The Language Of Love
Sikkim is the land of the awesome mount Kanchendzonga famous for its mesmerising scenic splendours, snow and mountain views, rare varieties of flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth, and above all, a set of warm and hospitable people who really make you feel wanted.
Every public building or park in Sikkim has something to do with either lord buddha or kanchendzonga so much so that even the entrance to the state secretariat- "Tashiding" - is through a tibetan pagoda-styled roof.
Over the years Sikkim has witnessed a burgeoning growth of adventure tourism and a vast majority of tourists come to visit Sikkim in search of snow and mountain tourism thereby missing out on the more aesthetic and sublime frontier - that of Pagodas, monasteries and Gompas (monasteries) for which Sikkim is so famous the world over.
Influence Of Tibetan Buddhism
In Sikkim, Tibetan Buddhism flourishes. Tradition has it that Buddhism was introduced in Tibet in the 7th and 8th centuries and later on spread to Sikkim and elsewhere. Buddhist texts and commentaries were translated from the Sanskrit language. While in Gangtok, the state capital, make it a point to visit the research institute of Tibetology (RIT) which happens to be the melting pot of modern Tibetan Buddhism and a lot of high quality research on Tibetan Buddhism goes on at this centre of excellence.
Tibetan Buddhism is different in that the dedicated Tibetan Buddhist seeks nirvana, the popular religion retains Shamanistic elements and includes hymns and prayers and the worship of many spirits.
What is especially remarkable is the gradual rediscovery of Buddhism in all major cosmopolitan cities and towns of the west. Actor Richard Gere, for example, converted to Tibetan Buddhism, which is prevalent in Sikkim way back in 1984 and spends several months each year travelling and speaking on behalf of his holiness, the Dalai Lama. He partially founded the making of "Seven Years in Tibet". Steven Segal, the other big time Hollywood celebrity, is recognised by Penor Rinpoche, the supreme head of the Nyingma lineage as a reincarnated "Tulku" (lama).
Not only the powerful are attracted to Buddhism. According to Diana Eck, Director of the pluralism project at Harvard University, who recently visited Sikkim's fascinating Buddhist monasteries, adherents are packing out the nearly 1,500 Buddhist temples and monasteries that are found throughout the United States. In southern California alone, a Tibetan Buddhist temple is erected every two months.
On A Monastic Trail
The best part of being on the monastic trail is that not only does one get to experience first hand the exquisite Tibetan architecture but one is also provided with the opportunity to explore the bewitching beauty and the desolate landscape of the Sikkimese countryside where most of the hill-top monasteries of Sikkim are located. What can be more rewarding than getting to interact with the innocent Lamas and relishing the hardened cheese made of Yak milk "Churpi" and watching the simple mountain life pass by in India's Marlboro land?
Significantly enough, if you are an avid trekker, the monastic trail in Sikkim will open up refreshing vistas of virgin trekking stretches where one can embark on some absorbing sessions of trekking in the Sikkim Himalayas, which is replete with stately Rhododendrons, forests of red ripe Cherry, Oak and Chestnut and covered with beautiful Primulas and Gentians; a slice of heaven, isn't it?
A tourist' s monastic trail starts from the research institute of Tibetology in Gangtok, which is a mere 3-km from the city centre. RIT is a unique institution and one of its kinds in the world devoted to the advancement of Tibetan language and culture. The interiors are distinctly Tibetan and are made of lavishly decorated ornate woodcarvings and Murals. The altars hold the images of Lord Buddha and other Tantric deities. The museum section too contains a storehouse of information and Chortens, brass bells, rosaries, rare Tankhas (also spelt as Thangkas), 200-year-old icons and other priceless artefacts can be found carefully preserved. A visit to RIT will open your eyes to the rich and fascinating realms of Tibetan art and culture.
