The town of Gangtok is in the Indian state of Sikkim, bordered by Bhutan, Tibet, and Nepal, which plants it firmly in the Himalayas. Many inhabitants of Gangtok come from Nepal and Tibet, and have established their traditions in Gangtok.
This perfect for someone like me who is interested in learning more about Tibet and Nepal but won’t be able to visit in the near future.
We had one day to explore the Gangtok are, so in the morning, we fortified ourselves with a breakfast of idlis and sambar before heading off on a drive:
Rumtek (རུམ་ཐེག་དགོན་པ་ in Tibetan — isn’t that a gorgeous script?!) is 24km away from the town of Gangtok, and over to another hilltop so you can see great views of Gangtok from Rumtek. (We still had the mist that followed us from Darjeeling!)
Since the 16th century, Rumtek has been the seat of the Kagyu (aka. “Black Hat”) sect of Tibetan Buddhism in Sikkim. In 1959, the head of the Kagyu sect (the 16th Karmapa) fled Tibet and came to Rumtek. The monastery itself was in ruins, so the Karmapa decided to rebuild and established The Dharmachakra Centre in 1966, modelled after the monasteries in Tibet.
When you arrive, you have to go through a passport check… there are concerns about violence at this site as there is a controversy around who should be the current Karmapa, so there is a strong security presence at the site.
Then you walk up a hill (brace yourselves, this is harder than normal because you're at altitude) to get to the monastery. All along the hillside are prayer wheels, which one spins clockwise:
Each prayer wheel contains sacred texts (the is a book bundled in cloth at the centre of each wheel). Spinning the wheel is a way to “recite” the prayers contained in the texts, especially for those who are illiterate.
Also along the way you can see lines of prayer flags and laundry hanging in the sun to dry:
When you get to the main gate, guarded by men with rifles, you have to go through a metal detector and a baggage check.
And then, after all the incongruous security, you’re in the peace and calm of the monastery.
You can’t take photos inside the temple (where there is a beautiful golden statue of Buddha, as well as paintings depicting the life of Buddha, and gorgeous embroidered fabric hangings) but you can take photos on the monastery grounds:
There are window stickers advocating for the Tibetan Karmapa, who is endorsed by the Dalai Lama:
And the monks going about their daily business:
Inside the grounds, you can climb the steps to visit the Golden Stupa, which houses the remains of the previous Karmapa.
On the way up, there are more prayer wheels:
My new favourite candies at the cafe:
And stray dogs lounging in the sun:
I found that visiting Rumtek Monastery was a fascinating insight into Tibetan Buddhism, and an experience full of beauty and calm.