Sikkim: Requiem for a Himalayan Kingdom

The Key to the Kingdom

Sikkim; ever heard of it? You wouldn’t be the only one. Yet Sikkim is a hidden treasure, only accessible by winding roads climbing ever higher to the foot of Khangchendzonga, the third highest mountain on earth. Sikkim is remote, certainly, but unlike other remote places – Antarctica for example – also a cultural shangri-la of immense natural beauty, where once a Buddhist king married his own American Grace Kelly and delivered the country into ruin. Well, if not ruin, at least into the hands of India; which for the King amounted to the same thing.

The story is told by Andrew Duff who was drawn to the country by the simple desire to retrace the steps his grandfather took almost 100 years before. The book started as a search for a trail but quickly became a search for answers: How was it that this independent kingdom came to be Indian? When a small country gets sucked into the games of the Great Powers – China, Britain, Russia, and India itself – what cards does it have to play? Was the demonic Khazini of Chakung really a Scot? Was the King’s sister, Princess Coocoola, really the most beautiful woman in the world? The book is full of larger than life characters and their intrigues echo from small court to great world and back again … and the King sighs and the Queen returns to America and the grip of the world tightens.

For all its detail – and the research is extensive – the book reads like a thriller. The writing is effortless and at the end when you put it down you think, yes, that’s how it must have been. I am looking forward to Andrew Duff’s next forensic examination with great expectation.