Perhaps monasteries were on top of my list when I set foot in Sikkim. I wanted to visit them precisely for two reasons – their architecture and their mystical aura. Although I have mentioned very evidently (in my previous posts on Sikkim) that it’s a land of mystic, I have come to realize that the ‘mystic’ somehow melts away in the Sikkimese warmth. Even the monks are so chilled out that it feels so normal to interact with them. Yes, they are a bit shy, but they secretly enjoy all the attention that they receive. They like being photographed (they pose for you in all earnestness).
|Prayer bells - roll them clock-wise...|
I visited all kinds of monasteries in Sikkim – the most popular one, the oldest one, and also the unknown and the modest one, but all of them seem to have a common thread. I would say the mystic is there, but it’s not really mystical. To put it in other words, I’d say I was surprised to find the atmosphere so easy-going, amiable and approachable that it didn’t feel like a different world. So, I was disillusioned in a good way.
Rumtek was the first monastery that I visited. Since it’s the biggest and one of the most popular monasteries in Sikkim, tourists hog it ardently. I would have liked it more if there were fewer tourists. Anyway, I tried to make my experience a little deeper by interacting with a couple of monks. One of them asked for my phone number. Of course, I politely declined, but that disillusioned me even more. Talking to a monk seemed almost like talking to a normal guy who led a normal life.
|The bell has rung...|
|... and they are all set for the daily ritual|
Just in a jiffy, all the monks rushed for their daily prayer ceremony. They helped each other wear the outer garb in a certain way, while all the tourists looked on. So, it seemed more like a show on rather than an unruffled environment of a monastery. Also, there were armed policemen guarded due to the ongoing Karmapa controversy.
|Ranka monastery premises|
|Curious to get a glimpse of what's inside...|
The second monastery that I visited was Ranka monastery, which is also quite popular and grand. In fact, I liked it more than Rumtek, because it was much quieter and there were barely any tourists around. So, I took my own sweet time to hang around and take photographs. The younger monks were adorable. I noticed a plump and cute monk who laughed and played around with his friends in the typical carefree manner that a child would do. It was so unlike the monastery decorum, which just goes to show that childhood can’t be chained.
|The younger lamas at Ranka|
|At Ranka monastery|
I was moved to see the younger lamas (monks) managing their attires clumsily, yet fooling around with the utmost innocence. Of course, I had my ‘why’ and ‘how’ in my head. While returning home, I asked my cabby (who was also a Buddhist) about the younger monks restricting themselves to a monastery at such a young age. He told me that they don’t get to choose. Their parents decide to send them to a monastery for their education and upbringing, which lessens the financial burden of the family. Well, that did make sense to me, even though that doesn’t make sense in the long run. Whatsoever is the case, I felt strange (bad) for the little ones.
|Assam Linzey Gompa|
My next monastery was Assam Linzey Gompa, which is also located near Gangtok. It’s a small, simple, peaceful and a secluded monastery, which has managed to escape the tourist glare.
|The young lama learns the Buddhist scriptures|
|Oblivious of his surroundings|
Here’s a bit of flashback for you -
The moment I finish ascending the steps and get my first glimpse of the monastery, I hear the chants resound in the air. I see the lamas sitting on the floor outside the monastery with their Buddhist scriptures placed perfectly against the wall. They are barely conscious of me. At least, that’s what I see. The eldest of them goes inside as soon as he sees me, not realizing that I wanted to take his picture.
Thus, visiting a lesser-known monastery proved to be more enriching. It gave me a truer picture of Buddhist ideologies, which is about seclusion and simplicity.
|Dubdi Monastery in Yuksom|
When I went to Yuksom, Dubdi monastery was an obvious point to visit, because it’s the oldest monastery in Sikkim. I expected a lot of mystic. I thought Dubdi, being the oldest, must be very fascinating. I was all set to be enchanted. But, that’s not the way it is. In fact, the main monastery building was under restoration. And, though the monks at the monastery appeared to be engrossed in their rituals and even the younger monks didn’t smile or invite any conversation, I didn’t get the feeling of awe.
|Buddhist mantra imprinted on a stone|
|Beautifully painted window of the monastery|
What I liked was chatting with their teacher who sat outside and waited for the ritual to end. He told me that not all monks live the life of celibacy. Most of them leave the monastery as they grow up and get married. There are only certain monks that devote their entire lives to a monastery. It was quite an insightful conversation.
Do you feel intrigued to visit a monastery? Do you have any insights to share?