Lockdown re-posting of a breathtakingly panoromic journey to Sikkim in May 2017. Facebook has the uncanny knack of reviving memories of places one can visit multiple times, virtually.
The 45 minute drive from Gangtok, capital of Sikkim, to Rumtek Monastery, 4900 ft above sea level and 24 km from Gangtok, is a natural delight of lush green hilly terrain and misty mountains, hillside villages, terraced fields, sheer valleys, gurgling streams and waterfalls but the bumpy scratchy road (under repairs due to constant landslides and widening exercise) seems never-ending as the driver manoeuvres the thin ribbon of tar blocked by road rollers and boulders and steep drops down the mountains. Rumtek, nestled on the hills opposite Gangtok, stands tall in its Tibetan splendour amidst the verdant Himalayas and this is one sight we would have missed if we had listened to our cab driver. ‘The road is bad, real bad, and do you still want to go”. Our collective, angered response “we have come all the way from New Delhi for this and no roads, bad or broken, can deter us”.
We set off from Downtown Gangtok and thankfully on time …. 7 am, as after this the city roads become serpentine queues for exiting and entering vehicles. The drive out leaving the early morning city pantomimes of garbage collection, washing of utensils outside crowded homes, children lining up for school buses is soon forgotten and we immerse ourselves in salubrious surroundings.
It takes time to adjust to riot of colours of the resplendent interior of beautifully done Buddhist artworks, wall murals and thangkas. There are nearly 1001 miniature gold Buddha statues inside the monastery. Photography is not allowed and we miss out on rare artworks. Maybe, in future I should doodle on paper in places where cameras are not permitted. To the right and rear of the Main Shrine Hall are the Mahakala and Mahakali Shrine Rooms, where a puja (prayer ceremony) is held every morning and evening. To the left are the two gonkhangs or protector chapels of Tsering Che Nga, female protector of the Kagyu lineage and Dorje Drolo, the wrathful emanation of Guru Padmasambava.
The cordoned interior, crowded with artefacts, tourists and monks is no place to loiter and few moments admiring the ornate holy throne awaiting the 17th Karmapa, we make our way out. The special ‘Black hat’, worn by Karmapas during festivals, is under lock and key at the Monastery and no one knows when it will be worn by the still to be elected 17th Karmapa*. The first Karmapa was given strands of hair from 10000 fairies as a boon for his meditation and those strands were woven into a black hat.
*: Rumtek or Dharmachakra Centre, is a Gompa and the reason for tension within the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. The ongoing legal battle in Indian courts between the two organisations supporting different candidates for the 17th Karmapa surround the monastery in a haze of mystery and intrigue. The battle between the two organisations,Tsurphu Labrand and the Karmapa Charitable Trust, has been going on since 1992 and neither candidate resides at the monastery.
Just few strides away is the Nehru Botanical Garden which has a mix of tropical and temperate plants and trees as well as a big greenhouse of exotic orchids. For children there is a small playground with swings, see-saw and a winding footpath ideal for a stroll. We did not stop at the Garden as we had to let go of the cab.
Timing: The best time to visit Rumtek Monastery is from March to late May and from October to Mid-December.
How to Reach Rumtek Monastery:
The nearest airport, Bagdogra airport, West Bengal, at distance of 124 kilometers is connected to all major cities in India. There is also a helicopter service available that connects Bagdogra to Gangtok.
The nearest rail stations are at Siliguri situated 114 km from Rumtek and New Jalpaiguri railway station about 125 km from here.
Rumtek is well-connected to rest of India through an extensive road network. Regular bus services from Bagdogra, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Calcutta are iavailable for Rumtek. Rumtek. Taxi services are also available from these cities.