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'I am Sikkimese but my desh is India'
Vaihayasi Pande Daniel at Tsongmo lake, Sikkim | July 14, 2008

Duba is a rosy-cheeked Sikkimese lad who lives and works at Tsongmo Lake, 20 kms from Nathu La, which is India's border with China. It is at 14,140 feet through the Himalayas in eastern Sikkim, from where Lhasa, the Tibetan capital is just 525 km away.

An amphitheatre of lofty mountains surrounds you. Army camps, with coloured tin roofs and little fields growing Himalayan medicinal herbs line the torturously winding road up. The hillsides are fairly barren and the climate can be quite grim in winter. The Indian Army has heavily guarded this frontier since 1947.

Duba makes a livelihood from the tourists thronging Nathu La. After the hordes of happy tourists, many of them Bengali, get themselves photographed at the border with the smartly uniformed soldiers at the pass, they all find their way down to this picturesque lakeside to wander through the souvenir shops that line it, selling cheap handicrafts.

They make a darshan of the tiny temple; don Sikkimese costumes for their holiday snaps; have a piping hot cup of tea and take a ride on one of the decked-out, shaggy yaks.

One of the lads who cheerfully takes little girls and boys -- and sometimes adults -- for small rounds of the lakefront on his yak for Rs 20 or Rs 30 is Duba.

On sunny days the holy Changu lake -- called Tsongmo by the locals in the Bhutia dialect -- sparkles an entrancingly pretty blue. Damp days see it peeping out, a dull cement grey, from under a thick, soggy blanket of fog.

Duba, who is about 16, hails from the tiny village of Chipsu, a kilometer further in the interior. He belongs to a family of five -- parents, two brothers and a sister. His father runs a small grain shop and they do some potato farming.

Next in the series: This is how the other half lives

"About 5,000 people live in my area," he offers. "I am Sikkimese but my desh is India."

His yak's name is Rahul. He purchased him for Rs 10,000 a few years ago. Duba earns Rs 300 per day giving yak rides in the lean seasons; it goes up to Rs 500 in better seasons.

This Bhutia youngster watches quite a bit of television -- movies, news and football (Sikkim is the home state of India's best-known footballer Bhaichung Bhutia). "Ronaldo is my favourite player," he says.

Duba has travelled fairly far out of wee Chipsu. He has been to Darjeeling, Kolkata and even Delhi.

He has a few dreams. They are not too grand but he cherishes them. He hopes he can migrate away from this mountain paradise. "I want to move to a big city and start a little business maybe a shop," he says shyly. But Duba is not sure how he will swing it.

Meanwhile, he and docile Rahul are a landmark at the lake.

Photograph: Vaihayasi Pande Daniel

How India Lives

Earlier in the series: 'India has great opportunities, you just have to take your chances'
The auto driver whose kids want a life abroad
Diary of a successful Indian
The people's doctor
For the love of Billo
Why K R Babu is happy with inflation
No electricity, phone or TV and lions as neighbours

The exorcism of Nandai
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