Room and Board

Inside Gangtok’s skateboarding subculture

31 December 2022
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In September 2018, a member of the skateboarding community in Gangtok invited me to photograph an event. That was my first glimpse into this small fraternity and the skateboarding subculture in the city. In the following months, I started getting more involved with the community and in 2019, I decided to pursue this as a photography project.

In my photography work, I find it important to feel a personal connection with the subject—that is what attracts me to a project. As I witnessed the daily lives of the skateboarders in Gangtok, it echoed with the struggles of my youth. I found that I could relate to their experiences of growing up in this town. There is a marked dearth of facilities and open spaces for young people in Gangtok. There are limited avenues available for them to channel their energies in productive or creative ways. Public spaces where they can meet during their spare time are hard to come by. And many get immersed in drugs. That is how I grew up. I have sometimes partaken in it myself, seen people overdose and lost friends to drugs. Sikkim has one of the highest suicide rates in the country, at 37.5 per 100,000 people, much higher than the Indian average of 10.6.

As I became familiar with the skateboarding subculture, I realised that it represented a spot of light amid the town’s darker underbelly. It is an attempt to foster a new space and build something positive in the city, despite its constraints. Gangtok is a small mountain city. Overtime it has grown bigger and dense, leaving barely any space for the ordinary public. The city is a concrete jungle of supermarkets, office buildings, hotels and spaces catering to tourists, as it is heavily dependent on tourism. The only potentially open space in the Gangtok main city for the public is a terrace atop a supermarket in the Lal Bazaar area, which has come to be known as the LB Terrace. This is where many of Gangtok’s young people come and spend their time.

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    Kunga Tashi Lepcha is an independent photographer based in Gangtok, Sikkim. He works on identity, space, the environment and social issues.

    Keywords: Sikkim sport in India drug addiction subculture