Although earthquakes are a common occurrence throughout the Himalayas, the one that struck in September 2011, with its epicentre at Mangan 42km northwest of Gangtok, was particularly destructive, leaving around sixty people dead and a trail of devastation as far away as Gangtok. The effects of the magnitude 6.9 quake were felt throughout the region, in Nepal and as far away as Kolkata. Much of the destruction took place around hydroelectric projects and led to disrupted roads and infrastructure. To compound the state’s communication nightmare, unseasonal rains in 2012 resulted in deadly landslides and loss of life, and North Sikkim was virtually cut off from the rest of the state for several weeks.
Industrialization and the construction of dams and numerous hydro-electric projects on Sikkim’s rivers, such as the Teesta, has brought pressure on the state’s diminishing indigenous population, threatening their lifestyle and heritage, particularly in Dzongu, the heartland of Lepchas. Although the voice of their protest is now all but lost, the destruction of habitat and the extraordinary strain on the state’s fragile road system is self-evident.