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Monday, July 22, 2013

A high altitude seminar for new generation Bnei Menashe
By Yochanan Phaltual - Shavei Israel Administrator India

Last week I was assigned to visit the farthest Northeast Indian state by Shavei Israel to confirm a place for Bnei Menashe’s new generation Seminar.

As Sikkim currently does not have any airports or railways because of its rough terrain, I boarded a plane to Bagdogra Airport, the closest operational airport to Sikkim which is near the city of Siliguri in West Bengal state. The airport is about 123 Kms from Bagdogra to Gangtok, the capital city of Sikkim and was approximately 4 and half hours journey.

Nestling in the Himalayan Mountains, Sikkim is a landlocked Indian state surrounded by 3 countries – Nepal in the west, Tibet (Autonomous Region of China) in the north and Bhutan to the east. The sub-tropical to Alpine climate makes the air cool and the high altitude mountains are entirely covered by different trees. The busy lifeline roadway “National Highway 31” is followed all the way by the Teesta River, which is also considered the state’s key waterway with two hydroelectric dams under constructions.

I pulled up at Malli for a refreshing Darjeeling tea. Malli is a small beautiful town and a place of Sikkim’s government tourism offices. Any foreigners are required to obtain Restricted Area Permit (RAP) at the Foreigners Registration Office either in Malli or in Rangpo (half way to Gangtok) on the strength of valid Indian Visa.

On my way up to Gangtok, I saw many tourist taxis returning from their holidays. Many mainland’s Indian choose this hill station city as a vacation spot to escape the unbearable May-June heat.

Sikkim is a nice place and being a Northeasterner myself I never felt like stranger over there. My experiences of the fraternity and the unique bonds of friendship between the Northeastern people while studying in college in New Delhi gave me much confidence and familiarity with the psyche of the people. I had a long talked with my taxi driver Mr. Pawan about Sikkim and I discovered many new things about the places and the people.

The state Sikkim has late entrants to political Union of India. Only in May, 1975, Sikkim became the 22nd state of the Indian Union and the monarchy was abolished. Sikkim is the only state in India with an ethnic Nepali majority and Nepali is its lingua-franca. The original (natives) inhabitants were the Lepcha and Bhutias (India’s most popular and football legend Bhaichung Bhutia belongs to Bhutia ethnic). Hinduism were the majority, second is Buddhism and the Christians were third.

There was a long line of different dynasties and with the beginning of the British rule in India; Sikkim became a British protectorate in 1890. After Indian Independence in 1947, under Nehru (first PM of India) Sikkim became a special protectorate status and only in 1975 it was admitted in the Indian Union as a full-fledge state.

The Himalayan pass of Nathu La in Sikkim, a gateway connecting Lhasa (Tibet capital) to India was opened again to cross-border trade in July 2006 after it has been closed since the humiliating 1962 Sino-Indian War (where many Bnei Menashe in Indian Army– like Zeptha Zou z’’l and Eliezer Lalthang Gangte z’’l - in the Assam Regiment and Assam Rifles had told to me the story about the debacles, weakness and ill preparations of the Indian Defense).

The boons for Sikkim economy from opening the Nathu La pass can be seen if we stroll down the most famous landmark area of Gangtok – MG. Like the Times Square in New York or Connaught Place in New Delhi the MG (Mahatma Gandhi) Marg is a big market square located in the heart of the city. Everyone young and the aged were colorfully dressed making the place more beautiful. After two days travelling, I need a bit hang-out and so with the hotel manager of Flora Fountain (where I stay and the place for seminar) Mr. Pema, we had a large refreshing glass of Sikkimese coffee and it was a real treat at MG.

Just good to know that in this G-d’s given nature beauty Eastern Himalayas, the third highest mountain in the world and the highest peak in India Mount Kanchenjunga is adorned with snow and exotic flora and fauna. Sikkim is a destination for tourism. The state offers tours for everyone from those seeking solitude for meditation and for adventure lovers there is tracking in the mountains, river rafting (unfortunately not a season for rafting due to monsoon), rock climbing and lots more.

Soon, B’ezrat Hashem, in a couple of weeks, with blessings from Shavei Israel in Jerusalem the Bnei Menashe is going to have a NEW SEMINAR FOR NEW GENERATION. It is aim at continuing the line and traditions of previous Shavei Israel’s fellows – to create a new beginning of new group for strengthening the community with new vigor, more substantial and distinguished programs.

The place is far and the objectives are huge to reach our destiny (Eretz Israel) which is neither near. The place is of high altitude so are the high responsibility and the place is new so are the groups of new generation.

And don’t forget: The blessings, love and support of Shavei Israel for Bnei Menashe that comes down from the Holy City of Jerusalem. No need of other words – JUST PRAISE G-D AND GIVE THANKS TO SHAVEI ISRAEL.

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