Sunday, 20 July 2014

Monasteries In Sikkim And The Curious ‘Me’

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 Monastery
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
Ranka monastery premises
Curious to get a glimpse of what's inside...
Chilling out...
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 on 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?

32 comments:

  1. cool post! I didn't know not all monks had the same lifestyle, that's interesting some get to go back to a normal life.

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    1. Yup! Even I didn't know about it. I was pretty taken aback (and also happy) to learn that they are free to lead a normal life.

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  2. Monasteries and the monks have a charm of their own. I love being inside the monasteries as long as it is quiet. Interesting observations, Renuka.

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    1. Yeah, monasteries and monks, both have some charm.

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  3. Yes I do love the sense of calmness in a monastery. Liked ones in dharamshala and bylakupe in karnataka and of course sikkim. Hope to visit ones in ladakh soon

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    1. Yeah, even I'm looking forward to the monasteries in Ladakh. They must be more secluded and intriguing.

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  4. beautiful post , awesome pics. I liked the info provided by you.

    Keep traveling , keep sharing.

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    1. Thank you Mahesh :) I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

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  5. Nice pics! I was there during analog days. Don't have many pics. :(

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    1. Thanks Indrani :) But I wonder what's analog days?

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  6. This one i have beeen :) we went on a trek to sikkim and stayed for two nights at this place.. long long time ago , punjab boys and the manipur boys had a big room to themselves ..

    I am sure i have some old old pics at home somewhere :)

    beautifullllllllllllll

    Bikram's

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    1. Rumtek Monastery .. sorry i forgot to mention

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  7. Interesting read :-). Had no idea about them.. wall paintings, window panels are so bright and colourful. Nice :-)

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    1. Yeah...:) I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks.

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  8. Beautiful photos, Renuka. I agree, I feel sort of bad for the younger monks, who don't get a choice. But then, if this is a chance of a better education, then maybe that's a good thing? I know what you mean about feeling strange about it. I feel like I can't really pass a judgement, as it's totally different to anything I've experienced or know, but at the same time, it somhow feels wrong *not* to pass a judgement. Complicated...

    www.secondhandhedgehog.com

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    1. I understand what you are saying, Katie. As long as education is concerned, it is good for the monks to stay in a monastery. But, when you see their 'childhood' being disciplined like an adult, it feels strange.

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  9. Nice post! I went to the Painted Monasteries in Romania and was quite inspired.

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    1. Thank you, Faith. :) I wish to visit Romania some day. It must be very fascinating.

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  10. Brilliant pictures, wonderful colours. Love the ones of the kids studying, it's really beautiful. Nice work! (as always)

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    1. Thank you Andrew :) Yes, I love those too. The kids studying ones were of Assam Linzey Gompa - that's the real monastery - simple, down-to-earth and very basic.

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  11. Fascinating post Renuka! I'm always concerned when I see younger monks. I couldn't believe how many young monks I saw when I was traveling in Laos. But I learned that the majority of them do leave the monastery after they complete their education. While they were clad in their orange robes, they still giggled and played around like little kids. They were adorable!

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    1. Thank you Justine :) Yeah, that's what I mentioned that it's adorable to see them playing around just like normal children, yet there's a layer of confinement in their behavior.

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  12. I love visiting monasteries... the architecture and painting is just so intricate and you've captured them beautifully in your pictures :)

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    1. Thank you Tim :) Yes, the colors are so tasteful that it's a delight to capture them!

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  13. A really good post with beautiful pictures. I am planning on exploring East India next year and this post makes me wanna go even sooner. Thank you, Renuka!

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    1. I'm so glad to hear that Rupal! Northeast India is amazing. All the best for your trip. Do get in touch if you need any help.

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  14. sikkim is my another destination to be visited in next year, and after reading this post, i am eagerly excited to go there...Really nice images you have put here...

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    1. Thank you, Shahib. You must visit Sikkim. It's a great destination.

      Note: I see that you have left comments on other posts also, which have promotional links. Kindly don't leave comments that have little or no relevance to the post.

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