Photo by PRATAP CHHETRI on Unsplash
India may seem like a homogenous home to its many people but it serves as an indubitable tribute to cultural plurality. There has always been a prevailing sense of peaceful co-existence that I picked up without much effort. Diverse cultures and individuals living together and thriving was the norm which I tried to replicate everywhere I went. I was privileged to grow up in a country which is such an undeniable melting pot of cultures, ethnicities and languages. Travel was certainly a great way to experience these differences and my trips afforded me a unique opportunity to do that and more. The India I saw not only helped me understand my own country but also appreciate the common values we all cherish.
I took a fairly recent trip to Gangtok, the capital city of the state of Sikkim, in Northeastern India. We walked for hours in the shaded promenade called the Ridge, located at the heart of the city. We passed through the fine Chogyal Palace, the seat of the Sikkimese royal family. There were many strategic viewpoints to take in the many statuesquely beautiful peaks surrounding this small city. Ganesh and Hanuman Tok, festooned with colourful prayer flags, offered some breathtaking views of the city along with piping Indian chai and street food. The true winner however was Tashi Viewpoint which afforded a majestic view of the mighty Kanchenjunga Mountain. The Himalayan Zoological Garden gave us a closer look at red pandas, civet cats and black bears.
I also witnessed celebrations for the Saga Dawa, an auspicious festival for Buddhists in the area. Monks performed ceremonial mask dances with swords and sparkling jewelry. They travel around Sikkim and offer butter lamps and prayers at monasteries. At the heart of this festive tradition lie similar values of togetherness and family bonding which we know so well. There may be varying forms of celebration but the inherent values underlying the festival are exactly the same.
We also journeyed to the Enchey Gompa, an ancient Buddhist monastery whose founder was known for his levitational skills. Around fifty kilometres from the city was the Nathu La Pass, marking India’s border with China. The snowy motorable road passed through the Tsmogo Lake which was undisputedly the most stunning lake I had set eyes on.
The camaraderie I witnessed at the border was quite extraordinary. At the time, the government had just initiated a cross border trade initiative and I saw countless trucks making their way across the pass. The guards I saw at the post were friendly faces from a foreign land but I recognized the same glimmer of human emotion and sentiment which I had grown up accustomed to. We were people on two sides of a fence but there was nothing which essentially divided us. The peaceful bonhomie between these seemingly diverse communities taught me valuable lessons in co-existence and respect.
The sustained belief that we were different but the same became the guiding principle for all my interactions. I learnt to embrace the differences which made us uniquely beautiful and cherish the human spirit which united us all. This approach helped me win friends over and develop long lasting friendships which will survive all manner of distance and divide. A form of acquired cultural intelligence which helped me navigate the cosmopolitan culture in Singapore and will continue to do so wherever I go from here on. I can now appreciate the importance of travel beyond simply being a recreational activity but food for my growing mind and personality.
Hi, I’m Sabhya. I grew up in Lucknow, India. After a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce from Lady Shri College of Women at the University of Delhi, I moved to Singapore in 2018 for my yearlong post graduate studies. I graduated with a Master in Management from the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School. Since young, I’ve been a prolific writer who has travelled extensively across India and has also been a public speaker since the fifth grade. As I navigate and transits through my new life in the little red dot – Singapore, I hope that I can regale you with my anecdotal tales.