For souvenir hunters, a must visit place is the Government institute of cottage industries (CICI) which is a stone's throw away from the Gangtok main market. Here you can lay your hands on exquisite Sikkimese artefacts ranging from canvas wall hangings (Thangkhas), small wooden "Choksees" and dragon sets made of silver and gold, and above all, intricately designed Tibetan woollen carpets at prices that can compare quite well with Christi's.
Gangtok is always brimming with activity and tourists flock there throughout the year. One can find joyous trekkers lost in nostalgic memories of their trail letting their hair down in dimly lit restaurants, dancing away to the beat of non-stop hard rock numbers. An air of enchantment envelopes the city at dusk and as the lights come on, Gangtok wears a festive look. The lights, the stars above and the sound of prayers being recited by the Lamas to with the accompaniment of trumpets being blown in the distant hill-top monasteries in the valley makes for a truly ethereal setting.
Being on the monastic trail in Sikkim is by no means an easy proposition and one will be robbed for a choice since there are as many as 67 monasteries in Sikkim, each one carrying a piece of history and an abundance of legends and folklore.
However, it is a good idea to reach out to the monasteries that are close to Gangtok, the state capital which additionally should also serve as one's base. Going through a travel agent is a better bet since he can take care of your logistical needs. more...
By far the best bet out of Gangtok is the majestic Rumtek Monastery, 22-km away. The drive from Gangtok to Rumtek is beautiful as you criss-cross hair pin bends at every half a kilometer, which brings one fascinating vistas of Sikkim's awesome mountains on the one hand and the laidback countryside life of the state on the other. Rumtek is the largest and the most beautiful monastery in Sikkim and happens to be the seat of the Karmapa Lama.
If one is a keen buddhist, a visit to the hermitage is a must where lamas can be seen in grave meditation chanting "Om Mani Padmaham Om". It is said that some lamas go into seclusion for as long as 3 years at a time. There is an aviary too inside the Rumtek Monastery, which has a large variety of exotic birds. more...
Other glorious specimens of Tibetan monasteries in Sikkim located near Gangtok are the Phodong and Labrang monasteries, which are located 40-km from Gangtok along the North Sikkim highway. While the Phodong monastery happens to be the seat of the Kargupa Sect, the Labrang monastery is the seat of the Nyingma-pa sect of Buddhism.
The best time to visit these two monasteries is during the annual Puja, which is performed on the 28th and 29th day of the tenth month of the Tibetan calendar when colourful festivals are celebrated with the astounding performance of the Masked 'Chaam' dance of Sikkim. more...
Both Phodong and Labrang monastery areas have scenic trekking trails and those who wish to enjoy nature without backpacks, can try leisurely jaunts along the mountain paths criss-crossing the entire hodong-labrang area.
The locals are warm and friendly too. They like chatting with urban visitors and don't be taken aback if offered a steaming cup of Sikkimese country lad on a chill winter day in the mountains.
Time permitting; one can also visit the Cheoling monastery, the Dubdi monastery, the Pemayangtse monastery and the Keochopalri monastery, all of which provide fascinating insights into Tibetan Buddhism, colourful masked dances, folk rituals, and virgin trekking trails. Always try to coincide your visit to monasteries during the festival season, which is when the monasteries are all geared up to provide lots of fun and excitement. This is also the time when the Lamas celebrate with gay abandon.
Monasteries of Sikkim speak a language of their own. It is the language of love and it's infectious. So get affected from it. more...
Sikkim tourist information centres
are located in Gangtok, Delhi, Siliguri, Bagdogra and kolkata, from where
one can book hotels and guesthouses well in advance. The department of
tourism of the government of Sikkim runs tourist lodges and guesthouses in
the remote areas.
Forest bungalows run by the department of forestry are available too and these are managed by Lachung, Chumthang, Singhik and Mangan. In Gangtok, a number of good hotels are available, providing American plan hospitality and other travel related services like guided tours and sightseeing at short notice.
For further information and reservations contact: