There is something magical about a monastery that cannot be explained. It has always been my dream for many years to wake up and see the snowy Kangchendzonga, to photograph frozen lakes enroute to Nathulla Pass, to meander around dreamy rivers like the Teesta and lose myself in misty monasteries like Rumtek. Finally, my dream came true and I spent a few days in Sikkim
My first dream was fulfilled when I saw the mist unfurl and unveil the mighty Kangchendzonga in front of my eyes. It all happened with a matter of seconds. The mist came back again and the closing ceremony lasted the entire day.
We were in Pelling, enroute to the Pemayangtse Monastery when I learnt that the official history of Sikkim did not start in Gangtok, but in a small hamlet called Yuksom . Yuksom means the “meeting place of the three lamas” and it is said to be the first capital of Sikkim. The story goes that the first Chogyal Phuntsok Namgyal of Sikkim was crowned here as the ruler by the three wise monks in the 17th century . The three wise lamas, Lhatsun Chempo, Sempa Chempo and Righsin Chempo met at Norbugang, which is a 15 minute walk from present day Yuksom . Till date , you can see a 300 year old fir tree that stands witness to a stone throne along with other stones that have the footprints of the head lama . The Dubdi monastery and Sangachoeling monastery were later built here
However, when Tensung Namgyal succeeded his father, he shifted the capital to Rabdantse , which is near present day Pemayangtse. The ruins here tell the tale of a ravaged Sikkim in the early 18th century . Due to a conspiracy by his half sister, Chogyal was forced to flee to Tibet as Sikkim was invaded by the Bhutanese . Fierce battles were fought for several years and finally the Chogyals came back to power with the Tibetans’ support, but not before Bhutan and Nepal had plundered Sikkim.
We went to the Khecheopalri Lake , a tranquil lake surrounded by verdant forest where wishes were supposed to come true. The lake that was once a grazing ground is now worshipped as it is believed to be a footprint of the Gods . After hearing the bitter stories of war , this sacred lake was a beauty to behold with bright coloured flags fluttering high everywhere .It is believed that the birds including the ducks do not allow even a single leaf to float on the lake .According to legend, if a leaf drops in the lake, the birds will pick it up. The silence was mesmerising . A few ducks were swimming around. The sun was leaving its last coat of colour on the waters. We sat by the wishing lake and wished that this peaceful moment would last forever.
Our journey then took us to Gangtok with the Teesta for company. Our first stop had been to Emchey monastery, built atop a ridge near Gangtok, . We were admiring the views of the city, when we heard this story from our guide.
The 19th century Gompa was the home of a flying saint who had initially built his hermitage here. A tantric called Lama Drutob Karpo with powers of levitation had flown in here from South Sikkim and had blessed this site. Even today, people from Gangtok believe that the Gompa called the Solitary Temple contains and preserves the spirits of protective deities which take care of them .
Spinning the prayer wheels, we then entered the Lingdum or Ranka Monastery near the capital town .While the lamas were in the midst of their evening chants, some of the younger boys were practicing their ritualistic dances in the courtyard. As they swirled around, their movements synchronized with the sonorous music that came from the monastery .A boy lama was gently caned by his senior as he did not get his steps right. Watching them perform, we were lost in the mystical world, until we had to hit the road again.
A little further from Gangtok is the older Rumtek Monastery which is one of the largest in Sikkim . We were awed, not just by the sheer size of the monastery, but by the heavy security patrolling the site. The silence however was all pervading as we walked around the Dharma Chakra Complex, the Institute of Buddhist studies and the Golden Stupa.
Our guide explained that the monastery was the seat of the Karmapas, who belonged to one of the schools of Buddhism called Karma kagyu . Rebuilt by the 16th Karmapa in the 1960s ,who took refuge here after his exile from Tibet, it was originally founded in the 16th century, Even today precious relics along with the remains of the Karmapa are preserved here in the Golden Stupa.
The Karmapas are also called the Black Hat Lamas, on account of the Black Crown that symbolizes their power. According to legends, the first Karmapa was visited by several dakinis or the Buddhist versions of fairies and each of them gave him a strand of their hair as a gift. These strands were later woven together into a black hat and is handed down by one Karmapa to another. My guide explained that the Black Hat is kept at Rumtek Monastery and it has to be either worn by the Karmapa or tucked safely in a box for they believe that otherwise, it would fly away.
But the monastery was soon mired in controversy and sectarian violence over the selection of the 17thkarmapa which led to heavy security. As the guide finished the narration, I looked around at the peaceful monastery set amidst the mountains and found it ironic that it had to be protected by men with guns.
Sikkim is a great destination throughout the year, whether you want to beat the heat in summers or experience the chill in winter. To travel to Sikkim, visit eSikkimTourism forSikkim Tour Packages