Sikkimese media are reporting the beginning of a Tibet Festival in Gangtok, Sikkim’s capital, today as a symbol of gratitude from the Tibetan community to the state of Sikkim and to India. There is going to be several events in the next couple of days, including exhibitions, panel discussions and performances.
In his message on the occasion, His Holiness the Dalai Lama talks about the close historical relationship between the Sikkimese and the Tibetan people and also recalls his visits to Sikkim.
The close cultural affinity can be seen from the fact that the first research institute for Tibetan studies, now known as the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, was established in Gangtok in 1958, and the first illustrated magazine in Tibetan was published from Sikkim. It was called Yargyey Gongphel and I remember seeing some of the issues. It has now become defunct, unfortunately. Sikkim used to publish a newspaper in Tibetan called Dejong Jamata, edited by Tsewang Tamding la, but I don’t know if it is still in circulation.
I have been to Sikkim only once, the year His Holiness the Dalai Lama bestowed the sacred Kalachakra Initiation in Gangtok in 1993. In between my official duties (I was then with the Tibetan Department of Information & International Relations) handling the media and overseeing an exhibition, I was able to visit some of the historical places like the Choegyal’s Palace, the Tsuglakhang, Tashiding, the Enchi Monastery, as well as institutions like the Namgyal Institute of Tibetlogy etc. It was interesting to see the hillside around virtually covered with rows of prayer flags.
I still recall the well organized arrangements made for the Kalachakra Initiation. Quite many officials of the Sikkimese Government were deputed for the same. In my interaction with these officials, I noticed an interesting trend of using three languages, simultaneously, when they conversed among themselves. They would start in Sikkimese (Bhutia language), continue in English and conclude in Nepali, or something along these lines, thus giving an indication of the sort of cultural development they were undergoing.
While going around Gangtok one day, a friend pointed to an ordinary looking building on a hillside, I think, and told me that this was the place where the Tibetan gold was stored when they were sent from Lhasa to India. As followers of contemporary Tibetan history know, the gold belonged to the Tibetan Government and it was later converted into cash, invested in some not-too-successful ventures, and also became the initial financial source for the Central Tibetan Administration in undertaking its socio-economic activities.