An Exclusive Interview With ALICE S. KANDELL
Lens Magazine|July 2020
SIKKIM The Lost Kingdom
Catalin CROITORU
Alice Kandell first visited the ancient kingdom of Sikkim (now part of India) in 1963 to attend the coronation of her best friend, Hope Cooke (married the Sikkimese King). Alice fell in love with the culture, people, and the art. At the request of the King, Alice produced two books of photographs on the life and art of the kingdom.

Beyond her photographs, Alice has amassed one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist art and artifact collections in the world. Her collection has been documented in two photography books, A Shrine for Tibet: The Alice S. Kandell Collection and Assembly Of The Exalted. A portion of her collection is now housed at The Smithsonian.

Alice S. Kandell is an American child psychologist, author, photographer and art collector interested in Himalayan culture.

She worked extensively in the Indian state of Sikkim as a photographer, capturing approximately 15,000 color slides, as well as black and white photographs.

She initially visited Sikkim to attend the coronation ceremony of Hope Cooke, an American woman who married Palden Thondup Namgyal, King of Sikkim. She is the author or co-author of two books, Mountaintop Kingdom : Sikkim, and a book for children, called Sikkim: The Hidden Kingdom. Her private collection of Tibetan art was covered in A Shrine for Tibet: The Alice S. Kandell Collection of Tibetan Sacred Art, by Marylin Rhie and Robert Thurman, with photographs by John Bigelow Taylor. In 2011, she donated a collection of Tibetan art to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian, and about 300 pictures to the Library of Congress.

It has half of million inhabitants; its surface is about 7.000 square kilometers, and the land is bordered by the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau.

In the Middle Age, the secret Silk Road to and from China was passing through; until not so long ago, it was a secret kingdom. Now it is a part of India.

Sikkim, the lost Kingdom, was given many names: the ancestors used to call it Nye-Mae-El, or The Paradise; it was later known as Su-Khim, or The New House, while other locals named it Beymul Demazong, The Hidden Valley Of Rice... But as for modern times, Sikkim is the common name of this region.

For about a decade, an American woman witnessed the daily life of the country.

Her camera took pictures of everything: the kids playing, the rice sellers at the market, the King and the Queen, the royal wedding, portraits of the prince, and of his sister...Alice S. Kandell began her journey as a student and art collector, interested in the Himalayan culture.

What started as a vacation in 1965 was ended ten years later, a journey of 15.000 pictures and a vast collection of Tibetan art. Lens Magazine presents to you the incredible memories of Ms. Kandell.

Lens Magazine: Did you like to travel? Did you go on other expeditions or adventures in the wild before you took that fantastic voyage to Sikkim?

Alice Kandell: My father liked to travel and took the family with him. When I was 13, we went to the Yucatán and Chichen Itza, which had a dirt road from Merida, and our hotel had a dirt floor. I remember a tarantula crawling in on the floor in the middle of the night. We traveled to South America as children.

L.M: Why did you want to travel to that specific part of the world? How did everything begin?

A.K: When I was in college, a professor was taking some girls on a trip to Russia. One of the girls on the trip came to me and asked if I would like to go to Tibet after the trip. I, of course, jumped at the chance and said, “sure.” Little did I know that there was a war going on with China and Tibet. My parents said no. However, my friend, Hope Cooke, wanted very much to go and went alone. Of course, she did not get to Tibet but was stopped on the border in Darjeeling. There she stayed at the Windemere Hotel. During her stay, a young man, the crown prince of the neighboring independent kingdom of Sikkim Came to Darjeeling to visit his children in school. He was a widower. His wife had died, and he was left with three children. They fell in love and got engaged. Soon after they were married.

In the fullness of time, the crown prince’s father passed away, and Hope’s husband was to become king, and her - his queen. There was to be a coronation were Hope Cooke would be crowned the first American queen.

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