Upon arrival in Sikkim, I was interested to see what the local press was saying about all this. Gyalma Karmapa¡ªthe 16th Karmapa¡ªhad made Sikkim his home starting in the 1960's after fleeing Tibet with the Dalai Lama. He established his monsatery at Rumtek¡ªin the Himalayan foothills just across the Ranipul Valley from Gangtok, Sikkim's capital. Rumtek is considered to be the Ugyen Trinley Dorje's ultimate destination.
Sikkim was an independent Himalayan kingdom until 1975 when it was usurped by India. The population is predominantly Nepali, Lechpa and Bhutia¡ªmountain peoples akin to Tibetans. There are also a significant number of Tibetan refugees.
Gangtok is small for an Indian provincial capital. It's local paper is an eight-page weekly. But the first article I read about the Karmapa offered an intriguing option in the ongoing saga. An option overlooked by the glossy magazine from New Delhi.
The Indian authorities, it said, could look the other way while the Karmapa slipped into Rumtek. China would then have to think twice about pressuring India to act since in doing so it would be recognizing Sikkim as part of India; something it hasn't done in the 25 years that Sikkim has been part of India.
We arrived at Rumtek three days before the TIbetan New year. The following day the annual "chaam" dances were to be held in the monastery's vast courtyard. We visited the Buddhist Institute that, along with the Karmapa's residence and the monsatery, constitutes the Rumtek complex. We waited patiently as a monk sent for the keys to the 16th Karmapa's residence.
Once inside we were lead to a room housing the Karmapa's possessions. Prayer flags, idols and photos were arranged in a shrine around a golden stupa. One item was notably absent; the Karmapa's Black Hat.