class from this spot.
I had absolute fun teaching kids and learning along with them. Most of my students studied in Government-run schools and the sad reality is the standard of education isn’t impressive in such schools. The knowledge of the English language is considered an important skill in India that helps you secure admissions for higher education and get jobs, but very little is done to teach it properly in Government schools. The same goes for other subjects taught. During my brief stint, I also learnt that teaching isn’t an easy job. To be able to teach and impart education is surely one of the noblest pursuits.
What did isolation feel like?
Though it wasn’t absolute isolation, it was a refreshing experience to be disconnected from the virtual world. My days comprised of waking up to cold misty mornings, walking along the trails, clicking pictures, spending the rest of the day with kids and returning home by noon. I read books, watched Friends on my laptop (no Netflix obviously), ate well on time and slept well in the cosy comfort of a quilt. Cut off from everyone apart from occasional phone calls with family and a few friends, the disconnection kinda felt nice. I had no access to Facebook or Instagram. And occasionally I posted pictures online from the same spot where I went to do my research.
Indeed I experienced pure bliss in an introvert’s paradise. Somedays, I hiked up the mountains, met locals, watched them distil alcohol from grains, enjoyed teaching and spending time with the kids. I also took part in the Republic Day celebrations and witnessed an organic produce & food festival. While on other days, I just lay on the grass soaking up all the winter sunlight absolutely aloof and did nothing.
Everyone I met at Yangyang treated me with utmost respect, love and care. The staff who cooked my meals, Jharna whom I lived with, Mr Dhiren Lama, the children and all the cops who resided in the campus, were all very warm and welcoming.
By the end of two weeks, it was time to leave and unknowingly I had formed a bond with Yangyang and its people. I had come here empty-handed but was leaving with the most cherished memories of a place I long called home. I don’t know why but somehow I couldn’t write about my experiences of Yangyang for these many years. And now as I am living a life of isolation again, it brings back those fond memories of my days as a teacher. I so wish to go back there someday. Maybe teach kids again and though I know a lot of things may have changed, I am sure Yangyang will still feel like home.