Crimson Tide

Sikkim is under siege, by the reds. Giant poinsettias, taking advantage of the rhododendrons being exiled by winter’s harsh dictat, have taken up positions all over the state. Sprouting out of the ground unexpectedly, bloodying incandescent stretches of green mountains. Perched precariously on mountain edges, they’re intermittently sent down by the wind to take a closer look at the outstate cars wheezing up the hairpin bends. They’ve even crept into people’s homes, triumphantly waving the red flag out of balconies and terraces.

The locals don’t blink an eyelid. OD-ing on red comforts them. They see the poinsettias as just another motif on the red cape that engulfs the state. Scarlet prayer flags flutter everywhere; monks in maroon scurry through the serpentine streets, the gompas with their treasure trove of statues and thangkas are ablaze with crimson. Why even the state’s patron deity–the Khan-chen-dzonga (Kanchenjunga to you and me), whose five peaks stand over the state like a palm held up in perpetual blessing­­–is a red-robed god.

Mythically beautiful, Sikkim sits in the Eastern Himalayas. Spread below the 8598 metre-high Khan-chen-dzonga, the thumb-like state resembles a steep stairway trotting down from the western border of the Tibetan plateau to the plains of West Bengal, a fall of 5215 metres in just 240 km. The Teesta, which fast-flows through the state, plays copy cat. Born in the farthest north of Sikkim, it drops 4000 metres–in a series of heart-stopping waterfalls–in just the first 80 km of its travels.

It may be the second smallest state in India (after Goa), but there is little that Sikkim does not have by way of natural offerings. Mountain peaks? It has 28 of them. Glaciers? There are 21. Lakes number 227 with five hot springs; and of rivers and streams, there are over a hundred. Of the 5000 species of orchids in the world, 600 can be found in Sikkim. There are 36 species of the rhododendron alone, whose brilliant blossoms set the hillside forests ablaze in spring.

Not that colour is confined to Sikkim’s flowers alone; the distinctive architecture of the state’s near about 200 monasteries wouldn’t be half as eye catching if the buildings weren’t dipped in Crayola. The three-storied Rumtek monastery outside the capital city of Gangtok, is adorned with larger-than-life kodachromed frescoes of hoary Buddhist legends and vivid silk and brocade thangkas. The Pemayangtse monastery, named after the sublime perfect lotus, has interiors that are covered with gaudy murals of the Tibetan Buddhism pantheon.

The Mayfair Resort, situated by the little known town of Ranipool, is another member of the colour wheel-meets-architectural digest party. Owned by the Bhubaneswar-based Mayfair Hotels group, its uniqueness lies in the fact that it has been created to fit in with its surroundings by a mix of builders and craftsmen from Sikkim, and Odisha.

Built atop a lushly forested mountain, the 15-acre resort resembles the local monasteries in its architectural detailing and the liberal use of colour. The drive up from the gate brings guests to a magnificent, traditional red-pillared doorway, with prayer wheels built into the stone walls that run along both sides of the entrance. Nine steps up, past two Sikkimese lions who guard the door, you’re in a large courtyard, looking at three buildings with definite monastic elements. On your immediate left, inside an alcove, is a giant statue of a seated Buddha, with the most beautiful face you’ve seen in a long time. In his right hand, he holds out a lotus.

The sight on your right is more unexpected. The mini altar is a replica of Nepal’s Pashupatinath temple. A team of pundits from the Jagannath temple in Puri perform the puja here every morning and evening, you’re told. Apparently, it’s an old Mayfair custom, practised across all its properties.

The resort spans four levels but it’s difficult to detect them at first glance. Mayfair gives off a feel of a lateral spread rather than a vertical one. The guest rooms, suites and villas—and there are many of each—are spread generously across the resort, with elevators and golf carts facilitating easy movement between them and the public areas.  

Every bunch of rooms in the resort has a special name, chosen for some feature that marks them. The Bamboo Retreat, with its collection of 17 rooms, has the continuous rustling of bamboo leaves as background music. The Forest Retreat is, not surprisingly, almost engulfed in trees.

The hotel also plays home to India’s first full-fledged onshore casino, kitted out with card tables, roulette, black jack, baccarat, kitty, mini flush, poker, wheel of fortune and slot machines.

For those who don’t want to work for their money, there’s a spa  perched on top of the mountain. On offer is a bouquet of face and body treatments alongwith yoga on a pine-fringed open deck. Consider floating on a Zero bed as a Thailand-trained therapist attacks your hot spots. Mohammed Ali-like, her hands roam your back, alternately floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. Buddhist chants break the silence around you. Outside the large glass windows, pine trees struggle to compete for attention with the poinsettias. It’s a no-win situation. The crimson tide washes over everything else. The takeover of Sikkim is complete.

Courtesy: India Today Spice (First published in January 2011 )

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