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Changu Lake stamp and Sikkim Philately

Very little is known about the postal history of Sikkim. Though post offices in Sikkim started in 1888 in Dulapchin (now Dalapchand), near Rongli and meager information has been established so far. The following article is in no reference to the postal history of Sikkim but tries to recapture the honour received by Sikkim when Indian Postage issued a postal stamp on Changu Lake. Sikkim Philatelic Club wants to express gratitude towards the Indian Postal Department for their generous effort on honouring a place for Changu Lake in world philately. This article recollects the account of Philately in Sikkim over the years.

For a stamp sized state of Sikkim, 6th November 2006 hold a moment of glory and recognisation in terms of world philately. Indian Postage has featured a postal stamp on Changu Lake in a group of five lakes from different part of India. The Changu Lake stamp with Rs 5 denomination features among the five Himalayan Lakes of India that include Roop Kund, Sela, Tsomo Riri and Chandra Tal. The stamp and First Day Cover had been designed by Bharati Mirchandani and Cancellation designed by Alka Sharma. The stamp is printed in photogravure process and printed at India Security Press, Nasik. It was for the first time in the history of Indian Postage, an individual theme from Sikkim got introduced in Indian postage stamp. For the last few years efforts were made on to feature individual theme from Sikkim. Along the lines various tourist destinations including Rumtek Monastery, Changu (Tsangu) Lake, Guru Dongmor Lake, Natula Pass and cultural diversity of Sikkim were discussed but it was the more popular Changu (Tsangu) Lake that made the history. Truly no doubt Changu Lake has been one of the major tourist attractions over the years and its incomparable scenic beauty reflects the charisma of the small state of Sikkim.

After a successful running toy train philatelic exhibition on June 5th 2006 at Siliguri jointly organised by Siliguri Philatelic Society and Sikkim Philatelic Club, release of stamp on Changu Lake is a proud moment for the philatelic lovers of the state. A new record was set on the rail track at Siliguri Junction on June 5, 2006 when for the first time in India and across the globe, a running philatelic exhibition was conducted. The distance of over 31 kms was covered over 10 hours. The route of the Toy Train was from Siliguri Junction to Agony Point, with a halt at Sukuna. The event even finds a mention at Stanly Gibbon book, bible in philately world.

More than thirty years since the state of Sikkim joined the Indian Union, Sikkim has been struggling for its presence in Indian postage. Apart from four Mt Kanchenjunga stamps on three separate occasions (1955, 1978 and 1988),Red Panda (1955), Blood Pheasant (1963), and Flora and Fauna of North East India(2006), a single illustration of Yumthang valley in 1982 Himalayan Flowers First Day Cover and handful of Sikkim Special Covers, it was a long wait for Sikkim Philately to rejoice.

Despite the fact that Sikkim first made its presence felt in the world of philately way back in 1935 when in this small Himalayan Kingdom a unique postal experiment was conducted by a man named Stephen Hector Smith. The postal experiment got popular with the name Sikkim Rocketmail Experiment 1935.

Although few people know or remember that Sikkim was home to a unique experiment in mail delivery. In fact Sikkim was one of the very few countries ever in the world during the reign of the Chogyal, the Sikkim king, to perform this ambitious achievement. The parcels along with letters and other items were send from the rockets to the confined destinations. Rocket mail was being sent across the rivers. In fact, there are many covers sent successfully that actually has signature of the late Sir Tashi Namgyal, the Chogyal. In the book “From the diary of Stephen Smith” written by Stephen Smith relating to rockets mail experiments, it has been mentioned that the Sikkim experiment was the most successful among all the pioneering efforts in rocket mailing the world over. The five places where the experiments were conducted were Gangtok, Sarumsa, Ray, Singtam and Rangpo.

In 1935, this unique experiment had been carried out by a multi – faceted Englishman named Stephen Hector Taylor Smith, better known as Stephen Smith. At that time, the experiment of sending mail through rockets was being conducted in only two places in the Indian subcontinent. One was in Calcutta and some of the district towns of West Bengal, and the other was in the Kingdom of Sikkim. Oriental Fireworks Company based in Calcutta provided all the rockets to Smith. ‘’The rockets were launched by lighting a touch paper from a sloping stand aimed in the general direction of the intended target”, a document relating to the experiment says.

Stephen Hector Smith, a pioneer in Indian Rocketmail history chooses Sikkim for his experiment because of its geographical features and mountains. Sikkim is also the first country in the world to successfully dispatch by means of a rocket, a parcel containing small quantities of such useful articles as medicine, tobacco, tea, sugar, etc. Those people who helped Sikkim Rocket experiment succeed included Chogyal Tashi Namgyal, CE Dudley, General Secretary to the Chogyal, Tashi Dadul Densapa, Private Secretary, Rai Sahib Faqir Chand Jali, the state engineer and F Williamson, British Political Officer.

