We got to Yuksom on an overcast afternoon. It is a very small town today. Most businesses cater to tourists who start treks into the Kanchendzonga nature park from here. One has to make an effort to imagine Yuksom as the capital of a new nation, when it was founded almost 400 years ago. I’ve yet to read a coherent account of the history of the Himalayan kingdoms, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan, and their relations with the great powers in the north, Tibet and China, in the days before the British expanded across this region. So what I have to say here is pieced together from many sources.
The root of the nation-state of Sikkim was the coronation, in Yuksom, of Phuntsog Namgyal as the first Chogyal in the year 1642. The prelude to this event is said to be the arrival in Norbugang in Yuksom of three great Lamas from Tibet, present-day Nepal, and present-day India. This bland description must hide a lot of history, given the wars which one reads about in the next two hundred years.
What remains of the coronation throne is a stone structure (see photo above) which stands in a serene little park. Behind the throne towers a great pine tree. This variety of pine, called Sugi in Japan, can live very long; the oldest is estimated to be several thousand years old. It is not hard to imagine that the tree behind the throne is more than 400 years old, and may have towered behind the scene of the coronation.
The Chogyal spread Buddhism throughout Sikkim, and set up the religious-political system of governance, through monastic forts (Dzongs) which resembled the system used till recently in neighbouring Bhutan. Perhaps because of this association between temporal and religious power, the throne is treated as a religious object. There are traditional scarfs (khata) tied around the fence, butter lamps flicker under it, bowls of water are set out around it, and the area is surrounded by prayer flags. We saw several fragments of carved stone tablets propped up on the throne. Some of these just say “Om Mani Padme Hum” in the Tibetan script. One, pictured alongside, seems to be a representation of the Bhavachakra (wheel of life). There is no information on the provenance of these tablets.
In front of the remains of the coronation throne is the Norbugang chorten. It is supposed to have been built around the time of the coronation. Most stories about it say that it holds stones and mud from all the districts of what was then the kingdom of Sikkim, signifying the unity of the new nation.
Off to one side is a small stone with a hollow which is said to be the footprint of one of the three gurus. A family was washing this stone when we arrived. Three children were not interested. They stalked past us. The oldest child, a pre-teen girl, said “Hello” as she led her siblings away. The grandmother covered the hollow with a wooden cover. The parents called out to the children. They came back, but not very willingly. The young girl took a camera: brushed away the wooden cover and took a photo. Then she opened the gate in the fence to the throne with a clatter and went in to take a photo. The grandmother was clearly upset by this behaviour, and the family quickly left. We took photos of the footprint and replaced the cover before leaving.
The chorten and the throne stand in a little park. The place is full of pines and deodar, with prayer flags in vivid colours strung out between the trees. The park is very quiet. The air of serenity is at complete variance with the political history of Sikkim in the early days of the Chogyals.