It was the fifth day of our itinerary in Sikkim and it was to be spent exploring the beautiful city of Gangtok.The hangover of the mesmerizing Yumthang Valley was still there but Gangtok was charming in its own way. The city has some interesting places of historical and religious significance which we were looking forward to visit. Our morning routine in Gangtok was pretty much set now. We had woken up early, which I believe the peaceful climate of the mountains does to you, took a walk to the small sweet shop near our hotel which we had come to like because of the tea it served. A good cup of tea along with a bite of Gaja a sweet which is prevalent in East India got us going.
We begun the day with a visit to Tashi View Point, one of the vantage points in Gangtok from where you could get a panoramic view of this city surrounded by scenic hills. It is named after Tashi Namgyal the last king of Sikkim before it formally merged with Indian union in 1975. On a clear day you can have a fantastic view of the Himalayan ranges but there was a greyish haze all around which prevented that. A small boutique shop sold souvenirs and local artefacts from where I picked up a travel map of Sikkim as a memento. Our decision to let go of Hanuman Tok and Ganesh Tok seemed judicious now because of the hazy weather. These are two famous temples in Gangtok which are known for the wonderful view they offer.
Next stop was Enchey Monastery, a small peaceful abode of Buddhist monks tucked away in the narrow lanes of Gangtok’s Ridge Road. The tranquility of this small premises was sedative, inducing a sense of calm in your mind which otherwise paces at a frenetic speed from one thing to the other consumed by the demands and distractions of the modern life. The monks carried on with daily chores, not really disturbed by the necessary evils we have come to live with. We went inside their prayer room, beautiful and absolutely silent, perfect for deep meditation and connecting with one’s higher self as they say. I wonder what ten minutes of such uninterrupted quietude every day can do to our lives but then we are too busy counting the likes. Time was of the essence so we headed back towards our car with these introspective thoughts, rotating the prayer wheels in clockwise direction on our way to exit.
A few minutes drive from the monastery was the Flower House on the Ridge Road. It is a small greenhouse with some very pretty flowers on display. We spent a few minutes inside capturing our photos in this colourful place and then proceeded to the promenade which went along the Ridge Road. This is where we came to know about a local(Nepali) snack called Sel Roti, a sweetish ring shape rice bread served along with a proper Aloo Dum. We found this interesting combination pretty delicious and were glad to have tried something which actually originates out of this region.
We then headed to Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, a museum whose foundation was laid in 1957 and opened by Pandit Nehru in 1958. Inside there were fragments of history which depicted the evolution of Tibetan Buddhism; artefacts, relics, old photographs and some very ancients texts. A series of beautiful and elaborate paintings adorned one section of the museum showing the journey of Buddha through different stages of his life. We were overwhelmed by the volume of information which was confined within the room and realised how limited our knowledge was when it came to the understanding of this peace-loving religion.
Only a few meters from the museum was Do Drul Chorten a stupa built by Trulshik Rinpoche. It was built apparently to overcome the evil spirits which haunted this place and later on became seat of the religion here in Sikkim.
Since we had dropped some of the places which were there in the prescribed city tour we had finished in time to make a visit to Rumtek Monastery. Normally a Gangtok sight-seeing tour does not include Rumtek Monastery because it is at a fair distance(23 Km) from the city therefore we paid extra to our driver to take us there. The monastery is on a different hill altogether and is a good one hour drive away from Gangtok. As you make your ascent up the hill to the monastery you can see the entire city of Gangtok. It was a pity that the day was not clear enough otherwise there would have been some snow-capped mountains in the horizon providing a beautiful backdrop.
A fairly long walk had brought us to the gates of the beautiful Rumtek Monastery which we had insisted on visiting because it was the largest monastery in Sikkim. One of the guards offered to be the guide. This place is also called the Dharma Chakra Center and was established by Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, 16th Karmapa of the Kagyu Sect.This monastery was built on the line of the traditional Tibetan architecture and is a replica of Tshurpu monastery in Tibet. We went through the ornate red gate of the monastery into a large courtyard. Directly opposite the gate was the main temple and several small quarters made up for the rest of the perimeter. In centre was a pillar with inscriptions which illustrate the history of this monastery. The main entrance of the temple is decorated with traditional colourful murals. Huge life-size images of the Four Guardians of the universe – Virudaka, Virupaksha, Dritarashtra, and Vaishravana stand guarding the four directions. Inside the temple was again a place of absolute tranquility with life-size paintings and murals adorning the walls. Besides the paintings there were quite a few other relics which decorated this holy room.
Behind the main monastery, is Karma Shri Nalanda Institute of Buddhist Studies. It is an aesthetically pleasing building which was constructed in the year 1984. The institute attracts numerous students from around the world who spend at least nine years studying here. Thereafter, an optional three-year isolated meditation follows. Opposite the institute, a small hall houses the four metre high Golden Stupa which contains the ashes of the sixteenth Karmapa.
So ,after spending about an hour at the monastery we headed back. On the way down from Rumtek we stopped at a stall to get some Maggi and tea to satiate our hunger pangs. From there it took us another hour to reach our hotel. A pretty good day around the city of Gangtok had come to an end as we rested in our room.
A vigil to the MG Road later in the evening beckoned !
Things To Note:
- Rumtek Monastery is not included in Gangtok city tours as it is 23 km from Gangtok so you will have to plan it out separately.
- Our advise would be to fix a local guide who can tell you more about the places you visit, before you actually start the tour .