Due to absence of any records found about Sikkim Rocketmail in Sikkim today, this pioneer and glorious effort has been buried in the past.

This note on history of Philately in Sikkim shall not be completed without the mentioning of the Revenue Stamps of Sikkim that has been continuing prior to 1928. The oldest found cancellation on Sikkim Revenue Stamp dates back to 8th October 1928 dispatched from Mangan B.O to Gangtok. The central design of the stamp has the south-east face of Mt. Siniolchu, in the north of Gangtok. The Photograph was taken by Hoffmann in the illustration of Claude White’s book “Sikkim and Bhutan”.

Ever since Sikkim became the part of Indian Union, three major state level Philatelic exhibitions has been held. Little is known about the first philatelic exhibition SIKKIMPEX-82 except that among the many participants on the exhibition one of the participants was Late Ganga Kaptan, a legendary figure in Nepali literature. The three day exhibition had three special cover released. Sikkim Philately had to wait for two decades to have the next major exhibition. Twenty years later in 2002 a three day exhibition was held at White Hall. It was for the first time the people of Sikkim took keen interest on those gummed piece of paper. Dr Pawan Kumar Chamling, the Chief Minister of Sikkim was the Chief Guest on the occasion. The exhibition was a huge success. The occasion helped introduce Dipok Dey, a renowned stamp designer from Kolkata and the only Indian to design a United Nation Stamp with the young and eager stamp collectors of the state. Among the noted winners in the exhibition were Ganesh Pradhan in senior category while Ruben Pradhan and Debasish Basnet in the junior category. Around 20 stamp collectors participated in the three day show. Three separate cancellations were released on each day.

Ruben Pradhan and Debasish Basnet, the two junior category winners were among the 16 children included in the Indian contingent that participated in Arizonia Stamp exhibition in United States. This exhibition opened door for the young Sikkim philatelist. Sikkim Philatelist participated at exhibitions at Jalpaiguri, Berhampore, Siliguri, Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Kolkata. Another major person behind the grooming of these young stamp collectors from Sikkim is Surya Kanta Biswas from Berhampore. It is Surya Kanta Biswas and Dipok Dey who have help groom the young philatelists from Sikkim explaining every small query in the process. Dipok Dey for specific reason has always provided basic information on stamps and the work out process in the exhibitions. Dipok Dey is also credited for designing most of the special covers released from Sikkim.

Three years later in 2005 TNA School at Gangtok hosted the Palbheu Stamp Exhibition that saw participants from far places like Cooch Bihar, Berhampore, Gangarampore, Siliguri, Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri. V Rama Roa, the Governor of Sikkim inaugurated the first day function with the release of a special cover. Shital Pradhan from Sikkim won the gold medal in the senior category and also the Post Master General Trophy for the best philatelist in the exhibition. Ganesh Pradhan stood second in the senior category. The exhibition saw increase in numbers of students and private collectors participating in it. Four special covers were released on the occasion. Sikkim Philatelic Club was founded on the same event to promote philately in the state.

The year 2005 was eventful for the philately lovers in the state as 17 Mountain Division held its first philatelic exhibition in the state Black Cat Philex 2005. The exhibition was held at Helipad Ground, New Cant, Libing on January 15 and 16. For the first time in 63 long years of the division such organization was held in India. On the occasion Special Cover of the 17 Mountain Division was released depicting the picture of Mount Kanchenjunga on the envelope cover. The exhibit displayed in the exhibition was from different places of Malda, Cooch Behar, Gangarampur, Kalimpong and Sikkim. The chief guest of the event was a known philatelist of the hills, Udaya Mani Pradhan.

The year 2005 also saw four philatelists from Sikkim participating at Kolkata state level Stamp Exhibition. Stamp Show at Kolkata saw a release of a special cover jointly by Sikkim, West Bengal and Andaman and Nicobar. Over the last few years the philately in Sikkim is growing and one major person responsible is John Samuel, former Post Master General of North Bengal and Sikkim. During his tenure as the Post Master General of North Bengal and Sikkim between 2002-2006 he encouraged students towards philately and regularly held philately exhibitions and workshops on philately in Sikkim.

Another note worthy event that concluded in 2005 was an organizing of the two day philatelic exhibition at Gangtok coinciding with the celebration of the 50th year to the ascent of Mt. Kanchenjunga. Present on the occasions were climbers from different parts of the world that have reached the summit of Mt. Kanchenjunga including the first two Norman Hardie and George Band. Two Special Covers was released to commemorate the occasion.

Sikkim is making effort to recap its glorious past and achievements like youngsters Ruben Pradhan and Debasish Basnet participating at USA philately exhibition make us feel proud.

NB: Dipok Dey is a keen scholar of philately and in recent times compiling on postal history of Sikkim, without whose support the article could not have been completed.

Thursday, December 14, 2006 | 2 comments | Labels:

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