I have always considered the great religion of Buddhism as a source of knowledge and self realization. The Buddhist monasteries have a certain sense of allure and mystery, that not only captivate your imagination, but also create a surrounding that harmonizes your thought process to its core..
During my visit to the beautiful Eastern Himalayan town of Darjeeling and the state of Sikkim, I encountered various such abodes of tranquillity. I have tried to bring forward to my readers, 6 such monasteries, that, I feel, stood out in terms of their importance, beauty and historical significance..
1. Rumtek Monastery (Sikkim)
It’s one of the largest and most significant monasteries in the Eastern Himalayas. Founded by Wangchuk Dorje, the 9th Karmapa Lama in the 16th century, it is the seat of the Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism. The importance of Rumtek can be understood from the fact that when China annexed Tibet, many monks relocated here.
I was overwhelmed by the overall impact of the place. The stunning architecture (modelled on the Kagyurupa monastery in Tibet) amidst the lush green landscape was not only a treat to the eye, but to the soul as well…
Location : 24 kms from Gangtok.
2. Yiga Choeling (Darjeeling)
What an experience it was!! At 8000 ft above sea level, the views from outside were breathtaking indeed..And the magic turned into a spiritual bliss once I stepped into the shrine..”This must be the sound of silence”, I slowly muttered!!! Such was the impact that Yiga Choeling casted on me. It was a pin drop silence inside, and the 5m high statue of Buddha, built with clay brought from Tibet, radiated a sense of cosmic energy that seems impossible to find in the outer world..
Built in 1850, it is one of the oldest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Darjeeling. Also known as ‘Ghum Monastery’ due to the proximity, it belongs to the Yellow sect of Buddhism, which worships the ‘Maitreya’ Buddha.
Location : In Ghum, about 8 kms from Darjeeling town.
3. Pemayangtse Monastery (Sikkim)
The great Pemayangtse Monastery has been keeping a constant vigil over the town of Pelling for over 300 years. One of the oldest and the most important monasteries in Sikkim, it belongs to the Nyingma-pa-sect.
The monastery’s monks are generally chosen from the Bhutia community, who are supposed to be of Tibetan ancestry. Such is the stature of the monastery that its head monk had the unique authority of anointing the Chogyals of the Sikkim monarchy with holy water.Only the monks of the Pemayangtse monastery are conferred the title ‘ta-tshang’, that means ‘pure monks’..
It’s a great place to have a glimpse of the mighty Kanchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world..
Location : Pelling, West Sikkim
4. Enchey Monastery (Sikkim)
It was late evening by the time I reached Enchey. It was a bit dark and chilly, but the sight of little ‘kid monks’ reciting their daily evening prayers made the atmosphere anything but gloomy..
Set amidst beautiful Himalayan ranges over the town of Gangtok, the 200 year old monastery has its own share of interesting fables. According to legends, Guru Padmasambhav controls the spirits of Khangchendzonga, Mahakal and Yabdean inside this sacred monastery.. It is believed that the site of the monastery was chosen by Lama Druptab Karpo, who was blessed with the power of flying!!!
The monastery organizes ‘Chaam’, a mask dance portraying different mythological stories in the month of January every year…
Location : 3 kms from Gangtok
5. Dali Monastery (Darjeeling)
Dali monastery is the place where I witnessed the Buddhist prayer proceedings for the first time..And what a sight it was!! Monks lining up to enter the prayer hall, taking their seats, and beginning their synchronized hymns and chants, amidst the traditional voices of their drums and other musical instruments..DIVINE!!
There is even a large open terrace, where you can watch and interact with the monks in a serene setting.
The importance of the monastery can be undestoof from the fact that His Holiness – Dalai Lama, came for the inauguration of its new building..
Location : 5kms from Darjeeling town, towards Ghum.
6. Samten Choeling (Darjeeling)
It was another beautiful monastery I encountered on my way back from Ghum towards Darjeeling. Located downhill from the main road, it is another important Monastery in this region.
An important feature of the place is the grand statue of Buddha, presumed to be the highest in all of West Bengal…
Location : 7 kms from Darjeeling town, towards Ghum.