Terraced agriculture in Sikkim, the first state in India to try and switch entirely to organic farming. (Image courtesy Kiku Dhanwant)

Masset student prepares for Himalayan journey

Elim Sly Hooton is packing for Sikkihm, the first Indian state to adopt all-organic agriculture.

Elim Sly Hooton wants to see the world.

At age four, Elim travelled Europe with family and saw friends from Haida Gwaii — one of his earliest memories is of building an igloo in snowy Germany.

When Masset froze over last Christmas, he and his mother Barb were camping in the sand dunes of Baja, Mexico.

That’s where Elim, who turned 16 last week, had a chance encounter that will soon take him to the Buddhist monasteries and hillside tea fields in Sikkim, India.

“It’s going to be a lot different than here, and that’s interesting, the contrast of it all,” he says, speaking on home ground in Masset’s favourite coffee shop.

In Baja, Elim met a co-ordinator with Where There Be Dragons, a U.S. company that offers cross-cultural summer trips for high school and university students.

He suggested Elim would be a good fit.

It took an essay, interviews, a travel scholarship, and a fundraising dinner at Gudangaay Tlaats’gaa Naay, but six months later, Elim is packing a single bag for the Himalayas.

Ruled for centuries by Buddhist kings, Sikkim is now a state in northeast India, connected by mountain passes to Tibet, Bhutan, and Nepal.

Over a third of the state is part of Kanchendzonga National Park. At 8,586 metres, Kanchendzonga is India’s tallest mountain, and the third highest in the world.

Home to the red panda, orchids, and Darjeeling tea, Sikkim also has 11 official languages and in 2003 it became the first state in India to pursue all-organic agriculture.

Kiku Dhanwant, who presented a slideshow about her own trip to Sikkim at Elim’s fundraising dinner, said the Sikkim Organic Mission has its hiccups, but it’s admirable — especially given the heavy rains that can quickly wash away soil from its many steep, terraced hillsides.

On his 30-day trip, which starts at the end of June, Elim will join a group of 10 students who get to home-stay with local families as they travel. They will pick up some Nepali language, and also learn about Sikkim’s several religions and complex economic issues.

They will also volunteer on a community project and trek through some of the lush forest near Kanchendzonga, all during monsoon season.

“I haven’t put too much thought into it,” said Elim, speaking about the monsoon rains.

“I guess I’m just excited.”