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Last stop Sikkim

26 November 2010 by Emma Martin

View down to a pedestrianised street with shops on either side and mountains in the background

View over the Gangtok promenade

My final week of research has brought me to Gangtok, the state capital of Sikkim. Its a marked contrast to Kalimpong, here you are closer to the mountains, despite being in almost tropical jungle. The town is perched on a wooded valley hillside and looks out over rice paddies, that are just being harvested, and two important monasteries, Rumtek and Lingdum. Sikkim is wealthy in comparison to other hill states in India and the place has the feel of an English spa town. My work here will centre on the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology and the State Archive and already the work is going well. Everything stopped for a couple of days as Diwali was celebrated across India.  The Festival of Lights is a time of pujas to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and also a good excuse for families to get together and set off fireworks. These could be seen and heard across the town and for those wanting an early night’s sleep, a very decent pair of earplugs was essential. Read more…

Moving up to the Himalayas

12 November 2010 by Emma Martin

Monastery in the hills

Bhutia Busty Monastery with Kanchendzonga in the background.

Following the mad panic that always ensues at the end of a bout of archive fever, I managed to complete a good chunk of my research in the Delhi archives and have now moved up to the Northeast of India and to the mountains of West Bengal and Sikkim.

The work here is a little different in that I’m now trying to find the descendants of some of the men I have been reading about in the archives and also get a feel for the area Charles Bell worked in. My first stop was Darjeeling, where I spent a couple of days visiting places where Bell and the 13th Dalai Lama had stayed and visiting a photography studio that had a number of interesting historical photograph taken at the time Bell was there. The area is surrounded and dominated by the Khangchendzonga range, this is the third highest mountain in the world and as the temperatures have dipped for winter, there is a good covering of snow on the mountain tops. This is the perfect time of year to visit as the day are warm, and the views, as you can see, are very clear out to the mountains.  Read more…

Three weeks in the Delhi Archives

11 November 2010 by Emma Martin

Photo of high rise building

National Archives of India, New Delhi

Working through the vast archives of the National Archives of India is a lonely business. Very few people in the world get as excited as you do about the details and stories you find and so when elation strikes having found information on a Tibetan man you knew very little about, it’s not possible to run round the archives telling everyone you meet about your exciting discovery. 

The disease only found amongst archival researchers is commonly known as ‘archival fever’ and there is no known cure. I’ve had several of those experiences during the past three weeks of intensive scanning of catalogues and documents from the Foreign and Political records of British India in the early 20th century. It is here that I have gained a much clearer picture of Sir Charles Bell, his networks and his personal commitment to Tibet. Read more…

Two weeks in Dharamsala

10 November 2010 by Emma Martin

Photo of townhouses and cars

Tibet Museum in Dharamsala

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am currently in India undertaking research on the Tibet collections held at National Museums Liverpool. Upper Dharamsala or Mcleod Ganj is home to the 14th Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government-in-Exile and it is here that many cultural and governmental institutions were rebuilt after 1959 when many Tibetans including the Dalai Lama came to this small hill station to seek refuge.

Here you will find government offices, libraries and museums and a focus for many Buddhist pilgrims from around the world; the Tsuklagkhang.  In exile the Tsuklagkhang has become a focus for Tibetan Buddhist practice and in many ways acts as a replacement for the Jokhang, the seventh century temple which sits at the very heart of Lhasa in Tibet and is considered the most important Buddhist site for Tibetans. 

The Tsuklagkhang complex is home not only to the Dalai Lama’s official residence, but also the Tibet Museum, which tells through personal stories, photographs and video installations the events that changed individual Tibetans lives and choices and sacrifices those people made to reach India. I was impressed with the way those individual stories acted as symbols for the stories of many Tibetans who had made those journeys and unlike most museums I visit I read every word!  Read more…

Wading through the archives in India

15 October 2010 by Emma Martin

View of mountain with rainbow in the sky

A rainbow after the monsoon rains.

It has been over two weeks since I set out for India to undertake research on the Tibet collections held at National Museums Liverpool. It has been a very busy couple of weeks.

I began my research in New Delhi and the National Archives of India. Here, there are held hundreds of thousands of records relating to the British Empire in India. Of particular interest to me are the many hundreds of records relating to Sir Charles Bell, a colonial officer based in Sikkim, a small Himalayan state on the Northeast frontiers of India tucked in between Nepal and Bhutan.  It was from here that Bell worked as a diplomatic agent for the British Indian government developing and maintaining relationships with Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet. During the twenty years he worked in the area he learnt the Tibetan language, understood, more than most, Tibetan culture and protocols and became a friend of the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso. Read more…

Researching Liverpool’s Tibet collection

23 September 2010 by Emma Martin

A pale brick built building with steps leading up the entrance. Its pagaoda style roof is decorated with gilt Tibetan Buddhist embelms

The Norbulingka, near Dharamsala

Tomorrow, I fly to New Delhi, India… no, not to take part in the Commonwealth Games, but to begin nine week’s of fieldwork which, should result in new research relating to Liverpool’s Tibet collections. Although, I’m the full time Head of Ethnology here at World Museum, I’m also currently undertaking a part-time PhD at the School of Oriental and Africa Studies (SOAS), University of London and so I’m taking time away from the museum to carry out my PhD fieldwork. Read more…

A simple guide to horse packing

25 June 2010 by Emma Martin

woman getting a large model horse out of a box

Getting Biscuit the horse ready for his photo opportunity!

Yes, you have read the title correctly! Here in the Ethnology department we are busily packing lots of objects ready for them to have their photographs taken, before they go on display in the Global City gallery of the Museum of Liverpool.

This isn’t always as easy as it sounds. One of the more tricky objects I’ve had today has been a large brightly decorated enamel horse, which is almost 1 metre long. The horse has a detachable mane (which looks a little bit like a toupe) and tail that all needed packing together to ensure it looks its best in front of the cameras. It turns out there is more than one way to pack a horse, but I decided on a nice simple solution of strapping the horse into a box, making sure it can’t move about while its being transported. You could say, it will be travelling in its own handmade horsebox. Read more…

Tibetan Protests in Kathmandu

19 August 2008 by Emma Martin

photograph of a the dalai Lama standing on a small table and surrounded by flowers

Offerings for the health of the 14th Dalai Lama at a local gompa

For anyone spending time with the Tibetan community here in Boudhanath it is impossible to ignore the ‘Tibet Question’. Around the stupa storeowners sell t-shirts emblazoned with the Tibetan flag (which is banned in China) and the slogans ‘Save Tibet’ or ‘Free Tibet’. Although Tibetans regularly protest against the Olympic Games and Chinese rule in Tibet, freedom of speech here is not unconditional. The Nepal government has banned performances of Tibetan dance and opera and institutes, monasteries and schools have been warned against participating in protests or speaking out against the Chinese government, as this could result in the closing or removal of the organisations. Read more…

An auspicious week

8 August 2008 by Emma Martin

Monks standing in a row holding scarves

Monks lining up to give khata and receive blessings from the Rinpoche

This week has been a particular special one for the Tibetans living here in Boudhanath.The weekend saw two very good days for gaining extra merit. It had been calculated that on Friday and Sunday just one good deed on these days would be worth 10 thousand, or on Sunday, 10 million good deeds! To take just one round of the stupa, give money to the needy or to just be nice to the people you know would be a very auspicious or fortunate thing to do. Read more…



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We try to ensure that the information provided on our blog is accurate and that appropriate permissions to use images have been sought. The opinions in each blog are very much those of the individuals writing.