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Tibet and the Himalayas: The Gangtok Conference By Thubten Samphel

By Thubten Samphel:
Ancient pilgrims and scholars who made the journey to Buddhist India summed up the fruit of their intense collective spiritual endeavour with these words: the waters of the Ganges have made the desert sands of Central Asia bloom. This saying disregards geography. It also defies gravity. But it is true. More than 2000 years ago, Buddhism made its way from India along the Silk Road to China. Several hundred years later, Buddhism made its way to Tibet. One lasting beneficiary of Buddhism’s northward march is Tibet. Buddhism transformed Tibet and created the Tibetan Buddhist civilization, which in turn embedded itself deeply in the cultures and the lifestyles of the peoples of the Himalayan region.

This was the theme of the second in the series of the conference on Tibet’s relations with the Himalayas organised by the Foundation for Non-violent Alternatives, a Delhi-based institute devoted to developing peace studies. The first on the same theme was held in Leh last October. The second conference on Tibet and the Himalayas was organised jointly with Sikkim University.

Or to put it in another way, as Professor Siddiq Wahid says, the cultures that developed in the Himalayas were the products of the Tibetan Buddhist civilization that flowed from the north and the Indic civilization that wafted from the south. Like in Leh, this time in Gangtok, Professor Siddiq Wahid moderated the discussion on Tibet’s relations with the Himalayas, setting the theme in context, inviting the speakers to probe deeper into their given fields of study. His efforts and the papers contributed by scholars resulted, perhaps, in one of the most comprehensive examinations of the Himalayas and its enduring links with Tibet.

One of the refreshing features of the Gangtok conference was the contributions made by the researchers and students of Sikkim University. They presented their research findings on the border trade between India and Tibet, gender participation in the Buddhist Himalayas and the changing identity of the Tibetans in Sikkim and Darjeeling. Listening to their presentations made on realise the enormous potential of Sikkim University on making significant contributions to scholarship on the Himalayas.

And in the years to come, the Himalayas will assume greater importance. Tibet has been divested of its traditional role as a buffer between India and China because of China’s effective control of the country. However Tibet’s geopolitical importance has been replaced by its environmental relevance in the day-to-day lives of millions downstream. How to manage the Himalayas and how to approach China’s construction of dams in Tibet would require India to broom a steady and increasing pool of talent and experts on the issue. And one of the ways to doing this is to encourage young scholars like the students of Sikkim University to delve deeper into these issues.

Another highlight of the Sikkim visit was meeting the Governor Balmiki Prasad Singh, who served India with great distinction in many important posts, including the chancellor of the Central University of Higher Tibetan Studies in Sarnath. Two years ago he presided over the four-day Global Buddhist Conference held in New Delhi attended by over 1,000 thinkers and scholars.

The governor was good enough to invite us for an afternoon tea at his residence. The drawing room where he received us was adorned by a large oil painting of His Holiness the Dalai Lama when he was about four. A large thangka adorned another wall and low Tibetan tables gave the room a distinctly Tibetan ambience. Along with tea and coffee, momos were served.

The residence of the governor was the Residency during the days of the British Raj from where the British political officer (PO) managed British India’s affairs with Tibet, Bhutan and Sikkim. Meeting the governor was an honour but his showing us around his office and compound was an invitation to a privileged peek into history. And here’s what history tells of the Residency in the words of Margaret Williamson, the wife of Frederick Williamson, who served as the political officer in Gangtok in the 1930’s. “At first sight, the Residency struck me as looking just like an English country house …But the crowning glory of the place was the magnificent view that it commanded of the Kanchenjunga range to the west. Claude White, the first PO Sikkim, who had built the Residency between 1888 and 1890 had certainly chosen a perfect setting.”

The views expressed in this piece are that of the author and the publication of the piece on this website does not necessarily reflect their endorsement by the website.
Source: phayul

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