Experience Gangtok in all its splendour
Gangtok was the nodal point of our Sikkim itinerary. Situated at 5410 ft, it is a bustling town and capital of Sikkim. In 2016, it was ranked as the 8th cleanest city in India and it showed. The roads were clean and litter free, walkways for pedestrian with flowering plants decorating it – Gangtok really stood out. I was very impressed by the warmth of the local people. They were always very well turned out and I totally loved the smartly dressed children walking to school. We were keen to see more of this beautiful city.
1) Ranka Monastery
Ranka Monastery a.k.a Lingdum Monastery is located about 20kms from Gangtok town. It is one of the most picturesque monasteries in east Sikkim, with a backdrop of forested mountains. It’s a relatively new monastery with not much historical significance. Personally, a visit here was an experience I wouldn’t have wanted to miss, ever !
Our driver mentioned that the roads to the monastery is treacherous and hence sees less traffic, generally. I believe it to be true, how else do you explain less tourists in the premises ? The drive was pretty (though bumpy), boasting a great view of Gangtok. We passed some quaint well kept houses – a bouquet of colorful flower pots adorning the verandahs. There were points for para gliding and other adventure sports galore, making it a popular destination for adventure seekers too.
There is a long set of prayer wheels at the entrance. We did the customary spinning of these prayer wheels, before entering the monastery. Prayer wheels are spun in clockwise direction for good luck or in case of my children, for the pure joy of doing it. I felt a sense of calm in the monastery atmosphere. Maybe it was a combination of the bright colored architecture, picturesque location, the general atmosphere with monks going about quietly doing their chores for monastery upkeep.
We were fortunate to have visited during prayer time, which made for a very compelling experience. Hymns being chanted by monks, along with musical instruments and the traditional Buddhist gong. We were allowed to sit inside and I felt a sense of overwhelming peace in their chanting.
The main hall has a vibrant red door and inside there are colorful wall hangings. The walls has drawings and depictions on them. There are tables and benches for the monks to sit on and Tibetan hymn scriptures to read from. The inner sanctum has large sized gold plated Buddha statue . I loved the openness of this monastery, as compared to some others. It is completely open to tourists to explore at their own pace.
Outside the monastery, within the premises was a beautiful off white and golden stupa.
Near the car park, there is a souvenir shop and a small restaurant serving snacks and sound parenting advice !
2) Banjhakri Falls
On the way back from Ranka, we visited Banjakri Falls. This project is a physical translation of the concept by the Chief Minister of Sikkim – a story on Banjhakri (Forest witch doctor). Banjhakris are believed to be cave dwellers with power to train and convert young pure soul in witchcraft practices for becoming a witch doctor with healing powers. The park showcases Banjkharis along with Bongthings and depicts age old practice of nature worshipers, belief in healing powers and drive away bad spirits.
While the concept was interesting and unique, we thoroughly enjoyed the scenic surroundings and the waterfall. The waterfall was accessible, had a small sandy beach and we could walk down to it and stand in the icy cold waters !
It was overcast when we arrived and started raining cats and dogs as we almost finished. So lunch was at one of the stalls in the premises serving fresh and hot momos – yum 🙂
3) Namgyal Institute of Tibetology
This is one of the most important and famous institutes in the world that does research on Tibetan language and culture. Located less than 2 kilometers from Gangtok, the institute is located in a forest of birch trees, oak and magnolia. The land for the institute was donated by the late King of Sikkim Tashi Namgyal and the institute was thus named after him. It was opened officially by the then Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on 1 October 1958.
The museum is located on the ground floor and has rare collections of coins, statues, thangkas (scrolls with hand paintings and embroidery work) and Tibetan art work.
The library is located on the first floor of the building and boasts of one of the largest collections of Tibetan documents and literature in the world.
Opposite to the institute premises is a souvenir shop called Asta Mangala Art. It is said to have many intricate, reasonable and genuine articles.
4) Do-Drul Chorten Stupa
A short walk from the Research Institute of Tibetology and located on a hillock is the Do-Drul Chorten Stupa. From the base of the hillock, a short but really steep pathway leads up to the Stupa.
This large white Stupa which shines with a golden top dome, is seen from various places in Gangtok.
Legend has it that the entire place was once haunted by evil spirits and people who wandered around this place became victims and died. Later a very respected and celebrated lama of Tibet came to this place for hermitage. He constructed the stupa in 1946 to drive away the spirits. This chorten is regarded as one of the most important chortens of Sikkim.
The stupa is surrounded by 108 prayer wheels with mantras inscribed on them in Tibetan. Inside the Chorten Stupa are holy books, relics and other religious objects. There is a glass-walled area with countless flaming butter lamps burning within.
It is surrounded by monks’ hostels and I had the pleasure of seeing some of the younger monks at their playful best in the informal setting.
5) Rumtek Monastery
We could not visit due to lack of time but it was on my list and I would recommend you go if you are keen on Tibetan Buddhist history. The Old Rumtek Monastery was built in 1730 by the 5th Karmapa (head of the monastery). It is located 15 minutes downhill from the current building and was completely burnt by fire and had to be rebuilt in 1960s.
Rumtek is the largest Monastery in Sikkim and located 24 kms from Gangtok town. It isn’t very accessible, requires an uphill walk of about half a kilometer to reach up to the main monastery. This monastery is famous, all over the world, especially among the Tibetan Buddhists. The architecture of the monastery is spectacular and resembles the original in Tibet.
It is a 3 storeyed building with a large prayer hall on the ground floor, with hand painted and intricate wall murals, thankas (Buddhist scrolls), silk paintings and statues. The first floor was where the 16th Karmapa lived. The top floor has a terrace and a small stupa.
A large courtyard in front of the main monastery building, other buildings surrounding it where the monks live – very similar to the Ranka monastery.
Other attractions are the Golden Stupa of 16th Karmapa which is made of pure gold, Nalanda Institute of Higher Buddhist Studies, a bird aviary and a scenic view of Gantok town.
You are not allowed to use camera inside. Rumtek was embroiled in Karmapa controversy for the 17th head, with two groups supporting a different candidate. Armed Indian soldiers patrol the monastery to prevent any violence – well it kind of ruins the visitor experience.
- It is advisable to book a cab / taxi to travel around Gangtok, if you have small children or elderly people with you.
- The main town is a pleasure to walk in. Wear sensible walking shoes though.
- Be prepared to take off your shoes in the monasteries and the museum at Namgyal Institute of Tibetology.
- Carry an umbrella as it pretty much rained every afternoon when we visited in the 2nd half of April.
- Try and visit Ranka monastery around prayer time, which is typically in the evening, for an amazing experience. We were lucky to catch it around 10 am
- The museum and the library at Namgyal Institute of Tibetology is open to public between 10am to 4pm from Monday to Saturday. Its closed on Sunday, public holidays and second Saturday of every month. Admission fee is Rs. 10/- per person.
- Photography is not allowed inside the institute but a picture can be taken from outside.
- Rumtek Monastery is open from 6am to 6pm. Admission fee is Rs. 10/- per person.
- Himalayan Zoological Park houses Red Panda among other Himalayan animals. Visit if you have half a day to spare. If you are visiting Darjeeling, you can give it a miss here.
- Admission fee is Rs. 25/- per adult (for Indians) and Rs. 10/- per child. Parking fee for a small car is Rs. 40 and large vehicle like Innova etc is Rs. 100. The Zoo is open from 9am to 4pm daily and closed on Thursday.