India, Sikkim: The Monastery Trail
January 1, 1970
by Pagli Jane
So I was traveling in India with a friend at that moment and he recently just bought a Royal Enfield motorbike to continue his travels in India, so we decided to travel together this, not so popular but beautiful, State of India with his motorbike.
What it’s all about:
Sikkim is a region in India that is located between Nepal, China and Bhutan and although it belongs to India, due to historical issues, it is independent economically among other facts. We needed a special permit to access this area, we even got our passports stamped and had to go through a land immigration point. The religion in this region is Buddhism and it is well known for its hundreds of monasteries, temples and stupas. It is a known fact that India has many regions and all quite different from each other, but there are always some similarities in the basis of the culture, but this fact isn´t applicable to Sikkim, I had the feeling that I was in some sort of fantasy land. In general, all the towns we visited were super clean, with pedestrianized areas, we even saw pots of flowers hanging from lampposts (at some point it felt like being back in England), there were traffic policemen making sure the traffic rules were being obeyed, and the levels of cleanness were such that it is even illegal to smoke tobacco and drink alcohol on public roads and pavements.
What I got up to:
As being the most popular option, we did the Monastery Trail that this area is known for. This is the route we chose:
This town located in South Sikkim, was our entry point (and also exit point) from Darjeeling. This town didn’t have anything special to offer. It is basically one main road with flats, houses, restaurants and one hotel. It was good to rest and spend the night, and also the hotel owners’ were very cool and we had a laugh with them during dinner.
With 50 thousand inhabitants it is the capital of the Reign of Sikkim, and it is located in East Sikkim. In this area one can observe a mixture of western culture with eastern culture. Gangtok is vast, with many green areas and very lively, lots of shops, bakeries, bars and restaurants of all kinds, there are even night clubs! We found this town more expensive than what we are used to, but we managed to find a cheap guesthouse (I suppose that the fact that there wasn’t running water during the day had something to do with it) and a bit peculiar not that far from the town’s centre. Gangtok is not far from the Chinese border, only 20Km, we tried to reach that point, but as per usual, it is not an area that tourists can just visit, apparently you can only visit that area hiring a local guide, and that was not going to be us! So at a police checkpoint on the way there we were advised to go instead to the Hanuman Temple that was nearby, which is a Hindu Temple dedicated to the monkey God Hanuman. Also from there we saw the highest mountain in India, and third highest in the world: Mount Kanchenjunga!
Located at an altitude of 1.912m in West Sikkim, was our next stop. A bit bigger than Melli and known mainly for its two monasteries. One on the east side and the other on the west side of the town. We visited first the Pemayangtsi Monastery, and it was obviously surrounded by the amazing Buddhist prayer flags, I just love these and the stupas! At a few meters from the stupas was the monastery. It was not allowed to take pictures from the inside, but we saw a statue of Buddha and Guru Rinpoche (apparently he visited thisland in the IX century). We also visited the Sanghak Choeling Monastery which had next to it 12 stupas! I only went round once clockwise to the area in general and not round every single stupa though, I was feeling lazy!
This calm and relaxed town was the one I loved the most. Houses made of wood and clay, dirt traks, grass and lawn used by free horses, cows and dogs stole my heart. The journey from Pelling to Yuksom was out of this world! We drove past small towns with lots of charm and also waterfalls (which I also love). The story tells that it was in this town that the Reign of Sikkim was created and this is the way that it has geographically remained until now. On our way we stoped at the Khecheopalri sacred lake.
Still in West Sikkim, we visited this town on our way to our next stop, and without a doubt this was my favorite monastery in Sikkim. The tranquility of the place, the lively colors, the stupas (there must have been at least 30!) the prayer wheels and the inscriptions on the walls that surrounded the stupas made this place magical!
One of the important facts of this town is that sunrise is at about 4am – I nearly slept with my sun glasses on! The emblem of this town is its Buddha Park, which was quite amazing. It consists of gardens with a huge statue of Buddha inside of which there are paintings that narrate different stages of his life.
We found it similar to Gangtok. Pedestrianized area in the town center, quite big and calm. It is the home of the world’s biggest statue (although I still think that the statue in Ragong was bigger…). It is a statue of Guru Rinpoche (one of the most important apprentices of Buddha). We also visited the Hindu Shiva Temple, also pictures weren’t allowed inside, but we saw the different stages of the life of God Shiva carved in marble. Both sites were located on the top of the hills on either side of this town. After Namchi we headed back to Kolkata.